by John Romano T-Nation
The Truth About Figure, Physique, and Bikini Competitors
Anyone can get on stage just by paying an entry fee. It doesn’t really matter how good you are. This is part of the attraction of the physique sports. And it opens the doors to just about anyone, including delusional people who have no business crowding an already crowded arena.
6 Reasons Not to Compete
If the following don’t apply to you, then the lights are probably all green for you to hit the stage. I said probably. It’s like having kids – just because you can doesn’t mean you should. There’s a lot to be considered.
1. You don’t care about winning.
Competing isn’t an opportunity for physical affirmation, it’s not an arena for you to show everyone how much weight you lost, and it’s not a place for your trainer to showcase his work. It’s a path to the top. You don’t enter a Formula 1 race to see if you can parallel park.
There’s this idea that competing serves a great many purposes other than winning, like marking a body transformation, seeing if you can do it, building confidence, having fun, or some other physical affirmation. But I’m of the school that believes that you compete to WIN. Competition, especially at the national and pro level, is serious business. Shame on those who bastardize legitimate competition to satisfy any selfish goal other than winning, and show up in any condition other than that of a winner – your best attempt at the ideal. I don’t prep any athletes for second place, top three, top five, whatever. No coach should.
Either you’re in it to win it, or you shouldn’t be wasting your time, the audience’s time, the judges’ time, or your fellow competitors’ time. Period. I’m sick of seeing people up on stage that have no tan, they’re fat, have no muscle, look sloppy, can’t pose, and have no stage presence.
What many don’t understand is that it’s not the competition itself that defines the competitor, it’s the prep. As simple as competition prep may sound, dieting off almost all your body fat while retaining as much muscle as possible is perhaps the hardest thing anyone will ever do in their lives.
I’ve scaled the great walls in Yosemite Valley; traversed Borneo on foot; graduated survival school by finding my way back to civilization, after seven days, with just the clothes on my back; raised three kids (two of them girls); been a single dad; and endured two divorces. I would do each of them 50 times over before I’d ever prep again for a bodybuilding show. It’s that hard.
2. You can’t do the diet.
The biggest, most obvious reason not to compete is not being able to do the diet. Insomnia, spontaneous crying, emotional breakdowns, unbearable hunger pangs, repeatedly breaking up and getting back together with boyfriends, zombie-like behavior, complete irrational thoughts, and escalating body dysmorphia are a few issues women experience on a strict contest diet.
I’ve rarely had dieting issues with the men I’ve coached. Most would robotically eat sawdust if I told them to. Women, not so much. And since minimal body fat is a giant requisite to the competition, the ability to endure a contest diet is paramount to a competitor’s success on stage. Women, unlike most men, have a deep emotional connection to food. Over the last few decades, I’ve prepped hundreds of competitors for competition, most of them women, so I speak from experience.
Take one of my female competitors who had a penchant for peanut butter. This is fairly common. This young woman thought she could quell her passion for her beloved peanuttiness if, after she scooped her meager one-tablespoon serving out of the jar, she entrusted the rest of it to her neighbor for safe keeping. Well, one particular day, an hour after her last meal, the desire for that extra chunky goodness became unbearable. She called her neighbor for the jar, but found he’d left for work. Twenty minutes later she showed up with a ladder, broke into his house, stole her jar of peanut butter and ate half of it!
I’ve found cookie crumbs in the folds of the driver’s seat of a competitor’s car, candy wrappers in the garbage, I’ve padlocked refrigerators, and removed stashes of junk food from under beds. The means by which some women cheat on their diets is, by some measure, as creative as it is duplicitous.
At the onset, these issues tend to foster a degree of strong self control, but can soon metastasize, and, before long, many spiral out of control and find themselves facedown in the remnants of a hot fudge caramel brownie ice cream sundae with extra whipped cream, and an insulin coma, two weeks out from the show.
While it’s not unheard of for a guy to find himself in a similar situation, statistically, more women start contest diets than finish them. Certainly they all start with the best of intentions, but as reality rears its increasingly ugly head day after day, just hanging in there becomes almost impossible. Others can manage it quite well. If you’re one of those lucky few, then competing is a possibility.
3. You’re not built for it.
Just because you love the sport doesn’t mean it loves you. Mother nature can be a contemptuous character. And some women can diet like they’re happily spending the summer in Auschwitz, but even so, narrow clavicles, wide hips, a thick waist, straight up and down legs, no calves, featureless abs, boney shoulders, high lats, and a flat butt are attributes not even Charles Glass can fix… even if you trained with him for 20 years. You can enhance the hand you were dealt, but for the most part you can’t change it.
You can’t go into a division and expect to change the ideal. Either you fit the ideal or you go somewhere else. And there’s a special caveat for bikini competitors: you have to have breasts. There are no flat-chested pro bikini champs. If your division is partially defined by strategic curves and you don’t have them, nor are you inclined to have them installed, then you’re kidding yourself.
It sounds horrid, unfair, chauvinistic, sexist, vile and crude, but that’s the way it is. If you’re going out for ice cream, tapioca is not going to cut it. More to the point, for all divisions, if you don’t posses the requisite genetic characteristics that denote the ideal, your political and emotional stance on the matter isn’t going to change anything.
While it seems noble to stand for what you believe is right, the judges aren’t going to agree with you. You have to have what it takes going in. You can have the best trainer, the best diet guru, the highest caliber drugs and supplements, the most crystals that can possibly fit on your suit, the best hair extensions, makeup, a killer tan, and a saunter like a cat on stage exuding enough sex appeal to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window, but you’re never going to compensate for poor genetics. You have to have the foundation to build upon. If you don’t then I’m sorry, competing is not for you.
4. You’re missing muscle.
While bikini girls are expected to have the least and bodybuilders the most, each division has an ideal and all of them require a degree of muscularity. A muscular physique is the backbone of all competitive divisions – complete muscularity and balanced symmetry.
You have to have well-defined muscle all over, including your abs. A “flat” tummy does not a winner make. If you don’t have well-developed body parts that denote the ideal for the division in which you’re competing, then stay off the stage. If you have a shortcoming in your physique, then as much as you love the sport, you shouldn’t be competing, if and until you can fix it.
Competing is reserved, or should be, for those who exhibit the requisite body parts in extreme condition and etched in detail. If you don’t posses such attributes then stay off the stage until you do. You compete to win. That’s it. If you’re not there yet, wait until you are. There should be no rush in anyone’s pursuit to hit the stage.
5. You don’t have the cash.
Finances are a hindrance that should keep some athletes off the stage. You have to step out there ready, and I don’t just mean condition ready, I mean the whole package ready. That means not only a killer body in a highly studded suit, but also hair, nails, professional makeup, heels, tan, transportation, entry fee, hotel, food – the list goes on. And that’s just for competition day.
Tally up the cost of prep: the coach, choreographer or posing coach, food, supplements, and drugs (yes, even bikini girls do some kind of PEDs). That list also goes on, especially when unexpected things come up. And cutting corners only gives your competition the advantage. If you think you can slather on your own tan back stage, sleep in your car, borrow a suit on show day, and put your hair in a bun you’ve already killed off most of your advantage, assuming you had any.
My wife is an IFBB physique pro. So I can tell you from experience, as frugal as she is, her road to the pros cost us a fortune. And she had a sponsor who picked up some of the expense! You have to do it all at a very high level. If you don’t, you’re just wasting your time. There is nowhere to scrimp without it being deleteriously obvious.
And don’t think for a second that your friends want to donate to that GoFundMe account you set up in order to celebrate your “fitness journey” on stage.
6. You’re generic.
I have to pick on the bikini girls for a minute. There is no other competitive division that attracts more contestants than bikini. At any given show, the number of bikini competitors outnumber any other division 25 to one. The reason is because, compared to the other divisions, bikini is a cake walk.
While the idea that weight training, cardio, diet and even some PEDs represent the required path to the stage, the reality is that many bikini girls look like they prepped for their show on cocaine and plastic surgery.
And these days, a girl blessed with good genetics working the beer tub at your basic pool bar can likely promote herself proudly on social media as an NPC bikini competitor and pretty much never see the inside of a gym. At least that’s how it looks. And this is usually an insult to legitimate competitors in other divisions who actually have an exponentially tougher road to the stage ahead of them.
Here’s what happens: A girl with a decent body starts weight training for the first time in her life. Six weeks later her coach, boyfriend, husband, or friend starts blowing sunshine up her ass and encourages her to compete. While not even Gene Roddenberry could have imagined anything farther away from the Olympia ideal, the encouragement sounds as flattering as it does enticing and she decides to go for it.
This ultimately stacks the division with a ton of girls who have no business being on stage. (But drop one of them a line on Facebook for meal plans!) Of course they look tan, toned, and pretty. They glitter and sparkle and the camera flashes go off when she turns around and bends over and pushes her vagina out to the third row. Then Facebook and Instagram get plastered with sexy pics and before you know it, a slew of other girls who have no business on stage, and even less shame, end up prepping for a show because they want to be like them too.
Ultimately, we have a snowball effect that has the bikini divisions stacked to the rafters. Sadly, less than a handful have the requisite physique that will put them in the top 10 of a pro show. This does nothing but clog up the pace of the show, frustrate the expediters back stage, aggravate the real competitors, give the judges eye strain, and bore the audience.
For the sake of everyone involved, if you don’t have winning potential – as defined by the ideal, not the coach making money off your effort – stay off the stage! There are plenty of pool bars in Florida where you can strut your stuff in a wet tee shirt for free. Competition is for athletes.
Promoters, Sponsors, and Organizers, Oh My!
From the promoter’s perspective I’m talking blasphemy here. Their goal is to get as many people to compete as possible because each contestant pays an entry fee. Consider a large national show with over 1000 entrants paying 150 bucks each. You do the math. It’s a nice chunk of change to take in BEFORE the sponsors even kick in.
There’s a lot of money at stake here and most of it comes from the female competitors, mostly bikini (although men’s physique is quickly catching up). And therein lies the rub. If everyone listens to me (they won’t), these guys could see a 20 percent loss in revenue or more, because at any national level show there are at least that many competitors that don’t belong on stage. But would you rather get on stage because you were manipulated into doing it, or would you rather stay off the stage and hang onto your money and dignity?
Consider the Audience
If you’ve ever sat through a large show, you’ll know what I mean: Even the best run competitions take forever to shuffle several hundred competitors through their classes. If you’re sitting through it while 50 women (who have no business being on stage) go out anyway for their 20 seconds of limelight, between prejudging and finals, we’re talking hours of grueling, wasted, wait time. It’s absolutely selfish and has no relevance to the spirit of competition.
If you think competition is a personal quest and everyone ought to compete for their own reason, you’re wrong. Unless you’re striving to knock Ms. Olympia off her throne at some point, you’re competing for the wrong reason. If you want to have fun go to Disney Land. If you want to celebrate the weight you’ve lost, hire a photographer. Other than your family and close friends, no one really wants to look at you, or have their time wasted while you take up space doing your thing.
We don’t go to baseball games to watch athletes who can’t play baseball or auto races to watch people who can’t drive. We don’t want to go to a body contest to see ill prepared competitors. Not only is it an affront to the sport, it’s also an insult to the audience who paid to see real competitors compete.
Getting up on stage in anything other than the closest you can get to the ideal is simply poor form and not something to which anyone should subject the general public. When we pay good money to see a contest, the public trusts we’re going to see an all-out assault at the top. We’re not getting dressed up, driving out to the venue, and buying a ticket to see who can lock up last place.