Are you thinking about doing an NPC Bikini competition?
Then this blog is for you, intended to save you some time and stress as you try to figure out all the ins-and-outs of competing.
I just completed my first NPC Bikini Competition in Culver City, CA. It was one of those “bucket list” items that I never really thought I could do – which is exactly why I challenged myself to do it. It was a great experience and accomplishment, but there was also a lot of stress and sleeplessness that went along with it, trying to learn about how they work, research posing and suits and nutrition, etc.
You can find all the workouts and diet info you could ever possibly need with a quick Google search (as well as on my YouTube channel) :). So I won’t go through all of that here. Instead I want to share some of the lesser-known tips that I was also grateful to receive from experienced competitors and coaches, as well as from my own perspective:
Don’t Pick Just Any Show
Do your research. Some shows are more popular or national qualifiers, filled with experienced competitors. Others are better for novice competitors and have fewer competitors. Where do you find out this info? Great question. I asked the organization themselves putting on my local show, and they said all shows are the same, which isn’t really true. Once I found a coach, she told me which show was better for me because she’s competed in these exact shows many times. (I’ll explain how I found a local coach down below.)
Budget & Compete When You Can Afford it
Competitions are expensive, even when you’re on a budget like I was and find ways to cut expenses. An NPC card alone is $125, the show is about $150 (depending on where you compete), and the cheapest decent suit you can probably find is $125, and that’s practically slumming it. Not to mention shoes, food, tanning, make-up, hair, nails, etc. Research how much all of these things will cost for what you want and are willing to spend. If you don’t have the money now, start saving and wait to do a show until you have at least $500-600 to spend on it (but expect to spend more).
3. Know What the Judges are Looking For
If you’re trying to be competitive, you’ll waste your time if you don’t know what the judges like. There are no exact standards all NPC judges have – they each have their own preferences. Generally, you need a firm, round set of glutes, flat abs, and rounded shoulders. But not too bulky, muscular, or vascular.
Stage presence and posing is everything – you must look confident and beautiful – which includes nicely done hair, make-up, tan, and overall skin tone. Depending on where you compete and who is judging, however, some like a softer look, some like more muscular. Some may prefer brunettes over blondes, some might prefer abs over glutes. If you know who is judging your show, you can tailor your training and appearance to them. One place to start is looking at the previous and most recent winners at your local shows, which should be on their website and Instagram if they have it. You may also be able to find a workshop to attend where the judges will explain what they’re looking for. Your coach should know as well. Which is why #4 is important….
4. Hire a Local and/or Well-Known Coach
From state to state and region to region, judges all have their own unique preferences. So how do you know what will help you place? Find a local coach who knows who is judging your show and what they like. A coach from another state or region may be able to get you in good shape, but may not know know your specific show. Also make sure they coach NPC shows, not other federations.
I found a coach by searching the recent winners on the MuscleContest.com website, Googling her name, and then emailing her after I found that she offers coaching (www.teamiconicfitness.com). She explained how the stage would be set up, how to walk, what the head judge likes, etc. Even better, she was able to answer questions about timing that day, how things run, and what to expect.
You may also want to choose a coach who runs a well-known team – they go to shows all around the country, know the judges well, and have lots of experiencing winning. Look up names like Team Bombshell, Zero Gravity, or Kim Oddo. Not only that, but there’s a good chance they have an “in” with the judges that may help you out…if you know what I’m sayin’….which leads to #5…
5. Be Aware of Politics
Like most anything in life, any experienced athlete will tell you there are politics involved in the NPC. Who wins isn’t always fair, but may have quite a bit to do with who knows who and all kinds of other “stuff”. If you’re serious about making a career out of fitness and competing, then you probably need to get to network and get in with “the in crowd”, or sleep with the right people (yuck). But if you just want to compete for the experience, do it and have fun, and know politics may affect things – or maybe they won’t. I wouldn’t worry too much about this part, just know it exists and probably matters more the higher you go. Just enjoy the process bring your best “package”, and be proud of your accomplishments regardless of how you place!
6. When it Comes to Calories….Cut Slowly
Just because you may need to drop a lot of weight fairly quickly (anywhere from 4-10 weeks), take your time in cutting calories and carbs. This means that you have to trust the process. Don’t start by dropping 500 calories. If you drop 200 calories and increase cardio and aren’t seeing any major weight loss, don’t do any drastic cuts. It may take a while for your body to adjust and begin to show the change, and it will be easier for your body to adjust if you continue changing things slowly so it doesn’t go into fat-storing mode, thinking you’re starving and shocked by the added stress from cardio.
Do slow cuts every few weeks, so that by the time you hit the last 3-4 weeks, you aren’t starving yourself. Yes, you’ll be hungry by this point and at very low calories, but you want to keep as many calories and carbs in your diet as possible while still losing weight so that you don’t lose more muscle than necessary or damage your metabolism.
So what does this look like? I started cutting from 2100-2200 calories to 1900, and about 150 carbs. I made the mistake of panicking when I didn’t see much weight loss or change in my body, and cut down to 1700 about two weeks later, and dropped carbs to around 130. I only lost a few pounds for the first 5-6 weeks, but my body did start to look a bit more lean. By the last two weeks of prep, I was using a carb/calorie cycle, averaging probably 1200 calories per day, which is below my RMR (a number you should never go below for long). My nutrition coach I hired at 4 weeks out said she would have liked my calories to be at 1800 when we started.
When you go too low, your body may panic and store water and fat, and then at the end you have to go extremely low (I had days just about 1050 calories). Those last 4 weeks were when I saw the most change in my weight and body. So don’t panic, and don’t make drastic cuts. Take your time, give yourself lots of time to prep (about 12 weeks depending on your starting point), and protect your hard-earned muscle (and sanity) as you cut.
7. Know Why You’re Competing
If you don’t have a compelling reason, you may give up. Prepping for a competition is no joke and takes a lot of mental strength, physical strength, and sacrifice. You’ll need more sleep, your social life will probably suffer a bit due to time in the gym and diet restrictions, and you’ll be hungry often. And no one likes hours of cardio, but you have to do it when you don’t feel like it. Know why you’re doing it so when things get tough, you have your goal for motivation. I had a few reasons for doing it, but my main reason was doing something that seemed to hard for me. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, and prove that my body could look a way I never thought possible. A solid goal that goes beyond aesthetics will help keep your hand out of the cookie jar for 12 long weeks. 🙂
8. Have Realistic Post-Competition Expectations
The body you’ll have on stage is not a body you can keep long term. Sad, but true. It’s not healthy or manageable to look that way on a daily basis. After your competition, you WILL gain weight back, fat will probably return in some places you lost it, and clothes will fit a bit tighter. That’s OKAY. Just adding back in carbs (which are necessary for health and muscle-building) and sodium will cause you to retain water and look a bit “fluffier”. So don’t flip out when you “gain 5 lbs” within a few days of the contest.
Be careful, however, when you come out of the show and have the freedom to eat whatever you want. Don’t over do it. Your metabolism has likely slowed down a bit, and can’t handle your pre-contest nutrient intake. Know that this could be a bit tough on your psyche, and some people can get depressed after a show. Not only are your abs much harder to see after a few weeks, or even days post-show, but this huge event you were building up to is now done. That can leave you with that “what now?” feeling.
So what can you do? Plan a reverse diet. Don’t just binge or jump right back into a pre-contest diet. You should basically reverse what you did going in – slowly increase calories, carbs, and sodium, and slowly cut back on cardio. It’s not super easy after you’ve already been restricting yourself so much, but it’s the healthiest way. Know before the competition is done what your diet is going to look like for the next few weeks and get back on track after a nice, big cheat meal after the show 🙂
9. Set Another Goal to Stay on Track
I don’t think I heard anyone suggest this, and I didn’t even intentionally plan it. But having another goal within a fairly short time frame after your show is a good idea from my experience. I ended up getting scheduling for a photo shoot with a fitness company one week after my show. What was great about that was when I really wanted to eat more than a few cheat meals, and that “what now?” feeling set in after the show, I had something else to look forward to that kept me on track. I think that was incredibly helpful mentally, to keep me motivated and feeling good, and not get so bummed out about the whole process being done.
So maybe plan a 5k race, or a photo shoot (even if it’s just for fun to capture that awesome body transformation), or a special event of some sort to keep your spirit lifted and strength to say no to those donuts!
Have more questions? I’m happy to help. Feel free to contact me for training and nutrition advice 🙂