how to compete in your first figure competition
Fitness, Fitness Competition

How To Prepare for Your First Figure Competition

If you are reading this I’m willing to bet you’ve got some nerves in your stomach. You’ve either just started researching figure competitions or you’ve been thinking about it for some time. I’ll walk you through a little of my background and give you some advice on how to prepare for you first figure competition.

My journey started back in 2005, when I was just starting my fitness journey. At the time I was a religous reader of Oxygen magazing and stumbled upon an article about fitness competitions. It didn’t take much honestly, after that article I went after any information I could get my hands on.

I didn’t know who to reach out to or what my first steps should be so I started with what I knew. The local gym I was going to wasn’t much help but I did find a gym that had a trainer who knew something. Hey, that was a start!

how to compete in your first figure competition
My First Show!

My First and Second Show

The first show I did was in Naperville, Illinois with the OCB (Organization of Competitive Bodybuilding). I placed fourth out of 4 other women, yup dead last. Although I may have placed last I was obsessed with how I felt so I was on to the next.

May 2006 I competed in my second fitness competition in Omaha, Nebraska. There were only two of us and I placed 2nd but it was enough to qualify me for Ms. Fitness USA in Las Vegas, Nevada that September.

Las Vegas – Ms. Fitness USA 2007

What was most memorable about Ms. Fitness USA is that when I was all said and done my now husband asked me to marry him. It was 3 days of high stress, tan, make-up, smell food, but it was all worth it and was one of the best experiences of my life!

Competing Gave Me Confidence I Wouldn’t Have Found Anywhere Else

After competing in fitness and building up my confidence I was ready to move onto figure. For me figure was a different ball game, I am not sure why other than I had thought of competing in the NPC, and to me that seemed a step up.

The NPC ( was the next step for me because I did not want to continue doing the fitness routine round. Figure competitions seemed like a beauty pageant mixed with muscle, I loved everything about it! All in all I did about a dozen figure competitions, my placings ranged from last to 2nd.

Now that we’ve covered a little bit of my background let me explain how you should get started!

First you need to decide whether fitness is your jam or you want to compete in figure or physique. Each division has it’s own standards and criteria you are judged by.

Ms. Fitness USA was a perfect starting point for me because I didn’t feel as though I needed to get my bodyfat so low it was unattainable. Now you need to understand the the judging criteria has changed over the years and no matter what organization or division you choose you will have to get your bodyfat down to at least 10% to remain competitive.

I want to stress first that you need to understand the amount of work it takes to compete. It is not something to be taken lightly, for most women who are interested this is part of the motivation.

You also need to talk with your family, make sure they understand the commitment and are on board. I’m mostly talking about your spouse here, they need to support you on this journey. If your parents or close friends don’t get it, don’t be surprised most won’t. In fact, they will probably think you are crazy.

Getting Started

The first thing you need to consider is whether or not you are able to dedicate the time and effort it will take. Competing takes next-level dedication and consistency, you need to be realistic with NO excuses. Once you’ve had a realistic talk with yourself and your family it’s time to pick a show.

How To Prepare For Your First Figure Competition

Step 1 – Pick The Organization You Want To Compete In

Figure out what organization and division interests you the most. Do you want to put a fitness routine together? That might be too overhwelming and that’s ok, you can then consider bikini or figure. Bikini is the newest division which has come out as one of the most popular in the last five years.

Bikini is popular because of it’s femine quality and sex appeal. Figure is a division that requires feminity mixed with muscle definition, leaness, and an athletic look. This is only achieved through heavy weightlifting and extreme dieting. If you like HIIT cardio, lighter weights, and higher reps look towards bikini.

Fitness Universe
Non Tested

my first figure competition
My First Figure Show! There were a lot of pictures taken in bathrooms with a Kodak.

Step 2 – Pick A Show Date

Now you have your division and hopefully your organization, it’s time to pick a show date. The amount of time you need to prepare for a show depends on your weight and bodyfat. On average you will lose .5lbs to 1.5lbs of fat per week on a competition diet, if you are 100% on. Most women need a minimum of 4 months (16 weeks) to prepare for a show.

If you have more weight to lose than is possible in that time period you will want to consider doing a pre-prep. Pre-prep is preparation work you need to do before attempting a contest diet program. This will ensure you are not being excessively restrictive and losing too much weight too fast.

Step 3 – Diet & Training Program

I can explain how to prepare for your first figure competition in detail and include every piece of information you need. However, if you don’t understand the important of diet none of it matters. Step 3 is all about your diet and nutrition program. I highly recommend you hire a competition coach for this.

Hiring someone who is knowledgable about bodybuilding competitions and can guide you week by week is worth the investment. They will prepare your diet and training program based on where you are currently at physically.

Once you have your program it is up to you to execute to 100% accuracy what they give. If you don’t follow the program your coach will not be able to make necessary changes. I coached dozens of woman to the stage and the ones who placed well followed my programs!

My most difficult clients were the ones who did not follow the diet exactly and then pretended as they had. How did I know they weren’t? Because I had them take pictures every week and took their bodyfat every 2-3 weeks. If you hire a coach they will most likely do the same thing. Pictures don’t lie and neither will the scale when you are dieting for a show.

my third figure show
My Third Figure Show. Back then Victoria Secret velvet track suits were the ‘IT’ thing to wear!

Step 4 – Look At Your Schedule For The Next 4 Months

Once you have your show date, diet and training program in order it’s time to look at your schedule. When you are on a competition diet having dinner with friends, going out for drinks, and social gatherings aren’t the same. You will have to say no to alcohol, dessert, and prepare your meals accordingly.

Going out with friends and family gatherings just aren’t the same. It doesn’t mean you can’t do these things but you need to prepare yourself. Being prepared is the name of the game when it comes to staying on track with your diet.

I opted for skipping a lot of social gatherings when I was dieting for shows because I didn’t like explaining why I had to say no. Everyone has certain triggers, for me going out to eat usually meant I would crave dessert so I stayed away from restaurants.

Step 5 – Figure Suit/Fitness Outfit

For my first show I wore a Venus swimsuit because I didn’t know any better. It ended up working out just fine but I learned a lot from that first show. My best advice is to go on Instagram and search the hashtag #suitdesigner and #competitionsuit.

One of my favorite suit designers did my last two figure competition suits, Tami Marie of TMarie Suits. She does beautiful work and can make suits for bikini, fitness, or figure. I recommend starting with a small budget or renting your suit. If you decide to keep competing then you can save and invest more money for your suit.

Step 6 – Tan

1-2 months before the show you need to decide if you are going to have your tan done professionally at the show or put it on yourself.

I started out applying tan myself and there is definitely some things you need to keep in mind. My favorite product is Jan Tana, click here for the exact product I recommend. You will put 2-3 coats on the night before allowing enough time to dry in between each.

If you don’t want the hassle of doing it yourself you’ll want to make an appointment with the show’s chosen tan service. There is generally a tan sponsor that should be listed on the show website with directions on how to sign up. They will take some of the stress away from trying to do it yourself and tell you exactly what you need to do.

Jan Tana Website

Step 7 – Hair & Make Up

One of the things I enjoyed the most about competing was doing my own hair and make-up on the day of the show. You’ll need to match your make-up to your tan which can be a bit tricky. I always used MAC and you are going to want to make sure the shade is NW35 or NW40 to get your face dark enough.

MAC – Pro Longwear Foundation NW35

Don’t forget about dramatic eye color and fake eye lashes! Your eyes need to pop on stage so the eye color you pick should be more dramatic and fake eye lashes are a must to combat the stage lights.

Step 8 – Shoes & Posing Practice

One of the important parts of learning how to prepare for your first figure competition is posing. Women often overlook the importance of posing practice and it ALWAYS shows on stage. Buy your shoes early and practice once a week for an hour. In the weeks leading up to the show you should practice everyday for 20 minutes.

You don’t need to buy anything over 5 inches. You will also need to decide if you want a strap on the shoe. If you are going to have a tough time walking then opt for the strap. Here is a link to one of my favorite style shoes, Competition Heels.

how to prepare for your first figure competition
My favorite physique package to date, 5 months after I had my first daughter.

Step 9 – 2 Weeks Before The Show

In the weeks leading up to the show your cardio will go up and your calories will go down. You will also probalby do a little bit of water manipulation so you appear leaner on stage. The mistake I see competitors make here is they don’t diet correctly so they are holding on to too much bodyfat before the show.

In order to make up for this competitors will put too much emphasis on water manipulation hoping that it will make up for higher bodyfat percentages. This is a horrible mistake and one I recommend you not make.

Remember how important the diet is in the four months of your training. Do what you need to do week in and week out so you feel confident in these important weeks before the show.

Step 10 – Have A Post Show Plan

I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a post show plan. Time and time again I see women go on post show benders, eating everything in sight and gaining tons of bodyfat!

You will want to get back on your show diet immediately and then work your way back into higher carbohydrates and less cardio. If you stop burning calories, stop doing cardio, and eating more then you will gain TONS of weight back.

Another reason to hire a competition coach is they can help you with this. Before hiring anyone ask them about what they do post-show. They shouldn’t leave you high and dry just because the show is over. A good coach will include post-show plans in their programming.

1. Pick an organization
2. Pick A Show Date
3. Get your diet plan and workout program in order.
4. Create and organize your schedule for the next 3-4 months.
5. Start looking for suit designers or find someone to rent or borrow from.
6. Decide if you are going to have your tan done professionally or if you will do it yourself.
7. Decide on hair and makeup.
8. Buy shoes and start practicing your posing right away.
9. Prepare your schedule for the several weeks leading up to the show.
10. Have an aftershow nutrition plan in place and prepare yourself mentally for what it will feel like post-show.

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