So you've decided that you want to step on stage. Have you asked yourself if you are willing to do what it takes? Do you even know exactly what it takes? How much research have you done? These are questions you need to ask yourself before you start down the path. What are the steps for preparing for a bodybuilding competition?
Find a preparation coach
I highly recommend finding a preparation coach. They will help you through the process, making sure that you hit all the relevant places at the right time. They will be there to encourage you when things seem impossible. They will prepare you for what is to come next.
When I prepared for my 2 contests my coach was extremely important. I specifically remember a conversation we had about how my motivation to train was waning. He basically talked me off the ledge by explaining that as a travelling salesman he had times when he was so tired he didn't feel like training, but he had to dig down deep and make it happen. He said that I should focus on the goal and the rest would come.
Your preparation coach will set up a nutrition plan and a training schedule for you. Most of them offer personal training for an additional charge. You would be wise to avail yourself of their training services at least every few weeks. It will keep you motivated and teach you proper muscle building techniques. These things will become extremely valuable for the rest of your training life.
Follow a nutrition plan
As mentioned, all preparation coaches will set you up on a nutrition plan. It may seem “boring” or “tasteless” but stick to the plan as written. The plan is designed to help you move towards your goal of a lean and muscular physique. If you know you are going to do a show, get with someone very early on. I am already planning for a show March 2014 and it is June 2013. That's 9 months. The reason is that your nutrition plan will change to a “cutting diet” 12 weeks out from the show. Prior to that you want to build as much muscle as possible, so your eating will be very different.
The nutrition plan can be a difficult thing to stick to, but by doing so you will see the results appear before your very eyes. You will be amazed at what your body is capable of in a short period fo time. It truly is amazing.
Follow a precise training plan
Your coach will give you a training plan. It will not consist of specific exercises to do, but it will be a guide to how s/he wants you to train. My own coach believes in “instinctive training” and that's how I handle things as I approach the show date. However, when I am trying to build muscle I change things. I stick to a basic split and then add supplemental workouts for lagging body parts. It works for me so I do it. What works for me may not work for you, so pay attention to your body, your need for rest and the results you are producing. They will be your guide.
Train like an animal
I cannot say it enough–give it everything you have. Train hard in the gym and eat right outside the gym. Give every set your all. Don't give up when you still have reps left in you. That's an extremely important rule. Take your training seriously. It is now your job and you must do it well or be fired (ie. look terrible when you step on stage). You will benefit from your training the harder you work. Just get busy and get the job done.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to practice posing. I've done two shows and I am still learning proper techniques for making my muscles show well. It is not an easy task that is for sure. Just do the work. Practice on a daily basis. Use music when you practice. Obviously eating and training are the keys, but if you are in great shape and don't know how to show your body off you will not do well on stage.
Work with your coach on the mandatory poses. Learn them so that they become second nature. Work on being smooth on your transitions from one pose to another. It should look like poetry in motion.
My final recommendation about posing is something that drove my own family nuts, but has really improved my posing technique. I suggest getting comfortable by practicing certain poses while you are out in public. If you are at the grocery store stop for a moment and do a lat spread. If you are shopping at the mall do a double biceps pose while waiting for your significant other. Why should you do this? It will make you comfortable posing in front of a crowd. You should not care what other people think. Just think–if you can't pose with your clothes on in front of strangers how are you going to do it in your posing trunks in front of strangers while on stage?
Enjoy the process
The final part for you to understand is to enjoy the process. You have done what it takes. The show date is approaching. You've taken everything your coach said seriously and have done your best to execute his instructions. If you didn't like the process then it really wasn't worth it. Do your best to enjoy the entire thing. In the end you will feel extremely proud of yourself and your accomplishments. Take lots of pictures so you can remember this moment, the moment you were in the best shape of your life.