A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO COMP PREP
Time to read 11 min
Time to read 11 min
Have you been watching all of our incredible ASN athletes taking to the stage in their bikini or fitness competitions recently and thought to yourself “I would love to give that a go”? Competing on stage is an extremely rewarding experience and something I personally believe will teach you a lot about yourself physically, mentally and emotionally.
Being a professional WBFF Muscle Model and of the country’s top Comp Prep and Body Recomposition Specialists, comp preparation is my jam and I am grateful for the ASN team allowing me to put together this article to help you understand a little more about competing, what’s involved, and how to get the most out of your prep.
Throughout this blog, I’ll shed some light on the following topics:
What even is a fitness/bikini comp?
What are the different types of comps/federations and how to choose what’s right for you
What’s involved in prep - touching on mindset, nutrition and training
How long should you prep for and the “pre-prep prep”
How to pose and why it’s essential
How to know if you are in a position to considering prepping for a show
The importance of having a coach for your prep
Supplementation advice to maximise your prep
How to create valuable goals and align yourself with them - Just remember, winning isn’t everything!
Please kind in mind, this article is designed to give you a basic guide into what to expect if you are considering doing your first show. However, if you would like more information and want to chat further, please feel free to shoot me through a message on either of the following Instagram accounts:
In short, fitness and bikini comps are simply a more appealing version of a bodybuilder show. Think along the lines of a beauty pageant, except with muscles!
You are judged on stage by a panel of judges who critique your physique against a set of strict criteria based on muscular structure, overall shape, symmetry and your ability to capture the attention of the judges and showcase your physique through the art of posing.
While on a surface level this might sound relatively vain, in my honest opinion, competing offers something that is far deeper than simply a stage to show off your body. Competing offers you an opportunity to seek constant self-improvement. Not just in your physique, but also in your mindset, emotional stability and the standard you learn to hold yourself to. Once you take away the stage, the bikinis/posing trunks and the spotlight, what you have is an incredible journey to discover what you are truly capable of achieving and a newfound confidence in your ability to push past the discomfort in search if something far more rewarding and long-term.
In Australia, we have many different Federations that you can choose to compete with. You have the ANB and ICN (formerly the INBA), which are known as the two “tested federations”. This means that they run regular drug testing at their events to ensure their athletes are all on a level playing field as natural competitors. These are particularly great shows for first-timers, mums and anyone just wanting to dip their toes in the water to experience the world of competing!
Then we have the WFF, PCA, IFBB and WBFF, which are known in this scene as the “untested federations”. One point that I would like to make perfectly clear is that just because these federations are not drug tested, does not mean that all their athletes are using banned substances. It does, however, mean that if you choose to compete in these Federations, you enter knowing that there is a possibility that you may be on stage against athletes who have chosen to go down that path. These federations generally deliver a much higher standard of athletes, so be warned that you will be on stage against the best of the best.
This is really a discussion that you should have with your coach to ensure you are given the best advice based on your individual goals, aspirations and current physique potential. One piece of advice I would suggest, and a conversation I personally have with my athletes, is that it completely depends on what you from competing. Of course, on some level, we all have a small desire to win. It’s human nature to be competitive and to strive for that first-place trophy. But, on a deeper level, what is it that you really want?
Just ask yourself - Is competing for something that you want to do simply to tick it off your bucket list? Is it simply to prove to yourself that you have the discipline and work ethic to achieve such a physique? Or are you really wanting to throw yourself all in and see if you can be the very best of the best?
I believe the answers to the above questions will heavily determine which Federation is best suited to you. For instance, if competing is simply on your wishlist and you are just interested in ‘giving it a crack’, you are far better suited to aim towards the ICN or ANB Federations. On the other hand, if you want the recognition of being one of the best and want to throw yourself out there against the best athletes in the country, the IFBB and WBFF are the two highest-regarded Federations in the competing space.
Again, this is a discussion for you and your coach. However, I do recommend that you look into each Federation to see which look you prefer as they all offer extremely different experiences.
When most people first think of comp prep, they generally think about the dieting aspect and possibly associate prep with some form of cardio. However, the harsh reality is that prep involves far more than simply eating a little less food and increasing your daily cardio. In actual fact - prep is an extremely testing period of time where you will find yourself constantly questioning if this is really something you want to do!
What you must understand is that the human body does not want to be in ‘stage-ready’ condition. There is nothing normal about wanting to achieve a ‘stage ready’ physique and the body will play games on you physically, mentally and emotionally in an attempt to stop you from pushing towards a level of leanness that it is convinced is not healthy.
If you want to prep for a show, one of the most important facts to remember is that your training and nutrition approach must be tailored specifically towards your body recomposition if you want to build the best possible physique. It isn’t simply about weight loss or fat loss. It’s for this reason that it’s important to work with a coach that specialises in comp preparation, rather than your standard Personal Trainer.
The judging criteria is looking not just for an athlete with low body fat, but also someone with a well-balanced, muscular physique. Body recomposition and creating a great physique on stage has an extremely different nutritional and training approach than what is taught as part of the “health and fitness” curriculum. Each coach will have their own preferred training and dieting methods but as a general overview, your training must be tailored for the purpose of building quality lean muscle mass, while improving the body’s overall symmetry and muscular structure. The nutrition, while creating a calorie deficit to decrease body fat, must also fuel your training so you can continue to progress and create the best possible body composition for stage.
Cardio can absolutely be an incredible tool for decreasing body fat, but if you engage in too much cardio, you risk losing muscle mass, which only leads to a frail and weak-looking physique on stage. As a coach, it becomes a bit of a juggling act trying to ensure your training is maximising muscle gain, while simultaneously using different nutrition protocols and cardio to reduce body fat. All of the different methods work in synergy to maximise results. Again, this is why it’s vital to work with a coach experienced in comp preparation.
The biggest shock to most athletes, especially first-timers prepping towards the stage, is the mental and emotional struggles you face throughout the prep phase. Coaching athletes with the most effective training and nutrition approach to manipulate body composition is the easy part of the job. Mentoring them through the emotional and mental hurdles they face throughout prep is where I find I place most of my attention as a coach.
In prep, you will feel deprived, you will feel isolated, you will feel like no one understands you, you will be convinced everyone is attempting to sabotage you and you will find yourself doubting your ability to see the prep through to the end. But this is why prep allows us the opportunity to discover ourselves and our potential and one thing I can assure you is that every athlete I’ve ever worked with believes that the struggles were all worth it in the end.
Now, this is the biggest question we get as coaches. While different coaches have their own preferred timeline to prep a client for the stage, prepping for a show is not simply a 10, 12, 16 or 20-week prep. While I do prep athletes over a 20-week period to allow plenty of time and to reduce the need for unrealistic and often dangerously aggressive fat loss protocols, in my mind, prep technically starts the minute you decide you want to go on stage.
I refer to this as the “pre-prep prep”. What we are doing is laying the foundations needed for the most successful prep. If you truly want to be your absolute best, I suggest working with your coach at least four to six months prior to starting the actual “prep”. This will allow your coach to adequately build your metabolism, optimise your health, build the required amount of muscle mass and build a good understanding of your body and its preferred nutritional requirements before prepping for the show. Remember, the best athletes don’t have an ‘off-season’. It’s a ‘development season’.
Posing is by far the most undervalued aspect of competing for most athletes. Remember, fitness/bikini shows are judged on more than simply having a great physique. Stage presence and your ability to show your physique in the most pleasing way possible play a massive role in determining your overall score come show day!
I have seen many competitors with phenomenal physiques get beaten by athletes they otherwise wouldn’t have, purely due to their inability to show off their physique through the art of posing. I recommend posing practice every day from 12 weeks out and highly encourage you to get a stage coaching specialist to help choreograph your posing routine.
I honestly believe that too many people rush into prep before they are truly ready on a mental and emotional level. If you are not willing to allocate the next four to six months to lay the foundation before commencing prep, you must ask yourself if you are doing this for the right reasons.
As a general rule of thumb, aim to have a minimum of 12-24 months’ training behind you, have a structured meal plan in place, and be confident in your mental and emotional state prior to beginning the prep phase. It is NEVER a good idea to attempt to use a prep as an escape/distraction from other issues in your life. Again, this is a discussion you should have with your coach before setting any comp dates.
I understand that as a coach, it may appear quite a bias to be preaching the importance of investing in a coach. However, I cannot stress enough how beneficial it is to reaching your full potential.
My team and I coach a large number of athletes from different federations and even invest in our own coaches when we’re prepping. As previously mentioned, prep can be extremely demanding, and a coach can offer a less clouded perspective on what’s going on and can assess the situation without the emotional attachments you may be feeling. There is a saying: “you can not see the picture when you’re in it.” Whether you are confident in writing nutrition and training plans or not, a coach will make far better decisions as they can see the full picture and offer accurate advice to get you to where you need to be. Not to mention, they will also help to keep you accountable the whole way through.
Supplementation is extremely useful to ensure you bring your absolute best physique to the stage. Each coach is going to have their own preferred supplements they recommend their athletes to use. Obviously, everyone’s go-to supplements during the prep phase are fat burners, pre-workouts and protein powders, however, I would like to offer a different viewpoint to think about.
When I think of supplementation, I place them in two separate categories:
Fat burners, pre-workouts, protein powders, BCAAs/EAAs and creatine would be the main supplements I would recommend for ticking off the ‘performance-based’ category. These supplements are extremely useful for improving your performance and recovery to maximise your overall results.
However, with the demands that prep places on the body, we must first optimise your health by supporting thyroid function, sex hormone health and gut function to allow these performance-based supplements to work to their full potential. A few of my go-to ‘health optimisation supplements for my athletes include:
PREP by RCN Nutrition for females to optimise sex hormones, improve estrogen detoxification and reduce water retention.
Ares from ATP Science for guys to improve testosterone levels and regulating/optimisation of the testosterone & estrogen ratio.
Stress Test by RCN Nutrition for men to boost testosterone levels and reduce stress.
Andrenal RX by ATP Science to help reduce the damaging effects stress plays within the body.
Green Machine by Evolve for ensuring all phytonutrients/micronutrient needs are met to help the body function at its optimal.
Want to find out more about RCN Prep & Stress Test? Visit your local ASN store.
All of these supplements can be purchased from your local ASN store or online. I personally use these health optimisation supplements as a foundation base and then build on these with my preferred performance-based supplements for each individual.
I’ve left the most important part to last. Just remember, winning is not everything!
Competing is a subjective sport and while we would all like to win, the final outcome on stage is up to the personal opinion of the judges on that day. Whether you take home the first-place trophy or not, does not determine the success of your prep. It simply shows the judges' preferences on the day. Competing is all about self-discovery and achieving your best physique. I’ve won shows with a physique I was not happy with and lost shows where I loved everything about the physique I brought to the stage. A trophy does not determine the success of my prep, the photos and pride I have in my physique do.
Learn to base your prep goals around being the best you, and no one can rain on your parade!