Show Weekend and What I Learned
I can only start this section with telling you that a bodybuilding show weekend is a wild ride and the more you know, the less stressed or shocked you will be! In my first two bodybuilding articles, you learned Bodybuilding 101 and what is takes to get on stage. Rather than breaking this into subsections like the first two articles, I’m giving you more of a timeline of events with explanations as you go from leaving home to getting home.
In the Beginning: Peak Week
It all starts with the famed bodybuilding “Peak Week,” a process to slowly replenish the lost glycogen in your muscles and dehydrate you at the end for that paper thin skinned look on stage. I won’t detail how I achieve this because it’s only designed for that one week and downright dangerous. It is all done solely for the one day on stage.
It’s also miserable.
For me, I had been dieting for 50 weeks, I had lost over 45lbs, and I had no energy. I still had to maintain my workouts and now I was altering my diet again. It was the suck.
For smaller bodybuilding shows held on a Saturday, check in’s are conducted on Friday night. Most competitors drive in from out of town which is a real delight because most of us are also overloading on the water to drive it out the next day.
At the event venue, they check you in, give you your number, check your height/weight to ensure you’re in the correct division, and send you on your way. Most bodybuilding competitors will also choose to have their first lay of spray tan done now. Others opt to do their own, but I find them to be messy, uneven, and difficult to apply on your own, even with the little wand applicator. This is one of the few areas I don’t begrudge the money spent.
But let’s talk about the bodybuilding spray tan process. At my first show, I assumed I’d wear my suit and they’d spray around it.
When I first walked in the spray area, a hotel conference room covered in plastic sheeting and filled with tiny pop up tents, I was greeted by fully nude women strolling across the floor. Needless to say, I did not expect that. However, there is a method to this madness. Those spray gun spray tanning product everywhere and there is no way to protect your very expensive suit from it. So, you get sprayed nude. Or, at least the ladies do. I haven’t seen the guys tents, so I assume it’s the same.
Now I was well on my way to becoming friends with all the other girl competing because, once you see each other naked, how can you not be friends I guess?
I was very glad that this was the best I had ever looked in my life because I strolled from the changing area to the little tent in my birthday suit to get sprayed. And damn, that spray is kind of cold! You spend 10 to 15 minutes having every inch of you sprayed then spend another 20 minutes letting it dry. I got over my initial shock fast and spent most of my drying time chatting with other competitors.
You know what? They were not what I expected at all. Not a one of them was catty or mean. We may have all started our journey in a different place, but we’d all faced similar challenges: the ups an downs of the scale, unsympathetic coaches who cut calories without mercy, fitting lifting and cardio around busy lives, and slogging through workouts when dead on our feet.
A sense of sisterhood began to grow with these women. They were from all walks of life but shared a common goal: be their best selves, even if only for one moment. I loved the mutual respect and kindness each had for the others. We’d all driven ourselves through hell and made it to the other side.
With my spray tan done, I hurried back to my hotel to catch what sleep I could before my 5am second spray tan and 5:30 make up appointments.
That’s right. 5. A. M.
The bodybuilding show you see in the evenings is only the final event. There’s a whole pre-judging that occurs in the morning and bodybuilding competitors have to be in full hair, make up, and stage wear at show start. With my shows usually starting at 9, I was stuck with an early make up appointment do I could do my hair after.
4:30 am: Wake up, pee very carefully to keep little splashes from wrecking my base tan. Eat meal one which consists of about an ounce of chicken and an ounce of sweet potato. Ahh, the bodybuilding speacial!
5:00 am: More naked time with my new friends and the second coat spray tan I described in “What It Takes to Get to the Stage.” I spend as long as possible letting it dry to not leave little lines from my PJ pants.
5:30 am: In the make up chair letting my MUA turn me into Aphrodite of the Weights
6:15 am: I’m jamming meal two in my mouth while curling my hair. Wistfully eyeing the tap water because from now until the night show, I only get tiny sips of water to maximize my dehydration.
7:30 am: Pack my bags and drive from my hotel to the show hotel. I’m in loose PJ pants to keep from wrecking my tan and have my bikini plus a tackle box of make up and styling tools in a bag.
8:45 am: Battling boredom because I showed up way too early. Expediters are out! They’re dropping the event listing. And of course, true to bodybuilding show standards, the women’s bikini division is last. Always. I’m in for a long morning.
9:00 am: Show start. I’m waiting. I eat a rice cake coated in honey.
9:45 am: Still waiting. I break and sip some water with my rice cake.
10:30 am: Judge’s break, most of the men are done but the bikini division is still waiting. Eat a rice cake.
10:55 am: I sneak off to the bathroom and almost miss my line up call and glaze. Damn it.
10:59 am: A random stranger is gluing my bikini to my butt (to keep it from riding, hooray Bikini Bite) and another is rubbing/spraying me with glaze. My legs are shaking in 4” stilettos from hungry, dehydration, and nerves. I’m mentally chanting my stage walk and posing: strut, strut, strut, strut, stop! Pose and SMILE. Turn and push that hip. SMILE! Turn again and pop that booty. Half turn. Turn again and pose and SMILE. Strut, strut, strut off stage.
11:03 am: OMG I’M ON THE STAGE. I can’t see the judges beyond the stage lights but the stage is taped so I know my marks. strut, strut, strut, strut, stop! Pose and SMILE. Turn and push that hip. SMILE! Turn again and pop that booty. Half turn. Turn again and pose and SMILE. Little wave to the crowd. (There’s vague cheering behind the ringing in my ears.) Strut, strut, strut off stage.
(Fun fact, my first bodybuilding show was only 3 months after I returned from a deployment. Between the local National Guard unit providing a color guard, the National anthem being played too loud, and my own MH issues, I started having a panic attack at the show’s start. I pulled it together by the time I was on stage, but I think I disassociated a bit on stage.)
11:05 am: Still trying to calm down. WHAT? I HAVE TO GO BACK OUT? Oh yeah, line up. Now the ladies all line up directly next to each other and the judges to side-by-side comparisons. Each girl hopes to end up near the center as the woman in the center is usually the first place and everyone else is moved to compare next to her.
11:06 am: They have us line up and pose. Quarter turn and pose and SMILE. Quarter turn to the back and walk 10 steps to the rear. Flex those glutes! Turn to the front and walk back up to the line. Number 1 switch places with number 7. Number 5 swap places with number 3. HOLY SHIT I’M DEAD FREAKING CENTER???
11:15 am: Off the stage for the rest of the day. We all pack up and head back to our hotels to rest until the night show.
12:00 pm: Eat meal number 3 and a nap. I try to settle into the sleeping beauty pose so I don’t smudge my make up.
5:00 pm: Eat meal 4 as I hastily repair my make up and tidy up my hair.
5:55 pm: Back at the show venue and getting ready to start. Kinda. I know I have hours yet so I’m trying to be relaxed.
6:49 pm: Magic. VIC’s “Wobble” comes on, loud enough to be heard backstage, and 37 women clad in everything from pajamas to bikinis and robes are suddenly on their feet dancing. Somewhere on my Instagram page, I still have the video one of the spray tan ladies shot of us all dancing together.
7:15 pm: Practicing my walk and posing in one of the other girl’s mirrors. We’re mostly discussing what we intend to eat once we’re off stage. Some competitions have a table of goodies set up for competitors after they’re done and it takes the utmost self control not to dive in early.
7:30 pm: Bodybuilding night shows take forever! They do more pose downs for the audience’s benefit plus handing out trophies. The other addition is that the winners from each height or weight category are all brought up together for the overall winner. That winner and sometimes the runner up are given a chance to compete in Nationals in the fall.
8:12 pm: I’m finally called for line up. I hastily stuff another rice cake in my mouth, sip some Gatorade, and hustle to pump and get a last layer of glaze. (And Bikini Bite). I feel confident from my center stage placement earlier in the day.
8:15 pm: I can see the judges as I walk this time. They look happy, I react well, and get even more sassy on stage. My strut is on point, my hips pop, and I bring the very best version of me I could have hope to present. No matter how I place, I’ve achieved my goal. This time my smile is real.
8:16 pm: Instead of going back stage, we stay out there for each girls walk. This means holding your awkward, uncomfortable, and tiring pose for almost 15 minutes. You’re allow to swap from a front to side pose, but don’t be obvious, it detracts from the girl doing her walk, which is rude.
8:22 pm: The last girl has walked and it’s go time. At the night show, only those in the top five of each class are called up to the line. If you’re number isn’t called you have to stay on the wings and try not to look too disappointed.
8:23 pm: Not me. Also, not me. Also, not OH HOLY SHIT THAT’S MY NUMBER!
8:24 pm: Be cool. Be cool. Be cool. Moved closer to center. Be cool, don’t fall over. One more close to center. I’M DEAD CENTER AGAIN.
8:25 pm: I’ve won my height class! Someone loops a medal around my neck and drops a tiara on my head. DO NOT CRY. YOU WONT YOUR CLASS AND HAVE TO GET UP THERE AGAIN WITH THE OTHER WINNERS AND YOU CANT SMUDGE YOUR MAKE UP! I run to drop my medal on my bag and hustle back on stage.
8:30 pm: Be cool. Moved closer to center. Be cool, don’t fall over. Be cool. Not moving. Be calm. I did not win the overall.
8:31 pm: (One single moment of disappointment)
8:32 pm: Wait, I met or exceeded every goal I set for myself. I one a pile of medals. And I pushed myself to achieve something I would not have thought myself capable of five years ago. Nah, it’s is an absolute win.
8:33 pm: I hug my fellow winners. We wish each other well and exchange Instagram handles. I saunter our in PJs ready for pizza and beer (and a shower!).
9:00 pm: Having scrubbed as much tan and make up off as possible, I’m exhausted. I grab raw oysters, cheese sticks, and a glass of wine from the hotel bar because it’s the only thing they offer this late at night.
9:45 pm: Asleep.
What happens after?
FOOD! But slowly so you don’t balloon and/or hurt your already damaged system. After weeks/months/a year on a very strict diet, too much too soon leads to some nasty side effects. First, your body isn’t used to rich foods and introducing them back quickly (like 3 slices of cheesecake in a single night) will have negative, but transient, effects. Even with careful management, your body will clamor for you to build back up your fat stores. These pesky bodies still think we have to outlast a freezing winter and constantly work to add a minimum level of fat. To that end, even a modest increase in calories always brought 5-8 pounds back quickly. Some of it was the water I had shoved off to get on stage, but some is most definitely fat as well.
There’s an emotional rebound to competing as well. I experienced it training for Ironman and for the ultramarathon as well. You set your focus so narrowly on a specific goal, and when you finally achieve it, there’s a gradual let down as you struggle to find new focus. There is the double-whammy of the Instagram effect. After struggling to achieve photo perfection like the photoshopped bodies on Instagram, it feels a little bit like failure watching your hard won abs disappear, even when it’s necessary for your own physical health. I learned to post my stage photos and then ignore Instagram for about a month.
Eventually, my body came back to equilibrium. My strength, hair, and period came back. My tan faded. And while the high of winning or low of losing faded, I could look back on my weekends on stage with a smile.
What did I learn?
The women who compete in this sport and nothing but commendable. With very few exceptions, none were catty or mean. They rallied around one another and supported each other on stage, yelling and cheering for strangers and friends alike from the wings.
I learned how to do my own make up. Not just what I wear to work, but real stage make up which has translated over to my cosplaying as well. It may seem like a small thing, but now that I do I myself, it saves me around $100 and two hours of time on show day! Or in cosplay.
Of course, I learned more about nutrition which translated into better fueling during ultramarathons. I learned how to calculate my nutritional needs to achieve a goal. Lose, gain, or maintain, I feel more confident in how I eat and have maintained a healthy weight since my last competition.
I learned more about lifting weights and how my body response to exercise of all types. I knew how I responded to long endurance cardio, but weights had only been a passing fancy every now and again, not a habit that stuck with me. Once I understood more about weightlifting and balancing muscle groups, I was able to keep it in my repertoire for ultramarathon and was arguably a strong runner for it.
Finally, I learned, or perhaps re-learned how hard I could push myself. Like endurance sports, bodybuilding show prep is a long haul. It requires strength and discipline over a long time, even if it is a mostly anaerobic exercise. It have it’s own kind of Pain Cave as you weather the ups and downs of low energy, doubt, and pain. But strong discipline gets your through. The same strength I saw shining in every woman on that stage, I found shining within myself.
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Want to read more works by Author KR Paul? You can find her novels here.