The Ultimate Bodybuilding Competition Preparation Guide

by Justin Leonard

Last Updated: 1/22/2019

Welcome to the original and most comprehensive bodybuilding competition preparation website. Founded in 2001, this FREE resource guide was created with the aim of helping bodybuilders achieve success in competition.

The following are discussed at length:

  • What is the best way to train for a bodybuilding competition?
  • What is the best way to diet for a bodybuilding competition?
  • What do judges look for in a competitor?
  • Which supplements will help me to retain size while dieting for a competition?
  • What is the easiest and safest way to manipulate body water?
Justin Leonard
Justin Leonard

These are all questions that cross the minds of competitive bodybuilders in preparation for the big day. The answers to these questions and more are revealed on this website! It will cover everything you need to know to be successful in your next bodybuilding competition. I’ll begin by going over some essential precontest checklist items.

Bodybuilding Competition Checklist

The first item that may be required in order for you to compete is a federation card. Note: Not all federations require a membership. If required, these cards cost from $50+. There are a number of organizations that sanction bodybuilding competitions. The duration of membership cards will vary depending on the organization. Some are yearly and some are lifetime.

Posing Music
Another item you will need is posing music. I recommend having a fail proof backup plan, just in case there are issues with your music. Posing music should be done on a high quality digital format. It should also have your name and competitor number displayed if possible. Don’t take any chances with DJs. I’ve seen some unimaginable things happen over the years, including playing the wrong music for a competitor. What’s worse, the competitor carried on and performed his routine as if the music was his. This catastrophic event was precipitated by the DJ.

Try to make playing your music as easy as possible for the DJ. Most shows only allow about 90 seconds for posing routines. Some are even less than 90 seconds (60 sec). Be sure you are aware of the posing music time limit and plan your routine accordingly.

Tanning Products
Be sure to use an artificial skin bronzer, tanning spray, or dark cream for skin complexion. Natural suntans are not dark enough for competition stage lights. Regardless race or ethnicity, artificial bronzers are still needed.

The function of the dark tan is to enhance overall muscularity under bright stage lighting. Thing of it more of a color correction. The bronzer is giving you a darker, golden look which complements bright lights. Without some type of bronzer, you’re hopeless. Many television actors, actresses, and models use artificial spray or rub-on tans because of the bright lights they use for movies or photo shoots. Without the tan, they would appear extremely pale on TV due to the bright stage lights.

There are only two types of tanning skin tanning products: Spray or Cream. I prefer a combination of both. I’ve gotten good results by applying Pro Tan about 2 days before a show, then using Dream Tan the day of the show. The Pro Tan is a spray-on application. The Dream Tan is a rub-on application. Both tanning products require the help of a partner to ensure even distribution throughout the body, including hard to reach areas such as the back.

Posing Oil
Posing oil is definitely an item you’ll need to have in your bag the day of competition. Posing oil is basically used to enhance overall muscularity under bright stage lights.

When it comes time to apply posing oil, use a trustworthy partner or someone who appears to know what they are doing to assist you. Once applied, find a lighted area so that you can check on how different poses appear under lights at different angles. You may find that you need more oil or even forgot to apply some in certain areas.

Is it okay to use baby oil? I’ll be honest: I’ve seen people use everything from baby oil, to butter flavored Pam cooking spray. It all works and typically there is a reason they are using it.

The problem some people have with these oils is that they may be too shinny or not shinny enough. Posing oil is specifically designed to enhance a dark tan. There’s usually a darkening ingredient in posing oil, which makes it look better when applied to already dark skin. You may find that baby oil or Pam works better than posing oil. Experiment with different options and be sure to get a second opinion from an experienced person.

Posing Suits
Another very important item required for competition is a posing suit. Whatever color suit you choose, make sure it’s a solid color. Most shows don’t allow multi-colored posing suits because they can be a distraction to the judges and effect ranking or placing.

Posing suits must be worn during weigh-ins. It’s best to show up on the day of competition with the trunks already on. Posing trunks are made specifically for bodybuilding and fitness competitors. They are designed to give the body an enhanced look, mainly around the waistline. Thick-sided posing trunks are a thing of the past and create a blocky waistline appearance. Quality posing suits are typically in the $40+ dollar range.

Food is definitely needed on the day of the show. Most bodybuilding competitions require waiting around for whatever the reason may be. I’ve competed in some shows which required check in at 9:00am, but the prejudging didn’t take place until 3:00pm. This time gap can really hurt you if you are not prepared. Your body will go low on much needed calories. Without the proper amount of calories, it will be hard to pump the muscles. It’s important to have a food supply ready just in case.

The last item I recommend bringing to the show is money. This is basically a backup for surprise expenses. As a teen with virtually no money, I once did a show where I flew from Anchorage, Alaska to Los Angeles, California. The registration fee was for the show was $75 if it was paid in advance. The cost was $100 if you paid after the assigned deadline. I got there to check-in and process and they told me they had not received my payment.

This is the last thing a dieting bodybuilder wants to hear. They said that without the check number (proof), they would have to collect the money if I planned on competing. How ironic it was that I just so happened to have $300 travel money on me at the time. I paid the fee and walked away extremely angry (I never could find proof of payment).

There is another reason to bring money: At many shows they have several vendors who sell discounted sports supplements, videos of the show, custom photography, contestant souvenirs (i.e. T-shirts), and more. That should be reason enough to bring money, but the main point is to be prepared for surprise expenses.

Bodybuilding Precontest Workout Tips

Question: How should I workout during the weeks leading up to competition day?

Answer: As a former teen bodybuilding competitor, my strategy was to workout with very little stomach. I would try to go about 1.5 to 2 hours without food before I worked out. This was to preserve energy. The body uses a lot of energy to digest food, which can decrease your performance.

There are several opinions when it comes to competition training. For example, some say repetitions should be increased while using a lighter weight. Others recommend lifting heavy up until the day before the show.

Obviously, both of these methods work… for the right people. Some will benefit from using light weight and high reps, while others win shows using extremely heavy weights leading up until competition day. If you’re uncertain of what to do, try using a combination of both methods or just stick to your normal routine. You can’t go wrong there! In my opinion, a combination of heavy weight, low reps and light weight, high reps are needed for maximum results.

There are several ways you can go about executing this type of training. After a thorough warm up session, try using heavy weights at the beginning of each workout. Toward the end of the workout, try going for the burn using a light weight. The only time I would spend and entire workout using light weights is probably 1 or 2 weeks before a competition. Why? When bodybuilders get this close to a show, high reps cause the muscles to respond quickly.
The quick response I’m referring to is known as the pump. In other words, it’s really the high reps that give you the better and quicker pump. Below is a sample precontest workout:

Monday: Legs
Leg Extensions | 4 Sets | 15 – 20 Reps
Leg Curls | 4 Sets | 15 – 20 Reps
Leg Press | 3 Sets | 10 Reps
Hack Squats | 3 Sets | 10 Reps
Squats | 3 Sets | 10 Reps
Stiff-legged Deadlifts | 3 Sets | 20 Reps
Leg Extensions | 3 Sets | Failure
Leg Curls | 3 Sets | Failure

Tuesday: Chest/Abs
Flat Bench Press | 4 Sets | 12 Reps
Incline Bench Press | 4 Sets | 12 Reps
Decline Bench Press | 4 Sets | 12 Reps
Incline Dumbbell Press | 3 Sets | 15 Reps
Flat Bench Dumbbell Press | 3 Sets | 15 Reps
Cable Crossovers | 4 Sets | 20 Reps
Hanging Knee-ins | 3 Sets | Failure
Crunches | 3 Sets | Failure
Dumbbell Side Bends | 3 Sets| Failure
Lying Leg Lifts | 3 Sets | Failure

Wednesday: Back
Lat Pulldowns | 4 Sets | 12 – 15 Reps
Bent Rows | 3 Sets | 12 Reps
Dumbbell Rows | 4 Sets | 12 Reps
Seated Cable Rows | 3 Sets | 20 Reps

Thursday: Triceps
Pressdowns (various grips) | 5 Sets | 15 Reps
Dumbbell Triceps Press | 5 Sets | 15 Reps
Dips | 3 Sets | Failure

Friday: Shoulders
Side Laterals | 4 Sets | 12- 15 Reps
Bent Laterals | 4 Sets | 12 – 15 Reps
Dumbbell Press | 3 Sets | 10 Reps
Cable Lateral Raise | 3 Sets | Failure

Saturday: Abs
Crunches | 6 Sets | Failure
Side Crunches | 4 Sets | Failure

Sunday: Biceps
Cable Curls | 4 Sets | 15 Reps
EZ Bar Curls | 4 Sets | 15 Reps
Alternating Dumbbell Curls | 3 Sets | 20 (10 each arm)
Reverse Grip Curls | 3 Sets | 15 Reps
Concentration Curls | 2 Sets | Failure

Question: Are there any off days for recuperation during competition training?

Answer: Off days can either be taken as needed or scheduled on certain days. If you decide to go with a routine similar to the one above but using fewer days per week, modify it so that a primary muscle group and a secondary muscle group are worked together. For example, train chest and triceps or back and biceps. For some this may be a more beneficial option.

During competition prep, I personally think each muscle group should have its own day because this allows you to put more focus on each. Experiment with both methods and see what works the best for your body!

Question: What about cardio? How much should I do?

Answer: It varies depending on individual body type. Some people have extremely high metabolisms and may only require cardiovascular exercise 1 day per week or once every 2 weeks. Others may not be as genetically gifted and require a cardio session everyday during competition training.

The important thing to note is that the body must constantly be monitored. For example, you may be performing cardio 3 days a week starting off. Over time, you might notice that you’re losing too much muscle mass. In this case, you’ll probably want to ease back on the cardio sessions by a day or two until the body meets your expectations.

Question: What type of workout should I do on the last week of the show?

Answer: The answer to this question is widely debated. Truthfully, no answer is right or wrong as it will come down to individual preferences. Listed below are some common methods for optimizing the physique during the week of the show:

  • Replace workouts with posing the entire week.
  • Workout using only light weights the entire week.
  • Don’t change your current training regiment.
  • Lift moderately heavy leading up to the contest date.

All of these techniques work for someone, somewhere. The two most popular techniques are (1) workout light the whole week and (2) not to change your current workout regiment. Training light for the entire week of the show with additional posing seems to work best for most bodybuilders.

Many bodybuilders make their last day of training on Thursday. Friday is used for posing to enhance muscle definition. Whichever training method you decide to use, I personally don’t recommend training after Thursday (the week of the show), assuming the show is on a Saturday. Here’s my rule of thumb:

If you look phenomenal the week of the show, don’t do anything that could cause you to lose peak condition! Don’t change anything, and end all workouts one or two days before the show.

Stay with your normal diet, workout, and daily schedule the entire week. Many successful bodybuilders don’t change a single part of their diet or training style during the last week of the show. Again, the best way to make wise decisions is through constant body monitoring.

Always ensure you are constantly in tune with your body. For example, some may notice a hard, but not defined look after eating chicken as their primary source of protein. They then switch protein sources from chicken to fish and notice a big difference in muscle definition. The only way you can spot changes like this is through constant body monitoring.

Strategies for Precontest Nutrition

Competition dieting is without a doubt the worst part of preparing for a show. In my opinion, this is the actual competition itself; fighting tempting food commercials and avoiding triple bacon cheeseburger advertisements at fast food restaurants.

A competition diet can be very costly. The expense of quality meats, supplements, and other specialized foods combined with the quantity a competitive bodybuilder needs can cost quit a bit. It’s important to plan all daily activities around your diet. You must make it a priority to be a successful competitor.

Most bodybuilders begin dieting at about 6 to 12 weeks before the day of competition. If you have a fast metabolism, you may only need as little as 5 weeks or less to come in shredded for competition. Slower metabolisms require up to 12 weeks of dieting time.

Initially, dieting needs to be done gradually so that the body doesn’t react negatively or lose too much size too quickly. The way you do this is by gradually cutting the quantity of “bad calorie” foods such as sugar, fat, high sodium, and food oils. For example, putting less sugar in fruit juice and cutting out mayonnaise on a sandwich.
Eventually food options will become extremely limited. This usually happens around the fourth or fifth week of dieting. Below is a list of foods that a typical precontest diet might include:

Lean Red Meat (i.e. steak)
Protein Supplements

Carbohydrates (Starches & Sugars)
Wheat Bread
Rice Cakes
Sweet Potatoes
Shredded Wheat
Natural Sugars

Carbohydrates (Fiber)
Mixed Vegetables
Any leafy vegetable

Natural Fats
Nuts (i.e. almonds)
Medium Chain Triglyceride (MCT) Oil
Olive Oil

Sample Precontest Diet
For this next example, we will assume an average competition diet of approximately 8 weeks. Starting exactly 8 weeks prior to competition, you should begin to gradually cut out sugars and fats as previously mentioned. The elimination process should take approximately 3 to 4 weeks to finish.

This leaves about 5 weeks of “serious” dieting. The remaining weeks are probably the most crucial and most important because you have to continuously monitor [daily and hourly] how your body is responding to certain foods.

For example, you should be able to notice changes in muscle tone when a certain type of food is eaten at a certain time of day. That’s how well you should know your body during a precontest diet.

You may find that some foods cause the body to have a bloated, smooth, or flat appearance, but you’ll only know this by knowing your body extremely well. That’s why the last 4 to 5 weeks leading up to a show are so important.

Below is how your diet might look around the 4 – 5 week mark:

Meal 1 – 7:30am
Oatmeal, Egg Whites/Egg Beaters, Water, Fat Burner
Meal 2 – 9:30am
Meal Replacement Powder, Multivitamin, L-Glutamine
Meal 3 – 11:30am
2 Grilled Boneless Chicken Breast Strips, Potato or Rice (1 Cup Cooked), Salad, Water, Fat Burner
Meal 4 – 1:30pm
1 Small Can Tuna, Spinach, 1 Cup Rice
Meal 5 – 3:30pm
Meal Replacement Powder, Multivitamin, Water
Meal 6 – 5:30pm
Similar to meal 3, cut carb intake in half, no fat burner
Meal 7 – 7:00pm
Protein Shake, L-Glutamine

It’s important to note that the quantity and type of food you consume will probably vary depending on your individual needs. Some may require more, some need less. For example, a bodybuilder who weighs 230 pounds will not benefit from this diet. They will probably need bigger food servings.

Notice how carbohydrates are taken mostly early in the day. Sometime between 11:00am and 1:00pm is when carbohydrates should be decreased. My theory as a teen competitor was that this strategy would force the body to burn more body fat as energy.

Question: Are there any foods that taste good during a precontest diet?

Answer: Yes and no. The food you eat is actually good, you just have to be creative so that your diet doesn’t become repetitive. Ensure your diet consists of several food options. Your body will thank you.

If fat cravings come about, consider cheating in moderation. One might assume this may be a bad idea. In reality, some cannot afford to eat too many cheat meals and some can. The key is to build cheat meals into your overall diet so that you don’t become mentally and physically drained.

For example, on the Monday of every other week, eat your choice of two or three oatmeal cookies, two tablespoons of peanut butter, or 2 slices of toast with jelly in the morning. This will carry you through the day and provide more energy. It may also give your body a better and more full-looking appearance.

The body is happy, so you’re happy. The body will need fat to keep muscle fullness and help metabolize even more fat. This is why cheating during a strict diet might make sense for some. Adding a little fat to a competition diet can also make the muscles more vascular. Experiment with cheat meals and constantly monitor your body.

Another dieting technique is what I call the yo-yo competition diet. Again, it may or may not work for you. It’s similar to the previous diet example with a few exceptions:

On Monday and Tuesday, the carb intake is higher than normal. On Wednesday and Thursday, the carb intake is slightly lower than normal. Friday and Saturday are a repeat of Monday and Tuesday. Sunday is a low carb day.

Monday – high carb
Tuesday – high carb
Wednesday – low carb
Thursday – low carb
Friday – high carb
Saturday – high carb
Sunday – low carb

This diet basically trains the body to have the same effect that is supposed to take place the week of the actual competition or the gradual carb loading effect. This type of diet can also be staggered in different ways. For example, Monday low carbs, Tuesday low carbs, Wednesday gradually increase carbs, Thursday increase carbs to normal levels, Friday is a repeat of Thursday, and Saturday maintain peak condition for the show.

Monday – low carb
Tuesday – low carb
Wednesday – gradually increase carbs
Thursday – gradually increase carbs
Friday – gradually increase carbs
Saturday – maintain peak condition

Question: How should I diet during the final week of the show?

Answer: The week of the show is without a doubt the most important week of competition dieting. Most would agree that this is the week that will make you or break you. In general, this means that there can be little or no mistakes; particularly with your diet. There are several techniques bodybuilders use to achieve peak condition.

Peaking is done by manipulating body water, carb intake, and protein intake. In addition, constant body monitoring must be done for the final week to be successful. Too much or not enough of one thing or the other can cause big problems.

For this example, lets’ assume the competition is on a Saturday. Ensure you are properly hydrated, as you will see how important water is later in the week.

On Monday, my strategy would be to consume at least six to eight meals. The meals would be slightly higher in carbohydrates (no carbs after approx. 2:00pm). Protein intake would be moderate and I would eat vegetables high in fiber. For example, anything green and leafy is preferred. Sodium intake should be moderate. I would sparingly utilize food flavorings and seasonings such as ketchup, hot sauce, etc.

On Tuesday, the diet would be exactly as it was on Monday. On Wednesday, the only change is in carb intake. I would decrease it to almost half normal levels. I would keep consumption of vegetables extremely high and keep water intake extremely high.

On Thursday, the diet should be exactly as Monday, but with one exception: bring sodium intake down slightly lower (by half) than the previous days. Continue the high water, vegetables, low carb, low sodium intake. On Friday, eliminate sodium completely. Gradually bring carbohydrates back to normal levels, similar to Monday and Tuesday’s levels.

Water intake is still a bit high until midday Friday. After midday (about 3:00), cut water intake to half of normal consumption. This is where that high water intake I’ve been talking about comes into play. By drinking enormous amounts of water and eliminating sodium, you’re basically manipulating or training your body to eliminate water. Protein consumption should be slightly lower than normal. It may even need to be less than or equal to total carb intake.

Important: No meal should be just carbohydrates alone. Keep the diet as close to normal as possible or the body may have a negative reaction (i.e. bloating).

At approximately 7:30pm Friday evening, I would cut water out of the diet completely. Do not drink anymore!

On Saturday, continue to eliminate water. By this time, the body should be extremely vascular and the midsection should come in ripped. “Sip” water on the day of the show as needed. For some people, this dieting technique will work and for some it may not. It is important to monitor (hourly) your condition throughout the dieting process.

An alternative to carb loading is fat loading. This method is basically the same as Friday except you would keep carbs low and add small servings of fat to the diet. This fat usually comes in the form of peanut butter or some type of nuts such as almonds.

It should be used approximately every 2 to 3 hours by the teaspoon or tablespoon, depending on what you feel is necessary. For some bodybuilders, the fat loading method is a much better alternative.

You might have heard of bodybuilders who eat pizza a day before, or even on the day of the show. This is true and it works for some. The end result is a tight, vascular condition. The trick to this method is to drink very little with the pizza or whatever it is you’re loading with.

Question: Wouldn’t fat loading make your abs hold fat and water?

Answer: If fat is taken in moderation and constantly monitored, it will only have positive effects. The amount taken should never be enough to produce “excess” fat. As long as the fat isn’t in the form of cooking grease or an equivalent, you should be good to go.

The goal is to add just enough fat to increase vascularity and muscle fullness. Basically, the reason the body responds well to the fat is because it was deprived of it for a long time. The same [effect] is true with carb loading. As stated before, any method you decide on must be constantly monitored for it to work.

Next is a subject that I don’t really want to go into, but I must do so because it happens. Precontest dieting can sometimes tighten up your stool because of the high protein and mineral combinations. Ouch! There’s an easy way around this: any herbal laxative in tablet form will do. All health food stores carry them.

Precontest Bodybuilding Supplementation

Question: What supplements should you take during competition and why?

Answer: Water is the most important supplement during competition. I can’t emphasize enough how important it really is. It metabolizes every protein, carb, and nutrient in the body. It also enhances the effectiveness of the supplements you take.

When water becomes the primary competition beverage, you will notice increases in energy, strength, and muscle definition. You will be sharper mentally and have a good attitude, all because of water. This is because it cleans out the system and aligns everything the way it should be. Water also keeps the kidneys clean, which is very important to bodybuilders since they consume such high amounts of protein.

For all bodybuilders, especially natural bodybuilders, the amino acid L-glutamine should be considered. This amino acid ranks just as high as vitamin C. It speeds up muscle recovery periods, preserves muscle during harsh dieting, and prevents muscle breakdown as a result of working out.

Another potentially beneficial precontest supplement is vanadyl sulfate. This supplement takes carbohydrates and produces an insulin-like function within the body. Its effect enables more carbs to be stored inside the muscles. The end result is a bigger and longer lasting muscle pump. Vanadyl also gives the muscles are hard and lean look. Note: Vanadyl may not benefit everyone. It may actually make you look flat on contest day. It works in different ways depending on the person. Be sure to experiment to see if this supplement is for you.

Meal replacement powders (MRPs) can probably join a competition diet list. No other supplement offers the essential and nonessential nutrients, protein, and the carbohydrates you get from a real meal like a meal replacement powder. Besides the caloric, protein, and carb ratios, the fact that it’s convenient is what many like about it.

Just add water to pre-packaged servings and you’re done. MRPs are usually used in between meals to supplement and add “good” calories to an existing diet regiment. They also taste like dessert. Everyone who has been through a competition diet knows that this is the closest you can get to actual cake mix.

A separate pure whey protein supplement should also be taken during competition dieting. Additional protein is primarily used to prevent muscle catabolism or breakdown of muscle tissue. Unlike meal replacement powders, pure protein supplements do not always taste good, but the effects they have on the body are phenomenal

A multivitamin would have to be on the precontest supplementation list for obvious reasons. You basically want to ensure you have all the required nutrients during a precontest diet. You’ll also feel better by adding a multivitamin to your diet.

Last but not least of supplements to consider during competition is the fat burner. This secret weapon comes in handy when you begin to lack energy as a result of competition dieting. It also helps to bring out muscular vascularity due to increased metabolism. Note: If used, fat burners should be completely eliminated within 1 – 2 weeks of actual contest day to prevent muscle loss.

The following is a summary of common precontest supplements:
Fat burners
Whey protein
Vanadyl sulfate
Meal replacement shakes

Muscularity Enhancement Tips

This next section will cover some tips and tricks that will help to bring out overall muscularity.

During workouts, flex trained muscles in between sets. For example, when you train legs flex and hold each leg for about 10 to 20 seconds. It’s good to get used to this because the judges may ask to see certain poses repeatedly. They may also ask you to hold pose positions to make accurate assessments.

You can easily get tired if you’re unprepared for additional or add-on posing. It definitely helps to be conditioned for this. Even when you’re at home, practice posing in the mirror. It will make you more comfortable with posing. Every pose should be second nature.

Another tip is to get a second opinion from someone you can trust. Make sure their interpretation of your physique is also what you see. They should give you an opinion on things such as posing feedback, muscular balance, and other recommendations. Noticing weaknesses early on will help you in the long run.

Take pictures of each pose or better yet, record poses and posing routines on videotape. Assess them for flaws and look for ways to improve. I know first hand how much harder it is to pose when there’s no mirror in front of you. You don’t really know if you’re executing the poses correctly when the mirror isn’t in front of you.

I was helping a friend with her posing routine. When she performed her front double biceps pose in front of the mirror, she looked great. She knew how to dial in and execute the double biceps pose like a professional. I had her face me and hit the same pose again.

This time, her arms hung too low and her abdominals were not contracted properly. Why? Basically, she couldn’t compare her posing to anything. No mirror, nothing. It was awkward for her to pose with out the mirror.

The way we attacked this flaw was by getting her used to a certain feeling and pose position. For example, she would strike the pose [using no mirror] and I would tell her to lift her elbows up and to blow the air out of her abs. I then told her to remember the position she was in. She got into a comfortable “memory zone.” She imagined posing in front of the mirror.

You should always know what you look like, not what you think you look like. Review photos or videos for possible posing flaws and get a good second opinion.

Lastly, we must get into the best possible way to remove body hair. With almost 12 years of bodybuilding experience, the best way is to use the old fashioned razor blade or electric razor. Every pro bodybuilder I know, male and female, use the exact same technique.

For the record, you need only shave one time, 2 days before your actual contest date. So if your contest is on a Saturday as most are, then Thursday is the big day. Shave the entire body, then immediately take a shower to prevent skin irritation. Don’t trust hair removal creams!

Question: When and how should I apply my tanning products?

Answer: The answer to this question really depends on which type of tan you use. From experience, what works best is a precoat of Pro Tan the day before the show. Then on the day of the show, use Dream Tan approximately 20 minutes before you go onstage. Both of these tans require a partner for application. DO NOT use sunless tanning lotions from the tanning salon. Don’t laugh, I’ve seen it happen.

How To Pump Up Backstage

Question: I heard there were certain muscle groups you shouldn’t pump before going out on stage. What muscles should I pump up?

Answer: Believe it or not, some, but not much pumping up is needed. Bodyweight exercises or light/medium resistance bands is all you need.

On the day of the show, you’ve either got it (muscle) or you don’t. You won’t put on any new muscle size. The only thing pumping will help is to slightly increase muscle size and significantly bring out muscle vascularity. For the record, it’s important to have each muscle thoroughly warmed up before going out on stage.

This helps to prevent muscle pulls, overexertion, and cramping. The primary muscles that need pumping are the shoulders, chest, back, and arms. In addition, the calves and legs may need some light work. If you pump any muscle up too much, you’ll lose definition.

Too much blood will fill the muscle and cause the muscles to appear smooth. It will also cause you to lose muscle control, resulting in excess trembling or uncontrollable shaking during posing.

For shoulders, only perform a few light weight, high rep sets. Do only enough to get a pump. For chest, a light bench press with dumbbells or pushups is all that is needed. For the back muscles, use high rep dumbbell rows and towel pulls with a partner.

For arms, a basic dumbbell curl with light to moderate resistance is best. The triceps can be trained with dips and towel extensions with a partner. The legs can be warmed up by performing calf raises with a light weight as well as a set of squats [with or without weight].

This will get some warm blood in the muscles helping to increase vascularity in the legs. Stiff-legged deadlifts can also be performed to warm up the hamstrings.

One thing I didn’t mention that beats every pump-up exercise is flexing and posing. This will naturally warm the body up and help increase vascularity. By practicing poses, your body will automatically begin to warm up and become vascular.

Question: I heard you could eat sugar about 10 minutes before going out on stage?

Answer: Yes! This works because the body is deprived of it for so long during competition dieting. It has a phenomenal effect. When you consume sugar and fat, the body basically says, “Thanks, I needed that.” Sugars and fats are quickly rushed into the blood stream. This results in an energy boost and a noticeable increase in vascularity.

Another secret weapon used by amateur as well as pro bodybuilders is “flush” niacin. Make sure it’s unfiltered (flush) niacin or it won’t work. When taken with just a little bit of water, niacin in its natural form will cause an allergic reaction and cause the body to “warm up” quickly. The end result is awesome vascularity. IMPORTANT: Always consult with a doctor to ensure niacin supplementation is safe!

Bodybuilding Posing Tips

Posing in my opinion is probably the most neglected aspect of bodybuilding competition. Many competitors are so focused on their diet and training, they don’t have time to practice posing. Some even have trouble with basic mandatory poses. Some find themselves trying to put together choreographed posing routines at the last minute.

What good is a nice physique if it isn’t displayed properly?

Obviously this can make a big difference when it comes down to a judge’s decision. The ability to pose shows a competitor’s level of experience. The following is a list of mandatory poses for men and women:


  • Front Double Biceps
  • Front Lat Spread
  • Side Chest
  • Side Triceps
  • Rear Double Biceps
  • Rear Lat Spread
  • Abdominal Pose
  • Most Muscular (crab pose)


  • Front Double Biceps
  • Front Lat Spread
  • Side Chest
  • Side Triceps
  • Rear Double Biceps
  • Rear Lat Spread
  • Abdominal Pose
  • Most Muscular*

*rare depends on federation


  • Best Leg Display
  • Calf Display
  • Victory Pose
  • Most Muscular (variations such as hands on hips)

The mandatory poses for men and women are basically the same. The only exception is with the most muscular pose for women. Some federations require this pose for women and some don’t. Judges rarely call for women to do this pose because it has traditionally been viewed as “not feminine” or unflattering.

It may be viewed this way because the most muscular pose requires facial straining and maximal flexion in order to pull it off correctly. But society and social norms are evolving . When you execute a most muscular, you basically try to display every vein and muscle with little regard for how you look. The more veins, bumps, cuts, and striations, the better. Different variations of the most muscular are the crab (most common), hands on hips, and standing.

Question: What do the judges look for during the prejudging?

Answer: The prejudging, which is usually the day before or early the day of the show, is where the judges actually decide on the placing or rank of competitors in each weight class. All decisions except for the overall decisions are made in advance.

The primary reason for the prejudging is to compare each competitor to other competitors in their respective weight classes without help from the crowd. Meaning the judges want to avoid crowd favorite influence or booing bad competitors because it can effect placing.

The judges look for a variety of things once competitors appear on stage. They mainly look for, in no particular order, symmetry, mass, and definition. Symmetry is the term used to measure balance among bodybuilders. For example, having skinny legs and a big upper body will not go in your favor.

Mass is the total size factor of a contestant. For example, take two competitors in the same weight class. They both weigh the same. One competitor is 5’4, the other 5’8. Chances are, the bodybuilder who is 5’4 will look more massive because there will be more muscle on his or her smaller frame. The competitor who is 5’8 will probably look too lanky compared to the mass of his or her 5’4 opponent. This can definitely go in someone’s favor.

Muscle definition is basically the ability to clearly see a certain muscle group. You might have heard the term “muscle separation” used also. In addition, judges also note characteristics such as posing, overall professionalism, and self-confidence; anything additional that makes you stand out.

The confidence factor is very important. The look of confidence usually shows how much experience someone has. A confident competitor shows that they’ve been around for awhile and they know what’s going on. They know how to impress the crowd and the judges.

The look of uncertainty can be found on the faces of many amateur competitors. If you’re not confident about your body, the judges won’t be confident in their decision. Always smile and look like you enjoy the sport/event.

It’s important to note that the judges look at the entire body during every pose, not just one body part. For example, if a front double biceps pose is called, the judges are primarily focusing on the biceps but are also looking at the legs, abs, lat span from the front, and calves from the front.

If they call a rear double biceps pose, they are looking at the calves, hamstrings, lower back, traps, and triceps with the primary focus on the rear view of the biceps. Every pose is in comparison to the entire lineup of competitors. Keep in mind that you are also judged on every move you make and angle you turn.

Question: What do you think about posing for the entire week of the show (no workout)? Is this a good idea?

Answer: It may or may not be a good idea. It’s just like the competition diet example. If something is working, why change it? In other words, if you look good 2 weeks before the show, don’t change your diet or training style.
The only way you’ll know if posing the entire week of the show works is to try it out. You may find that it adds definition and makes the muscles appear harder.

Bodybuilding Weight Divisions

Because of individual size differences, bodybuilding competitors are separated into several weight divisions and weight classes. Separate classes are needed to prevent uneven match-ups. For example, lets’ use a 165 pound female bodybuilder and a 115 pound female bodybuilder.

Chances are if both competitors come in the exact same condition, the 165-pounder would win hands down because she looks bigger. For males, the classes are usually bantamweight, lightweight, middleweight, light heavyweight, heavyweight, and sometimes super heavyweight. For females, the classes are usually light, middle, and heavyweight.

Additional classes such as teen or junior, masters (roughly 35 years of age and up) men and women, novice, and in some cases pro divisions are added to many shows if there’s a big competitor turnout. Depending on the competition, there can be more or less weight divisions. It depends on how many competitors will actually be competing.

This is why show promoters assign registration deadlines. By doing so, they can make future budget and planning predictions easier and more accurately. If a show is expected to have 200 plus competitors, you can bet they will field each weight class. A show of only 40 competitors may only want to use three men’s and three women’s weight divisions to make the weight classes appear bigger.

If they were to add more divisions in a situation like this, there’s the possibility of having only one or two competitors in some of the classes. That’s not fun. It takes away the competition because a contestant in a weight class like this will not have to compete against anyone and will automatically win. Someone can win an entire show because they had no competition in their weight class. I’ve seen it happen before.

Sample Weight Divisions (MEN)

  • Bantamweight: 143-1/4 lbs. & under
  • Lightweight: over 143-1/4 lbs. to & including 154-1/4 lbs.
  • Middleweight: over 154-1/4 tbs. up to & including 176-1/4 lbs.
  • Light-Heavyweight: over 176-1/4 lbs. up to & including 198-1/4 lbs.
  • Heavyweight: over 198-1/4 lbs. up to & including 225-1/4 lbs.
  • Super-Heavyweight: over 225-1/4 lbs.

Sample Weight Divisions (WOMEN)

  • Lightweight: 118 lbs. & under
  • Middleweight: over 118 lbs. up to & including 132 lbs.
  • Heavyweight: over 132 lbs.

Mistakes To Avoid As A Bodybuilding Competitor

To look experienced and professional on stage, you must first appear to know what is going on. Believe it or not, the smallest attributes will show someone’s experience level. The following is a list of often made beginners mistakes:

Chewing Gum On stage
This creates an unprofessional look and tends to draw negative attention.

Not Having A Memorized Posing Routine
A clear sign of someone’s experience level is evident in how they pose. A memorized posing routine gives the appearance of having experience. It may also help with placing when decisions are close.

Not Knowing the Mandatory Poses
The mandatory poses are what the judges base the majority of the points on. This is the minimum requirement for being successful. Not knowing the mandatories shows inexperience.

Forgetting Important Items
Posing trunks, posing oil, etc. Be prepared.

Posing for the Crowd During Prejudging

Pose for the judges only during prejudging. The night show is when you pose for the crowd.

Too Much Dancing or Ballerina Movements

If people wanted to see a theater play, they would have gone to one. They want to see muscle! Don’t bore the crowd. Show them what they want to see.

Mistiming a Posing Routine
It happens. Be sure your routine is well rehearsed and does not exceed the time limit. DJs are on strict schedule for timeliness.

Going Through Poses Too Quickly
Hold poses long enough for everyone (especially judges) to get a good look at your physique. Don’t “flash pose.”

Bad Attitude or Unsportsmanlike Conduct
It’s bodybuilding, which always has subjective contest results. Always show proper sportsmanship to judges and fellow competitors, even if you disagree or dislike something. Good sportsmanship is memorable and goes much further in the long run than a win. People forget wins within weeks after the show. They don’t forget memorable (kind) people.

Forgetting to Take Jewelry, Sandals, Shoes, or Glasses Off
I have personally witnessed each scenario. Before going out onstage, be sure to check on things before it’s too late. With all the stress and stimulus backstage, a person can easily forget to remove such items.

Using Swimming Trunks or Underwear

Posing trunks are specifically designed for bodybuilding and fitness competitors. They are specifically designed to give the body an enhanced look, mainly around the waistline. Thick-sided posing trunks are a thing of the past and create a blocky waistline appearance.

Reverting Back to Old [Bad] Habits
If someone who has experience gives you a pointer or recommendation, it’s because they probably know best or they may see flaws that you can’t see. Take their advice! They only want to better your condition/appearance onstage.