August 28, 2018

5 Keys to Bikini Competition Training

Just a quick run through of what I consider some keys to a proper bikini competition training program.  This isn’t going to be a book, so I’m not covering everything…just what pops into my head as I type 🙂

Bikini Competition Training Key 1: Appropriate volume per bodypart based on YOUR strengths and weaknesses

If you’ve been googling bikini competition training for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that most of the info is one size fits all.  Everyone wants to bottle up and sell the ‘magic bikini competition training program’…not many bikini coaches want to take the time to truly customize their programming for the physique needs of the individual.  Well, that doesn’t lead to the kind of physiques you see on our client testimonials page, now does it? ;).

We base our bikini competition training programs off of (among other things) the strengths and weaknesses of each client’s current physique.  So if Client A has overdeveloped quads, we’re definitely not going to have them doing much if any squatting or leg pressing, and may even go easy on lunges/split squats.  We would instead focus more on glute/ham work.  If they’re not overdeveloped yet, but are at about the limit in terms of quad development, then we would likely still have them do a little squatting and/or pressing, but volume would be low and we would instruct them to stop a few reps shy of failure, and to not increase weights on these lifts.

Conversely, if Client B needs to BUILD their quads, we would put in more squatting, pressing, and possibly some isolation work (leg extensions, sissy squats, etc).  If this is one of their biggest weaknesses, we would prioritize quad training by doing it twice a week, early in the lower body workouts.

We of course monitor each client’s development at the bi-weekly check-ins, and adjust volume (and other variables) per bodypart accordingly.  The custom software I use/have been building for the past few years actually keeps track of volume per bodypart per training cycle, so that as I’m building a new workout program, I can easily see whether I’m increasing or decreasing volume per area over where I had them on their previous workout program.  This gives our clients a HUGE advantage over working with most coaches/trainers…NONE of the personal training software programs out there keep track of things like this!  So I just went ahead and built my own 

Bikini Competition Training Key 2: Appropriate intensity

If proper exercise selection and volume per bodypart is priority 1, training with appropriate intensity is a very close 2nd.  And unfortunately this is yet another key element that doesn’t seem to be getting enough attention on social media (where most people get their fitness info these days…yikes!).  Everyone wants to show off the flavor of the week booty exercise (as if you need 59,858 variations of hip extension and abduction), but they forget to discuss the importance of proper intensity.  Most of the girls I see on Instagram demonstrating exercises seem to be more interested in looking pretty during their set than actually demonstrating what your face should look like when truly pushing yourself.  For the rare few exceptions, THANK YOU!

If you need to develop an area…be it the glutes, delts, hammies, etc…you MUST train very close to failure, and you MUST push to increase your weights!  I know, I know…the trend right now is to go lighter and focus on the ‘mind-muscle connection’.  The reality though is that as long as you are using proper form, the correct muscles WILL be firing, and you won’t have to overthink or ‘squeeze’ or do anything other than focus on proper form.  So keep it simple and focus on training to at least within 1 rep of failure, if not all the way to failure, and terminate the set as SOON as you are no longer able to maintain proper form.  Don’t terminate the set because it’s burning, or you don’t feel the targeted muscles ‘firing’, or you can’t ‘squeeze’ the booty anymore.  Terminate the set when you literally can’t maintain proper form anymore.

Bikini Competition Training Key 3: Progressive Overload

Another area that’s almost completely overlooked in typical bikini competition training programs.  In order for a muscle to grow, it has to be stressed in a progressive manner.  The best way to do this is through progressive overload, e.g., increasing weights.  But what I typically see with my newer online clients’ weight training logs is a tendency to not really even TRY to increase weights until a weight becomes easy (or until I ask them “hey you hit rep target on set 2… how come you didn’t increase your weight for set 3?”).  If you wait for a lift to become easy, you’re going to find yourself very rarely increasing weights, and that’s not going to lead to gainz.  You have to PUSH to lift more weight…you can’t actually progress from 135lb barbell hip thrusts until you just throw some 5’s on each side and go for it.  The general rules I use for my clients:

  1. Increase your weight for the VERY next set as SOON as you hit or exceed your rep target, even if you BARELY made it.
  2. If you BARELY hit your rep target on your previous set/workout, then just increase by as close to a 5% increment as possible.  If you surpassed your rep target by a rep or two, then increase by maybe ~10%.  If you surpassed your rep target by more than 2 reps, then increase by ~15% or a little more.
  3. Next workout do your FIRST set (after 1-2 light to moderate weight low rep warm up sets) with the HEAVIEST weight you were successful with the last time you did the exercise (assuming it was fairly recent).  Follow step 2 if you hit rep target.  If you fall short, then decrease weight.  This is called DESCENDING sets…you start with the heaviest weight (after a warm up!), and then decrease weight if you fall short of rep target.  This makes A LOT more sense than ASCENDING sets, which is what most gym-goers do…and what you will do quite a bit initially as you’re figuring out how much weight you can lift.  With ascending sets, you are essentially wasting energy on sub-maximal weights and then attempting to lift a heavier weight after doing so.  Makes no sense and isn’t the right way to get stronger and build muscle.  Ascending sets for the most part should only happen initially when you’re trying to figure out how much you can lift on a new exercise.  Once you get to where you’re consistently hitting failure right at or around rep target, then most of your sets should end up descending because you’re simply not going to be able to increase or even maintain strength for all 3+ sets if truly pushing to failure.  At this stage, you will likely only be able to increase weight the NEXT workout on work set #1 when you’re fresh.
  4. As you get more advanced, you should be able to tell after a few reps if you’re going to be able to surpass your rep target.  If so, you need to TERMINATE your set within the first few reps!  Don’t waste a set by lifting a weight that you can tell early on is too light.  Set the weight down, add more weight, rest for maybe 15-20 seconds, and then start over.  You know you’re a veteran when you can walk into a new gym with unfamiliar equipment, yank on the tricep pushdown cable real quick and tell if it’s too light.  Become that kind of veteran.
  5. Err on the side of attempting the next heavier weight and potentially falling short of rep target by a rep or two, rather than not trying a heavier weight.  Then just decrease weight if you fell short of rep target.  Often times you will be able to hit rep target at this heavier weight the following time you do the exercise…probably wouldn’t happen if you hadn’t gone for it.

Remember that proper form is CRITICAL…items 1-5 above assume proper form and that you’re terminating the set as soon as you lose form.

Bikini Competition Training Key 4: Avoiding overtraining and overuse (designing your splits properly)

I’m not an anti-split training guy at least for bikini competition training.  I just don’t run into overtraining issues with my clients, probably because we’re able to build enough muscle for bikini standards long before they get so advanced that they might run into issues.  I’m also careful not to have too much overlap in terms of what areas/joints we stress across the training cycle.  If you look at most bodybuilding splits, the shoulder girdle is stressed 4-5 days a week!  It’s stressed on chest day, shoulder day, back day, and if you do tricep dips and/or close grip presses, then it’s stressed a 4th time on bicep/tricep day.  A lot of bikini competitor training programs fall into the same trap with lower body training…between full lower body days, additional glute isolation days, plyos, and cardio…the hips, lower back, and knees get little to no recovery time throughout the week.  This can not only lead to overuse/injury, but you can also find yourself holding a lot of water and inflammation in the lower body.  This is NOT how you get stronger and build muscle!  You need to be very careful with how you set up your training splits to avoid overlap.  Here’s a good example of a bikini split:

Day 1: Lower (Strength)

Day 2: Shoulder/Tris (begin with 1 chest exercise if no implants, or implants not under the muscle)

Day 3: Glutes/Back/Biceps (just 2-3 glute exercises…no more!)

Day 4: No weight training

Day 5: Lower (Volume)

Day 6: Full Upper (can superset opposing muscles to save time)

Day 7: No weight training

Everything gets trained twice per week.  Most bikini girls shouldn’t do TOO much upper back work (judges don’t want much development there), so there’s room to fit glutes and biceps into day 3.  Our clients who do split training use this general split or something similar VERY often…it works extremely well.

Almost forgot: maybe don’t do 17 different hip abduction exercises if you don’t want to destroy your hips.  You really can’t afford to do a lot of hip ADDuction as a bikini competitor (to balance it out) since the LAST thing you want on rear pose is developed inner thighs.  So pick 1-2 abduction movements at a time and keep it at that.

Bikini Competition Training Key 5: Avoiding thickening of the waist/low back

I’m almost hesitant to write this because of just HOW MANY girls are afraid they’re going to thicken up if they deadlift, or lift heavy in general.  It’s usually not a concern, but I can’t ignore the handful of clients I’ve had over the years whose waists/lower backs shrunk right up shortly after we made a few adjustments.  One girl had been doing romanian deadlifts with 205lbs with PERFECT form just prior to working with me, and was complaining that her waist was thickening.  So we brought her down to 115-135lbs (still PLENTY of weight for RDLs), and within a couple weeks she noticed her waist had shrunk back down.  Now I don’t buy into the guru bs that it’s the abs thickening…I think it’s just the lower back muscles.  But that can still amount to a thicker waist, and will DEFINITELY not do good things for your rear pose on stage.  So I keep a close eye on my clients’ weight training logs and make sure not just that they’re pushing to lift more weight, but also that they’re not lifting some insane amount of weight on deadlifts, squats, etc.  I don’t have a hard limit on this…I just keep an eye on it and make sure the client isn’t overdeveloping.

I will also point out that it makes no sense to do much if any direct ab work until you’re lean enough to see your abs (or lack thereof if you have none 😉 ).  You can easily overdevelop your abs via direct ab training, and you won’t necessarily know it until you’re lean enough to see them.  If you know from experience that you NEED to do some ab training (for example) to keep your lower back healthy, then that’s fine…I would just be very careful at least until you get a good gauge on what your midsection looks like when you’re near fully prepped.  If unsure, 2-3 sets of ball crunches once or twice a week is fine.  If weighted, go with a weight light enough that you can get at least 25 reps, and DO NOT train to failure on abs.  Don’t follow the progressive overload rule above since you don’t want to continually build your abs.  Avoid side bends/side planks, and torso rotation…you don’t need direct oblique work as they are targeted well enough with crunches.  Direct oblique work can easily thicken the waist, and this can happen so gradually and incrementally that you don’t notice it until it’s too late.


Leave your damned iPhone in the car.  You can go get it after your workout if you need to take selfies.  Or take them before your workout and then put the phone away.  Or if you’re one of my clients and need it to shoot your required training videos, just bring it in for that and that only.  NO DISTRACTIONS…you’re an athlete and every workout is game day!


Hope that helps!  These are just a few keys…I could go on and on forever.  Just remember that it’s NOT just about finding the new booty exercise of the week…you really need to focus on the basics as well.  What worked 21 years ago when I started my career as a trainer works extremely well now…have I mentioned that I have a nice client testimonials page to prove it? 😉


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bikini coaches, bikini competition training, bikini competition training program, bikini competition training programs, booty exercise, glute/ham work, overdeveloped quads, progressive overload

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