When I speak of 'bodybuilding', I am referring to all the categories to include fitness, bikini, figure, physique and bodybuilding. There are also more commercial categories in some federations like Commercial Model, Ms. Fit Body, Diva Fitness, Diva Model, Men's Muscle Model, Men's Fitness Model, etc.
Some of you may already be confused. To some bodybuilding means 'steroid using over -muscled' men and women. Much has changed over the years, some competitors like the variety of categories while the old school bodybuilders generally feel the new categories are weak. Additionally, different federations seek different levels of leanness, muscle mass, beauty, sex appeal, commercial appeal, theme wear, evening gown, etc.
If you are completely lost, it's understandable. There are many different federations, several categories, natural, non-tested, weight classes, height classes, open classes, master classes, pro cards, etc. It can be overwhelming to figure out which category suits you best based on your physique, time commitment, financial resources and your actual goal. For some competitors, it's a bucket list item, others it may be a long term career plan, a goal or a hobby.
Where do you start? This is not a simple question. You need to do your research. Visit the various federation websites to see the difference. Here is a short list but there are more:
5. Fitness America
This is not all of the various federations but your best bet is to look at the websites and see which federations are in your area. Generally, there are both natural and non-tested competitions available. Most people are familiar with such competitions as The Arnold and The Olympia. This is the IFBB federation for pro-athletes. Athletes such as Jay Cutler, Kai Greene, Nicole Wilkins, Iris Kyle, Adela Garcia to name a few. The amateur federation for IFBB is NPC.
The burning question is, what is the difference between natural and non-tested? Natural competitions require each competitor to submit to a polygraph prior to competing and if a class winner, a urine test is collected post show. The natural federations have a list of banned substances which are not allowed. You need to refer to each federation' guidelines for specifics. Non-tested federations do not have these guidelines.
OK. That was kind of the quick and dirty of the overwhelming choices of federations. So, lets get to the nitty-gritty. The biggest surprise in this sport is the cost. It is not a cheap sport. It is not a money-making sport. Yes, some athletes receive sponsorships, supplement contracts, and earn winnings but very few actually can sustain a living. So the majority of competitors compete for their own enjoyment and health benefit.
So here is a breakdown of the costs. It is not pretty and if anything, these are conservative estimates. I don't share all of this to discourage you but feel it is one of the most non-discussed factors in this sport. It matters because after you have trained so hard for months/years and already paid your trainer, food costs, supplements costs, etc., it can be a bit alarming during peak week to discover all of these 'hidden costs'.
Trainer (Coach): $150-$400 /month
Posing Coach: $25-$75 /session(more than 1 session is needed + more if need choreographed routine)
Gym Fees: $25-$100 month
Federation Fee: $60-$120 per year per federation (some are sister organizations)
Entry Fees: $45-$100 per class (Open, Masters, Beginner, Novice)
Stage Suit (female): $125-$2000 (rent or purchase)
Heels: $50-$125 (required for most classes except physique & BB)
Stage Tan: $100-$125
Theme wear: $250 + (WBFF & Fitness America federations)
Time off of work
Photo Shoots (optional to document your work)
It doesn't seem so bad, but it adds up quickly. And remember you are only on stage for a very short period of time. What's your reward? A trophy, a medal and/or a stellar physique that you worked your ass off to achieve. And of course, some great friendships are formed. This sport has to be about you and your goals. It is a subjective sport. You are being judged and not all is fair in the eyes of others. You compete against others but ultimately you are competing with yourself. You are pushing yourself to your physical, emotional and mental limits during training. Training includes living your daily life which includes work, family, friends, etc.
So you must ask yourself some very important questions. Do you have the time to commit to training? Do you have the finances to sacrifice? Do you have the discipline to follow the nutrition plan? Do you have the dedication to stay strong when you want to give up? Are you doing it for you? Why are you doing it? Are you willing to do the research to find a qualified coach/trainer/ nutritionist? Just because someone competes, it doesn't make them qualified to train others. The list goes on...
This sport is challenging, rewarding, frustrating, exciting, demanding and not for the faint hearted. We don’t always place where we want. Our bodies don’t always cooperate. Life moves forward even if you didn’t get your workout in for the day or finish all your macros. It is a choice. It is a privilege to stand on stage next to others who have sacrificed and understand the work that has been done.
This is a unique sport and often misunderstood. The final step is the stage_ THE SHOW. It appears glamorous. We look refreshed. We glow in the spotlight on stage with our bronze chiseled bodies. Our smile shines like a shooting star in the night sky. We pose and turn and make it look like it's a natural flowing movement. We have trained months and sometimes years for this day and it’s all over in less time than it takes to post about it on social media.
But the reality is the exact opposite. We are stinky, sweaty, smelly beasts! We haven’t showered in at least 24 hours. We haven’t used deodorant or washed our hair. Our bodies are so water depleted that we look as if we are competing for a Sun Maid raisin commercial. Backstage, our suits are being glued to our butts with 3M spray. Our armpits are being stripped of the green sludge that has built up. Our breath could take down a herd of buffalo. And of course, the unpleasantness of the dreaded ‘protein farts’!