Bodybuilding is a strange sport. I can imagine what it must look like to an outsider – half-naked, veiny, orange crazy-people parading around on stage in the name of vanity. And I mean, it kind of is that. But there’s more to it; there must be, for so many people to participate in it, right? So here’s an inside look at what the bodybuilding competition experience is like.
One to Two Days Out
Amateur (NPC – National Physique Committee) bodybuilding competitions take place all over the country, and now that I am a IFBB professional competitor, they’ll take place all over the world! This means you have to travel, and it’s best to arrive two days before the competition to give your body time to adjust to a potential different climate and recover from any bloating caused by your flight.
Generally there are rolling check-ins throughout the afternoon. At check-ins, your height is measured so that you can be placed in an appropriate height class. You also receive your competitor number button, which you wear on your left hip on stage so that the judges can easily identify you.
I have very attentive coaches, so I check in with them every 3-4 hours, either in person, or by sending photos if they aren’t present at that particular competition. They are able to see the subtle changes in my physique and tweak my water and carb intake accordingly. It’s amazing!
I also have to eat a balanced meal every 2-3 hours – something like chicken, vegetables, and rice or sweet potato. During competition season I eat 6 meals spaced evenly throughout the day.
Arguably the weirdest part of competing is the super dark spray tan that every competitor must get in order to show off their musculature under the bright stage lights. My personal preference is Liquid Sun Rayz. Here’s how tanning goes:
You enter a meeting room in the host hotel which is covered from floor to ceiling with sheets or tarps. One of the airbrushers (female only) calls you over to a nylon pop-up tent. You get completely nude and enter the tent, and the airbrusher sprays you with very deep tanner that gets darker over time.
When she’s done, you have to wait for the tan to dry before getting dressed again, so you walk, naked, to the center of the room where they have box fans set up. You, with all of your other naked brethren, stand like a gingerbread man, shivering in front of a fan. Modesty? Out the window!
Another coat of spray tan, then hair (if you have long hair – I don’t!) and makeup, and then it’s a waiting game for a few hours before you hit the stage. Backstage, you’ll see people munching on rice cakes with peanut butter and lying on the ground with their legs propped up. The rice cakes are to fill up your muscles, and resting with your legs up is to keep the blood out of your legs so that they look leaner and more defined.
The competition expeditors (the people who organize things backstage) start to line competitors up by division. There are many divisions within NPC/IFBB bodybuilding, and they differ between women and men. I personally compete in figure.
Then, the big moment arrives. Prejudging is when competitors get the most stage time, and it’s when the judges truly decide who will win. Competitors are called onto the stage one by one. In my division, figure, each of us walks to the center of the stage, does a front pose, right side pose, back pose, and left side pose, and then walks to the side of the stage.
This is your chance to make a big impression, so I walk slowly and with confidence, and think to myself, “Make it beautiful.”
Judges write down the numbers of the competitors they like the most, and begin callouts. This is when they call 5-6 competitors at a time to the front of the stage and compare them to one another. First callouts is the best – this means you’re in the top of your class. Generally speaking, the closer to the center of the stage, the more likely you are to have gotten first place.
Often, finals are the following day. You have a pretty good idea of how you did, but can’t be sure until awards are given out at finals. Unfortunately, this means sticking to your strict diet for one more day, and another sticky coat of competition tan that morning.
At finals, all the competitors in a height class enter the stage. The judges then call out the top placers in reverse order to receive their trophies (fifth place, fourth place, third place, etc.).
After finals, everyone is so relieved. They’ve been dieting for months and are ready to let loose a little and eat a dang cookie, for goodness’ sake.
Depending on how a competitor places, they might be hopping right back onto a training plan and diet after a more relaxed weekend of treats, or they might be entering an offseason to make some improvements before they compete again at the next level. Read this post to see what my post-competition plans are.
Competitors often compete first in local NPC shows to get a feel for it, moving onto a national qualifier when they are ready. If they place well at a national qualifier, they can compete for an IFBB pro card at one of a handful of national shows! Winning a pro card is highly coveted and very prestigious. I won mine in July 2015 at my third figure show!
If you’re interested in more about my fitness journey, follow me on Instagram: @chanmeleon! I regularly post progress photos, random thoughts, and fitness inspiration. See you there!
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