Top 20 Things You Should Think About for Your First Show

Joseph Ohrablo
Written By: Joseph Ohrablo
October 12th, 2009
Updated: February 1st, 2021
23.2K Reads
Entering your first bodybuilding contest? Top natural bodybuilder Joe Ohrablo gives you 20 things to think about. Don't miss this competition prep wisdom!

If you're a competitive bodybuilder you obviously know the stress, frustration and detail that go along with prepping for a contest.

But think back to your first contest. Do you remember all the mistakes you made?

Maybe your color was off, maybe your posing sucked, or maybe you came in 5-10 pounds too heavy? I decided to create a list that will help first time bodybuilders avoid many of the mistakes that are common with your first show. Hell, maybe all of you can benefit from some of this advice.

Before Your First Bodybuilding Contest

20 - Try and have a good reliable training partner

Having someone pushing you when the carbs are low and you're drained can make a world of difference. You have to make sure your partner understands how severely important it is for you to get everything out of each and every workout. So make sure you hook up with someone who is reliable, and if at all possible, has competed before.

19 - Don't "train for cuts"

I've heard it ten million times "so you do low reps for size in the off-season and high reps to build cuts for pre contest right"?  And every time the answer remains "NO!!" I train with a form of non-linear periodization. Simply put - I alternate one week of heavy lifting, lower reps and more rest with higher intensity, higher reps and volume workouts. I keep this same pace all the way to peak week. Of course, as I get leaner and leaner I'm no longer looking to break records, and my form is perfect, but I never lose the heavy stuff because I'm dieting. You will lose muscle and fullness trying to train for cuts, so don't bother.

18 - Don't rely on tanning products alone for your color

I usually have all my athletes start using a tanning bed or lay out in the sun as far as 12-16 weeks out from a contest. Not only will the darker color give me a better perspective on how lean someone is getting, but all artificial tanning products look much better on skin that is already tanned. I usually have my athletes stop tanning the week of the show as it can inflame the skin and cause some water retention.

17 - Avoid as many distractions as possible

Bodybuilders can be selfish. Let's be frank - some of us can be downright assholes when it's contest time. But avoiding as much stress and distractions as possible as the contest nears is without a doubt something that can't be ignored. When I get ready for a contest, all I really do is train, pose, tan, sleep, work and watch TV. Maybe once a week the wife and I will go to a movie. But I limit social engagements as much as possible. I'm just too cranky and focused to be much fun anyway. Of course, I'm not saying don't attend funerals or go to weddings, but make sure the contest is a major priority. If you have children and are married, of course adjustments will have to be made. And after all, it's only a bodybuilding contest. But to really do your best and come in 100%, I say avoid as many distractions as possible.

16 - Prepare your meals in advance

This goes hand in hand with 17. When doing a contest, one of the most draining things is getting your meals ready day to day. One of my best friends and former pre-contest client Dimitrios used to do his days worth of food every morning. I personally never understood that. I like to make 2-3 days worth of food in one shot. I cook it, measure it and throw it in containers. It's so much easier opening the fridge and packing all your food for the day, then going through the hassle of making all the food each day.


15 - Learn your body

We are all different. Some of us are mesomorphs, some are ectomorphs and some are endomorphs. This simply refers to the metabolism speed and body type make up of each bodybuilder or figure competitor. Of course, some of us are a combination of a few of these. You have to pay attention to how your body feels and looks after certain meals. I personally diet and feel horribly depleted on 300 grams of carbs per day. And I also take in 300 grams of protein and 50 fat. I am a meso/ectomorph. I have a fast metabolism and need to eat a lot of calories and carbs so I don't drop weight too fast and lose muscle. BUT, I also have to be careful about what kinds and how many carbs I can take in at one shot come contest day. So, after you eat certain meals, wait a 1/2 hour or so, and look in the mirror. Did you smooth out? Are your veins going crazy? Start to pay attention to how your body responds to various foods.

14 - Split your routine into more days as the contest draws closer

If you're down to 3% body fat and have 4 weeks left until your contest, doing chest, shoulders and triceps in one day may not be the greatest idea. I personally believe you need to give each body part 100%, and if all you have to worry about is one or sometimes two per workouts, you'll get so much more out of each session.

13 - Don't read too much about contest prep

If you don't use a contest coach, looking up different ways of peaking for a contest can literally drive you insane! For every single method out there showing you how to dial in for a show, there is another completely contradicting that one. Try not to listen to too many people or you will end up very frustrated and confused.

12 - Find the right amount of cardio for you

Again this goes back to everyone is different. I was doing four or five 20-minute high intensity cardio sessions for most of my prep, eventually dropping it down to two or three 15-minute sessions, while my buddy Dimitrios was doing 45-60 minutes a day. If you don't use a coach, you're going to have to find out exactly how much cardio you will need to do in order to burn off all your body fat and hold onto as much muscle as possible.

11 - Stay with the basics

Don't get too machine crazy while dieting for a show. Sure, you want to include them. But make no mistake about it, staying with basic free weight motions will keep a lot of your hard earned muscle ...more so then a machine which is a lot easier to use.

10 - Practice your posing very far out

If you have never competed before you're going to need to learn how to pose properly. Nothing makes me wince more then hearing the head judge call out a "side tricep" and watch some guy do some crazy ass motion with his arms that look like he's directing traffic instead of posing. Watch dvds of contests, go on Youtube, buy "Perfect Posing". Learn how to do every single pose properly, and practice each one every day from 16 weeks out. Daily posing not only makes you appear more confident onstage, but can also etch out some more detail and hardness out of your physique.

9 - Don't wait till the week of the contest to create a posing routine

I have won a best poser award before. I take pride in making sure my routine is full of energy, and compliments my physique. You need to start thinking about a song or music that compliments your physique and personality. I have gone as far as doing edit cuts, voice overs and sound effects. Get creative and have fun with it!

8 - make sure your color is right the last week of the show

For more details on how to apply color the right away, and with the right amount, visit my blog page addressing this topic:

7 - Don't pump up too much backstage

You want to be stripped down, have your color touched up and be oiled up at least 2 classes before yours. You can pose over and over while waiting, but wait until the class before yours is onstage before you pump up. If you over pump, you will not only tire out, but you can wipe out all your definition. A few side laterals, a set of push ups, a few bicep curls and you're good to go. Trust me, I've seen guys do whole workouts backstage and it's completely moronic.

6 - Have a good stage presence

Walk out confidant, smile and have fun. You need to project an air of a champion when you're onstage. Every now and then, look down at the judges table, make eye contact, and smile. But most of the time, look straight ahead, smile and focus on holding each pose without shaking.

5 - Make sure you pack enough food for the whole day

Sometimes you will be at the venue for 10-15 hours. Make sure you have enough food and water to last you the whole prejudging, night show and extra just in case. I won't go into what foods to bring, because everyone peaks differently and requires different foods. Going along with enough food and misc. items. Extra posing trunks, tanning products, towels, hot stuff, Pam, two extra copies of your music, etc. Make sure you're organized, and you have a backstage coach to help you with all the details.

4 - Be a gracious winner and an even more gracious loser

I won my second contest and received my pro card in 2005. I shook everyone's hand, said thank you and smiled at everyone. In 2006, I came in second by one point! I smiled, shook everyone's hand and said thank you. It's important to accept what happens the day of the contest. You don't have control over what the judges will pick, and you want to make sure the judges see you as someone who can take this all in stride. If you act like a dick when you're announced third, the judges will remember that the next time you come onstage. So be gracious no matter how you place.

3 - Try and bring a crowd with you

In 2006, me, my wife, and three of my friends all did the same contest together. We had probably 25 people in the audience. It calmed our nerves, gave us confidence and we had our own cheering section. Invite as many people as you can for your contest. It's your day be proud and have fun!

2 - Be calm

Try your best to relax. Take deep breaths, talk to your friends, listen to music, etc. If you get all stirred up it can affect your condition. Do whatever it takes to keep yourself relaxed (naturally of course).

1 - Hire a pre-contest coach

Having a coach is invaluable when doing your first show. Heck, I hired one even after I had my pro card. Working with someone with experience in peaking bodybuilders and figure competitors will make your pre-contest prep process go so much smoother then if you went at it alone.

Try and take the 20 things you should think about for your first show and implement them into your first contest experience.

Joseph Ohrablo is available for pre-contest prep for bodybuilders and figure competitors. For more information, go to the pre-contest prep portion of his web site at: