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The beautiful, ugly truth about taking part in competitions

Die schöne, hässliche Wahrheit über die Teilnahme an Wettkämpfen

Here is a short summary

  1. Going on stage can boost your confidence. However, if you get too caught up in it, it will make you ego-obsessed.
  2. Competing can improve your skills in the gym and in the kitchen, but it will make certain competitive athletes dumber and more dependent.
  3. Competitive culture celebrates serious training and serious nutrition. This worldview encourages community building - but some of these views are stupid.
  4. The pressure of competition can push you to exceed your expectations, but it can also push you to do things that can be detrimental to your metabolism and body image.
  5. There are prizes you can win that are far more important than titles and trophies.

Should you compete?

A woman who transforms her body with the help of heavy iron will at some point ask herself the following question: Do I have what it takes to compete?

The answer is yes, you have what it takes. The more important question, however, is whether it's worth it.

If you are toying with the idea of taking part in a competition, then we should clarify the details. Let's talk about what you won't hear from competition coaches.

Here are the four most important factors regarding bodybuilding and figure class competitions that you should consider before entering a competition.

1 - Entering a competition

The good things

With the right mindset, preparing for a competition can be a tool for personal development. Just as when you speak or perform in public, you are forced to take some risks when you perform on the competition stage, which can help you boost your confidence.

You open yourself up to criticism from others and if you are mentally strong enough, you will be able to deal with your perceived mistakes, be proud of your progress and say to the world "look at the result of my hard work!"

And when you have done all this, then in any other situation you can say to yourself "this is a small thing compared to walking out onto a competition stage almost naked. If I can do that, then I can do this."

Preparing for your performance can give you a real boost of confidence. You need to be encouraged by your progress, of course, otherwise you won't feel the urge to sign up for a competition in the first place.

When you go on stage, you are basically making a statement that you have adequate body development and want to show it off. This is a bold move if you've never done anything like this before and in order to live an interesting life, you need these kinds of experiences that push you to your limits mentally and physically.

You can't be a wallflower and a competitive athlete at the same time. These two things are mutually exclusive.

All the preparation for a competition will make you ruthlessly aware that you will end up in front of a crowd and if you lack the confidence to do this, pretending to have it will work just as well. Faking confidence develops your confidence.

The bad things

Taking part in a competition means that you are having your appearance judged in public. Competing is all about paying a few judges to compare your body to the bodies of other women. You are paying to be judged.

If you take this idea first and let it become your world, you will end up becoming dependent on validation from others. You will need other people to constantly validate you in order to feel good about your appearance.

When you sign up for a subjective, appearance-based competition, you train yourself to worry about what others think of you. Of course, this is unavoidable to a certain extent in everyday life. We care what other people think about us because we are not sociopaths. We like to be attractive and it's natural to want recognition for the work we put in at the gym.

But if you fail to see the bigger picture and look at yourself as a whole person - not just a beautiful body - then dependence on validation from others will run amok. Your self-esteem will deteriorate when your looks become more important than your talent, intellect, passion, creativity, integrity and kindness.

If your identity only revolves around the approval you receive for your looks, you will become both narcissistic and insecure. This may seem like a contradiction, but it's not.

If you're not happy with yourself on any given morning, you'll be desperate for the opinions of others to validate you and improve your mood (insecurity). And if you're happy with yourself, you'll be eager for feedback from others on how good you look (narcissism).

The internet is full of competitive athletes who depend on "likes" and "favorites" and validation from others because these people can't validate themselves.

This is proof that it doesn't matter how spectacular your body looks. You can be a professional and an insecure narcissist at the same time. Getting more approval will not make you less addicted to approval. The whole thing is comparable to an addiction.

Does taking part in competitions have these consequences for everyone? Of course not. But you need to have a very solid body image of yourself from the start.

You need to love what your body can do - not just what it looks like. And you need to know that the opinions of others (positive or negative) don't really mean anything. Opinions don't reflect the value of you as a person.

Don't enter a competition because you think it will give you more confidence - it might not. Sign up because you are healthy on a daily basis. Enter because you are mastering your training and mastering your body in the gym.

2 - The competition preparation

The good things

You learn. You grow. You're training and eating more mindfully because everything serves a purpose to make you look phenomenal when you perform on the competition stage.

There is nothing like it. All aspects of your lifestyle become methodical - from your bedtime to your caffeine intake, from your meal timing to your bowel movements.

There is a plan and a compelling reason to stick to it. If you're tempted to throw caution to the wind, all you have to do is visualize how your race will go or how you want to look when you step onto the competition stage.

This conscientiousness about training and nutrition leads to self-awareness. You start to think like a machine instead of letting your feelings guide you when it comes to whether you train or eat healthily.

You will recognize how your body responds to continuous hard work. You will learn lessons that you will never learn if you don't test your limits to be ready on a certain date in the calendar.

Participating in a competition will make you look beyond the basics of sensible nutrition and training and you will begin to examine all the minute details. Healthy behaviors become strategic behaviors and many of these are things you will learn to love and use long after the competition is over.

The bad things

Some competitors learn nothing. There are two types:

The first type is a woman who is out of shape and believes that she will maintain the body she will achieve over the course of her competition preparation forever.

This couldn't be further from reality. Women who rely on trainers to overhaul their lives are the women who will never learn how to get fit on their own.

Signing up for a competition is the wrong way to get in shape if you're completely out of shape. Why? Because following someone else's instructions to prepare for a competition is an artificial situation. It doesn't teach you how to integrate fitness into your daily life.

It only teaches you how to make your fitness someone else's responsibility.

And no matter how good your coach's nutrition plan or training sessions are, if you can't integrate healthy eating or training into your life after the competition, you'll go back to your previous lifestyle.

The second type who won't learn anything is the woman who is already fit but hires a bad coach

Many trainers will insist that you stick to their every word and are completely dependent on them. They want you to blindly follow their instructions without thinking critically about your long-term health or metabolism.

These trainers want you to continue to need them and keep paying them so that it makes them look good when you win a trophy.

This can even be dangerous if they starve you too much, push you to use illegal substances and tell you to do two hours of cardio every day.

Sure, you might look perfect on race day, but your body will be a wreck afterwards and you won't know how to eat right. What's the point of this?

I can't tell you how many women have contacted me after working with a race prep coach to tell me they don't know how to eat.

Don't become one of those women. If you can't think for yourself during race prep, then you won't know when it's over.

Don't pay to be someone else's bitch and don't pay them to make you dumber. If your trainer is a dictator who tells you things that sound idiotic, run.

Learn for yourself how to get fit before you hand over the reins to a competition coach. Of course, it's even better if you get so fit that you wouldn't dream of handing over the reins to someone else.

3 - The culture

The good things

When you take training and nutrition seriously, it's refreshing to meet competitive athletes and other people who feel the same way - especially if you're usually surrounded by people who don't understand.

If people in your social circle, at work and in your family are not interested in nutrition and training, then it can become a burden to always have to defend yourself and explain your lifestyle.

It's frustrating to have people around you who don't understand why you, as a woman, want to build muscle in the first place. Or those who don't understand your food choices and assume that giving up cake and pizza is an eating disorder.

When you finally have other people with a fitness mindset around you, it's a relief. You can share your excitement with others, you can talk shop about training and you can pull a protein shake out of your handbag without batting an eyelid.

It's nice to have other people around you who get satisfaction from working their asses off on training and nutrition. It's fun to share ideas and tips with others. People simply want to be in the presence of those who understand what they are doing and why they are doing it.

It's just not fun to be criticized by those who don't take care of their bodies.

These shared values are a benefit of the bodybuilding culture. Nobody asks you why you train on the weekend instead of partying. We understand it. We support it. And we are with you.

The bad things

There's one part of bodybuilding culture that doesn't make much sense: the do anything to win mentality.

This mentality glorifies an unbalanced lifestyle. It says that everything else in your life has to go to hell or else you're just not "hardcore" enough.

This may be necessary in some respects for a handful of top pros out there, but certainly not for the thousands of ordinary competitive athletes.

If your competition preparation has you doing things that upset your family life, your finances or your long-term health, then you're a matter how many trophies you collect.

When you go on stage, your goal is to look like the epitome of fitness, but being fit should enhance your life - not distract you from what's important.

Oh yeah, you think competing is going to get you a career with money and fame? Sorry. There is only one Arnold Schwarzenegger. And nobody outside the bodybuilding world knows who the hell any of the other top competitive athletes are.

You're not going to make any money from competitions like this. You pay for them. You invest time, energy and money. A lot of money (competing in an amateur championship last year cost me over 3000 dollars). If competing ruins the rest of your life, then that investment is not worth the money.

There are stories of people who have lost their jobs, their partners and their bank accounts because of their obsession with competing. All for the sake of coming third in a local competition. But it doesn't have to be that way.

4 - The mentality

The good things

The pressure of competition preparation will teach you that you are capable of more than you think.

Whenever you ask yourself the question "Do I have what it takes to do this?" you will want to know the answer. And those who take action seek the pressure that comes with finding out. They test their courage.

Do I have what it takes to force five more repetitions? Can I still run as fast as I did as a teenager? Can I build bigger shoulder muscles? Can I cycle my carbs without needing my trainer to babysit? Can I stand in front of an audience and exude confidence?

You won't know the answers to these questions until you try it. People who never ask themselves what they are capable of will never find out. If you try things, you are more likely to try other things.

You will become addicted to finding out what you are made of. You will learn through trial and error. You will become less dependent on coaches telling you what to do. You will become encouraged and unstoppable.

The bad things

Competing can make you feel inadequate. Even if you've made tremendous progress, a competitive mentality can be a nagging reminder of your perceived weaknesses and failures. Your abs could be harder, your legs could be leaner and your shoulder muscles could be bigger.

Being aware of these tendencies can help you block them out. But if you let them run amok, not only will you be continually dissatisfied, but you may also consider using banned substances.

I chose to be a steroid-free athlete, but there are competitive athletes who use banned substances - even when they are preparing for their first competition.

I was so vulnerable and desperate to be better that I actually considered this before my husband set me straight.

And this was just an amateur competition. So you can imagine what it's like at national or professional level.... I'm not condemning the competitors who use banned substances. They work their asses off in training too, but I will never take competitions that seriously. There are too many risks and I like my body too much.

What if your metabolism stops working properly because your body has become addicted to illegal fat burners? Will your body still look as phenomenal later on without the help of T3?

Using banned substances has too much potential to mentally mess up your body image if you are unable to achieve the necessary muscle mass or definition without the extra support.

What woman wants to become dependent on illegal substances to maintain her slimness? We should pity any woman who has made the mistake of messing up her body and body image just to compete.

Will I do it again?

Even if there were no prizes to win, no judges to impress and no competition stage to stride onto, I would still continue to train hard and eat consciously.

Yes, I will continue to compete, but probably not with the same federation.

And this time I will focus more on learning new things and having fun than worrying about pleasing the judges.

Self-affirmation, autonomy and a fit body - these are the trophies that every woman can be proud of. And these trophies are worth more than the trophies you win on stage.

By Dani Shugart


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