Compete to Win - Be the Best You Can be When you Step on Stage

Compete to Win

Take out the risk of messing up on your first competition.

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If you read and understand this article, memorize the information and apply it, every one of you who competes will be a winner!

This might sound like an exaggerated claim considering that there are thousands of competitive bodybuilders in this country alone. Of the hundreds of contests held every year, each has between 10 and 150 contestants. Out of this field there is only one winner of each show.

These figures tell you that your chances of winning a contest are indeed slight. The odds are against you, but isn't that the very reason that a first-place trophy is so valuable?

The point is, you shouldn't let the odds discourage you. If they do, you're doomed to failure. If you thoroughly understand and accept the situation and you still train as though you're going to win, you'll have taken your first major step to victory.

How can everyone who's reading this article be a winner? Read on and find out. Before we discuss the mistakes and advantages involved in actual competition, however, we need to take a look at the anatomy of losing.

Why did you lose that last contest? You've probably heard every excuse and even used a few of them yourself: It's the judges' fault. They picked the hometown kid. They were (pick one) white, black, gay, straight, while you were the opposite. They were friends of the winner. None of them knew what to look for. It was all politics.

Now that we've covered the inevitable bitching, let's get back to reality. If you finished below where you felt you should at that last show, maybe you deserved a higher placing and maybe you didn't. Either way you weren't so convincing that the judges had no choice but to award you the title. This is the goal you should shoot for.

Bodybuilding is a very safe sport. It's not like boxing or karate, where if you go in over your head, you'll get your butt kicked. It's really rather harmless. You either win a trophy or you don't. If you don't take home the medal, you should learn from the experience and return home with new knowledge of what you need to do better the next time. If you look at it that way, you can't lose a physique contest! Unless you let it defeat you, you can only learn from the experience, and even the last-place finisher can turn a loss into a personal victory.

All this comes under the heading of attitude. Attitude is a major factor in winning, and it may even determine if a winner will continue to be victorious. Most of the elite bodybuilding stars I've interviewed over the past 20 years have had their own diets, exercises, rep and set progressions and tempos. They've all had one thing in common, however: total conviction about their ability to win.

Visualization

Bodybuilding books and articles abound in which national and world champs tell you that it all begins with visualization. They are absolutely right. You must be able to picture in your mind the physique you want. You must see yourself on the winner's platform. If you didn't practice some degree of visualization, you'd never have gotten good enough to compete in even the smallest contest. So improve on those visualization techniques. Think size, shape and definition with every rep. When you're competing, think victory.

Be Prepared

Work toward realistic goals. It may be due to all those ads in the muscle magazines, but many of you think you can just snap into competition shape. Except for the very gifted genetic freaks, it takes years of training to create contest-winning shape, size and definition. Even if you look good, it's a big mistake to think you can get ripped to the bone by just dieting for a couple of weeks. Don't even consider competing until you have that basic bodybuilder's shape. Then take at least four months to prepare. Diet for a minimum of three months. That way you get to rock-hard definition a week or so before the show. You can then eat up to the show and not look flat, starved or drawn.

Experiment and find the diet and workout that are best for you. You may want to consult a professional trainer who has competitive experience. The managers at your gym may be able to refer you. Gold's Gym, for example, has an excellent Nutritionalysis program staffed with experts who'll teach you how to get ripped while maintaining muscle size.

Around the time you begin your contest training, you should be looking for the right posing music. Choose something that's thematic and has the right beat for posing transitions. Avoid faddish movie themes or top-10 songs. Otherwise, you'll be among those contestants who are all posing to the same (yawn) music.

Make sure your selection complements your physique. If you have a graceful, streamlined body, develop a routine to highlight your agile movements with flowing melodies. If you have a stocky, Herculean shape, use dynamic music with explosive transitions.

Start to work on your tan early. Milky skin always makes you look soft. Even black bodybuilders need some sun to bring out that reddish pigmentation and to avoid the "ashy" look. If you have sun-sensitive skin, use an indoor tanning preparation, but never compete when you're white as a ghost.

When applying oil before a show, use a light coat of thin oil-baby oil is your best bet. Too much oil, as with no oil or not enough, will hide that hard-earned definition.

Start shaving your body early-at least a few weeks out. This is to avoid shaving rashes and ingrown hairs near contest time. As your body becomes accustomed to weekly shaving, these skin irritations will go away.

Shop around for the perfect posing suit to go with your body lines.

When you arrive at the show, you should have your tan on, your body shaved and your hair groomed and trimmed. You should know your posing routine backward and forward, with or without music. You should be used to holding your mandatory poses and standing semiflexed for great lengths of time. All this should be practiced, rehearsed and practiced again!

Display Yourself Like a Winner

Judges can be influenced by your body language. If you swivel on stage, hang your head and hunch your shoulders, you're asking to be overlooked. It seems as if some contestants hide up there. Don't let that happen to you. Open up! Stand straight and tall. Lats should be semiflexed, but arms must be hanging at your sides. Avoid that arms-out, musclebound look. Remember, you're supposed to look relaxed and unflexed. Keep reminding yourself to keep your abs and thighs tight. When you're asked to stand to your side, stop spreading your lats! Lift your chest and bring your shoulders back. This makes you look thick from the side. Standing sideways with lats flexed makes you look cardboard thin. It's amazing to see even Mr. and Ms. Olympia contenders making this mistake.

When you're asked to turn your back to the judges, subtly spread your lats again as you did when you faced forward. And remember to flex those calves! Naturally you'll be nervous when you first walk out on stage. To minimize nervousness, be prepared in every way.

Be familiar with the rules of the organization you're competing in. Make sure your posing suit and your poses don't fall into the taboo category. The same goes for earrings or jewelry. Don't assume anything.

Speaking of taboo posing, it's fine for women to pose seductively, but avoid bump-and-grind sleaziness. Some competitors may think they'll attract male votes, but experienced judges look unfavorably at any onstage activity that solicits negative feedback for the sport. This can also include those shoving sumo matches during the posedowns at men's competitions. If you get shoved, keep posing.

Sportsmanship

Winning or losing isn't nearly as important as how you win or lose. Remember, those judges will probably show up again at future contests, and they'll remember how you accepted your last victory or defeat. If you win, congratulate the other place winners. Share your victory with the others and make them feel as if everyone was a winner. Don't be so arrogant that nobody wants to see you win again. A true champion is one who contributes to the sport rather than self-indulges.

If you place lower than you expected or don't place among the trophy winners, congratulate those who finish ahead of you. True, you may feel hurt or angry, but these feelings become amplified due to stress and dieting. Still, temper tantrums and dirty looks are out! Empathize with the winner and be sincerely happy for that person. When it's your turn to win, don't you want your competition to treat you with respect?

Avoid Last-minute Self-Sabotage

Unfortunately, many potential winners destroy their victories in the final day or two-or even minutes-before the show.

One tricky area involves carb and sodium loading. If you look great a week before a contest, why suddenly change your diet at the last minute? Switching from several days of protein only to eating mostly carbohydrates causes gas buildup and bloating.

Sodium loading is too risky and usually backfires. Carb loading works for high-carbohydrate bodybuilders. Lee Labrada, for example, seems to double in size and definition after three days of carbing following a depletion. Don't assume, however, that you'll respond the same way.

Bodybuilders who get better results from high-protein diets often retain water and smooth out from carb loading. Depletion of liquid during that phase is both dangerous and unnecessary. The best way to avoid subcutaneous water spillage is to drink lots of water. This makes your body eliminate more fluids just as an occasional high-calorie day during the week keeps your metabolism from slowing. Too often you see a potential champion looking solid and ripped to shreds a week before the show, but after three days of carb loading, he or she hits the stage with only surface definition.

The standard carb-loading practice was brought into bodybuilding by sports nutritionists who saw the way it enhanced the performance of track athletes. Distance runners need the extra energy boost and subcutaneous water to cool them down through sweating. For bodybuilders this water spillage is disastrous.

There are three alternatives to standard carb loading for those of you who tend to hold water:

1 Don't change your diet. If you look great several days out, eat the same right up to the show. As Rick Valente says, "If it's not broken, don't fix it!"

2 Rich Gaspari eats more carbs but cuts down on his protein and total calories during the last days before a show. He warns bodybuilders not to take the word "loading" literally. Carb but don't load.

3 Try carbing up from five days out until two days before the show. On those last days eat no carbs just protein. This causes the body to convert protein into carbs by eliminating nitrogen. The process requires body fluid, so you sweat and urinate the extra water. Two days won't deplete you. Your muscles will be full yet hard. Experiment during the off-season.

Drinking alcohol or smoking before a contest to bring out vascularity is a very bad idea. Tobacco leaves you light-headed and can affect your performance. It's also very bad manners to smoke in the pump-up room while other athletes are trying to exercise.

Taking marijuana, stimulants, cocaine or alcohol, even in small amounts, can impair your reactions. Why inflict a disadvantage on yourself before a show?

It may sound strange, but even among the pros there are bodybuilders who are so afraid of losing that they subconsciously mess up during the week before a show. They train too heavy and get an injury. They overcarb or overdiet. If these were just mistakes, they could learn not to repeat them, but some of them keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

People who do this would rather blow it and have an excuse when they lose rather than take the chance of going in and possibly facing failure without one. The problem is self-esteem. Bodybuilding is a game. It's supposed to be fun. When you're expected to win, either by yourself or by your peers, it kills the fun. If you take it too seriously and put your entire value as a human being into the hands of a panel of judges, when you lose, you will feel rejected and worthless. This is easy to combat once you put the game in its proper perspective. Compete to win, but more importantly, compete to have fun!

If you follow this advice, you'll be well on your way to victory. After the show, win or lose, ask a judge or someone who's been in the game for a while for constructive criticism. Use this information to plan your routine and strategy for the next contest. Be friendly with the other contestants and learn what they're doing. They may provide a key to continued progress for you.

Competition does three things for you if you have the right perspective:

» It teaches you where you need to improve.

» It gives you the opportunity to meet and learn from others in your sport.

» It gives you new goals and incentives to shoot for.

If you gained in any of these three categories, whether you won a trophy or not, you still gained something valuable and consider yourself a winner!




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