Curious About Fitness Competitions?

By Valerie Solomon, Natural PRO Figure Competitor, Online Coach 

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Val Solomon, photo By Chris V. Linton

Val Solomon, photo By Chris V. Linton

Have you been bitten by the competition bug?  Or maybe you’ve just seen images of fitness competitions and wonder what it is all about.  There are so many aspects to talk about, but here are a few things to get started.

I was first introduced to the world of fitness competitions when some friends of mine in the gym were getting ready for one.  I knew bodybuilding existed, but I had no idea there were so many categories and opportunities for women than loved to lift weights.  Finally, a sport I could really use as a goal to guide my daily workouts.  Before I learned about this, it seemed the only contest for active women was running.  I just couldn’t get excited about running, but I could get excited and really focused on this!  

After training for some time, I did my first competition in 2011 and have done 1-2 shows a year since then in the NPC and the UFE.  A busy momma can do this!  Competing has been such a game changer for me.  It gave me that drive to keep on lifting that will last all my life.  Because I’ve pushed my body to grow and then to get lean and I’ve been brave enough to get on stage, I know I can do lots of things!  There’s power in knowing your strengths and what you are capable of.

What Category Should You Compete In?

There’s a place in fitness competitions for all fit body types and personalities.  I don’t think picking your category is the first thing you have to have figured out.  Just work on building that body and as you lean out, it may be pretty clear where you belong.  A coach can help you decide.  Many women compete in several categories within the same show.  So there’s really no need to stress and think you have to know the perfect category for you now.

Below are the categories for women in many fitness competition federations.



The least muscular of all categories, but still very fit.  This category is perfect for women who want to showcase their fit physique in a sexy way. “Sexy,” “sassy,” “fun,” and “energy” are all words that describe this category.


Fitness Model

This category is for all levels of muscularity, but if you’ve ever wanted to be seen in the pages or even on the cover of a fitness magazine, then this is the category for you. “Fit,” “athletic,” “marketable” and “charismatic” are some of the words that could be used to describe the ideal fitness model competitor.



This is the category for women that want to go “all out” on competition day with an exciting Victoria’s Secret or Vegas showgirl type theme as part of the competition.



Figure competitors should have more muscle that a bikini or fitness competitor.  The judges are looking for rounded shoulders and a well built, wide, upper back that tapers down into a tight waist. Judges will also be looking for the muscle to round out or “sweep” from the skeletal structure of the competitor. Having separation between the muscle groups and within individual muscle groups is ideal.




This is a chance for women with muscle who also enjoy the posing and routine aspects of Bodybuilding to do so while maintaining the femininity and beauty associated with Figure competitors.

Courtesy of

Courtesy of


How Long do You Need to Train?

The time it takes to get a person to the stage really depends on the person’s starting point.  You’ve got to have some muscle.  Muscle takes time to build.  If you’ve been sculpting a physique and have that solid foundation built, then generally a show prep to lean out is approximately 12 weeks long.  It could be more or less depending on how much weight you need to lose (plan on 1-2lbs a week).

It’s not realistic, in my opinion, to think you are going to compete in 12 weeks if you have not even started building the body.  You have to put your time in in the gym.  You have to really EAT to BUILD muscle.  It can be a scary concept, but it’s my experience that most women (maybe due to our dieting culture world) really do not eat enough to build muscle.  Find a good plan and put in your time sculpting and eating to fuel muscle growth.


But This Stage Thing is Out of Your Comfort Zone!

Fitness competitions are a lot of fun.  I can best describe them as a beauty pageant for gym rats.  Ha.  It’s true though.  All of the women there have spent a lot of time in a gym and are there to showcase their physique.  Most of my clients say to me about posing and being on stage, “This is really outside of my comfort zone!”  You can bet that that is true for 99% of the women there.  We are good at squats and curls, but the walk and the poses and the stage presence really have to be learned.  Often, that stage confidence has to be faked!  But it’s a fun challenge.  Once you’ve put in all of the hard work in the gym, why not showcase yourself well?  That’s really what it is all about…. Challenge, pushing limits, and having fun.  I laugh to myself at the conversations my grandkids may have when they come across my competition photos.  


Do You Have the Right Mindset?

I say this a lot about my coaching style - I do not want to create crazy people!!  People can easily get obsessed and unbalanced when they get deep into the fitness competition world.  Although you may hear some negatives about the sport, please know that it is possible to compete and not be obsessive, not be unhealthy, and to let it be a very positive impact on your life.  But, you have to be your own advocate for that.  

Ask yourself if you have a healthy motivation to compete.  If you want to compete to get a dream body that you think you will keep for good afterwards, you are not ready.  If you already feel good about your “off season” or everyday body and just want to push yourself as a goal that you realize will not last forever, you are totally ready!  It’s a sport.  It’s not a means to reach a dream body.  A good coach will help you come off of your show with a reverse diet so you do not gain a lot of weight back, but the stage look is temporary.  It’s not healthy to remain shredded long term.


Can You Commit the Time?

I don’t know any competitor that doesn’t hit the gym 4-5 days a week at least.  You can’t expect to build a solid and well sculpted physique with just a few workouts.  Like marathon training takes a lot of time to get those long runs in, building muscle does as well.  If you are thinking of competiting, you need a solid 4-5 gym split workout plan.

Competing also requires you to be very focused on your diet.  It can be difficult for busy moms, but with determination and preparation, you can do it.


There is a Dark Side

Competing is not for everyone, and as I stated before, you really have to look out for yourself and be your own advocate.  Many coaches will lead you to believe that if you can’t follow their ridiculous diet or training regimen, you are a failure.  They may tell you that you won’t be successful if you don’t take steroids or illegal drugs to get lean.   Obsessive and ridiculously restrictive diets, obsessive exercise, drugs, poor body image because of competing for the wrong reason…. All are very dark things you may see in the sport.  This is why I’m a huge advocate about getting the word out that it is possible to do in a healthy way if you love the sport and realize there is a better way.

In the past couple of years, I’ve switched to and aligned myself with all natural fitness competitions.  Although not everyone in non-drug tested federations use drugs, it was important to me that I was promoting this sport loud and clear in the healthiest way possible.  As a mom and as a person other women look to for fitness guidance, competing natural is really important to me.  I hope that if you decide to compete, you’ll reach out to me to help promote natural fitness… your own health and those that may follow in your footsteps.


What to Look for in a Coach

Whomever you choose as your coach, let them know firmly upfront what you are willing and not willing to do.  There are a lot of coaches out there that will have you eat chicken/rice/asparagus everyday for 12 weeks.  They may have you eat insanely low cals for too long and damage your metabolism.  Please know that there are a lot more sane ways to get lean.  Make sure the coach has your health and best interest in mind.  The team I coach with is Sisters in Shape, although I’m super limited on space for clients. Feel free to email me with questions or space availability at

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