How Long Does It Take To Get Ready For a Fitness Competition?

how-long-does-it-take-to-get-ready-for-a-fitness-competition.jpg
competition series template
competition series template

To "be ready".  How long does it take to get ready for a fitness competition? Typical answers to this question: 1) It depends 2) 12-16 week contest prep program 3) Give yourself 1 year

No wonder a woman feels confused as she considers setting a goal to compete.  While all three answers could be correct for you,  there is a framework we use at at Sisters In Shape to guide our work with clients as they consider setting a fitness competition as their next fitness goal.

To see this framework in action, we've used 3 very different, yet typical, women as examples of how long it could take you to prepare for a fitness competition.  Each of these 3 woman started "getting ready" for their fitness competition with our SiS Power Prep program at different times, and yet each created an award winning physique in their category.  These 3 women even competed in the same fitness show, on the same day!

quiz_how_long_get_ready
quiz_how_long_get_ready

ANSWERS: A = 22 weeks ; B = 12 weeks ; C = 28 weeks

Confused even more?  Let's frame-up the key "Stage Ready" factors to decode how long it could take you to be rocking the stage.

key_factors_stage_ready
key_factors_stage_ready

FACTOR 1: LEAN MUSCLE

You can't "sweat" lean muscle on in 12 weeks.  Beautiful, shapely lean muscle takes months (and months) to develop no matter how hard you work.  That's months of eating to promote lean muscle development, consistent lifting sessions, as well as rest & recovery.

Ask yourself these three lean muscle factor questions.  If you answer YES, to any of the following three questions, then you may be ready for a competition in 12-16 weeks.

1. Were you a competitive athlete at a college/university/professional level?

2. Were you, immediately before this prep period, an endurance or other athlete competing at an elite level?

3. In the past 4 months, you lifted weights for a minimum 4x a week (45 minutes each lifting session minimum).  *You were very consistent during the past 4 months, which means you did not miss more than 2-3 sessions the entire 4 months.*

If you answered NO, to each of the above three lean muscle factor questions then you very likely need more than 12-16 weeks to prepare yourself for a fitness competition.  You can rush a bikini order, but you can't rush lean muscle development.

How long does it take to develop a good lean muscle base?

Here's some general guidelines for a relatively fit woman, that are specific to the fitness competition category as each has varying degrees of lean muscle development.

Bikini Category = 6 months for lean muscle base Fitness Model Category = 6-8 months for lean muscle base Figure Category = 10 months-2 years for lean muscle base

how_long_the_athlete
how_long_the_athlete

FACTOR 2: FAT LOSS

Fast loss can rarely be rushed especially when done using healthy and sustainable methods.

1. If you answered YES to Factor 1: Lean Muscle, AND you have less than 8 lbs to lose, then you may be ready for a competition in a 12-16 week prep period.

2. If you have more than 8lbs to lose to be at your stage weight, then add 1 week to 12 weeks for each pound you need to lose.  For example, if you have 15lbs to lose for your stage weight, then you're looking at minimum 19 weeks for your prep (12 weeks + 7 weeks for each pound over 8lbs = 19 weeks).

Remember, if you are lacking a lean muscle base you'll need to ensure you give yourself sufficient time to develop that lean muscle base as well.  You can develop some lean muscle while you shed fat, however, lean muscle development is not as efficient during fat loss since you're in a calorie deficit in order to lose fat.  Calorie deficit is not an ideal state for lean muscle development.

average_fitness_lover
average_fitness_lover

FACTOR 3: METABOLISM/BASE CALORIES

Track your food for 1 week using a food diary app like MyFitnessPal.  Ensure you eat as normal as possible so you can get a good baseline daily caloric intake record.

1. Take your average daily calories and divide it by the weight (in pounds) you are currently maintaining

2. If your average daily calories is less than 14x your bodyweight, then add at least 4 weeks to your prep period.  Why?  You are likely to hit a plateau and/or need to reverse out of low maintenance calories.  This takes time to work through!

For example, you track your daily calories and you're eating 1600 calories per day.  You weigh 137lbs.  This means you are eating 11.6x your bodyweight in calories.  You can expect to add at least 4 weeks to your prep timeline so you are able to shed excess fat in a healthy and sustainable way.

fit_mom_how_long
fit_mom_how_long

THE BONUS FACTOR: COMPETITIVE DRIVE

Are you "in it to win it"?  Competitive personalities tend to focus more intensely in the execution of their plans.  This means competitive people find a way to get it done when the inevitable life challenges come their way (kids stuff, family, work....life!).  This means that competitive people may be able to shorten their prep time because there isn't the need to cushion their time for life's inevitable road bumps.

REAL LIFE EXAMPLES:

These three women competed in the same fitness competition on the same day!  As you'll see, each woman has a very different starting point, and yet each woman earned a top placing and was 100% ready to rock the stage.

three_awards_fitness_competition_UFE_june_2015
three_awards_fitness_competition_UFE_june_2015

1) THE FIT MOM

Bobbie-Jo, age 44, 5'5" 21 Weeks AND 28 Weeks of Prep Starting Weight: 126 <> Competition Weight: 125

how_long_fit_mom_beforeandafter
how_long_fit_mom_beforeandafter

Factor 1: Lean Muscle

Bobbie-Jo competed in duathlons at an elite level for years and therefore answered YES to one of the three lean muscle factor questions. She started with a good lean muscle base which you can see in her before photo.  Her target category was Fitness Model.  This means there is a higher level of lean muscle development needed than the Bikini category.

Factor 2: Fat Loss

Bobbie-Jo did not have much fat to lose for her show.  She ended up only being 1lb lighter than her before photo but transformed her body composition to a Fitness Model competitor.  No extra time was needed for fat loss in her prep.

Factor 3: Metabolism/Base Calories

Bobbie-Jo needed to eat MORE than she normally ate in order to build lean muscle.  Her SiS Coach increased her food intake to 15x her bodyweight in calories to help her build an award winning Fitness Model physique.

Based on our framework, Bobbie-Jo would likely have been "ready" for a fitness competition in 16 weeks.  Bobbie-Jo stepped on stage the first time 21 weeks after she started her prep, and then again 7 weeks later for her second show.  So what did Bobbie-Jo do with this "extra" time?  BUILD LEAN MUSCLE!

Key Lesson: If serious lean muscle is your goal for the stage, then give yourself a couple extra months (or more!) to build that gorgeous lean muscle.

2) THE AVERAGE FITNESS LOVER

Virginia, age 35, 5'4" 22 Weeks Starting Weight: 128 <> Competition Weight: 114

how_long_fat_loss
how_long_fat_loss

Factor 1: Lean Muscle

Virginia is no stranger to the gym.  This average fitness lover went to the gym regularly, however coming off of Christmas and a family holiday, weight lifting was not done regularly 4-5x a week for at least 4 months prior to the start of her contest prep.

Therefore, Virginia needed more than 12-16 weeks to lay a good lean muscle base.

Factor 2: Fat Loss

Virgina had about 14lbs to lose for her fitness competition.  This means that we needed to allow at least 6 additional weeks from the 12 weeks (minimum 18 weeks) so that we could shed fat in a healthy and sustainable way.

Factor 3: Metabolism/Base Calories

Virginia was eating just under 12x her bodyweight in calories at the start of her prep.  Since we needed to allow for plateaus and reverse dieting, we gave ourselves a cushion of about 4 weeks.  During this 4 week cushion we plateaued Virginia's weight, built up her base caloric intake and put on some beautiful lean muscle!

Based on our framework, Virginia would not have been "ready" for a fitness competition in 12-16 weeks.  Virgina stepped on stage the first time 22 weeks after she started her prep and earned herself a 2nd place trophy in the Masters Bikini Division!  She was READY in 22 weeks and rocked the stage.

Virginia has started working on her future goals of adding more lean muscle to her competition physique.  Given her starting point now (good lean muscle base, no excess fat loss and healthy metabolism) we're really cooking with gas!

Key Lesson: Fat loss and lean muscle development is not optimal to do together.  Depending on how much lean muscle you want to bring to the stage, give yourself extra time to dedicate to building lean muscle outside of your fat loss goals.

3) THE ATHLETE

Monica, age 27, 4'11" 12 Weeks Starting Weight: 101 <> Competition Weight: 99

how_long_the_athlete_before_after
how_long_the_athlete_before_after

Factor 1: Lean Muscle

Monica was a competitive soccer player and a life-long athlete.  While she was new to weight lifting, she had a good muscle base from decades of playing competitive sports.  Monica's target category was Bikini.

Therefore, Monica was fine to prep in the 12-16 week range as her good muscle based allowed our prep focus to be on sculpting an award winning Bikini physique.

Factor 2: Fat Loss

Monica had only a few pounds to lose for her fitness competition.  This means that no additional time was needed to shed fat to be show ready.

Factor 3: Metabolism/Base Calories

Monica was under-eating slightly before the start of her prep.  Since our focus was on sculpting gorgeous lean muscle, her SiS Coach slowly increased her caloric intake to 18-19x her body weight.  Those extra calories were used to develop lean muscle!  We actually increased her weight by a couple of pounds during this building phase and then revealed her hard work in the final weeks by dropping a few pounds.

BONUS FACTOR: Competitive Personality

Monica has the drive of an athlete, not missing a single workout or giving a single excuse the entire prep. Even the challenging posing aspect was tackled with vigour by Monica!  You'd never know on stage that this woman was more used to cleats than clear heels.

monica_blow_kiss
monica_blow_kiss

Monica stepped on stage the first time 12 weeks after she started her prep and earned herself a 1st place trophy in the Bikini Division!

Key Lesson: Every factor was aligned in this case...good lean muscle base, no excess fat loss needed, a healthy metabolism AND a competitive drive.  Therefore 12 weeks was enough time for Monica to be "ready".

IS YOUR LIFE READY?

We asked these competitors how they would respond to the question of "How long does it take to get ready for a fitness competition?"  Here's part of their response:

"I think a person needs to be mentally ready.  The process is as challenging as it is rewarding." ~Virginia

"Mental preparation takes about the same amount of time to have a confident stage presence." ~Monica

Interesting.  Most first time competitors underestimate the mental investment of a fitness competition.  It can be one of those processes in life that helps you grow in many ways.  Anything that is mentally challenging gives you that opportunity.

However, opportunities can become massive strains if your real life isn't ready for the commitment.  Real life doesn't get put on hold because you set a fitness competition goal.  Relationshipsthe important ones with your husband, kids, friends and family still need to be nurtured and prepared for the mental strain that occurs.

It's just as important that you look at your real life and assess how ready it is for your big fitness goal.

SO HOW LONG DO YOU NEED?

So when I get asked "Really, what is the bare minimum I need to prepare for a show?" mostly because of budget challenges with having a coach, I explain this framework.  Most often people need to add at least a couple of extra months to their initial 12-16 week assumption for show prep.

Because of budget constraints, you may choose to coach yourself for 2-4 months while you try and lose fat and/or add lean muscle yourself.  That's awesome!  Our hope is that you learn a lot in the process by educating yourself and making yourself stronger and healthier.

However, just as often the same people email us back 2-3 months later being not much further ahead in their goals.  Creating (and sticking to) a great program that is right just for you, your life & your goals is not as simple as a Google search.  We have created longer affordable options in our Power Prep program - check out where award winning physiques are prepped better!

lean_muscle_takes_time
lean_muscle_takes_time