mens physique

Posted 1 year ago

First timers and placings

If you’ve just started prepping for your first show, after a few weeks, the thought of placing can come into your head. However, this thought can become somewhat of an obsession and fixation, whereby you end up putting your whole self-worth on the outcome of the show.

I say this because this was me back in 2017. Placing is all I thought about for 20 weeks, and then when I did my show and came last, I felt like a failure and that the world around me was ending. Therefore, the aim of this article is to offer advice to first time competitors, in relation to not being so fixated on the result and how to ensure you take care of your own self-worth.

My experience

I’m sharing my story in the hopes that my experience shows you what not to do, but I’ll follow this up with what I advise you to do instead.

As I said, I prepped for 20 weeks for my first show, and in that time, I kept telling myself “I am going to win” and proceeded to put my whole life on hold to focus on dieting. Socially, if you weren’t interested in my prep, I wasn’t interested in you. I became very withdrawn, pushed a lot of people away and in hindsight, became a not so nice person to be around.

So, when it came to show day and I wasn’t called back on stage – and therefore realised I hadn’t placed and had actually come last (there were 4 guys in my category) after 20 weeks of dieting – I was devastated. I felt numb and embarrassed, and all I knew was that I wanted to get out there as fast as possible. I left sharpish, and literally spent the whole night in a hotel thinking to myself that I was a failure and that the whole prep was a “waste of time”. I remember saying to myself “I’m never f**king doing that again”.

If you read that back, you’ll know this is far from the man I am today, but at the time I felt empty because I hadn’t received a trophy/medal. However, at the time, I had lost sight of and failed to realise that ACTUALLY, I had accomplished what I had set out to achieve. The goal was to be able to compete, because years before, I had told a buddy of mine that I “couldn’t do that bodybuilding thing, I couldn’t stick to the diet”. I had set out to prove myself wrong and I had done just that.

Unfortunately, throughout the process, I had gotten so consumed by Instagram, looking at other competitors, screen-shotting them and comparing myself to them, that it ended up giving me a false sense of security and fake certainty with regards to what was going to happen. I genuinely thought I was going to win. But then, when I didn’t, I didn’t know what to do. It shook my confidence for a few months, before I got back to my old self again.

The reality is that my story is not an isolated one, and I see the same happen a lot with newbie competitors nowadays too. My hope is that by sharing my experience, it can help you not make the same mistakes I made.

What I should have focused on instead

There is an old saying that reads “if you’re only doing it for a trophy, then don’t bother doing it at all”. This is exactly my point, and I wish I had been told this myself too! You should not need a trophy or medal in this sport to deem it a successful prep or competitive season. Instead, there are a few things to focus on bar the end result, that will bring you a lot more joy and fulfilment.

The first thing would be to focus on nailing the process and enjoying each day. The first time you prep, it will undoubtedly be the hardest thing you’ll have ever done. It’ll be the hungriest you’ve ever been, most tired, lethargic, and lowest energy you’ve ever experienced, and everything your body and mind will be telling you to quit. That’s why when you do actually make it to the end, if all you’ve focused on is placing, you forget you have done what 99.9% population of the world couldn’t do, and you lose sight of the fact you’re in the best shape of your life! This is a pretty cool accomplishment and something many fail to realise when their vision is clouded by the outcome of trophy or no trophy.

Therefore, rather than focusing on how many days or weeks out you are, focus on each day, nail each meal, training session, cardio session and step you need to do. Don’t put your life on hold just because you’re dieting: enjoy weekends away and time with family/friends, you’re just going to have to track food and account for calories during those times. One of the biggest mistakes I made in 2017 was to be sitting in restaurants, watching everyone else eat burgers and chips whilst I ate nothing. It made me not enjoy the situation and ultimately resent the people who were eating. Having learnt from this, now I’ll typically order something from the menu I can fit into my calories, and I focus on being present in the moment.

If you accumulate as many “close to perfect days” as you can, these will eventually turn into weeks and months, and before you know it, you’ll be pretty close to stepping on stage and competing. This is done through the pure focus and intent on bringing the best YOU possible to the day. You cannot control who else shows up, so sitting on Instagram and comparing yourself against others isn’t going to get you very far. Just keep your head down and produce the best you that you can produce. (Plus, just as a PSA: most people don’t look as good in person as they do on social media!).

I think that if you do the above, then you are less likely to devalue your own self-worth when it comes to placing. Instead of being devastated about the fact you didn’t place, you’ll feel accomplished knowing you gave your prep everything you’ve got.

Why you might not place

There are endless reasons why you might not place in your first show, but we will discuss some of the most common ones. The number one reason is that usually, as a first-time competitor, simply might not be ready yet. Not being “ready” might mean that you aren’t conditioned enough, don’t have enough muscle to fit the criteria or to have balance, or you may not have enough muscle to get as lean as is required for the category. This is usually down to not having a structured enough off-season. Therefore, if your goal is to compete one day, start working towards it 1.5-2 years beforehand to make sure that that doesn’t happen.

The second reason for not placing could be that you were just beat by better/more experienced competitors. Those fellow athletes might be in their 2nd or 3rd season and have competed in multiple shows. They may have gotten results beforehand, have more muscle than you, and luck has it they are competing on the same day you are. My suggestion with that one is too pick 2-3 shows, choosing a lower level one firstly to get experience, or even better, pick a federation that has a “first timers” category and then that way you know everyone on stage is doing so for the first time. This might help you feel more confident in the result too, as you know you’re getting compared to people on a level playing field, and the feedback will be a lot more useful for your own progress.

You may have also gotten your peak wrong, as you might have over-spilled or not “carbed up” enough (if you even needed to e.g., bikini competitors will not). Similarly, you may have not dried out enough to present that look the judges want. Regardless of why you didn’t place, the best thing to do is to look at it with a logical mind. Ask your coach and the judges for feedback. A good coach should be able to tell straight away, but getting feedback from the judges is also good, in case there has been something you or your coach have missed. Once you have the feedback, you can then come back better for your next show, irrespective of how far away that might be.

One other reason for not placing that’s not often spoken about is the issue of politics in bodybuilding. Whether you like it or not, it is a real thing. If people from the federation (judges, promoters, owners…) haven’t seen your face before and you’re going against someone that the judges know or will help market their federation, it can all affect the result. Is it fair? Absolutely not, but does it happen? 100%. As such, I just say to my athletes that in that scenario, we cannot control the result, but we’ll be humble in victory and gracious in defeat. Win or learn is the mentality, we never lose.

In summary, I think it’s fantastic to have the attitude that you want to win or place. However, I do feel that you should not let it consume you if you’re not wanting to be a pro bodybuilder and it’s not your job. I hope you learn from my mistakes and regardless of the outcomes of your own competitive season as a first timer, that you focus on the journey and on becoming the best version of you.

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons