Timeline for Your First Bodybuilding Bikini Competition

A lot of people send me emails about wanting to do a bikini or figure competition and are looking for some basic information about how to get started.  If you’ve ever considered doing a show – this is the post for you!  

  • Hire a trainer.

    This is a niche sport, so you’ll want to hire someone who has actually competed in a show before.  During the 12 week show prep your body becomes a science project, where the smallest changes in macronutrients can deliver huge results.  You’ll want someone who will give you meal plans and will adjust them to your body.  This is a intense training process, so choose someone you get along with.  Some people want trainers like drill sergeants, others like cheerleaders, so hire someone whose motivational style will bring out the best in you.  (If you are looking for a trainer, email me at Lisa@ShesLosingIt.com to get started.)


My client Karen (age 54) holding her trophy from her first bikini competition!
  • Choose a competition.  When I signed up for my first training sessions I was 50 lbs. overweight.  My first session was in February and I told him I wanted to do a show in April.  He politely told me I wasn’t remotely ready and should pick a later show.  It was embarrassing, but at least he wasn’t blowing smoke up my size 14 ass.  Trust your trainer and pick a show far enough out that you can feel confident when you walk on stage.  Some people I know train for a solid year before even picking a competition.
Bikini Comparisons at the Arnold
  • Decide which division(s) you want to enter. The basic NPC categories for women are bikini, figure, physique, fitness and women’s bodybuilding. Bikini is for the woman who is sassy and wants to look like a toned Victoria’s Secret chick. It’s like the gateway division since each category after gets progressively more muscular. Fitness is sort of it’s own category since it requires a two-minute fitness routine. Women with gymnastics and cheerleading backgrounds do best in the fitness category. Other federations have their own categories, like weight loss transformation, athletic and sports model, which require two or three rounds and may include wearing a costume, cocktail party dress or sports clothes. Do a little research to see which federation and division is right for you.
  • Start training.  If you have extra weight to lose or muscle to gain, this will take a little longer.  Actual show prep begins 12 weeks before your competition.  You should meet a minimum of twice per week with your trainer, more if you can afford it.  If you can only meet twice per week, your trainer will give you a calendar with your split.  (FYI – You split up muscle groups and work a different group each day to allow for rest between training sessions.)
Photo: Tyler Prinsen
  • Start Your Meal Plan. Your trainer will give you a meal plan.  Some trainers outsource this to nutritionists.  The meal plan changes every few weeks, but typically you will get a new diet weeks 12, 9, 6, 4, 2, 1 and then you will get daily diet changes in the days before the show.  Some meal plans are very straight forward – eat XYZ six times per day.  Other plans give you more choices – choose whatever you want for your protein, carbs and fats but your macros have to equal a specific gram count by the end of the day.  
  • Buy supplements. Your trainer will tell you which supplements to purchase.  This is a good time to let your doctor know what you are taking, so if you have any medical issues you can make adjustments to your supplements.  Typically your stack for bikini and figure will include L-glutamine and BCAA (branch chain amino acid) for muscle recovery, a pre-workout supplement with caffeine, and a multi-vitamin for starters.  If you are trying to grow lean muscle mass you might take creatine for the first few weeks, but as it makes your body retain water, this usually gets cut from your stack around week 6.  Fat burners are also pretty standard.  Be sure to check the labels.  Supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so these companies can make wild claims and do some odd things with ingredients.  I once bought a fat burner and then read the label that said, “Do not take this if you are competing in a drug tested sport.”   What????  So, read the label.  Also, if someone suggests you take steroids, walk away fast.  They are illegal and dangerous to your health.
  • Purchase your heels and bikini. This is the fun part!  The heels should be 5″ Ellies and it helps if they have a strap.  The bikini suits are super small and very sparkly.  The bottoms tie off the hip bones.  They can cost $125 used on Ebay to $300+ for custom-made.  For figure, the bottoms go over the hip bones and they cross in the back to connect with the top part of the bikini.  Figure suits are usually blinged out with Swarovski crystals.  Those suits can be crazy expensive $300 – $600.  Sometimes you can find trainers and competitors who will rent out their suits for your competition.
posing heels
  • Sign up for posing lessons. I mentioned that this was an odd sport, right?  There are very specific poses for each division that you have to learn.  Poses for sports model will look very different from figure poses. Watching YouTube videos is helpful, but you want someone to objectively look at you and see which poses look best on your body.
Comparisons athletic division
  • Get your NPC card.  There are lots of different bodybuilding federations.  NPC  (National Physique Committee) is one of the largest ones.  I’ve also done Musclemania, Naturally Fit, and INBA shows and if you do their competition you have to get the annual membership card, which you get online (it’s about $150) and then it’s good for that calendar year.
  • Sign up for your competition. It’s getting exciting now!  Go to the show’s website and sign up.  (And buy hotel and plane ticket if it’s not a local show.)  You will pay an entry fee for each division you compete in.  For example:  1) You can do “Open Bikini”, which is basically everyone on stage at the same time sorted by height.  Class A has the shortest women in it and it goes up to Class E for the tallest.  If this is a big show there can be more height classes.  2) There are also divisions by age.  “Masters Bikini” is for women aged 35+ and they will sometimes have 45+ and 55+ categories too.  Each category you pick is about $85-$150, so it really just depends on your budget and which category you are most likely to do well in.
Spray on tan
  • Tanning. Ah, yes, we are back to niche sport stuff again.  When you are on stage you are under intense lights that will wash out all your features and muscle tone.  This is why bodybuilders tan.  Most people get a base tan 4-6 weeks before the show by going to a tanning salon or hanging out by the pool if you are lucky enough to live somewhere sunny and warm.  For those with super pale skin (i.e. – me), spray on tan works too, and you will only have to do it before the show.
    You typically get your spray on tan the night before the competition and all your friends and family will laugh at you because you look like a new race of person:  You are orange.
Hello hair extensions, make-up, bikini and tan
  • Hair, nails and other girlie things. Lots of women use clip on hair extensions on show day.  If you are going this route, try to order them a few weeks early so you can practice posing with them, especially if you are in figure, because you will need to move your hair so the judges can see your back pose.  If you are getting your hair and make-up done professionally for the show day, schedule this by week 5 so you get a good time.  Regarding nails: I usually get a nice manicure two days before the show.  If you have the time and cash, I’ve know lots of women to turn this into a spa day where they get waxed and pampered and eyelash extensions too. 
  • SHOW DAY! Sometimes there is an athlete’s meeting the night before.  Other times there is a meeting the morning of the competition before pre-judging.  You will get measured and your posing suit will get checked so it is not too risqué.  (If you’ve ever seen a posing suit, feel free to laugh out loud now.)  If you have a good trainer, he or she will be backstage with you or at least texting you from the audience, since you will be freaking out (just a little).  You will get your hair and make-up done.  A crew member for the competition will post the order of each division to be pre-judged.  Tents will be set up backstage to touch up your tanning and give you a coat of oil before you go on stage. 20 minutes before you go on your trainer will tell you to pump your muscles.  Sometimes they have bands backstage, but it’s best to bring your own so you don’t have to share.  Then you go on, do your thing and feel like a champion.  There is a break between pre-judging and the night show.  Lots of people pig out during the break if they know they are not in the top five, but don’t do that because the photographers come to the night show, and do you really want a pot belly in an online magazine photo?
My most recent bikini competition

Hope you found that helpful! 

If you want to see what it’s really like to do a bikini competition, check out my memoir, “She’s Losing It!”  It’s the story of how I lost 50 pounds by entering a bikini competition and fixed my messy life in the process.  It’s like a Rocky for Moms.

Here’s the book trailer:

Lisa 😉

Want to Train With Me?

Local to Austin/Round Rock/Pflugerville?  Email me – Lisa@sheslosingit.com.  I offer personal training sessions at a private gym:  $70 session.  That includes a customized suggested meal plan.  Spaces limited!

My client, Karyna, after winning teen bikini trophy

If you are interested in signing up for my online personal training programs, click here to order now: SLI Method.  Monthly online training is $199/mo. and includes a customized suggested meal plan plus weekly workouts to do on your own based on the equipment available to you.

10 thoughts on “Timeline for Your First Bodybuilding Bikini Competition

  1. “I can’t wait to read #ShesLosingIt!” Lisa, I love your insight, humor, honesty and heart! I’m rooting for you as you prep for the Arnold!Rock it! You’ve GOT THIS!!!!!

    1. I agree – it’s up to the trainer to have those hard conversations with potential clients. It’s better to have realistic expectations up front than to think everything is fine and feel bad after all that work for your first show.

      And thanks for the tweet!

  2. Lisa, I just came across your website today! I’m so grateful for your valuable insights and info on your journey. Thank you for sharing that! “I can’t wait to read #ShesLosingIt!”

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