Christine Envall Female Bodybuilder Australia

Preparing for Competition

In previous articles I have talked about how 'peaking' can make or break the way you look on the day of the competition. This month I want to look at preparing your on stage presentation because all else being right, bad presentation can make even the best body look second rate. Poor presentation may cause you to hide some of your best body parts, and if it can't be seen, it can't be judged!


Bodybuilding is one of the few sports that I know of where the way that you train for the competition has nothing in common with what you actually do in competition. I'm not saying the way you train doesn't effect how you look, I'm saying that what you do on stage is completely different to what you do day after day in the gym.

With most other sports training involves practicing skills and techniques used in competition and performing the actual competition event, ie sprinting 100m, practicing lay-ups. In bodybuilding, training involves performing a series of weight-bearing exercises, and yet on stage there is not a weight in sight. The method of judging a bodybuilding competition is visual, based soley on what the judges see in front of them.

I watch a lot of competitions and I believe that while most competitors put in 100% when it comes to training in the gym, doing cardio and following a strict diet, I often feel that a lot of them forget what the actual competition consists; a symmetry round, a free posing round and a muscularity round. These are three rounds of physical activity that you need to train for in order to get fit for them. Yes, I did say physical activity. While it might not look like much, standing up there on stage, hitting a couple of poses, if you are doing it properly and giving it your all YOU MUST BE FIT FOR IT! We've all seen it, competitors starting to 'droop', puff and pant after only a couple of call-outs. Not only does this look bad, but remember, you're being judged and if you're too tired to flex hard in your poses, you won't show up as well next to the other competitors.


The symmetry round is where you stand 'relaxed' so the judges can assess the symmetry and balance of your physique. To train for this round, you must practice holding your body 'flexed' but in a relaxed stance. Sounds like a contradiction in terms, but the idea is to 'flex' the muscle without actually striking a pose. By 'flexing' the muscles you will look more separated and defined. You also look bigger as your shoulders are held wide to pull the lats out and your legs are flared out to show centre thigh separation. This is how you should stand the entire time you are on stage, between poses in the muscularity round and when you are not in a call out (remember, the minute you relax is the minute judge x happens to look at you). You may need to hold this stance for 5 minutes at a time on stage. I know 5 minutes doesn't sound like much, but when you are dry and standing under hot stage lights, it feels like half an hour. Anyway, go and do it do and see how long you last. Not easy is it? Now you see why it is important to be fit for it. Start of by holding this stance for as long as you can, and then build up to the point where you can hold it for at least five minutes without moving. Remember you have to do it from the front, the rear and each side for the symmetry judging. It is not usual that you have to hold the side and rear stance for more than 30 seconds in competition, but be prepared just in case it is longer.


The compulsory poses consist of 5 -8 flexed poses (depending on which federation you compete for and if you are male or female). The idea of these poses is to show off the size and condition of each muscle group. They are performed one after another and each may need to be held for 10 - 30 seconds. If you are looking good, and you're in a big line-up, you may need to perform them several times in a series of call outs. It is not uncommon to be in 10 - 14 call outs in a large, but close line-up. You need to be fit for holding the poses and performing them time after time in order to be able to show yourself off at your best. If you start to tire and let the elbows drop on your double biceps, not flex your hamstrings in a back pose, relax your quads in a front lat pose or even look out of breath, all of this can detract from your look and the judges can only judge what they see in front of them. You might have the most separated thighs on stage, but if you are too tired and sore to flex them in a call out, the judges won't see them, and the person next to you might show up as being more cut (even if they aren't) because they have the stamina to keep on flexing.

To train for the compulsory posing round, start by learning your poses (correct posing is a whole other issue) and practicing them in the correct order, paying attention to your transition from one pose to the next. Hold each pose for 30 seconds before moving into the next pose. Once you have performed one round of poses, hold your symmetry stance for 30 to 60 seconds and then perform another round of compulsory poses. Start off by doing 2-3 rounds like this, and then build up until you can do 10 rounds of compulsory poses (if you can do more, that is great). You will find this type of posing training really helps to harden up your muscles due to the isometric contractions you are performing. When you strike a pose, hold it hard, really feel the muscle contract (not to the point of shaking, but almost) and make sure every muscle is contracted. eg., don't forget about your legs just because you are flexing your biceps!

It is never too soon to begin practicing your compulsory poses, but if you are too far out from contest shape it can be hard to see if you are showing your muscles off properly. At about 6-8 weeks out from a show you should be lean enough to see what you are doing. As you get leaner, you should have more incentive to practice posing as each week more muscle detail and definition becomes apparent. You should practice your compulsory poses daily (a convenient time might be after a shower before you get dressed).


The free posing round can be the most daunting part of the contest. A lot of people choose to 'ignore' it because it seems too hard to work out a good routine and choose suitable music (again, this is a topic all on it's own!). At a lower level competition you may be able to get away with a routine that consists of the compulsory poses strung together to music, but believe me, at an International level, there are some pretty amazing routines (and that's just the men I'm talking about!). Remember, your posing routine makes up 1/3-plus of your score, and if two physiques are close, it will be what determines your placing, so you really want to look polished and confident whilst showing off your best features.

The sooner you work out your routine the better as this gives you more time to practice it. At first you should work on the basic poses in the routine and make sure you are timing them correctly to the music and not forgetting the routine half way through. Once you have memorised the routine and are comfortable performing it 2-3 times in a row without mucking it up, start to concentrate on your transition moves, hand and feet positions/movements and facial expressions. These are the fine details that add 'finish' to a routine and make it look more appealing to the judges and the audience.

The amount of time you spend practicing your routine will depend a lot on how quickly you learn it. As far as getting fit for it, if you can perform it 3-4 times in a row without a break and not get out of breath you will have no problems getting through it and the rest of the rounds at the competition. Why 3-4 times when you only have to do it once at competition? Well, on contest day your body is usually under more stress than normal, you may be very dehydrated, the lights are very hot, the adrenalin is pumping and I would be surprised if you don't hit each pose just a bit harder on stage than when you practice and all of this takes it out of you so if you can only get through your routine once in practice, you will struggle on contest day and feel wrecked the day after!


My last tip for a contest preparation is TRAIN YOURSELF TO SMILE. Even when you are squeezing those extra striations out in your chest or straining to hold that front double biceps for an extra five seconds, remember, it always looks better with a smile than a grimace. It is hard work up there, but you want to make it look easy. Let people know how much you are enjoying it up there (and don't tell me you don't enjoy it, why else would you put yourself through a grueling 3-5 month contest preparation if you DIDN'T like being on stage?).

(Australian Ironman Magazine  Volume 6 # 9 1999)


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