UPDATE: We have made some structural adjustments/improvements and are now able to take on non-competitors and those a bit further away from being stage-ready! Just fill out the application at the end of this post if interested.
As many of you probably know, several months ago I made the move to strictly working as a local and online bikini contest prep coach, specifically those within striking distance of being at a competitive level. Every time I post a client progress/bikini competition photo or update my blog, I get an overwhelming amount of training inquiries and there is just no way of providing my free initial phone consults/evaluations to all of them, let alone provide full-on customized contest prep.
I can say that I reply to every single inquiry, so long as the contact form was properly filled out (photos included and taken properly, all instructions followed, etc). When I can’t take someone on, I ALWAYS offer to refer them out to coaches I know and trust.
Still, I don’t like the fact that I so often have to turn people away. Most are very understanding and appreciative that I take the time to reply and refer out, but I know there are others who have probably taken it personally, or as rejection or not being “good enough”.
Really, what it is is that a) you can only provide customized training and prep to so many people at once and b) I have to be able to compete with coaches and contest prep companies that are cutting corners to attract “top talent”. I’ll probably get into some of the questionable marketing tactics people don’t seem to even be noticing in a later post/rant.
But long story short: I prepare athletes for a judged sport, and am judged even more than they are, despite having little control over what they actually do or don’t do. This is the dilemma of every coach (in this sport and many others), and unfortunately its led many of the high-volume prep coaches to adopt some very extreme and unhealthy practices to try and control the behavior of their athletes (starvation diets/shotgun approach to fat loss, using guilt in attempt to increase compliance, belittling clients, etc).
The reality is that very few people are primed and ready for online contest prep, and a good coach will have to say no a lot more often than yes. Said coach can choose to do that at the point of inquiry, or later when the client they never should have accepted is in the dreaded “we need to pick an upcoming contest so I’ll stop binging” phase.
Somehow the concept of jog—>run—>race (or get healthy—>get in shape/maintain it with relative ease—>pick a show—>fine tune—>compete) isn’t being applied to the sport of physique competition as much lately, possibly because of how some of these 12 week preps have been marketed as voodoo/magic transformations rather than just the final ~10% of the competitor’s development. Okay so some of my clients see fast transformations…but we can’t predict that, and rate of progress isn’t really relevant to the sport.
What I’m going to attempt to do with this article is give some insight as to what a future competitor needs to do to get to a level, both physically and mentally, where hiring a serious (the good ones are) prep coach would make sense, be effective, and healthy. You might even be able to hire one of the gurus without being a “back-burner”/low priority client for 2 years…get your tilapia ready!
1) First and foremost, you need to come in with a clean slate “metabolically”. If you’ve been dieting, either consistently or not, you’re probably not in a good place to start a contest prep diet in the very near future. And most coaches will gladly proceed to put you on one anyway, without even asking if you’ve dieted recently.
If you were entering a fat loss contest, this may work…but there is quite a bit more to looking right on stage than just being lean. I rarely start a new client/competitor off with a caloric decrease (unless they were clearly overeating going in), and instead work to find that caloric “sweet spot”, where they’re eating enough to support their training, but not so much they gain excess fat.
We can move away from this phase much more quickly, and commit to a show much sooner in many cases if the client has already come in with a healthy maintenance level and at a healthy bodyweight for their height/frame. Short version: You need to have a good foundation in place without having (recently) dieted/cardio’ed your way there.
Same thing goes for under-weight girls…you need to have a foundation of muscle and a HEALTHY amount of bodyfat to be ready to prep for a competition.
2) You need to understand that unlike most sports, for physique competition the preparation IS the sport! That’s right…its not the 2-3 minutes you’re on stage once or twice a year. If that’s all it is, you’ll be in for a let down when you realize you were unhappy for 1/4-1/2 the year just for a 2-3 minute sport.
No…TRUE competitors are a rare breed where they in at least some ways ENJOY the structure, discipline, and sacrifice that comes with competing. This is because they know that they are working towards something that a very small percentage of the population will ever achieve, and breaking through their own previous barriers.
Competitors are both process and results oriented, not just results oriented like most general population personal training clients. Its part of the reason I show social proof AND give insight as to what my approach/philosophies are…a true competitor will need to know about both before making a hiring decision.
- Would counting calories/macros, weighing and measuring food, making VERY safe restaurant choices, and training HARD for ~12-16 weeks be a stressor for you, or is it something you can handle or even handle with ease with the right mindset?
- If your coach doesn’t want you to start dieting right away, but does need you to adhere to a certain amount of structure to stay at least somewhat lean while building/refining, can you do so knowing that you won’t necessarily be seeing the sometimes rapid aesthetic improvement you see while dieting?
- And how well do you take instruction in general? A good coach will demand complete control over the key decisions…are you ready for this? Can you FULLY trust someone you’ve never worked with, maybe never even met?
3) Your life needs to be somewhat free of distraction and you need to have a support system. Some people pick their competitions based on who the judges/promoters are, or how competitive the competition tends to be. My clients and I lean more towards choosing them based on when they have the least amount of foreseeable distractions/obstacles (some call them “Vacations”).
If things are stable with your job, your relationships, financially, and you don’t have too many “high risk” social outings planned, then you are much more likely to have a successful prep, and a coach who will be willing to let you represent his/her brand on stage.
If you’re in a rut, or in a time in your life where nothing seems to be going right no matter what you do, then you should most definitely be de-stressing at the gym and eating well, but prepping for a competition would probably not be a good idea, especially with a no-nonsense coach. Keep with a semi-relaxed, but steady approach until the time is right.
4) You need to know your way around the gym. This is more true with online contest prep than offline/in-person…although I find it odd that someone who doesn’t know the fundamentals of training in a gym setting would be considering hiring a prep coach.
Still, some girls have the ideal body type/structure just from the sports they played during childhood and into high school/college, and may have never even trained in a gym setting before. And just as an aside, when you read these interviews where the IFBB Pro Bikini or Figure competitor says they only worked out for a year before going pro…it almost always means that they developed their foundation via their athletic history. Those years of playing adolescent/adult sports should more or less be counted toward their “training age”, but they tend to leave that part out and only list the time they’ve spent lifting/doing cardio/eating like a competitor. Without this athletic foundation, or just the right genetics, you will be starting from scratch your first day in the gym and it will take some time.
Now getting back to my original point…there is no way an online competition prep coach can teach you proper lifting technique, intensity, when to terminate the set and when to keep pushing for more, when to skip an exercise that is causing pain vs when to make a minor adjustment, etc. If you don’t fully know your way around the gym, you need to learn that first, either via your own research/trial and error, or by hiring a GOOD gym trainer.
5) Physical limitations? If you have a lot of health concerns to work around, depending on what they are, then combining hard training with dieting could be a problem. There’s not much to this one so I’ll keep to the standard advice to consult your doctor first, and disclose EVERYTHING to your prospective prep coach.
6) Be ready to be judged, by your coach, the judges, and possibly friends/family. You’re about to enter the world of judged sports. You’ll also be judged the day of your show (haha, get it?). From the time you contact your first prospective competition prep coach, to the time you post your first round of Instagram/Facebook selfies, all the way up to the time you compete…you will be judged.
Most of the negative judging will be from people who have issues with themselves and are projecting it onto you. The positive judging will be from a mix of people: some are impressed by anyone who is making an effort, and some are impressed specifically by how you look/how hard you’re working/how far you’ve come, etc.
My advice is something that a lot of high level athletes already know: Ignore your critics AND your fans. I’m not being 100% literal…of course you should let the positive feedback compliment your SELF motivation. But don’t get to a point where you RELY on it. This sport is about YOU, and you need to have all the drive you need built in. You need to have goals for yourself that have nothing to do with outside influence, and are impervious to it.
The people who’s criticism you DO need to listen and respond to are people you’re asking for help. A prospective coach you contacted and sent photos to in hopes of getting a consultation with them. The coach you hire. The judges you talk to after the show for feedback (if they were paying attention or even facing the stage…don’t talk to the one who you noticed wasn’t paying attention). Just understand that you’re signing up to be judged, both on things you can and cannot control. Expect that to start from day 1.
Okay, so I’ve probably either scared you away, told you things you already know, or challenged you. If its the latter-est (the “challenged you” part)…that’s a good start. Print this article out and put it on your fridge next to the photo of whatever bikini competitor(s) you have stuck to it.
Then get to work on those 2 or 3 fundamental things that you KNOW you need to improve on with regard to your eating, training and general lifestyle. Do these 2-3 things consistently. I purposely left training and diet specifics out of this article, because you probably already know enough to bring yourself up to the (physical/aesthetic) level you need to be at to enter a contest prep…at least for bikini. You just need to do it and do it without having a deadline right off the bat. THEN you hire the specialist.
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This article hit the nail on the head. This sport is an every single day process. Even when I win I see where I need to improve. Making the improvements is my favorite part. I really enjoyed this read. Thank you.
What a great article! Definitely challenged me. The last few months I’ve been in a preliminary phase of searching for a competition coach. I am not ready for a coach. In fact, I am FAR from being ready for a competition coach. I really appreciate the honest, straight talk that is in this article. I need to work more on improving some fundamental items. Thank you!