Updated: Nov 30, 2021
There are many reasons that people are drawn to competitive bodybuilding and fitness competitions, and they're not always to win medals or earn a pro card. Whatever your reasons, there are a few things you need to know before you break into the world of bikini competitions and aesthetic fitness. There's even more preparation and investment for women and even fewer resources available online aside from the hundreds of picture-perfect bikini photos we see on our Instagram feeds.
The truth is, there's much more to the aesthetic competition world than you might think.
This weekend, I competed in the NPC (National Physique Committee) Armed Forces National qualifier event in Alexandria, Virginia. It was my first show, I didn't have a posing coach or a trainer, and I had the added challenge of manipulating my musculature and body fat as a vegetarian. But it was amazing! Here are the ten biggest lessons I learned and how YOU can come into YOUR first show better prepared than I was.
Lesson 1: Competing Is Expensive
Although I knew there were a lot of different expenses involved in preparing for a show, including bikini, hair, makeup, and more obvious expenses like gym memberships, nutrition costs, and supplements if you need them, I was not prepared for all of them. There are a ton of additional expenses that you may not think about until the week of your show.
Some expenses are negotiable, but some others are not. Because this was my first show, and I knew I'd be coming in unprepared, I paid extra for conveniences, like parking and staying at the hotel, which was also the event venue. Tanning, hair, and makeup are done on-site but will cost more if you choose to use them at the venue on the day of the event. If you're thrifty, there are ways to cut costs. To break it down, here's a shortlist of what I had to spend:
NPC Competitor registration - $135
Contest registration - $160
Tanning - $135
Makeup - $150
Hair - $150**
Stage Bikini - $200-$450
Stage Heels ~ $50
Stage jewelry ~$50
Manicure and pedicure ~$145 + tip = $165
Hotel room for 2 nights ~$300
Hotel parking for 2 nights ~$60
Gas to drive to and from the event ~$80
Backstage robe ~$45
There are other expenses for some competitors, like childcare, supplements, meals for the weekend, and event tickets or streaming costs for anyone you want to support you. My event cost $20 to stream and $50/person to attend. I also spent $400 for a wig because I have very short hair, and a full head of extensions would have cost nearly $800. Because the judges don't want to see visible musculature in the upper back in my category, most competitors cover at least the upper back with long hair. I also purchased a backup bikini in case (for some reason) I didn't feel comfortable in my stage bikini, or the judges said my chosen bikini was too small/out of regulation. That was another $200. I used that bikini to practice too, since it wasn't covered in rhinestones.
If you want to go out and enjoy dinner and drinks after your event, budget for that too!
Lesson 2: Most Competitors Are Super Supportive and Happy To Be Competing, Although It's Incredibly Challenging
This is my favorite takeaway from the show. Everyone was so kind, supportive of one another, and psyched to be on the stage. We all worked our butts off to be there, and athletes backstage are generally in good spirits, happy to chat with you, and happy to share their experiences and advice. Despite the long days, even the tanning, makeup, and registration staff at my event were friendly and happy to be in that environment. Athletes are generally pretty grounded and self-aware and want to be supported with kindness the same way they support and celebrate one another.
That being said, competition prep requires a huge amount of mental strength and resiliency, which is part of the reason even coaches hire a competition coach. Having an online coach or personal trainer that can hold you accountable at your weakest is a huge asset. But you need to make sure you're at your strongest mentally and have a stable and balanced support system and work ethic while you meet your fitness goals. Weight training and cardio are some of the easiest parts of bikini competition training. Giving up your social life, feeling isolated, feeling mentally and physically exhausted and working to your absolute limits everyday are other hurtles you'll need to face. Make sure your mental health and environment are stable, and you're ready to add some huge stressors to your plate.
Contest prep includes strict dieting, which can add more stress for the bikini athlete. Comp prep can take anywhere from 12 to 20 weeks, so a 12-week bikini competition diet at a minimum is probably necessary for an amateur bikini competitor.
Lesson 3: Stage Day Nutrition Matters
I researched this a lot leading up to my event, and I learned a lot about the importance of regulating macros and hydration during your "peak week" and competition day. Bring your favorite snacks, check in with your coach throughout the days prior and the day of your event, and use your carb deprivation and carb-loading to make sure your muscles are swollen (with intercellular fluid) and your body fat levels are low. You'll also want to make sure you have the energy levels you need throughout the day in order to bring that stage presence that the judges are looking for.
Lesson 4: Add These Items To Your Packing List
The show that I attended ran about an hour late (maybe more, I'm not sure), so you should assume that can happen at your show as well. Bring things like a blanket for backstage (you'll be sitting on the floor), slippers for the few hours leading up to the show, and flip flops you can wear to and from your tanning appointments. Don't forget a water bottle, headphones if music helps calm your nerves, a book if you're a reader, etc. If you need snacks, make sure they're accessible and don't need heating or refrigeration while you wait. Some competitors also bring a sheet, pillow, and a towel. Some hotels will charge incidentals for the tanning residue you'll inevitably leave on their linens.
Lesson 5: No Showers After The First Coat
Once you get your first round of spray tan, you can't shower. Not only can you not shower, but you also can't wear deodorant or perfume because it will react to the tanning spray and change colors. Your first coat will be the day before the event, and the second coat will be hours before your stage time. That means no showering for about a day and a half. Expect to stink a little bit. Sorry.
There are a couple of other points to note about the spray tan. If you're someone who has a tendency to touch your own skin, face, wrists, etc., try to break yourself of those habits. Just a few seconds of skin-to-skin contact can ruin your tan. There will always be folks nearby that can do on-the-spot corrections for that, but the tan will look better if you can let it set in without touching it. Also, be prepared to be fully nude with your butt in someone's face getting your cheeks painted with a little roller. The tanning folks will also apply your bikini glue (oh yes) and an oil sheen before you step on stage.
Lesson 6: Gluing The Bikini To Your Butt
As mentioned, you will need a little spray of strong fabric adhesive to apply your bikini bottoms firmly to your butt and lady parts. Your tanning expert will apply a "bikini bite" and check your coverage before you step out in front of a live audience and potentially the entire streaming internet. Understand that this is to protect what little dignity you still have under fabric, and say thank you.
Lesson 7: You Won't Know Who You're Competing Against Until Stage Time
Try not to psych yourself out comparing yourself to the other competitors in the room. Some competitors wait in different venue areas or in their hotel rooms until immediately before the event. Get comfortable walking around in your suit, you worked hard, and you earned it! Yes, everyone is judging your look, but in a good way. Athletes are not judgmental and are not there to discourage you from competing. You might look around the room and see dozens of gorgeous, super-toned babes in bikinis only to find out they're competing in another category, like wellness or figure. Just be kind, keep calm and carry on, sis. I promise it'll be fun, and today is a day to be proud and celebrate your hard work.
Lesson 8: The Stage Is Labeled So You'll Know Where To Go
You probably already know that there's a box or an "x" on the stage where you'll stand and do your routine or poses. There are also lines on the stage for your diagonal lineup (when winners are announced) and for other competitor lineups. The folks off stage will clearly explain to you where to be and when, and if you don't understand something, just ask! Also, other ladies competing know exactly what's happening and when and can be a great resource for newbies.
Lesson 9: You'll Want To Rush Your Poses. Slow Down!
There's one secret to great posing, and that's practice, practice, practice. I completely bombed on my transitions because I misread some pre-judging emails that I thought said there would only be a front and back pose, so I stopped practicing transitions in the last few days. Practice your transitions and go slow! You'll be nervous and want to rush through it; resist that urge and take your time.
That being said, you should also practice standing and walking in your heels for prolonged periods. There was a lot more waiting around than I expected, and between my adrenaline pumping, my low-calorie intake those last few days, and those painful (and ugly) clear plastic heels, my legs were shaking. Practice walking on all types of surfaces, so you're well prepared for whatever the stage feels like underfoot. If your shoes need a little stretch or you want to practice posing and walking without foot pain, wear socks with the heels and walk around your house in them as often as you can.
Lesson 10: Some Things Are Out Of Your Control
I competed at around 16 percent body fat this week. For me that means I still get my period. I was on the stage in front of a live internet stream, all of my fellow competitors, the judges and a live audience on day 2 of my period. Know what that might mean for your body and what you can do to prepare for it, if anything. Luckily, I felt great and didn't have any mishaps!
At between 8-13% body fat (essential fat-highly unsustainable) this likely won't be a factor. I would guess the girls I competed against were mostly between 14 and 18 percent body fat, with balanced physiques and zero visible striations. In this category, judges value abs over glutes, so you'll need a well-conditioned core but not necessarily the glute mass of a wellness competitor.
Remember, this day is about YOU and your hard work!! Don't forget to smile like it's the happiest day of your life, because it should be! If you put in the work, stuck to your diet and prepared well, take this day to show that off. Bikini contests can be exhilarating experiences, and if bikini competition training and strict diets are something you can handle, I encourage you to answer the call that brought you to this blog post.
I hit the stage not expecting to place, but coming to the competition with the best full-package I had to offer. Have a great time and if you need a personal trainer, online coaching, or more training tips, reach out to me via SanjanaFitness.com. We offer free programming and consultations, and I'm here to support you, bikini babe!