Competitive Bodybuilding:
10 Tips from Behind the Judge's Table

By Jon Harris

Today Iím going to share a few tips for competitors from the perspective of a bodybuilding judge for the NPA and UKDFBA. Iíve been onstage a good few times and I know how tough it can be up there, especially if youíre in a big line-up and getting call out after call out. The lights are hot and shining brightly in your eyes. Youíre dehydrated, youíre sweating and your adrenaline is pumping like crazy. Itís a daunting experience, especially for novices, and things can easily go wrong if youíre not prepared.

You want to enjoy your experience as much as possible and avoid any mishaps. Hopefully my 10-step guide will help with that. For convenience Iíve split it into 2 parts: Tips on preparing before the show and whilst backstage, and tips for when youíre onstage.

Before the Show and Backstage

1. Tanning up correctly
Your tan is so important. Get it right and your physique will shine, get it wrong and the judges have got a hard job trying to see through your mistakes, and it may even cost you placings. There are lots of tanning products out there today and various procedures for applying them. For the record, Iíve always had excellent results with a few base coats of Pro Tan applied the day before, with a top coat of Dream Tan on the day.

Give yourself plenty of time backstage for you and your helper to apply and pat out your top coat, and also to pump up. 45 minutes to an hour should be adequate.

Figure girls, go easy on glitter. Itís highly reflective under the strong stage lights and too much will hide your definition and distract from your physique. A small amount looks good, but definitely a case of less is more!

Sweating can be a huge problem for some competitors onstage, so you need to be sure that whatever tan you use, it wont run and cause streaks. If in doubt, do a dry run before the show. Itís worth the hassle.

Remember, the bottom line is that your tan needs to be dark, it needs to be even and it needs to stay put!

2. Pick the right costume
Guys, with instant tan thereís really only a few options for trunks: black, or a very dark colour like navy or dark grey. I wouldnít risk a bright colour, as youíre likely to get tan smears all over them. Girls on the whole seem to know what theyíre doing with their tan and so they can get away with using brighter colours without messing up, but if in doubt, go dark or go black. Pay attention to the areas immediately around your trunks or bikini to make sure your tan is applied evenly everywhere.

3. Practice your quarter turns and mandatories
These 12 poses are incredibly important and largely determine the outcome of the contest. Practice them daily for several weeks in the run up to the competition. If youíre unsure of how to execute the poses, try and get someone from your gym who has experience in competing to help you, or perhaps consider hiring a trainer who specialises in competitive bodybuilding. There are many ways that poses can be tailored and tweaked to suit your physique.

4. Put some thought into the free posing round
In a closely fought contest the free posing round really can make the difference between 1st and 2nd, so go the extra mile. Choose music that suits your physique, and hit strong poses whilst avoiding those that donít work for you. Explore new shots, aside from the standard compulsory poses. Be creative and actually choreograph your routine to the music, working with the beat and the natural flow of the tune.

5. Check your CD will play
If you burn your posing music onto a CD make sure youíve played it on a few different systems to check that it works properly. At every show you can virtually guarantee that at least one CD will not play, and then the competitor has the unfortunate task of posing to an unfamiliar piece of music chosen by the DJ.

Onstage Tips

6. Listen out for your number
Judges often shift competitors around the stage to get a better view and to make certain comparisons, so make a point of memorising your number and listening out for it. This is just one of those small things that helps make a show run that little bit smoother.

7. Give yourself space
The emcee will usually ask for competitors to spread out if thereís not enough space to hit the shots. That said, if you can give yourself more room, then do so, especially in poses like the front and rear double biceps. Clashing elbows and fighting for space is not ideal. Signal to the judges if youíre not happy and they will spread the competitors out more.

8. Hit your shots on time
Shows usually run to a tight schedule and so the judges have only a limited time to make decisions. So, when youíre called to hit a shot, do it on time! It may sound obvious but our eyes are constantly scanning left to right, and if youíre not posing when asked to then quite simply youíre not getting our full attention.

9. Flex the legs
Learning to keep the legs flexed hard, both while posing and standing Ďrelaxedí takes a lot of practice and can be quite exhausting. When you hit a pose, start from the bottom of your physique and work up. So think foot placement, think flexing legs, think torso alignment, think flexing torso.

10. Enjoy yourself
Finally, be positive, keep your head up, and remember to smile. Itís your moment and youíve worked hard to get to this point, so make the most of it. Your confidence will help you to shine and stand out, and youíll look better on the video and in photos!