T Nation

When Did You Know 'Time to Compete'?


Just a question to get some input from those that have competed already, and maybe offer some insight to those actually considering stepping on stage: When did you know it was finally time to enter your first contest?

Was it when you reached a certain level of development?

When you felt you could win the whole thing?

When the itch to really test yourself was finally too much to ignore?

No, I'm not considering competing myself, but it's a topic that's been in the back of my mind ever since that "clueless competitor" video a few years ago. The issue was mentioned there: When is it the "right" time for someone to enter their first competition?

Anyone want to share their thoughts or personal experiences?

Is Competing Really A Good Idea?

I'll jump in here. I know I've probably told the story over the years, but I'll rehash a bit :slightly_smiling:

I always trained because I loved it, nothing more. Yes I probably did much more research than the average gym rat, but at the end of the day, that's just how I am. Everything I've ever decided to dedicate time to, I went above and beyond to learn as much as I could about it.

So at a seminar on training and nutrition in Jersey, I met Steve Downs (former editor of Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness magazine), and Jim Cordova (multi-Universe Winner along with countless Pro titles over the years). After the presentation, I struck up conversations with both gentlemen that went beyond the usual "thanks, I learned a lot" comments.

Neither could believe that I had never competed before, which was odd to me, because despite having trained for well over a decade by this point, I hadn't ever really weighed my own development against the guys in the mags because they just seemed so far ahead of anything I saw in the gym.

Well, Jim is not only a champion on stage, but a first class gentleman. We ended up emailing, and he was more supportive than I ever would have thought. Steve Downs emailed me as well, asking for a little feedback on his presentation, and told me point blank that he felt I could do "serious damage" if I ever decided to get onstage (he also put me in the magazine even though I hadn't even competed!)

So I kicked the subject around with my training partner at the time, and decided that despite already being "the guy" in the gym that people seemed to always come to for advice, this really would be the acid test to whether I was just blowing smoke out my ass repeating what I had read, or heard other people say, or if I truly understood how the pieces of the puzzle all fit together.

I found a couple of shows that were drive-able, and weren't too soon, giving myself what seemed to be enough time based on what I'd read. In hindsight, I was very lucky that even though I always played myself down a bit, I did have a serious handle on a lot more info than many first time competitors do. Add to that the fact that I could e-mail Jim and it was a great situation. During this time, I also reached out to another Pro I looked up to, Brian Whitacre.

Just like Jim, Brian was first class all the way. Neither guy ever tried to get me as a client, or guilt me into offering payment or anything. They weren't training me, or even making suggestions, it was more of them really just verifying what I was doing, which certainly gave me much more confidence than I might have had otherwise.

The day of that actual first contest, watching other competitors strip down to weigh in, I had some serious second thoughts. These guys looked like bodybuilders. They had muscles, cuts, everything just flowed together, not just in an imposing manner, but in an artistic way that conveyed much more intention than just an "I'm gunna get hyooge" approach to their training.

Luckily, my boy Corey wouldn't let me wiggle out of it. I had done too much work, suffered too much, and however the chips fell, I should be proud of what I had done.

Now, to skip over stretching this out too much, yeah, I did well, very well. Well enough to have judges approach me afterwards asking what my next show was to be, how long I had been training, and even did my first interview with an online magazine. BUT, even then, I had a very skewed perception of what I looked like.

When I stepped out for that first class (I entered 3), and I was left all the way on the left of the stage, it wasn't because I was so bad, it was because I was easily ahead of the rest of the class! I just couldn't see it! So when people ask, how did you know you were ready,... well, I guess I didn't. I competed because I felt deep down that it would be a good experience for me, not because I had any serious thoughts of winning, or even doing well.

That's why when someone comes to me with the "should I compete" question, I ask them what they want out of it. Too many people who have never gotten onstage are too quick to tell other people that it's a bad idea, or that they're not ready. To me, that's just projecting your own issues on someone else's goals.

I was coaching a 70 year old competitor the other day. He's getting onstage in about a month and all of his kids and grand kids are coming to watch. Does he have plans to walk off with all the top hardware? No. He just wants to make himself and his clan proud of how hard he's worked, and what he's accomplished. To me, that's a victory.



I always knew I wanted to compete, so for me I knew it was time when I noticed the quick gains coming to a halt. You can only do so many bulking and cutting cycles and ending up pretty much the same before you realize you ain't getting 20 pounds more muscle in the next year. Strength increases were similar. They were still happening but they were not the 5lb a week jumps we all know and love.

So for me, while I fully anticipate making more gains in the future, I realize its more along the lines of "lbm per YEAR" versus "lbm per MONTH."

Realizing that dieting for a show would NOT be short circuiting my mass gains, I decided that it was time to pull the trigger. Given all the things I learned and how nicely it sets you up for a long, long lean bulking cycle it was easily the best training decision I ever made.

I have comparison pictures in my hub, and honestly I think may have even added some size to my delts, so its not like dieting is a sure-fire recipe for wasting all your muscle away.


Great question. Now that I'm over 50, I'm considering entering a Physique competition. Why? Curiosity, I guess--wondering how I will stack up next to the other AARP members.

Now, if I can just find a comp that will let me wear long pants so I don't have to show my calves...


When did you know it was finally time to enter your first contest?

When my father-in-law told me, lol. I did a mock diet and posted the results on T-Nation back in 2010. CT and Stu were very encouraging, and then my father-in-law said he would pay for me to do a show (they are not cheap) because he knew I would never have done it otherwise.

Was it when you reached a certain level of development?

I knew I wouldn't be the biggest, but I knew I could be the leanest so that helped my consideration. I didn't want to compete unless I had a reasonable chance of winning at least my class.

When you felt you could win the whole thing?

I would have never entered a show if I didn't think I had a chance. So I thought it was possible from the get go based on previous post. However, I had a "Mighty Stu" moment when I saw the other competitors. I got scared and bit down in the dumps. However, I went on to win Novice Tall and take 2nd in the Open Tall. So like Stu, I had a skewed view of myself.

When the itch to really test yourself was finally too much to ignore?

The desire to test myself came during that 2010 mock contest prep. After that, I knew what I was capable of.


Cool feedback, thanks guys.

Seems like it's kinda one of those "you know it's time when it's time" things. Maybe waiting for "the right time" or "the best shape" isn't ideal for starting that first prep.

I think the "you'll just waste time/lose gains/get setback in the long run" excuses a lot of people use to postpone competing seem pretty easily outweighed by the positives just going full-bore into it. Assuming, of course, that you have actually been training successfully for some reasonable length of time.


Cool idea for a thread Chris


Just as a sidenote: I just looked up the Clueless Competitor video (I assume you mean the one from Mike Pulcinella), which has evaded me over the last four years... I'm not sure if I'm saddened or scarred!


Thanks, man. I just figured it was an interesting question. Luckily some real heavy hitters already came through and posted their experiences. If it helps inform some people who might be thinking of competing, even better.

Yep, that's the one. I was going to post the vid, but didn't want to get off on too much of a tangent. It's gotten its own thread a few times here over the years.

That guy was a special case, but the bigger issue (no pun intended) that I took from it was: What's the fine line between "first-time competitor" and "simply should not be on stage at all." I'm sure it's got to be a tricky situation and a fine line sometimes.


Very cool thread!
Awesome responses so far.
Hopefully we can get a few more competitors feedback.
Great idea Chris.


This concern gets thrown around a lot, very often by people who've never stepped onstage themselves. Yes, people have different reasons for 'donning the thong' in the first place, but IMO unless you're discussing a very young individual, who hasn't put on any considerable amount of muscle in the first place, it's not a valid worry in order to have a positive experience.

Yes, the arguments always reference the simple time involved in allowing the body to synthesize muscle mass, as well as the natural hormone levels seen in certain age ranges, but as Chris referenced ("reasonable length of time") you will find many top names in the non-PED side of the sport all agreeing that the majority of a person's gains will occur within the first few years anyway. After that, it's all subtle refinements, getting better at retaining LBM during a diet, and achieving better conditioning.

Besides, as has been shouted about many times by other people; until you actually cut up, you're never going to know for certain just how much muscle you have as well as what your proportions really look like without the added 'fluff' padding things out. Tim's mock-cut experience, well before he actually competed, gave him an honest appraisal of just what he had built, and what he needed to work on. After a certain point, you have to be honest with yourself if you want to get onstage. Of course a little feedback from other people who have been there themselves never hurts either.



Not much to contribute, but if I would play with the idea to do a BBing show, I would try to get into contact with some experienced and helpful people (like Stu, Shelby, etc.) and ask them where I stand in terms development (sending pics) + what I could roughly expect in terms of placings for a particular level of show, after a proper prep. I would only compete, if I have a chance to do decently well according to them.


i'm only a kid talking amongst grown men here, but i competed , i did it because i saw guys in my gym preparing and i asked myself i'm stronger than some of them , so it was a stupid reason compared to what others had..... i did ok. got 2nd in my class

     now, since i've had a stroke and bipolar disorder , i want to compete; just to prove to myself that all is not lost; i wont even think about winning or not winning, my target would  be to better my condition from last time

i had a bad start on TNation asking about steroids, but the good guys here talked me out of it; i now have my head down and am sincerely working towards what i think i want!!!!!!!!!!!
i know its off topic but i'm bipolar :stuck_out_tongue:


Just to add a bit to what Stu said, unless you diet like an idiot you are not going to lose gains.

And when you look at some of the benefits of leanness (not necessarily peak contest condition, but general leanness), it is really worthwhile to try it.


I started lifting at age 13, and by my mid 20's knew I didn't have what it took to be a serious power lifter. I was "gym strong" but working out for the sake of exercise started to lose it's appeal. Some people have the idea they need to be perfectly balanced before they go in, and I understand the reasoning, but I was fortunate enough to have a few seasoned competitors in my gym who encouraged me to jump in just to see if it was a good fit. The sport has been great for my life and I encourage anyone with the slightest interest to jump in.

Find a competitor that you can trust and listen to them. Their advice may not dial you in 100% but there are 1000 different opinions on 1000 different topics and the waters will muddy with too many guys giving you advice. Do a show, assess your plan, adjust and repeat.


Ill be competing next month. I knew I was ready.to compete when I had a six pack... at 275! I didn't think I was capable of leaning out like I have. Win or lose, I'm Damn proud of my progress.


Start a contest prep thread! I'm sure I'm not the only one who'd love to follow along!


No doubt!

Ha, talk about flying under the radar though. Already 4 weeks out. Savage, you're definitely a big dude and I can only imagine what contest-shape will look like with your height and structure. Best of luck. Totally think about putting something up for folks here to see.


based off the avi it looks like you have made some good progress there savage. Good luck and like Colucci said, keep us posted on the results.


Best attitude to have big man. Now get out there and win -lol.

Better keep us posted though. How can we be a supportive brotherhood if everyone doesn't share? :wink: