10 Training Tips for the Figure Competitor
What the judges want:
Figure competitions are a blend of bodybuilding and fitness. During comparison judging in height classes, woman will line up and do a series of quarter turns to the right (front, left side, back, right side) being judged on symmetry, presentation, and other aesthetic qualities such as skin tone. The “X” factor is important. Shoulders, back, quads and glutes are very important muscle groups to give the “x” type of shape (well formed shoulders and upper back, small waist and shapely glutes and quads). Visible muscle separation but no visible striations is desired. Figure woman are generally in the 5-10% body fat range.
1) Lift heavy
Pick up those weights girl! Figure girls have amazing backs, shoulders and legs! And for good reason, as mentioned above, it helps create that “x” factor shape. It also takes a long time to really build a lot of muscle for natural athletes (not using anabolic steroids). See also Don’t Lift, You’ll Look Like a Man! Once you have reached your desired shape, size and symmetry, you can change your program to maintain what you’ve got by lifting in higher and lower rep ranges depending on goals. (contact me for a fitness program right for you!)
Lifting in a hypertrophic rep range is a general rule of thumb to build size. For example, squat 4 sets of 8-10 repetitions.
- 1-5 reps = Strength
- 6-12 = Hypertrophy (size, heavy)
- 12+ = Endurance (high rep)
Some programs will have hypertophic rep range days and endurance rep range days. Such as:
- Saturday: Shoulders & Back – heavy (refeed day)
- Sunday: Legs-Heavy
- Mon: Chest & arms – Heavy
- Tue: off
- Wednesday: Shoulders & back – high rep
- Thursday: Legs & Abs -high rep
- Friday: Chest & Arms – high rep
Other programs work muscle groups 1x per week with a weaker muscle group worked twice such as shoulders.
3-5 exercises for 3-4 sets in the 8-12 rep range
- Day 1: Shoulders (heavy)
- Day 2: Legs and abs (quads/ hams/ calves)
- Day 3: Triceps + Biceps
- Day 4: Shoulders (High Rep 15-20 rep range)
- Day 5: Back
- Day 6: Chest and abs
- Day 7: off
A beginner program may look like this:
3-5 exercises for 3-5 sets in the 8-12 rep range
- Day 1: Chest and triceps
- Day 2: Off
- Day 3: Legs
- Day 4: Back and biceps
- Day 5: Off
- Day 6: Shoulders
- Day 7: Off
2) Lift for symmetry
Symmetry plays a very important part to your score when competing. Not to mention it is also more aesthetically pleasing for your everyday look. You must be symmetrical from left to right and top vs bottom. You don’t want a very developed upper body and no leg muscle nor do you want your left bicep to be bigger than your right. Evaluate yourself at least every 4 weeks to stay on top of your muscular development by taking progress pictures and/ or having another person with a good eye to evaluate your progress.
3) Plan enough time to cut
Figure girls need to be lean! When going into a show, you will need to plan enough time to cut 1-1.5 pounds per week, no more. The faster you try to loose weight, the more muscle you may sacrifice. You also run the risk of totally effing up your metabolism! Its easy to get caught up in cutting more and more calories and piling on the cardio but that can be a HUGE mistake and really work against you. See Metabolic Damage
4) HIIT up that cardio!
HIIT is a great type of cardio to burn fat and keep that metabolism reved so you continue to burn cals through the day. Don’t do hours and hours of steady state cardio everyday. It will only slow your metabolism and make it harder to keep that body after your competition. You may see two a day cardio closer to a show but not 15 weeks out. See It’s Not Nice to HIIT on how to use HIIT properly.
5) Don’t skimp on the workouts
If you have 8 HIIT intervals, you do 8 for the allotted time. If you have 30 min of MISS cardio, you do 30 minutes. Not 29 min and 30 seconds…. finish to the end.
6) Follow and track your program
Keep track of all of your workouts so you can see improvement over time. Track your food with an app like my fitness pal and prep your food at least 1x per week. Then make sure you have your food all set the night before. Every bite counts. One extra bite here and there really adds up at the end of the day. So don’t pop that extra piece of grilled cheese sandwich your kids didn’t eat!!
7) Do not cut salt/sodium
This can be a common mistake through the cut phase and/or during peak week to pull water from under the skin and look “tight.” But cutting sodium to very low – zero levels will only have the opposite effect and cause you to retain water.
The kidneys regulate blood sodium levels to very tight ranges – about 140 mEq/L. If you eat more sodium, the kidneys will filter some out and excrete it through your urine. If sodium is reduced, the kidneys will do their very best to conserve sodium by reabsorbing more back into the blood stream and excreting less in the urine. You can see below, in restricted sodium diets, blood concentrations of serum sodium remain unchanged while the hormone aldosterone sky rockets. Aldosterone is trying to conserve sodium and only make you retain water! Not what you are going for!
8) Drink your water!
Drink 3/4 – 1 gallon per day. 2% dehydration effects performance by 20%! Mark a water gallon to help you stay on track.
9) Cycle carbs and refeed
Cycling carbs is usually only necessary around 6-8 from your contest when carbs are getting low. Carb cycling is a helpful tool to keep your body composition moving in the right direction. Cycling carbs isn’t necessary in a bulking season as you are getting plenty to eat throughout the day.
There are many ways people cycle carbs. For example, they may have a drastic low day of 30-50 carbs with low fat and high protein and then high carb days of 150-200 carbs with low fat and moderate protein. Others have a less drastic shift between days such as a 30 carb difference between high, medium and low days.
Refeed meals. When done correctly, you can have them all the way into a show. Refeed and cheat meals are two different things. Cheat meals are one free-for-all meal per week and refeeds are structured meals with specific macros, usually high carb and low fat. See My Contest Prep 2015 for more detailed info and calculations on cycleing carbs and refeed meals.
10) Keep carbs around your workout
Aka nutrient timing means you time your macros around your workout. When you are cutting calories and carbs start getting low, center the majority of your carbs around your lifting session so you have the most energy to get a good workout! See My Contest Prep and Weekly Updates or examples.
One extra helpful tip for the road: have a support group!
It is SO beneficial to have a support group of people that are also training for a competition. If you don’t know anyone, start meeting people at posing sessions or group workouts. You can also join bodybuilding groups or forums on facebook for feedback and advice.
Featured pic from http://purelifts.com/not-too-muscular-bodybuilding-competitions-for-female-bodybuilders/