What is a Figure Competition and How To Prepare for a Contest

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A figure competition falls between the physique and bikini divisions in a bodybuilding show. It’s not as cut and detailed as the physique division but it’s much harder and more defined than the bikini division. The reason bodybuilding competitions exist are for people to showcase their hard-earned muscle and amazing physiques that they have worked so hard to attain. Competitors also showcase their individual personalities and posing routines. Each competitor is very different in their own right. These fitness shows can run all day long and start as early as 8 am and run until after midnight depending on how many competitors are in the show. Many competitors will travel from all over the world to compete against their peers. These events are open to the public so anyone can come and enjoy the show along with the competitor’s family and friends.

There are two divisions for the men and these include physique and bodybuilding. For women, there are five divisions which include bikini, fitness, figure, physique and bodybuilding. The difference between the fitness and figure divisions is that fitness includes a dance routine round and figure does not. Within each division, the competitors are judged on their overall appearance from head to toe including their hair, makeup, complexion, skin tone, stage presentation, symmetry, the shape of their overall body and individual muscles along with the density, striations and separation of their muscles. This is why it can take anywhere from a few months to a year or more to prepare before stepping onto the stage in order to showcase your best physique at the show.

I remember my very first figure competition and it took me 17 weeks to prepare! This means seven days a week of hardcore training and seven days a week of super clean eating to set foot on the stage for the very first time. I competed at the 2009 OCB Midwest States Natural Bodybuilding and Figure Competition and I will share with you some of the details I encountered as a first-time figure competitor at the age of 50. I was going against women 20 to 30 years younger than myself!

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My physical and mental preparation for this figure show had many ups and downs. My preparation was very difficult and my eating plan was extremely tough at times. There is a lot that goes into physically and mentally preparing for the stage, whether you’re a seasoned bodybuilder or a newbie. The competition is tough and can be grueling at times, but I enjoyed every minute of it and still do to this day. You must dig deep for self-motivation, self-sacrifices and let’s not forget the incredible amount of discipline it takes to be stage-ready. If you cannot do what is required for months on-end in order to step onto the stage then chances are you do not want it bad enough and there’s a very good chance you will not be in the best physical shape that is required to be a success at a competitive level.

There is No Room for Excuses!
What you do in private to prepare for the show will be displayed in public once you step onto that stage. You must train hard and eat clean to bring your best package to the contest. This means long and intense training sessions every day even if it means burning the midnight oil to get in a workout if your day has been hectic and you have limited time. Your diet will be extremely detailed and you will eat the same foods over and over. You will no longer be eating for pleasure, but eating to bring out every single muscle striation so you can bring your best physique to the stage. Training is actually the easy part but the diet is the crucial part and it can make or break your final results on the day of the competition.

You may need to hire a professional trainer to assist you through the process but there are those that go it alone. Some competitors find that they need the assistance with their training routines, nutrition plan and posing routine to be fully prepared for the stage. You will find that professional trainers have lots of useful knowledge when it comes to training and nutrition as well as being a great source of motivational support. If you do not know what you’re doing, then hiring a trainer to coach you is the way to go since stepping on stage cannot be taking lightly. You will be in front of family, friends and thousands of eyes that are closely looking at your body on the stage so make sure you’re prepared. If you decide to get the assistance of a professional trainer, make sure to do your homework before choosing the individual. Find out who they are, their background information and learn which other competitors they have trained for different contests. Finding the right trainer is crucial for your overall success when competing in a fitness contest.

Try to also network with other competitors and get feedback, tips and advice from them about how to prepare for a show. They will teach you the “do’s and don’ts” for your first show and they are usually more than happy to share their own experiences with you to help ease your fears and concerns about competing for the first time. Not only does networking with other competitors help with your questions and concerns but they can also provide valuable knowledge and support to give you that extra edge when you’re ready to step on stage.

The All-Important Contest Diet!

Meal Prepping
When preparing for my first fitness contest, my diet consisted of six small meals a day. Every few weeks I would change things up if needed but I found that my training and cardio routine helped keep me on track and there was very little needed in terms of changing or cutting carbohydrates or calories over time. I really needed every macronutrient I could get my hands on during this time! Over several weeks, as my body changed, I would either add or subtract the necessary macronutrients and caloric intake to keep my body from plateauing and to continue decreasing my overall body fat percentage. Again, this is so different for each competitor and you must get your macronutrients in place for your individual physique so that you understand what is needed each week to help you get the best results. Your diet is 80% of your results so make sure you really focus on the foods you’re eating so you can dial in your physique for the day of the show. If needed, invest some money into finding a nutritionist to help you with this area of preparation.

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My menu when preparing for the stage was very limited. Here is a quick recap of the foods I would eat over and over again for months on end. Keeping things simple meant less time in the kitchen and more time focused on my training as well as all of my clients I work with as a certified personal trainer.

My meals consisted of lean protein like chicken, fish and turkey with very little grains which I would cut out over time and replace with greens or veggies. My limited grain choices included brown rice, oatmeal and rice cakes. My fruit of choice during prep consisted of strawberries but I would cut strawberries out during the last few weeks of prep to cut the sugars out of my diet which helped me cut more weight and body fat over time. The vegetables I included in my diet were broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, asparagus and sweet potatoes. I would cut the sweet potatoes out of my diet when I got close to competition time and add in extra green beans. I kept the asparagus which is a natural diuretic and helps pull out any extra water I might be carrying in the last few weeks of my preparation before the show. As you can see, a solid nutrition plan needs to be in place to meet your specific needs during this time. Don’t fall into the same old “cookie cutter” meal plan that someone else is using since this may not be the one that is right for you. Your own prep is not the time to mess with what is the most important step to getting onto the stage in the best shape of your life!

Shedding Water Weight
I was drinking at least 1 gallon of water per day for the first few months leading up to the competition. As time went on, I found that I needed to increase my water intake even further to shed off additional sodium. This extra water helped me drop extra bloat and get rid of any excess water my body was holding onto. But, remember that with so much water intake you have to be careful with depleting too much sodium since this can be dangerous! I personally added a dash of salt to all of my meals to be sure I didn’t cramp up or even worse. As my “PEAK WEEK” approached I would start with two gallons of water per day and cut that each day until contest day. I never completely cut my water or sodium out during this time. I just monitored my physique and made the necessary changes as needed. This process should not be taking lightly, so proceed with caution and get someone who knows this specific area of preparation to help you so you are not in danger if your sodium and potassium levels get out of balance.

Another Important Area for Prep is Your Posing Routine
Practicing your posing routine is a very important part of preparing for your show and it will determine your overall placement in the contest. You must bring a powerful stage presence in order to impress the judges. You want to stand out among the other competitors if you want to place well. There are specific poses you must hit to show off your physique that you have trained so hard for over the last several months. Figure competitors will showcase a front pose, left side pose, a back pose and a right side pose. This is where the phase “a quarter turn to the right” comes into play.

what-is-a-figure-competition-physiqueDepending on the division you compete in, there are different elements that judges look for. In bikini competitions, judges want to see a physique that is mildly muscular and balanced with a little softness. Bikini competitors are the least muscular and most feminine of all bodybuilding divisions. Figure competitors come in harder with a little more muscle mass. I have added a picture of my physique for my figure competition so you can see the amount of muscle I carried onto the stage.

Before making the decision on a specific federation and category, be sure to check the criteria for that division and organization or federation. Connect with other competitors who have actually competed in that organization so you can get helpful tips and advice from them. They will provide assistance to where you will fit in best.

You must bring lots of confidence, charisma and smooth transitions from one pose to another to be a success on stage. Your overall movements are the keys to winning. This is your time to shine so be sure to bring it! Be a confident competitor on the stage and give the judges a show they will remember. This is your only time to let them see you and feel you in the moment so take advantage of it! Focus on showcasing each and every pose during the competition. You worked so hard to get to the stage so be confident and show off your incredible physique!

You might be feeling a little overwhelmed with all of the information I have provided about figure competitions, but don’t be. If you have any questions that you need help with, feel free to contact me on my ShapeFit profile page and I will be more than happy to answer any questions on the subject of competitions. My hope for you is that you do not let fear keep you from stepping on the competitive stage in the near future. I have never regretted getting on stage and I’m sure you won’t either. This is coming from a person who knows what it takes to compete and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done!

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About Author

Eleanora Reeves

My name is Eleanora and I'm a personal trainer and the owner of Reeves Fitness Center in Urbana, Illinois. I'm able to reach others through my healthy lifestyle and help them reach their fitness goals. I live the life in which I talk about with confidence and with passion! See my profile page for more information.

5 Comments

  1. I’m a bit confused. 4 divisions are mentioned; bikini, figure, physique and bodybuilding, but it states to find the right trainer for your fitness contest. Where is fitness listed? I need a trainer, but I need one that can help me enter the right division and now I’m not sure if it’s figure or fitness.

    • shapefit

      Cristine – Thanks for your feedback. You are correct and there are actually 5 divisions which include bikini, fitness, figure, physique and bodybuilding. The difference between the fitness and figure divisions is that fitness includes a dance routine round and figure does not. We have updated the article with this information. If you don’t have a dance or gymnastics background, you will probably want to enter the figure division. Best of luck to you 🙂

  2. It’s disheartening to know that if you are 50 you have to compete with people 20-30 years younger. I guess my fantasy of competing won’t happen since I’m 48.

    • ShapeFit

      Hi Terri – You can always enter a specific age class when competing in fitness competitions so you can still fulfill your fantasy of getting on stage and competing 🙂

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