A Guide to Competing in Figure Competitions
by Trudy Wood

You've seen the photos in magazines, or perhaps youíve had the opportunity to go along and watch a show. Youíve seen fit, athletic looking women up on stage in their bikinis and thought, ďWow, they look fantastic!Ē If you think being a Figure Competitor is all about bling bikinis, 5-inch heels and curling tongs, youíre in for a bit of a shock. If you think being a Figure Competitor is all about 5am starts, getting sweaty and training hard, you're right on track!

Weíre not just pretty faces, we're about females being strong and confident in their bodies, and not afraid to show some muscle whilst still looking feminine. We bust our butt just as hard as the guys in the gym (if not harder!) - we just look darn good doing it!

I get so many requests from ladies about figure competition (or even Ms Physique competition), and nine times out of ten the question is always the same; ďWhere do I start?Ē The answer is ďYou already have!Ē By making the mental decision to compete, and getting online and asking someone, you've already begun, and thatís the first step to getting on stage.

Let's look at my six-step guide to starting out in figure:

1. Make the Decision to Compete
Thatís what distinguishes your ordinary lady walking down the street, who goes to the gym so she can stay in her pair of skinny jeans without the muffin hanging over the top, to a fit, confident woman standing up on stage in heels and a two-piece, showing everyone just how hard she's worked and dieted. Making that commitment to get on stage is the first step on the Yellow Brick Road to figure competition.

2. Tell People
Let friends and family know about your decision to compete. Youíll not only need their support once you start preparing for the show, but by telling people, youíre making yourself accountable, and it will help you to stay on track. You canít give up now Ė youíve told everyone that youíre doing it!

3. Get Good Advice
Seek the advice of someone who's been there and done that. A regular PT in your local gym who has no knowledge of preparing for competitions or how a figure competitor should look, isnít the best place to start. Go with someone who has a track record and experience preparing people for shows. Follow their advice, and only their advice. Donít pay them for their professional opinion and then follow the instruction of others, it could be contradictory to the advice of your nutritionist/trainer and totally throw out their plan for you. Donít get me wrong though, the PT that youíve been training with can still help you get there. However, for the diet side of things Iíd definitely seek professional help, or youíll end up like me in my first year of competition Ė having baked beans and jacket potatoes for lunch, with a protein shake!

4. Choose a Competition and Set the Date
Iím assuming youíve already got at least a year of weight training or some type of physical fitness behind you. After all, this is a class of bodybuilding; itís not a modelling competition. In the UK there are three natural federations you can compete with; the BNBF, the NPA and the UKDFBA. Although all have a figure class, the guidelines for each are slightly different regarding what the judges are looking for. It's worth checking the criteria first, details can be found on their websites. Many ladies compete in both federations though, so donít think that you have to choose between them.

Most show dates are up by the end of January, so choose a contest that gives you enough time to work with. Sit down with your trainer or nutritionist and figure out how much work you need to do and how long it will take to get in shape. You donít want to lose too much bodyfat too fast Ė itís not good for you and you could end up with loose skin. Give yourself a reasonable and achievable time frame, otherwise (a) you might not make it to the show, and (b) it wonít be enjoyable. The NPA and BNBF are not restrictive of where you can compete, so you can do more than one show if you want to gain experience, or if you donít happen to qualify for the finals on your first attempt.

5. Go to Shows
Attend contests Ė especially if youíve never been to one before. Try to go to the shows of the federation/s you are planning to compete with, first and foremost. This way you can get to see how the other ladies look and perform on stage (especially the seasoned competitors). You can see how the shows are run, and it can give you a good idea of how ready (or far out) from competition you are. Check out their websites for past results and photos, and buy the show DVDs if you can. This is helpful with learning the poses too.

I find that going to shows Ė especially while preparing for my own competition Ė helps me stay focussed and motivated. When you're sitting in the audience and seeing everyone up on stage strutting their stuff, you want to be up there too! You want to go home and get into the gym so that Your Day is that much closer. Itís also a great way to meet people working with the federation and also other competitors, so that when you turn up to your show itís not so daunting, and there is at least one friendly face there (and to shout for you too!) I have met so many wonderful friends and people at shows, so donít be shy, and go say hello!

6. Commit to Yourself
Youíve done all of the above, and now you need to commit to yourself that youíll do this. A promise to you. Remember, itís not easy, and at times you will want to stop. There may even be tears (goodness knows Iíve had loads of tears with contest prep Ė over the smallest of things!) When you have those small moments of doubt, just remember why you wanted to do this. Keep pictures of other competitors, idols and mentors on the fridge and bedroom wall, as a constant reminder of why youíre doing this. Think of how far you've come already and how much you have achieved. Do you want to throw that all away now? Training for competition will not only give you strong muscles, but it will give you a strong mind and spirit.

Congratulations Ė you are on your way to stepping on stage!