T Nation

Is Competing Really A Good Idea?


#1

OK,… I know there have been a few articles written on this site about why you should/shouldn’t compete, and as it’s something I’ve had many conversations about with close friends (competitors), I wanted to offer some thoughts.

At a contest this past weekend - and at almost every shows I’ve ever competed in or judged - there were competitors standing onstage of various levels of physique (sizes, shapes and conditions) apparently proud of what they had brought to display. Without knowing backstories, because there’s always the one guy/girl who lost 80 lbs but still doesn’t look like a bodybuilder of figure girl, I have to assume that getting up in front of an auditorium of strangers, in front of countless lights and cameras, you must think that you look good to some degree. Now, “good” and worthy of calling yourself a bodybuilder can be two very different things, and to go further, even the definition of who can (or should) call themselves a bodybuilder can be open to debate.

When I first kicked around the idea of competing, I had already gone to watch shows as a spectator (amazing how many first time competitors have never sat through a prejudging before!), and assembled photos of bodybuilders that were similar to my height and stature so I could realistically (brutally!) compare and assess if I was merely entertaining some giant delusional dream, or if I indeed had even the slightest chance of not looking like an idiot in a speedo.

Something a find myself often times repeating to both clients and even strangers who reach out with emails is:

  • What are you hoping to get out of this experience?

[I was going to ramble a whole lot more, but maybe I’ll just leave it at this and let others chime in a bit]

S


#2

That question is something I’ve been throwing around in my head for the past month or so. Unfortunately, I don’t think that my answers are sufficient. More to the point, I think that because I am able to answer that question with coherent words, I shouldn’t compete/am not ready to compete (or some other way to express that).

Deep down, I have this notion that serious competitors (Stu, Rob, Brad, Arash, all the other various pros, etc) do this from a gut feeling of “Because I have to” rather than some quantifiable or qualitative rationale.

Basically, the reasons I engineer in my mind as to competing cannot be boiled down to a gut feeling that actually cannot be verbally explained. Am I wrong in this?


#3

I’m sure the other guys will respond with their thoughts and experiences; for me that’s where I am now, but it didn’t start there. I never thought about competing at all until about a year and a half ago, and it wasn’t an “I have to” kind of feeling. It was more of a “hey, I think I can do this” after reading the various prep logs on here, seeing the package that successful natties bring to the shows, that it was something I might be able to do well with proper guidance. I also looked at it as a way to see what kind of physique I really had, and to be in the best shape I’ve ever been in. As a former fatty, the idea of competing seemed like the way to get to the “next level” that I never thought I could. Regardless of how the competitive aspect worked out, I knew it would help me become the best version of myself I could, and after the shows I’d evaluate and see if I wanted to do it again. Could I have waited another year to be “ready?” I guess, but I don’t know if anyone has ever felt “ready” to do their first show, no matter how good shape they’re in. @The_Mighty_Stu posted recently about the self-doubt we all deal with before going on stage, which he did, even before winning two pro cards! Competing isn’t for everyone, but I think at some point, if it’s something you want to do bad enough, ya just gotta dive in. After competing this year, now I am more in a “because I have to” mentality.


#4

Good post!

As usual, I am writing on the damn go, which is becoming highly frustrating.

Anyway, for me, that one experience competing (and winning, which I did not expect in the slightest!), left me a changed man. Now, some outsiders would ask, “A changed man… from a bodybuilding show? Are you for real?”

The first time I saw pictures of bodybuilders in a book at my uncle’s house I was completely flabbergasted! I asked my uncle, “How do they look like this? What do they do? I don’t understand.” He explained it to me. He simply said they lift weights and follow eat a certain way. I joined a gym at 16 but after that it was years of on and off training, sometimes full blown, sometimes casual, sometimes huge layoffs of a month or two away from training.

I can write and write and write on this. But when the thought of having kids dawned upon me a few years ago, some time after meeting my wife, the passion for BB returned like never before and at 30-something years of age, the shelf life of this passion became quite apparent. I guess there were times in my life in which I did look like a bodybuilder (uhh, when I did splits, as I do now, lmao!), but I never REALLY looked like one, nor could someone consider me a bodybuilder having not competed. As silly as it sounds, the Friday before my show, after going through three carbup meals and a supercompensation/pump workout at the gym, when I went into the aerobics room, looked in the mirror and took off my shirt, I could not believe what I had done with my body! I finally looked like a competitive bodybuilder! I was a bit tired before the workout, and after taking a few photos with my gym buddy, left the gym with a passionate feeling I never felt before aside from my wedding day! I actually almost shed a tear and I had not even done the show yet! Oh yes, this sounds silly to many people: a regular, sane dude, with a wife, an education, a profession, and all that American jazz… is shedding a tear from gaining muscle and going to a gym? Yup! It’s unexplainable.

I left the gym knowing that placing, winning, losing in the show or not, I finally was a bodybuilder, something on hold for 25 years! Now, I can finally compete as a pro, and I will gladly lose (yeah, I mean that), win, or place next to other quality pros so long as I come in to the best of my abilities, with the same condition I had Saturday. In my own way, it is the same as a guy, who spent seven years in minor league ball, who finally goes to the major leagues just to get to bat as a pro, even just once, something that was special to him, and done at a level that most cannot.

To be continued in my thread…


#5

Interesting thread, I’ll throw my two cents in:

I was using the contest as a target date to really push myself to the limit, and to finally “be a real body builder” and to do it all at least once in my life. To that end I am very, very glad I competed. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to achieve that. There is nothing quite like having that one, single day coming up that you have to put 100% into knowing it will all be over after that.

However, I likely wont ever do it again. I competed in a non-tested show, and while I did place 6th out of 15 that was largely due to the conditioning I brought. The simple fact is I dont have enough size to be competitive… Maybe its genetic, maybe I dont train hard enough, maybe its something else, I dont know. But I told myself I didn’t want to compete again unless I could bring a significantly improved package (at least 10 pounds of muscle larger), and thus far (5 years later)I have not been able to do that.

On top of that I just found the actual experience of doing the show… lacking. I dont know, it was just so odd to go out of stage in front of people I didnt know and didnt care about. I’m generally a fairly reserved person, so just doing that was very odd. There is also so much stuff going on “behind the scenes” that I dont care for either, perhaps the other competitors can relate.

Now… If I had gone with a crew like Brick did, or swept the shows like he and Stu did, my experience may have been totally different. But for someone like me who essentially did it for myself, I can get the almost exact same thing out of it doing something like we are doing next year and having a friendly competition.

So I think @The_Mighty_Stu’s question about what you are hoping to get out of it becomes paramount. Maybe you are hoping to become the next Mr. O, get a supplement contract, and increase your social media following. Maybe you just want to take yourself to the limit. Maybe you want to understand what the process is like so you can use it for your coaching business. Lots of reasons to do it really, just make sure you understand what you want to get out of it.


#6

For me, competing was the goal when I started my initial bulk from 170 lbs. But I was more interested in it as an experiment. I enjoy the process of scientific discovery, trying different methods until something works. I enjoy seeing how my body reacts to various diets, macro adjustments, cardio, it is really all one big puzzle to me, so I guess that would be what motivated me. I also enjoy the aspect of “competing against yourself” that dieting brings vs. a sport like baseball (which I played throughout college) where you’re constantly in little 1-on-1 battles with your opponents, and your teammates.

I wasn’t really concerned with doing well in the show (especially seeing as it was an NPC one) but I figured it would be a “capstone” to this “project.” My coach kept telling me I would do well, but I had no expectations. I think this is a healthy mindset that helps prevent the relationship with dieting and training from being toxic. I did have doubts about my readiness as @robstein and @The_Mighty_Stu alluded to. But you know you’re embarking on a positive journey when you second guess yourself prior to it.

The experience of the show was absolutely invigorating for me. I placed 3rd out of 5 in classic physique and immediately after the show I went back to the gym hoping to making improvements for the next one. I think being able to display all that you’ve suffered for, in an environment where everyone has gone through the same creates an odd sense of camaraderie backstage (which is something I miss from team sports).

Lastly, I think being a physique athlete is unique in that, a lot of people struggle to control, that which you are actively manipulating. You are creating something beautiful, out of yourself. If you are a person with a massive ego, that’s not a healthy aspect. But if you’re a person that enjoys looking at the aesthetics of the human body, then you will fall in love with the sport.

You can make the best out of what you’ve been blessed with, I think that’s a healthy lesson for anyone.


#7

bloody good post, young man.


#8

Thank you! I’m sure you can tell I’ve thought about this before…ha


#9

Appreciate the input and thoughts guys. I’m thinking that this is a good topic to throw about, especially these days having a decent number of competitors on the site.

What do you think about the delusional individuals in the sport? Is it better for them to get a dose of reality or just let them go on, continually going on thinking they’re “living the lifestyle” yet never placing well and just attributing it to anything other than a less than decent physique?

And the coaches to make money off of these competitors, constantly blowing smoke up their skirts, while anyone else in attendance at a show can clearly see how things really go down. I recently saw one coach proudly boasting online about how two of his guys “fought it out” in the overall at back to back shows this past year. Well, having personally judged the first show, and seen the score sheets from the second, I can honestly say that neither of his clients was ever in contention for either show’s overall win. Heck, the one he had hyped on social media for months didn’t get a single vote for the title. Moments like this, I feel like Mugatu from Zoolander.

S


#10

I think the quote “You can’t tell an idiot he’s an idiot” holds true with this. Especially in something like bodybuilding, where you ego is already being held out for everyone to shatter. The people who go on stage and clearly aren’t conditioned are either trolling or an idiot.
If you try to tell that guy or gal they aren’t up to par, they will simply get defensive and shut you out.

If the person’s coach let them get on stage looking like crap then they’re unethical, and won’t be in business long. The free market economy works well in that aspect.


#11

Even for a fluffy powerlifter like me this an awesome thread. Lots of food for thought at a perfect time for me. I’ll also be honest and admit that the idea of competing has been kicking around my head for a while, but I’m enjoying my current training too much and haven’t achieved enough in powerlifting to switch yet. Yet.

If I do ever compete though, I’ll make sure I bring a package that belongs on stage.


#12

I think that’s true. I also think that in this day of “over-PC-ness” that we live in, trying to tell somebody that they shouldn’t compete is some form of (read: perceived as) body-shaming or online bullying.
As far as the scam-artist coaches, they’ll be in business forever because of what I just wrote. Everyone wants a pat-on-the-back, everyone wants to feel like they can compete. Thus, coaches that make people feel the way they want to feel will always profit, because the “competitor” is blind. They might not profit the most (i.e. get the best clients, or get results that warrant a higher rate), but they’ll still be around in some form.

On another note, I was telling the lady about this thread the other evening. I was telling her that some of the reasons that I dubbed “insufficient” in my first post actually seem to match up with others’ initial reasons for competing. So, I said, perhaps I’m just too much of a perfectionist. Perhaps I’ve put competing up on a pedestal. Perhaps I’m too OCD. Then she said this: “Maybe those are the exact traits that make a good (competitive) bodybuilder.” Food for thought.


#13

The guy that got me into bodybuilding told me you have to be 2 parts obsessive and 1 part crazy.

I’ve come to understand it as obsessive in terms of attention to detail and persistence. Crazy because, you have to be crazy to diet/cardio yourself down to absolutely miserable levels.

I wouldn’t put competing on a pedesal though. Honestly you could start dieting without the intention of even competing; just try to get as ripped as possible for the challenge and experience. Start a log on here

Then if you feel like you look good enough, sign up for a show and peak out. If you dont feel like it, enjoy your accomplishment and keep rollin. There’s no rule saying you have to pay your money 14 weeks out and you must do a show. Know what I mean?

Just some thoughts.

Will


#14

I don’t post here often but got to reading and thought this was an excellent topic.

I have decided in the past 8 months that competing is something that I would love to do. A rough injury got me to “retire” from powerlifting and boxing. I have been a competitive athlete since my teens and am now 35 coming up quickly on 36. I have always had a strong interest in bodybuilding and decided last year it was something I wanted to get into. I would NOT call myself a bodybuilder. I am too small lol.

I have been working with a great coach here in NYC the past 6 months and have my eye on doing Classic Physique next year. I have been grinding hard and am 100% dedicated but sometimes have the doubts creep in and question whether it’s realistic. This sport is much more than most people give it credit for and I 100% agree with the first post here, there is the Grand Canyon between being in great shape, looking awesome and being actual stage ready. I’ve learned this quickly.

I hope to be ready for next spring but know there is so much work ahead. This sport demands respect and dedication and having been to a handful of local shows it seems some use it as a personal ego stroke or proving ground. There is nothing wrong with being proud of hard work and a transformation but I for one will only enter when i feel i have done the sport proud and belong on the stage.


#15

We had a “When did you know ‘time to compete’?” thread a few years back that had some interesting feedback from some competitors around here.

I think physique contests (even strength sports to an extent) are an interesting situation in that, because it’s possible to know you’re absolutely not going to place first before you even enter, the whole reason for competing can vary from competitor to competitor.

Like, people wouldn’t enter an MMA fight if they knew 100% they were going to lose, just because they’re proud of getting a stripe on their white belt. A baseball team doesn’t necessarily walk onto the field knowing they’re going to lose before the first pitch. But bodybuilding/physique is still a sport where, on the amateur level, people “compete” when they’re not presenting a competitive finished product.

The people who are either delusional and see their awesome physique when no one else does or the people who compete because they’re proud of losing 50 pounds of fat but still have 30 to lose before being show-ready are probably never going to disappear because there’s no way to vet amateur contests. Same way powerlifting meets, as far as I’ve ever heard, don’t have a “bodyweight bench minimum” before competing, you’re always going to get bodybuilding beginners stepping on stage just because they feel like it.


#16

You’re completely right. I think the only difference is that in PL most of us encourage people to get on the platform sooner than later, and the general attitude is that as long as you’re giving it all you’ve got your welcome up there. That’s what novice meets are for, which I don’t think would work in bodybuilding.

Plus, PL is easier in terms of quantifying success or progress. If your lifts are legal, they can be ugly as hell and worth every bit as much as beautifully executed ones.

That’s one main reason I have so much respect for bodybuilding. You go through hell to bring your best package possible on stage and all it takes is for the judges not to like your look for you to have no chance of placing.


#17

I only say this in a constructive manner. From what I’ve experienced, perfectionists don’t go far, or at least, not as far they can. Even in pro bodybuilding, natural or in the IFBB, there is only a tiny minority of men who have perfect physiques! If we look through the perfectionist’s eyes, there have even been some Olympia winners who do not have perfect physiques, but they had the best, or better than anyone they competed in against in the Olympia competitions!

It’s either bring your best package and compete or aim for perfection and do nothing! That’s actually applicable to life endeavors of all sorts!


#18

I don’t particularly care for the sport of powerlifting, but one thing I do really like about it is the camaraderie and encouragement the competitors give each other. Seems everyone always wants everyone to do well, which is a great vibe for a sport to have.


#19

I was using the word ‘perfectionist’ conversationally rather than literally. I think I write in a too-conversational manner on this forums. My bad; I’ll work on that.

Additionally, “chasing perfection” doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re chasing the perfect physique. You could just be obsessed with minutia such as micro/macro intake, completing 40 minutes of cardio rather than 39 minutes 45 seconds, or eating exactly every 2.5 hours rather than 2.75 or 3 or 2.25 hours (because work got in the way for ten minutes or whatever).

Being OCD and/or perfectionist doesn’t necessarily mean that the end goal has to be perfect; sometimes it can simply mean that one has to chase that end-goal by utilizing (in one’s own mind) perfect means.

And again, I’m using those terms conversationally rather than clinically. And I’ll shut up now and just read everyone else’s thoughts.


#20

Good point. I knew when I started my first prep that I was never gonna look like Cordova, BUT, I also knew that if I was willing to pay attention to every tiny detail, no matter how much other people might not, no matter how it inconenienced me, that even if my genetics said I’;d never be great, I wouldn’t lose because of anything I had done. Now, YES, you can over-obsess about minutae to the point of it being counter productive, BUT, planning and eating what you should when you don’t want to, training when you don’t want to, getting in that morning cardio in the dark in the middle of a freezing NY winter because you still need to punch your 9-5 work clock… even tracking tiny details over weeks to ensure that even when the scale doesn’t move, you still know you’re on track (my clients know I’m the king of the spreadsheet -lol),… This is what makes a difference.

A Director I’m a fan of once said that if you’re ever satisfied with your work, you’re in the wrong business. I think that applies to Bodybuilding as well.

S