The unexplored path gives way to choices and steps you’ve never taken and although it may be intimidating it is all about taking that first step of faith. I haven’t always been a published fitness model and I can still remember the grass roots of where it all began and my first step into the unknown. My journey has made me who I am today and now gives me the opportunity to share some inside tips and guidance on stepping on stage for the first time.
Fitness starts with a decision. Fitness competing is exactly what it says it is: a competition. The first and most important aspect is motivating yourself when you decide that you’re going to train and then step on stage. This decision has to be for you and your goals. Like anything worth doing it does not come to fruition overnight. You have to have the right state of mind to make the journey.
The diet changes will be tough and you are going to exercise harder than ever, but with these changes also come the mental aspects. On a personal level you have to set a realistic goal with a realistic plan and stick to it. Got that? Good.
Along your path, just like I did, you will encounter individuals who do not understand why you’ve made the decision to compete and some who may even look at you like you don’t belong in that sport. Your journey shouldn’t be about receiving their acceptance or approval. Your journey should be just that, your journey. Here are seven tips to help you be ready for your first competition.
1. Base your progress on your progress not on the progress of others. This is a big inside tip to help you get there that many people do not realize. People of all shapes, sizes, and levels step on stage and many of them have different goals. Ask any competitor and they will tell you that you’ll never find a better support system than those on the stage with you. They have all been at different levels on their journey and one thing you will find at most competitions is that although you’re competing against one another but you are also there to support and encourage the athlete next to you.
2. Find a coach that you’re confident in and let him/her guide you to your goal. Look at any major sport…there is a coach calling the shots in each. I’m confident in my eating and fitness knowledge however it was essential for me to have a coach for the accountability. Fitness coaches are there not only to help with the meals, workouts, and preparation, they are there to keep you on track and hold you to your goal. Now I am not saying it can’t be done without a coach leading the way, I am just here to tell you that from my experience having the accountability and the support of another individual pushing you to your goal made a world of difference for me.
That being said there are ton of different types of programs out there. Do your research and ask questions about the format of their programs. How do they build their workouts and meal plans? Would they be willing to send you an example of what their plans look like? Have a favorite athlete or two on social media? Ask them if they have someone they would recommend. If they have a coach they like, they will be thrilled to refer you. Now the most important aspect of this decision is to make the decision and stick to it. Listen to your coach and be honest with them on how the program is going.
MORE: The Dark Side of Competiting
3. Set a schedule for training and prep work. Going into competition mode, especially for the first time, can be a shock to your routine. This was a big lesson I had to learn. When I first started, I was working out and cooking at a different time each day. I felt like I was always playing catch up and could feel my anxiety rising. The solution was planning. I sat down and was realistic with myself; if I wanted to make it I couldn’t miss meals or workouts and to do that I would need structure. I set a schedule.
Everyone’s schedule is different but for my life it became grocery shopping and meal prep for the week on Sundays and then a.m. workouts and cardio after work if needed Monday through Friday. It’s the same schedule I stick to this day and it has made my life so much easier. This could be a bump in your first journey but play with your schedule and find something that works for you. Do not get discouraged there will be a little trial and error.
4. Strike a pose. If ever there was a time to strike a pose it’s now. You have been striking poses your whole life for photo ops; competitive posing is a bit different and something that I wish I would have known for my first competition. You should practice your posing at least 6 weeks out from your competition if not sooner. Once you step on stage posing becomes one of the most important aspects of your experience. Judges have specific poses they are looking for. If you practice the poses early and often they will become second nature. I remember stepping on stage having only practiced my posing for a few days and it made me not only nervous but distracted. One of the judges told me I would have placed better if my posing would have been on point. Practice makes perfect and in this case you’re setting yourself up for success. Correct posing will have a direct effect of who gets first call outs and who is taking home 1st place.
5. Wear what feels right. For most first time competitors, especially us ladies, picking out a swimsuit becomes the most important and overwhelming decisions of our lives! Relax…. Start looking for suits early and do not over analyze. Find something that you are going to feel confident in, get it, and stop worrying about it. The judges are more concerned with your body, posing and presence on stage then what color your swimsuit is. There are many companies out there that will let you rent competition swim suits and they have some great options so I would recommend starting here especially if you are on a budget.
6. Be prepared. You’ve eaten clean, listened to your coach, worked your ass off, and now you’re ready to compete. You do not want added stress at any competition but especially your first one. You’re going to be dehydrated, craving cheat meals, and probably a bit ‘hangry’ for most of the last week and you do not want to be rushing or panicking if something goes wrong. And I can almost promise you something will go wrong, so be as prepared as you can and then just roll with the punches. If you are traveling to your competition, make sure to book your flight and hotel as soon as possible. Leave early in case there are delays.
From there plan out how you’re going to bring your meals, keep them cool, how you’re going to heat them up and find a local restaurant or store where you can pick up anything you may forget. Pack a cheap pair of sheets and towels because your spray tan will spread; you don’t want to have to pay because you stained the hotel’s sheets. Remember that perfect swimsuit and or gown/suit you found? Bring a spare. I cannot tell you how many times I have had a client or teammates have a last minute wardrobe dilemma. Recently, I had a client attempt to starch their bottoms only to put a giant hole in them. They had a backup pair, thankfully.
Finally – and one of the most important things to bring – is that first cheat meal. You’ve worked hard and deprived yourself for weeks… Have that perfect something waiting for you back stage… For me it is always extravagant cupcakes and there are always more than one. Want to make friends? Bring some to share!
7. Enjoy your time on stage. A fitness journey isn’t an easy one and when you are finally there and waiting to step on stage take the time to calm yourself and enjoy the experience. The weeks of prep, workouts, and probably some tears are over, now is not the time to be anxious and stressed. Now is the time to enjoy the progress you’ve made. You’ve accomplished your goal to step on stage for the first time and many people do not even have the courage to begin. When you take those steps out on stage, muster all the confidence you have, smile your “I’ve made it smile,” and strut your stuff like there is no tomorrow. Judges will naturally score a confident competitor higher than one who is nervous. Confidence is infectious. You’ve reached your goal, you’re on stage, you’ve earned it, you belong up there!
By Leah Ward, Photo by James Patrick