What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
At first mention of “competitive fitness” most of you probably imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger posing in a bedazzled bikini. This is understandable, and also the main reason why I declined my first opportunity to train to compete.
However, I later learned that there are actually many categories of competitive fitness, one of which involves a smaller, curvier set of competitors – this is the category I was told I had the “shape” for.
Honestly, the girls in this category look fantastic! The Bikini competitor body fills most of our Instagram feeds during Woman Crush Wednesday and is slowly becoming a popular ideal physique among millennials. This is what got me convinced.
I started my journey to my first Bikini competition in January of this year, and stepped on stage this June, placing in the top 5 and earning 4 in my division.
The whole experience definitely proved to be much more difficult than I thought. I quickly realized that competitive fitness isn’t really my thing. Fortunately, I also learned a lot of great things about exercise, nutrition, and most importantly, how I should mentally prepare for an effective fitness program.
1. My Opinion Matters Most
Contrary to my former belief, not everyone woman wants to look like a Victoria’s Secret supermodel. In fact, the pressure to look a certain way becomes much more intense when you look beyond the magazines and catalogs and dive into the world of competitive fitness.
In this world, you chase an ideal look based on your competitive category. For me (a bikini competitor), it was round shoulders, defined abs, a small waist, and a big muscular booty.
I received lots of criticism on my journey to the stage. Some said I wasn’t lean enough, some said my booty wasn’t big enough, others said my shoulders were too small and my stomach was too soft. I heard these critiques all the way up until I received a final text telling me I wasn’t lean enough at the end of awards.
Did it hurt? Yes! It took me years to build my self-confidence and just moments for others to tear it down. But I learned from it. I realized that with so many perceived ideas of physical “perfection,” the only physical appearance I should be even remotely concerned with achieving is one I’ve created on my own – not one created by my peers, an organization, or a specific culture.
2. Passion Drives Performance
It took a long time for a friend of mine to convince me to commit to a competitive fitness journey. To be honest, I know I’m sensitive and knew it would do a number on my self-esteem which made me a bit hesitant.
When I decided to give it a go, I kept in mind that I would do it for me. I would keep up with a comfortable training program that I could learn from -- and that’s what I did! I pushed my commitment to fitness to another level but never let myself go hungry or overwork my body.
On the other hand, my friends who were committed to the idea of competing from the get-go were able to take their training to the highest level and it paid off! Their passion to compete drove incredible performance.
My lack of passion for competing but commitment to making some positive changes didn’t yield the insane transformation I’d expected from competition training, but definitely helped me achieve a more athletic build and pick up some great nutrition and exercise habits to carry on into regular training.
3. There’s Always Another Level
I had thought that I was pretty active before I started competition training, but quickly learned there was a whole other level I needed to step up to in order to compete! I went from a fitness plan that involved simply doing some sort of physical activity for at least an hour five to six days a week to a plan that consisted of two-a-days six days a week that combined about an hour-and-a-half of lifting isolated muscle groups and 30 minutes of cardio a day.
On top of this, my outlook on “clean” eating drastically changed as my strict meal plan opened my eyes to see just how much I was really taking in each day. Obviously, my competition plan was a bit more extreme than what I could possibly carry on into a regular training program, but it definitely provided me with the tools I needed to create a more structured, next-level routine post comp.
4. Comparing my Body Against Others is Counterproductive
As the competition drew closer, the reality of standing next to a bunch of incredibly fit women to be judged on a stage really started to set in. I’d spend hours comparing my body to others on Instagram and feel terrible afterwards.
Taking my progress pictures turned into pure water works every time for the final two months. I felt guilty about my lack of discipline and completely disregarded the awesome progress I’d made simply because I didn’t look like I was “supposed to” at this point in my training.
What I began to realize the day of the competition is that everyone felt insecure. Everyone wanted something another girl had. Additionally, no one knew what the judges wanted. Why? Because beauty is subjective.
Pitting myself against other women suddenly seemed so silly. The grass would always be greener on the other side, but that didn’t matter so long as I could be proud of my own accomplishments and personal beauty.
5. Crash Diets Always Disappoint
Towards the end of my training, I tried to crack down a bit. As I mentioned, I’d been fairly lax in my training up to this point but started to get a bit more nervous about how I’d perform toward the end.
It was the final month and I was going to finish up with a bang. Well, that bang fell flat. Crash dieting backfired and I ended up binging more than I had at any earlier point in my training. I was tired and fed up with the pressure.
Even those who were able to pull it out and finish the final month strong quickly gained back every pre training pound within a month.
Of course, this is how shows typically work, but it drives home the point that crash dieting will always disappoint. Whether it backfires from the get-go or after a couple months, it will never beat out the lasting and ongoing results of a safe and effective long-term nutritional plan.
6. There’s no Room for Negativity on the Road to Success
Finally, one of the biggest lessons I learned during my short stint in competitive fitness is that there is no room for negativity in a successful program.
The more I put myself down or let the negative opinions of others get to me, the less motivation I had to complete my entire workout or accurately measure out my carbs for each meal.
When I accepted an attitude of defeat, I acted as though I’d already been defeated. I learned that my negative thoughts about my body were not only ridiculously harsh, but detrimental to my potential.
If thoughts can be so influential in determining how you look, feel, and perform, why not make them positive? Even if I have to fake it till I make it, finding the good in myself and focusing on the positives will ultimately give me the strength to look, feel, and perform my best.
At the end of it all, I was proud of the fact that I had not only met my goal of achieving a leaner, more muscular frame, but also placed in my first competition which is something most don’t do their first go around!
On top of this, I’ve been able to alter my competition programs for exercise and nutrition to step up my fitness game while maintaining reasonable expectations for myself.
I’m grateful for the experience I had and for the amazing support I had from coaches, friends, and family along the way. I was able to learn and grow from this experience despite the hangry days and exhausted nights, and finished with an outcome that surpassed my initial expectations!