Body building, modelling, fitness competitions and Cross-fit are all part of the beauty and fitness industry – body-building falls somewhere in-between aesthetics and athletics because you are judged primarily on appearance, followed by stage presence and poise. It has changed quite a bit over the years, especially for women. Because the focus is so much on building muscle and looking vascular (“veiny”), most women shy away from this type of look because they do not want to appear masculine. In saying this, it is a very hard look to achieve and it takes years of hard work, lifting heavy, prepping meals and knocking back BCAA’s like nobody’s business, it’s not just about strutting your swag around half naked on stage ;)
Bikini Competition: Why I decided to do one :)
Have you ever thought about training for a body-building competition? If so, give this a read!
To do a competition or not; read on to see if my reasons reasonate with you.
In more recent years, women’s body-building has blown up. This is due to fitness programs like CrossFit, which focus more on strength and conditioning (along with having muscle), paired up with the newly recognized body-building class ‘bikini’ (recognised on its own in 2010, WIKI). The bikini class, for those of you who are not familiar, has much less emphasis on muscularity and more focus on a feminine shape. It is much more open, leading to more subjectivity in each competition; some judges prefer a harder look, some like the girls to be softer in appearance. This makes it more important for girls to know the judges at the show they are competing in and understand what that judge might be looking for. As a general rule, shoulders should be round with some width, waist should be trim and glutes should be round and firm. Poise and overall appearance is also important in this class, basically you want to present yourself as a marketable candidate to the judges – are you confident? Could you sell products within the industry? Could you pose for a fitness magazine? These are all things to think about when you are getting ready to compete.
Now that I’ve briefed you on the bikini class, I want to get into a bit more about why I decided to train for one and how I’ve felt throughout. In the beginning, before I decided 100% that I was going to do it, I was flipping back and forth about whether I would be setting a good example by doing this competition. As a professional training coach and someone who has always had an interest in nutrition, baking and cooking, I knew that this competition was not necessarily something that would be “good” for me or healthy. I’ve had some exposure with exercise addiction and eating disorders (not necessarily myself but within my group of friends) so I have an idea of how it can affect the people involved. As a trainer who is part of the fitness industry and encourages people to be healthy, as well as an older sister, the last thing I would want to do is make people feel uncomfortable or influence people in a negative way. This is hard when you are training for something that focuses so much on appearance so I wanted to make sure that I was competing for a good reason.
Primarily, I felt I should train for a bikini competition because I am interested in the body. I do not, or have not had issues with my body and the way I look – when I say this I mean that of course I have compared myself to others and I have woken up some days feeling “fat” “bloated” or “ugly” but this is normal. Most days I have confidence in myself both in appearance and ability and I think it is perfectly normal to not feel or look 100% everyday.
Anyway, back to the why. As I said, I am interested in the body – I always have been. I am interested in helping people achieve their goals – whether that means lose weight, gain weight, run faster, lift heavier, play stronger or move more efficiently. The bikini competition or any body-building class gets into more specifics. It is literally using food, water, sodium, lifting, cardio, supplements, posing techniques and spray tans, to manipulate the body to look a certain way. The key here is that all of this training, the off-season (“bulk”) and the prep (“cut”) is to look this way ON STAGE. It is NOT training to look this way year round. That is where I think some people get confused and either judge the whole competition itself OR, for those actually doing the competition, fall off the wagon entirely post-competition and gain fat quickly OR continue the strict pre-competition diet and training, trying to maintain the on stage look and, consequently, run into health issues down the road.
Bikini competitors and body-builders can be seen as athletes, it is a sport. To compare, a football player does not train the same way year round. He or she has an off season and an on season and his or her training program changes to favor a PEAK performance during the on season when he or she is supposed to perform optimally to support the team. Take this one step further, and this football player likely has a coach who recommends he or she fulfills a certain caloric intake, as well as fulfills certain macro requirements, depending on what the coach needs from that player. In some cases, players need to gain size and to do so; he or she needs to lift heavier, eat more and consume lots of protein. In other cases, he or she may need to lean out a little to move faster and be more agile. This also requires adjustments to his or her diet and training regimen. The difference here is that the player is judged on his or her performance, not appearance; but if you look at other sports, such as diving, dancing, gymnastics, horse-back riding, among others, there is definitely some judgement on poise, grace and appearance, on top of performance. The difference is that no one really explicitly comments on the appearance of athletes (unless they are famous, for example, Serena Williams) but the judgement is still there.
Body-building is just welcoming the judgement and making it the focus. The off season (bulk) is about putting on as much muscle as you can without a lot of fat. This means that the diet is less strict, you are still keeping your protein high to optimize muscle build but there is more wiggle room, there are more cheat meals (treats) and more refeed days (higher carbohydrate and higher fat days). In the on-season (“prep” or “cut”) you are trying to lose as much fat as possible without losing all of your muscle. This means a more regimented diet where protein is kept high and then your carbs, fat and cardio are adjusted based on how much fat you need to lose. The benefit to having a relatively clean “bulk” (eating mostly healthy foods and minimizing weight gain, about 10-15 lbs from stage weight), is that your prep phase won’t be as drastic. The more weight (fat) you put on, the harder it is too loose – obviously. Body-building is challenging and, like other sports, people may question why you are putting yourself through such a strict routine. However, if you want to do one, there is nothing wrong with it, there is nothing wrong with trying to achieve a goal. You just have to know that with any goal, there are sacrifices and there will be people who don’t agree with you. For this reason, I’d like to explain why I am interested in doing a competition.
a) I am interested in finding out how diet and exercise can be manipulated to achieve a certain look (despite it being a temporary look). This sounds shallow, and in some ways, it is, but it is from a learning perspective not just because I want to look a certain way. Through manipulating the diet and my exercise, I am learning how I can change my body and that is interesting to me. It is also useful in my field because it helps me better understand how one can build muscle and/or lose fat.
b) I want to be able to give others first-hand tips and feed-back on the process, what I found challenging and what can be expected so that those interested have a better understanding of what is involved.
c) I want to learn different ways of training – my focus has always been on full-body training and cardio, so I wanted to learn more about isolation exercises and focusing each workout on a body-part, for example, shoulders and abs. This is one of the differences between building muscle for aesthetics not just performance. Isolation exercises like the leg extension machine or bicep curls, aren’t necessary in day to day life– they can be used to help with injury, in the case of the leg extension or to pump up that muscle group to grow it. You don’t need to have defined biceps, they should be strong to help lift things but you can do other exercises, like chin-ups, which incorporate the biceps, and are more performance-driven. Isolating the biceps, like in bicep curls, helps define the muscle group, which is only really important if you are training for appearance. Since I have never trained purely for appearance, this is useful to me because it has helped me re-focus my coaching strategies and diversify my clientele’s goals.
d) I want to create better eating habits by eating more consistently, more often and by adjusting my macro-nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fats) to support my training – sure I know a lot about nutrition, but I always just ate what I want when I want. This type of eating is fine, but I found that I would depend on certain foods or fall back on them because I was lazy or didn’t want to make a proper meal. Through this process I’ve learned that some foods (like natural peanut butter) are not great for me on a daily basis. I relied on peanut butter to the point that I would eat it even if I didn’t feel like it. It was just there. Instead of filling up with vegetables and protein, my dinner consisted of mostly peanut butter and it would result in me feeling bloated every night. It’s ok to eat things like peanut-butter every once in awhile but it is better to focus most of your meals on nutrient-dense, lighter foods so that you aren’t over-consuming calorie-dense foods on a regular basis.
e) Finally, training for a bikini competition is a great way to give your workouts a focus. The purpose of the competition is to create an ideal shape so if you are having issues building muscle and creating more shape to your physique (if you feel like you lack it), why not try specifying your workouts to build on the areas you lack (in size or shape)? As someone with a relatively athletic appearance (broad shoulders, narrow hips), I’ve been trying to build my legs and booty to give the illusion of a smaller waist and wider hips (a curve). It is not something I need but it’s something I’m interested in achieving. Building muscle helps you change your look (if that’s your goal). It is not just about losing or gaining weight - if you want to lose or gain weight, you can do this by reducing or increasing caloric intake. If you want to change the way you look or your overall shape, you need to adjust your macros and specify your workouts so that you are supporting the gains you want. If you have small and narrow shoulders and a wider waist, you could add an additional shoulder-focused day and then center your refeed day (s) (high carb/high fat) around shoulder day so that you can really try and build your shoulders up. Creating more width and size in your shoulders will help minimize the thickness of your waist. This will result in a change in your overall appearance.
To me, this is interesting – the bikini competition is something that is outside my comfort zone and it is something I may not always have time to do. It requires a lot of meal prepping, hours in the gym and it definitely makes travelling difficult (though not impossible). With the off-season and on-season, and depending on where you are at to begin with, this process can take over a year or more. It takes dedication and though it is work, it is also fun, you get to watch your body change, your workouts are focused, you learn what foods work for you and you learn how to be social in different ways (since drinking alcohol is a no-no in the cut phase). This basically sums up why I decided to train for a competition; it’s an educational journey more than anything and I hope I can use the knowledge to help others decide if it’s something they want to do.