I’ll admit it, like many people I have no idea what it means to be a part of the bodybuilding world. All I knew was that competitors are completely ripped and it looked like a lot of hard work. But there had to be more to it than just working out a lot. I wanted to learn what it was like for a woman to compete in a division of this sport. Although I didn’t know much about the process I was sure that I had a lot of misconceptions.
Choose your division
So I reached out to my friend Lauren Watson who is a National Physique Committee Bikini Competitor. If you’re thinking, that sounds cool but what does that actually mean? Let me break it down for you:
There are several divisions you can compete in and each division relates to how much muscle definition you have as an athlete. To view all the potential divisions click here.
Your personality is a big factor in which division you’ll excel in as well. Bikini is a division for less muscularly defined females but, as Lauren describes it, “[they] can pack a punch with stage presence.”
She told me that when you think of bikini competitions, picture fitness models or the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. “I chose to compete in Bikini because of the glam and sassiness you need on stage . . . Bikini fits me best because I have a string-bean body type that is more athletic genetically,” Lauren said.
But it’s not just body type and sass to consider, competitors are also divided into height classes. Grouping the athletes with other women of similar height allows the judges to fairly assess the physique of each competitor. Lauren competes in the 5’9” class and explained that if she were standing next to someone who was 5’0” the body lines and definition the judges look for would be completely different.
It’s all about the angles
Competing is very dependent on the “angles” you use to present your muscle definition. Lauren describes posing for competition to be a lot like a dance rehearsal with a little acting thrown in. Once you figure out what angles enhance your muscles you work on a routine that you use to showcase yourself on stage during competition.
Lauren described her own routine for her first competition: “For me, I have more muscle in my legs and store most of my fat there. But my upper body loses fat almost too fast, so I have to train my legs more than my upper body. When posing, I need to keep this in mind and choose angles that make my lower body appear leaner while making my upper body appear fuller muscularly. What looks good on my body might make another competitor look too top-heavy.”
This led me to thought (and it may have crossed your mind too) how do you put that perfect routine together? The answer is a kick ass coach. I was surprised to find out just how crucial having a coach is to be successful in this sport. Many times these coaches are not only certified in fitness to put together specific workout plans but are also certified in nutrition. This helps their athletes follow a specific meal plan to reach the desired level of muscle definition.
When I asked Lauren if she’d recommend an amateur competitor teaming up with a coach she had this to say: “YES! And a qualified one on top of that! There is a common misconception that competing just means being in really good shape, but there is more to it than that. For the physical aspects of competing, having a coach is beneficial because they can see things about your body that you cannot.”
The “meathead” misconception
For many people, hearing that someone is part of the sport of bodybuilding immediately gives them flash backs to that guy at the gym who grunts his way though reps or asks you how much you lift. Lauren said there are many misconceptions and unfortunately this happens to her all the time. “Literally the second I mention I’m a competitive bodybuilder, I usually get a comment like ‘but you’re not muscly and jacked like a man.’ Either people are surprised that I don’t have the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger or they’re surprised that I’m not stage-lean at the given moment,” she explained.
Truthfully, the classic stage shots you associate with bodybuilders are taken during what’s referred to as “peak week.” This is the time when carb and water intake are drastically cut for a few days to pump up muscle definition. No one’s body can sustain that type of diet for long so that’s why when someone tells you they’re a body builder but they don’t look stage ready that doesn’t mean they’re not competitive.
Getting through your first check-in
One of the crazier times during the competition is the check-in process. This is where you stand in line with the other women competitors to let officials take your height. Lauren shared that during this time at your first competition it’s easy to feel out of place or start worrying how you measure up to the other women:
“My number one tip here is to stop comparing yourself to the other athletes. The cool thing about this sport is that there are so many different journeys and body types that no one will have the same competition training experiences. Because of this, it is impossible to compare yourself to someone else because no one goes through the same journey. Everyone has worked hard in their own way and you deserve to be there just like them.” – Lauren Watson, NPC Bikini Competitor
The perfect 10: being mentally tough during competition
I wanted to dig a little deeper into the issue of body image in this sport. When Lauren first told me she was competing I wondered what it would feel like to take part in a sport where the goal is for someone to judge your body. But Lauren pointed out that it’s mental toughness and body acceptance that can make or break a competitor.
“For me, I centered my focus around being thankful to my body for working so hard as opposed to being nit-picky about my body. The thing that no one tells you about competing is that you will have coaches poking you, your measurements will be taken every week, you will need to take progress pictures, and amidst all that you are trying to work against your own biological tendencies. You simply cannot help how your body responds to the stimuli you give it and if you cannot separate your own self-worth from your body, you are in for a rough ride,” Lauren said.
“Growing season” is the “off season”
Like most sports there is an “off season” in the bodybuilding world. But this is not the time to put your feet up and say, “I’ll just work out tomorrow it’s not like I’m in season.” The time when an athlete is not competing is referred to as “growing season.” At this point the athlete is focused on gaining healthy weight and adding muscle. This means their diet could be higher in calories and more focused on strength training. This is in contrast to when they are in competition season where the goal is to lose fat and maintain muscle tone. So the diet could be lower in carbs with the training focusing on cardio and high repetitions on lifting days.
No matter the season, Bikini Competitors are always working toward a new goal and Lauren is no exception. But it’s her love of competing that keeps her motivated. “Seeing all of the other athletes made it real and I was seriously shaking the minute I put on my suit. Even though I love competing, I really loved the backstage vibe with all of the coaches and athletes. We all trained so hard to be up on stage, it was time to enjoy ourselves and I actually made so many new friends along the way,” said Lauren.
Now, Lauren is currently training for another competition this fall, and plans on continuing until she receives her Pro Card to compete at the elite level.
Lauren Watson is a NPC Bikini Competitor and Certified Personal Trainer. You can read about her fitness journey, get fitness tips, and connect with her at laurenwatsonfitness.com