Okay, I did it. I competed. It was new, weird, scary, and awesome.
So, how did I do? I did great.
Well, I came in dead last.
BUT, I achieved my goals: I followed through, I got on stage, and I learned A LOT about the whole process. It was a very different experience from powerlifing, weightlifting, highland games, and endurance races, but, its also not so different in that everything you bring to the competition is all on you and you alone. Your coach can only do so much, you’ve got to put in the work every day. There is also a lot more skill involved than simply keeping your mouth shut and doing your workouts. I fought through a lot of self-doubt, and quite frankly, self-awareness, to still get on that stage knowing I would not be as competitive as the majority of girls I was competing with. I know that a lot of the athletes I train go through this same struggle the first time they step on the field or the platform, but its a necessary learning experience for getting to the next level.
*Always feel awesome about yourself when you step up and try something completely new and scary. Even if you come in dead last, you’re doing way better than those who won’t try.
So, this will be a long post because a lot of people have told me they are curious about the process so I will try and be as transparent as possible.
First of all, Things I was pleasantly surprised by:
- How very supportive and normal my fellow competitors were. I can imagine there may be some diva-like behavior at higher level competitions, but I didn’t see any. And I saw a lot of camaraderie and support among competitors. If you aren’t cheering on those around you and hoping they have their best day, you’re doing it wrong. Does that sound weird? Its shouldn’t. Winning doesn’t feel good when you only win because your competitor stumbles.
- How very supportive and compassionate the judges and organizers were. Again, I don’t know if this is a common thing at all events, but these guys made it very clear that they valued everyone’s health and safety above all else. We also got a good talking-to about how this kind of training tends to get one solely focused on one’s self and how its important to reconnect with family and friends and prioritize those relationships and not let this stuff get in the way. Additionally, that we were all there for self-improvement. Ultimately this is a sport that has a lot to do with genetics and you can never guess how you’ll do because you never know who will show up. All you can do ultimately is improve your own personal results. And this is exactly how we should be thinking in all non-team sports. Are you personally improving?
- How much practice it takes to make your physique look as optimal as possible on stage. I’m not kidding. I saw a lot of very cut bodies back stage and I saw a lot of average looking ones. And then I saw these girls pose. And those shoulder and glutes popped out and their abs engaged and everything looked amazing. I met the head judge before the contest in the elevator and I didn’t know who he was, he just kindly inquired if I was ready. After I’d been on stage, he saw me and high-fived me and said, “You did great! And you’ll do so much better if you learn to pose a little!”. He wasn’t throwing shade, he was giving me good advice. Two things: 1. I pose great with my coach because I am good at following directions and making improvements in real time. 2. When I’m on my own, I am not so good. Flaring my lats is hard for me because all I keep going back to is the form I know for cleans, snatches, and bench, and that’s more of a retraction. I just don’t get it yet. And its even harder to combine with hinging your hips, arching your back, engaging your quads, blah, blah, blah. So, he was right. I need a lot of practice and that’s all on me. I may be able to throw heavy things long distances and I have taken ballroom dance lessons, but those took time and learning to pose no different.
Coach: “So, flare your lats like this.” (Demonstrates perfect form.) Me: “Like this?” (Pull my traps up to my ears.) Coach: “No, all you did was shrug.” Me: “Like this?” (do my bench set-up) Coach: No, you just retracted your shoulder blades. Me: “Like this?” (shrug and do bench set-up) Coach: Uh, no . . . . (again demos perfect form) Me: “Like this?” (Does something else weird and not correct.)
There were a lot of other cool things I saw go on at this contest. I saw women with loose pregnancy skin, but amazing physiques, win over gals with much tighter skin. I saw folks in their 60’s and beyond get up on stage and rock what they had because it was all about the process. And some of them were giving the young folks a run for their money. In one of the pre-contest speeches, the head judge again told us something inspiring. “Look, if you fall off the stage, we will probably laugh, but if you have the best physique, you’re going to win. We don’t really care about your stage navigation skills. We just want you all to have fun out there. This is your moment to show off your hard work and we’re so happy you’re doing it with us.”
So, how did I do? Well, I got 4th in masters and 4th in True Novice. Out of 4 in each class. Out of nine contestants in Open Figure, I got ninth. So, is that awful? No. In my first deadlift contest, I set a state record and won first place. With a 242 lb deadlift. For those of you who aren’t familiar, that’s not big or even impressive at a powerlifting meet, but I was the strongest 40 year old who showed up that day. And as the judge said earlier, how you place depends on who shows up. Your personal results are all that matter. And I was very pleased with those. (And I had the biggest traps of anyone on stage, so winning.) 🙂
So, would I recommend you try this?
Yes. With some caveats.
- Before you do anything else, you must hire a good coach. AND LISTEN to your coach. Mine is awesome for a number of reasons, but I’ll share.
- Understand that those with naturally lean physiques who know how to show it off are going to have an natural advantage in the judging. And as you’ve probably guessed, not all federations are drug tested and a lot of competitors are not clean. But again, run your own route, stay in your lane, and manage your expectations.
- Its a simple process, but its not easy. It takes dedicated time and attention to both training and diet and may end up making some massive changes to your diet and schedule that you weren’t anticipating. Big changes come with a lot of challenges, that’s just how it works. BUT, you will learn a lot about yourself in the process.
- It can be relatively expensive. You don’t need an expensive suit or professional hair and makeup services, but entry fees can be high and you will need a professional spray tan no matter what your natural skin color is. If you want to use this as a training goal like I did, take your time and save your money as you go and you’ll probably find that it was totally worth it.
- As with everything else in physical improvement, the journey is the most important part. The changes you will make in your physiology, personal habits, and self-confidence are absolutely worth it.
Will I do it again?
I might. If I do, I will start my prep much leaner and I will spend a lot more time on posing practice. But, I honestly wouldn’t, and couldn’t have done things any differently this time. I simply did not know how my body would respond to the training, the diet, and the timeline of the 12 week prep. I made a lot of personal progress, I learned how to manage a very difficult contest prep with my family and personal life, and I learned a lot about how the actual competition works.
Achievement is not last, disappointment is not deadly: It is the mettle to proceed with that matters. -Winston Churchhill