By Tara Daye, Lifestyles’ Fitness Program Director, PTS/FIS
Bodybuilding has been captivating audiences all over the globe for centuries and continues to draw in new athletes and onlookers to this day. It is a world in and of its own unlike any other sport or competition. Let’s have a quick look at the history and then go behind the scenes of prep and the processes leading up to the big show!
It began as far back as the ancient Greeks who would aim to better their physical appearance and strength with heroic feats to then compete to set records and display their talents. It started as more of a show of strength where the athletes would compete to see who could lift the largest animal or pull the heaviest cart, drawing spectators from far and wide. Towards the end of the 19th century the Europeans helped to usher in an evolution with more theatrical performances. As the years passed, the sport became more exclusively a display of the human form. The first major organized event took place in England in 1901 organized by “The Father of Modern Bodybuilding”, Eugen Sandow. In America, 1904 was the year for the first extensive bodybuilding competition. In 1939, the first officially recognized bodybuilding show, “Mr. America”, set what we know today as Bodybuilding Competitions in motion. With the growing popularity, the first National and International organizations were born in the 1940’s and 50’s. The sport continued to grow; more and more competitions were created including Mr. Universe (1950), and Mr. Olympia (1965), which still remains the most prestigious win.
Bodybuilding had primarily been a male-only sport up until 1965 with the birth of Miss America. In 1980, the addition of the Ms. Olympia brought forth an influx of women. Over the years, we have seen the number of male competitors dwindle while the females now tend to dominate the number of registrants. During the late 1960’s and early 70’s, the sport was brought to the forefront with the iconic and influential Arnold Schwarzenegger, who went on to become a seven-time Mr. Olympia winner and five-time Mr. Universe trophy holder.
Today we have amazing not-for-profit organizations, such as the Canadian Physique Alliance (CPA) here in Canada and the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) and many others that organize, govern and promote the sport. Here in New Brunswick, a division of the CPA, the NBCPA, is the driving force behind all competitions. As a member of the CPA, athletes can now compete country-wide. There are also Pro Shows which require top placings in certain Provincial shows to be eligible to compete in. Achieving a Pro-card is most athletes’ largest goal – to be able to move up the ranks and compete against the top contenders in the biggest shows worldwide.
So, we see the competitors on stage posing to show off their physiques in their tans and skimpy suits, but what all goes in to the process beforehand? Let’s have a look inside this world. Some of the resources needed or desired would include, but are not limited to: strength and conditioning coaches, personal trainers, posing lessons, suit designers, stage hair and make-up artists, sponsorships and more.
It definitely involves many many dumbbells, hours of resistance training and tons cardio. For each individual however, the routines differ depending on the balance and structure of your muscles, where your start point is, how much weight you need to lose or gain, and which category you would like to aim to compete in. These factors then come into consideration when figuring out the length of prep needed, what type of suit to wear, what posing routine you need to learn and practice over and over and over again, and what percentage of body fat you need to aim to attain.
There are also different categories in which you can compete. For females, there are three different classifications – bikini, figure, physique, and in some cases bodybuilding. Men can choose to enter into bodybuilding, physique, and classic physique. Each of the classes require a certain “look”; specific muscle definition, balance and shape. The different classes also come with certain poses or routines with rules and regulations for each that the athletes need to present on stage. Some shows also include categories such as fitness where the athletes display their athleticism, mixed pairs that involves sometimes dance-like partner routines, and costume classes in which the athletes can create fun apparel and routines that go with the theme.
How is all of this accomplished? First, it is important to hire a professional with on-stage experience, proper certifications and education. Hiring the right coach for you is extremely important. You need to make sure it is an individual that holds to your own beliefs and views of health and fitness, is willing to impart all of their knowledge about prepping and competing, and will work with your likes and dislikes, allergies or food preferences such as vegan or vegetarian and be there for you during the tough mental challenges that come with competing and dieting hard. Your trainer or coach will guide you through the whole process and be there with you up to and including show day where they will guide you backstage and into the limelight.
Unfortunately, there is a big misconception within the public domain that you have to use steroids to compete in bodybuilding shows. This, of course, is not true at all. The use of steroids is not promoted or necessary. At Pro levels and in Natural categories there are drug tests to ensure the athletes are clean. The use of performance enhancing drugs or diuretics, remains a personal choice that comes with a long list of side effects and health risks. Your personal views on this subject should play a large role when determining who your coach, team or trainer will be.
There are rewards and challenges that come with any endeavour. Preparing for a show can be a long road. Some preps last 20+ weeks, others as little as 8 – 12 weeks. Either scenario can be taxing on a person’s energy, willpower and mental state. Consistent intense workouts, never missing your cardio, planning and cooking all meals ahead of time, having to be accountable for everything that enters your body, endless hours or early mornings and/or late nights at the gym, too many trips to the weight scale, and so much more can leave a person’s head spinning or feeling the need to shut down or quit. It is extremely important to educate yourself and manage your mental health throughout the whole process. If competing is something you do decide to pursue, the rewards though are fabulous! The people you get to meet and share your experiences with are priceless. You really get to know yourself, your body, your strengths and weaknesses, and your support system of family and friends when prepping for a show. There is no better feeling than knowing that you gave your all, put every effort forth, never cheated on your meals, drank all your water, and practiced until your back gave out all while being lifted up by your peers and loved ones. Achieving the body image you desired, knowing you gave 110% and showing it off on stage is an immensely proud and ego-boosting experience whether or not you walk away with a medal or trophy. Your support system strengthens, your circle of friends widens and with every experience you grow and learn.
Leading up to the big day men and women alike attend many appointments pre-show as well. There are bookings for everything from massages and acupuncture to hair removal and beautification. Appointments need to be set to have your spray-tan application, pedicures and manicures done, and to have your hair and make-up stage-ready. Not to mention suit fittings and perhaps attending posing lessons. It makes for very busy weeks and non-existent weekends a lot of the time. The CPA also holds informational seminars that are beneficial to attend where rules and regulations are discussed and posing lessons given. The organization requires a membership to be purchased, and registrations are needed for the divisions in which you wish to compete.
As preparation flows through the weeks and competition gets closer, the process changes and athletes begin what is called “peek week” where the meals change and you begin to deplete the muscles of their glycogen stores and really limit carbohydrates. As it gets down to days before, you begin to add more healthy carbohydrates to fill your muscles back up. You also go through a “drying out” stage before the show where you rid your body of excess water. This all aids the body in cutting fat stores, depleting water stores and displaying the muscle definition.
The day of the show finally arrives! There are specific eating and drinking routines, hair and make-up applications, lots of bling for the ladies, tan touch-ups, and then the wait and prep backstage! The backstage area is full of athletes, their gear, exercise equipment, food and tons of commotion! Most often you’ll either see the athletes practicing their posing, resting watching their fellow competitors on the screen, or getting ready to take their turn waiting in line or pumping up their muscles. During the evening most times you can find a large array of mouth-watering baked goods and treats ready and waiting for the athletes to savour when they are done on the stage. There is also a backstage photography area, a tan touch-up station where you get perfected, glazed and perhaps your suit glued in place before going out to the front lines.
Each show day has a morning show as well as an evening presentation. The athletes get to repeat their performance twice within typically 15 hours. The reason for this is so that the judging can be performed during the morning. The panel of experienced, certified judges compare and rate the athletes based on category regulations. This way the decisions are made and loosely finalized for the award presentation during the evening show. This makes the evening more entertaining for the spectators and fun for the competitors.
The aftermath of competing can occasionally take a mental toll on some athletes. This is due to the depletion the body goes through, perhaps because the placing wasn’t where expected and also the fact that those perfectly sculpted bodies do not keep their leanness between preps and shows. It is unrealistic, and in some cases unhealthy for most people to keep their stage appearance when not competing. There are cases of binge eating – such deprivation for weeks can leave an individual wanting to taste all of the foods that were restricted from the diets. If left un-checked it can lead to a fairly big gain in pounds and therefore poor self-image. The loss of a hard and specific goal can take a toll as well. Not having the structure around workouts and meals can be hard for some. Post-show mental health is just as important to be aware of and dealt with. Knowing which resources are available and who your circle of support is, is extremely important. Having a healthy balance of regular life and show life should be considered. Hard dieting too often can have an effect on your metabolic processes, mental state, and even organ function just as heavy lifting in the gym can take a toll on your bones, joints and proper muscle function and range of motion.
There are many things to consider when deciding whether or not to get involved in the sport of bodybuilding. If this is something you have ever considered, it would be of great benefit to attend a show first to see what happens on the stage and to talk to seasoned competitors to hear all about their different experiences. Most are willing and happy to share what they have learned and been through. The more that can be learned about any process before application, the better prepared you will be for all that is involved.
Here in New Brunswick we are fortunate to have several events throughout each year. This October there are two shows nearing. The New Brunswick CPA Open & Natural Championship will be held in Fredericton this coming October the 13th, followed by the Saint John Fall Classic on October 27th. If you are intrigued by the sport of Bodybuilding, come on out and attend a local show! Lifestyles’ member April Young and I will be taking the Saint John stage together this year and would love all of the support we can get!