What is a Bikini Competition?
A bikini competition falls under the umbrella of one of many divisions in competitive bodybuilding. Bodybuilding competitions exist for people to showcase their physique, personalities, and posing routines. They are typically an all-day event and registration is open to the public.
For men, there are two divisions: physique and bodybuilding. For women, there are typically four divisions: bikini, figure, physique, and bodybuilding. In each division, competitors are judged on varying elements. To name a few, depending on the division, judges may look at complexion, skin tone, poise, presentation, and muscle balance, shape, symmetry, density, striation, and separation.
I competed at Muscle Contest’s NPC San Diego Bodybuilding Champions in March of 2014. Outlined below are the details of my experience as a bikini competitor. It is important to note that individuals are likely to have difference experiences depending on beginning physical fitness level, the selected bodybuilding event, and a whole host of other factors.
Physical and Mental Preparation for a Bikini Competitor
There is a lot that goes into physically and mentally preparing for a bodybuilding competition. It takes a great deal of motivation, sacrifice, and a whole lot of discipline to be stage-ready. If you do not want it bad enough to be in the best competitive physical shape of your life, then you aren’t going to be successful. There is room for complaining, but no room for excuses. The amount of effort you put into developing your physique is exactly what you’ll wear in public when the blinding stage lights and a thousand judging eyes are on you. Not only do you have to train like a beast and eat on a very strict, scheduled diet for weeks to several months (depending where you currently are), you also have to mentally build the courage necessary to shake what your momma gave ya in public, wearing the skimpiest little bikini you’ve ever worn in your life.
- Coaching / Joining a Team
- The first thing I did was hire a trainer. He had experience preparing a few women for bikini competitions and got them to a place where they would do well. He provided me with knowledge in training, nutrition, and also emotional support. If you have no idea what you’re doing, hiring a coach who knows the industry and what goes into competition preparation can be helpful on your journey as a bikini competitor in a bodybuilding competition.
- I also joined a team prior to the competition. Being on a reputable team acts as a great support system in that every member is after the same thing – to be successful in competition. Not only does a team provide you with additional knowledge and support, it may also give you that extra edge when you’re on stage, especially if the team has a great track record for sculpting amazing physiques. However, being on a team is not necessary at all to do well in a competition. I had no idea what I was doing, so I sought out a support system that did. I have Ingrid Romero and Joe DiScuillio to thank for allowing me to be a part of their team.
- My diet consisted of six small meals a day. Every several weeks, my coach would take a look at my progress and adjust my nutrition plan accordingly to keep me on track for developing the ideal competition physique. I was on three different meal plans throughout competition preparation. As my body developed, my macronutrients and caloric intake were adjusted.
- The ingredients found in my meals consisted of lean protein (chicken, fish, turkey), grains (brown rice, oatmeal, rice cakes), fruit (apples, pears, berries, bananas), and vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, asparagus, carrots, sweet potato). Lastly, sodium intake was reduced to minimal levels.
- If I were to compete again, I would certainly experiment far more with the food that I eat rather than sticking to cookie-cutter plans. I’d decrease protein and carbohydrates and increase fat consumption. Food that fuels an individual best will always be unique to that individual. I’m about discovering and applying what’s most optimal for my genetics, lifestyle, and overall well-being.
- Physical Training
- My training program also shifted throughout competition preparation. I focused primarily on traditional bodybuilding movements, power exercises, plyometrics, and cardiovascular training. I trained in a commercial gym 5-6 times per week and stayed active during the weekends by hiking trails and doing track workouts. Getting outdoors is food for my concrete-jungle, nature-starved soul. I pushed myself hard and lifted very heavy. There was rarely a gym session where I wasn’t challenged and sweating like a pig.
- Shedding Water Weight
- Two weeks leading up to the bikini competition meant shedding water weight to be as lean as possible on competition day. Two weeks prior, I was taking in roughly one gallon of water per day. Then one week before, I started at two gallons and slowly tapered water intake as competition day got closer. Because I was taking in a whale’s worth of water, my body didn’t feel the need to hold onto much of the water that remained in my system. With a constant flow coming in, there wasn’t a need to store a camel’s reserve. By competition day, my body was as dry as the Sahara and my muscles were poppin’! However, I won’t lie, I felt very dehydrated and after the competition, water never tasted so sweet.
- This is a process that should be handled cautiously. The combination of depleting water and avoiding sodium can mess with your body’s biological mechanisms as your salt to potassium ratio gets thrown off balance.
- Bikini Competitor Posing Routine
- Posing practice is essential if you want to do well in a bikini competition. There are specific poses you must hit to show off the right curves and angles you trained so hard for. There is some room to play with in the poses that look best for you, but bikini competitors will typically showcase a front pose, side pose, and a back pose. Depending on the division you compete in, there are different elements that judges look for. In bikini competitions, judges want to see a physique that is very mildly muscular, balanced, and with softness still apparent. Bikini competitors are the least muscular and most feminine of all bodybuilding divisions.
- Practice is critical if you don’t want to look like a stiff, awkward robot on stage. Confidence, charisma, and fluidity in movement are keys to success. Oil up the tin man and transform yourself into the cute, approachable girl-next-door or the sexy and fierce lioness. Whatever image you want to portray, stick with it, and be it. If you don’t think you have what it takes, fake it ‘til you make it.
The Cost of Competing in a Bodybuilding Competition as a Bikini Competitor
Bodybuilding competitions are not for the poor. Participating in bodybuilding competitions is a luxury sport. Before deciding on competing, it’s important to know whether it is a financially sound decision to make. I’ve detailed the various expenses I incurred preparing for and competing at my first bikini competition.
- Coaching and Team Dues
- Personal training packages can vary from trainer to trainer. Some trainers will charge from under one hundred to several hundred per hour for each session. Think about all the sessions you’d need leading up to a bikini competition. Some people will prep for weeks, whereas others may prep for half a year to an entire year. Some trainers will charge a monthly flat rate to develop your training and nutrition program, which can range from as low as a $100 to the thousands. When training with a team, that number can easily fall in the thousands range. Cha-ching.
- Food and Supplement Expenses
- Grocery bills and supplement expenses can vary greatly as well. My standard grocery bill probably averaged about $100 per week. I am only 4’11”, so I don’t require much food. This amount will vary depending on your caloric intake and your macronutrient needs. Supplements I took included Nature’s Way Alive Once Daily Women’s 50+ Ultra Potency Multivitamin, Barlean’s Organic Fish Oil, Optimum Nutrition Glutamine, Optimum Nutrition Creatine Powder, and NOW Foods Whey Protein Isolate. There are numerous other supplements that competitors will take, but I kept my intake minimal.
- Registration Fees
- In any organization you decide to compete in, there is typically an annual fee. I purchased my NPC card for $120, which is good until the end of the calendar year.
- For the event you decide to compete in, there is also an athlete registration fee. I paid $180 to enter in bikini unlimited, which included a late registration fee because I decided to compete last minute. If you decide to enter in multiple classes, such as bikini novice, that’s an added fee. Cha-ching.
- Travel Expenses
- If you do not reside in the local area of the competition, travel expenses should be considered. Because I live in Los Angeles and the event was in San Diego, I booked a hotel for the night before and added the cost of an extended stay so I could have some place to rest between pre-judging and evening judging. This was roughly another $200.
- Apparel and Accessories Expenses
- There are competition-specific bikinis that are worn at bikini competitions. They are typically custom-fitted to your body and are usually blinged out so you can sparkle like stars on stage. Competition bikinis can range from a few hundred to $1,000 or more, depending on how elaborate and fancy they are. Fortunately, I borrowed one that happened to fit me well. A big thanks to Ingrid Romero’s custom competition bikinis. If this is too expensive, there are off-the-rack options, and you can try your luck at say, an Instagram giveaway.
- There are also competition-specific heels that must be worn. They look very much like stripper heels – clear and high-heeled, though not as high. A pair cost me around $65. I bought mine at Maya Shoes in Hollywood, California.
- Bikini competitors usually wear very flashy jewelry so that you sparkle and shine when the stage lights hit you. Earrings, a ring, and bracelets cost me another $45.
- Spray Tanning Cost
- Spray tans are standard at bodybuilding competitions. Because the stage lights are so bright, they will wash you out unless you’re darkened like a burnt cookie. There’s usually a company on-site that will manage spray tanning for competitors. My tan cost me $100, which covered a tanning session the night before, one before pre-judging, and another before evening-judging. This also includes glazing. Getting spray tanned in a wide-open room with 15 other naked women was quite the unforgettably odd experience.
- Hair and Makeup Expenses
- Unless you are exceptionally good at doing stage hair and makeup, it may be a good idea to hire expert help. I hired an acquaintance to handle this piece for me for $120. Cha-ching.
- Paid Competition Photos and Videos
- At the athlete briefing the evening before the event, you can pay to have professional photos and videos taken for you. If you don’t pay the price, you’ll never see the photos. You’ll notice that on the NPC website, you’ll see competitors with links to photos (because they paid) and competitors without a link to photos, indicating that they didn’t pay. Event coordinators do not allow professional photography at the venue either, so you’re sort of SOL unless you’ve got some high-tech device camouflaged as a phone to take high resolution snaps of your stage time. I opted for the photos only, which cost me another $80. If I opted for video as well, I would’ve forked over another $70. Cha-ching, cha-ching!
At the Event: NPC San Diego National Qualifier Bodybuilding Competition
- The Environment
- Stepping into a bodybuilding venue is a strange thing. My coach told me of a funny encounter he had at a competition event. A random lady approached him with a quizzical look on her face and asked him, “What’s going on here? Is this a Jersey Shore convention or something?” These questions just about sum up what you’d see at a bodybuilding competition – men and women overly tanned, overly done up, sporting the most ostentatious swimwear, blinged out to the max, prancing around both barefoot and in heels, and talking endlessly about protein and muscles. It sort of fits the Jersey Shore stereotype. Oh, and you can’t forget about incessant side eye and gossip. While you may encounter a heavy dose of narcissistic, unapproachable women, there are also very encouraging, beautiful women as well. I preferred to make nice with friendly people. We’re all trying to get over our fears together, aren’t we?
- Bikini Competition Day Diet
- It was breakfast as usual for me, but absolutely no water. Throughout the day, coaches would have a look at me and decide whether I needed to eat carbs or take in some fat. Albeit subtle, the foods and liquids you put in your body the evening before and on competition day can change your physical appearance. I had multiple sets of experienced eyes on me that helped me maintain the desired bikini competitor, stage-ready look.
- Estimated Timeline of Events
- 5:15AM – Hair and Makeup
- 8:00AM – Arrival at the venue
- Took note of the order of divisions and classes
- At this event, bikini competitors went on last, so much of my time was spent loitering around the team’s booth and practicing my posing.
- 10:30AM – On-Site Tanning and Glazing (Part 1)
- 12:00PM – Bikini Class Pre-Judging
- This was the moment of truth. I had two weeks to prepare my posing routing before I decided to participate in the NPC San Diego bodybuilding competition. For the duration of the two week prep, my emotions were running on high gear; I was stressed, anxious, and intensely nervous. I had spent so much quality time with my nerves that once I got to the event, all my nerves had vanished.
- It wasn’t until 10 minutes before I was to pose in front of an audience that the nervous thoughts, sweaty palms, and anxiety decided to come back and haunt me. Standing in line and watching bikini competitors hit the stage before me was one of the most nerve-wracking moments I have ever experienced in my life. My organs were quivering, and the fear of public humiliation and personal failure invaded my mind and body.
- I watched each bikini competitor take the stage, some more confident than others. From where I was standing backstage, I could actually see the nervousness in some of the competitors as their legs trembled without control. I hoped and prayed the same thing wouldn’t happen to me. Judges frown upon trembling legs when they can see the fat on your glutes jiggle, exposing to the world the softness on your body that could work against your ranking.
- The thought of backing out crossed my mind a few times, but I was quick to conjure up the courage to shove my fears aside and just get it over with. They called out #137, the final athlete of bikini class A, the shorty class. I put the biggest smile on my face possible, and strut to the best of my ability into the spotlight. I hit all my poses, no problem, but really struggled to keep the smile on my face. My cheeks were trembling out of control, and I could do nothing to pacify my terror-stricken, facial muscles. I never knew smiling could be such a difficult task!
- Judges made the first call-out, calling out the top five competitors, and I was one of them. We were ushered through the comparison round, asked to hit a few more poses, and then to leave the stage. I walked off in joy and relief, elated that I didn’t face-plant. I rendezvoused with my trainer, who couldn’t be more proud of my performance. More bikini competition photos.
- I went back to my hotel room to nap and feed.
- 6:00PM – Arrival at the venue
- 9:00PM – On-Site Tanning and Glazing (Part 2)
- 10:30PM – Evening Judging
- Hitting the stage the second time around was peanuts – no nerves, no sweaty palms, and no anxiety. I walked back on stage more confident than ever, with no issues hitting my poses. More often than not, it’s the pre-judging event that determines your rank. I was second at pre-judging, walked away with second place in bikini class A, and also qualified for nationals.
Post Bikini Competition Happenings
- Celebratory Epic Cheat Meal
- After an intense couple of weeks of preparation and a day of dehydration, hunger, and physical and mental exhaustion, there was nothing I wanted more than to channel fat bastard and stuff my face beyond my heart and poor little stomach’s content.
- Immediately after stepping off the stage, I downed a bottle of water. I ate a Reese’s Pieces stuffed cheesecake. I went to In ‘n Out and ordered a cheeseburger, animal style, with both types of onions and chopped chilies. Then I went to a Mexican restaurant and ordered carne asada nachos, a scallop taco, and a chicken tostada. It doesn’t stop there! I went to Yogurtland right as they were closing and indulged on plain tart yogurt loaded with toppings. I walked away with a mean stomach ache and remained bloated for what seemed like an eternity.
- Post-Competition Shock
- The next two days, I found myself rejuvenated with a new level of confidence. After beginning to eat normally again, I felt and looked more amazing that I did on stage – healthier. I would catch myself randomly standing in a posing stance. I felt like I was on top of the world, ready to take on any challenge presented to me.
- At the end of the weekend, however, I felt somewhat empty. I was hungry – hungry for a new challenge and hungry to tackle a new goal – I was hungry for more. I desperately wanted to bring back the feeling of accomplishment. I wanted to continue to push myself out of my comfort zone, so I could revel in the high that progress and achievement can yield.
- That brings me to my current projects. Using the knowledge and experience from this event, I’ve been regularly testing new meal and training programs for myself to take my physique, health, and athleticism to new heights. Critiquing my competition photos and reflecting on my performance, I know there is more work to be done and additional fears to overcome. In the process, I seek to better myself in every possible way with the hope of educating and motivating individuals to do the same – so others can feel the amazing sensation of self-empowerment through achievement that I attained in my experience as a bikini competitor at my first bodybuilding competition.