BIKINI COMPETITION PREP GUIDE
When I was prepping for my first show in 2013, I struggled to find a free resource that taught me everything. It’s like the competition world was trying to keep everything a secret…shhh…
That is why I have created the most comprehensive Bikini Competition Prep Guide on the internet!
Let’s take all your stress and toss it to the wind. Instead, the secrets are out for good!!!
During my first contest prep, I got wrapped up in the the “hangry” struggles and the low-carb confusion of not knowing what to do. I kept a journal of what I learned throughout my entire contest prep and then created this guide for you in 2013. I want to make the contest prep process easier for you so you can enjoy it as much as possible instead of struggling through it like I did.
In the lessons below, you will learn about bikini competition leagues, nutrition, training, tanning, shopping, posing, and every little detail to get you stage ready. I hope you find this resource valuable. -Coach Steph
Download the Ebook format with BONUS material
Here’s a 35min summary of the guide with bonus tips & tricks!
LESSON ONE: CHOOSE A LEAGUE
First things first: Decide which league to compete in.
Below, I list 13 of the most popular leagues.
The majority of the leagues require only a bikini posing presentation. Details will follow of the leagues that require more presentations than just bikini (ie club wear, theme wear, workout wear, etc).
Some of them do drug testing and some don’t.
THE 13 MOST POPULAR LEAGUES
1) ABA/INBA/PNBA – Amateur/International/Professional Bodybuilding Associations
- This league allows you to progress from amateur (ABA) or international (INBA) to professional (PNBA).
- There are 4 bikini-related categories you may compete in with them:
#1 Bikini Diva (pose in a bikini)
#2 Bikini Mamas (1-3yr post-pregnancy mothers who pose in a bikini)
#3 Bathing Suit Beauties (pose in a one-piece suit instead of a bikini)
#4 Fitness Model (pose in workout clothing and give a thirty second speech)
2) ANBF – American Natural Bodybuilding Federation
3) DFAC – Drug Free Athletes Coalition
4) Fitness America Tour
- This league offers 4 bikini-related categories:
#1 Ms. Fitness America (pose in a bikini, give a fitness performance, and do an interview)
#2 Ms. Bikini America (pose in a bikini, pose in themed sportswear)
#3 Ms. Model America – Fashion (pose in a bikini, sportswear, and clubwear)
#4 Ms. Model America – Fitness (pose in a bikini, sportswear, and clubwear)
- This league has three tiers of competing: amateur, national, and IFBB Professional.
- You begin as an amateur. If you place well in a “national qualifier” amateur contest you become “nationally qualified” and may compete in a National NPC show.
- If you place well in a National show, you become an IFBB Pro and can compete in IFBB shows around the world.
- For more details on how to advance from NPC to IFBB, read my in-depth article.
9) OCB – Organization of Competitive Bodybuilders
- This league allows you to compete in 3 bikini-related categories:
#1 Diva Fitness Model (pose in a bikini, pose in themewear)#2 Diva Bikini Model (pose in a bikini, pose in a long evening gown)#3 Commercial Model (pose in a one-piece swimsuit, pose in fashion attire)
Out of those 13 leagues, the most popular for beginners (and the one I did) is the NPC (which was #8 above) and they do not drug test so it’s extremely competitive and many of the athletes are taking performance enhancers. The most popular all-natural league is the OCB (which is #9 above).
When deciding on which show to choose, consider the date, requirements, costs, and location. It is much more convenient to compete in a show in your home town so you can get ready from home and have friends & family go watch you. However, if you want to make a vacation out of it, it may be fun to compete out of state for that reason! Keep in mind you’ll have to pack a whole lot more though including bed sheets so you don’t stain the hotel sheets from your spray tan.
LESSON TWO: CONSIDER OTHER CATEGORIES
For Females, there are 5 different categories you can compete in: Bodybuilding, Physique, Figure, Fitness, or Bikini.
NEWS: The NPC is rolling out a new 6th vision in 2020 called “Wellness” in which the ladies have significantly more mass in the lower body, but pose like the bikini category. Learn more about this new category here.
Bodybuilding is for the women who are very very muscular. They compete barefoot, with a posing routine to music. They are the most muscular of all the categories.
The routine involves 7 poses and competitors are expected to have muscle striations.
The 7 poses are front double biceps, front lat spread, side chest, side tricep, rear double bicep, rear lat spread, and abdomen with one thigh.
The routine involves 5 poses and competitors are expected to be lean, muscular, and barefoot.
The 5 poses are front double biceps, back double biceps, side triceps, side chest, and front abdomen with one thigh.
Figure competes in heels with specific poses in quarter-turns only.
The routine involves quarter turns only with no flexing and competitors are expected to have only a small degree of muscle separation but no muscle striations. They are expected to wear high heels.
The poses are front, side, and back.
Fitness competitors have two routines.
One is posing similar to that of Figure competitors in a suit and heels.
The other is a gymnastic/dance 2 minute routine that is scored based on strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular abilities.
Photo credit: NPC News online
Wellness is strictly posing in heels. The judges look for a very muscular lower body (glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves) and smaller upper body with low body fat.
The routine involves just three poses: front, side, and back.
Competitors wear a two-piece bikini and high heels.
They specifically don’t want to see the wrist bending upward like bikini girls do.
Lastly, bikini is strictly posing in heels. The judges look for a curvier body and body fat is higher than the others- around 10-12%.
The routine involves just two poses: front and back.
Competitors are expected to lean forward during the back pose so an emphasis is put on the glutes.
Competitors wear a two-piece bikini and high heels.
This is the quickest routine of them all and typically lasts under 20 seconds since there are only two poses.
For first-time competitors, most women start in the bikini category to get their toes wet. Once you get more muscular and have more experience, then you may want to consider moving up to wellness, fitness, figure, or bodybuilding.
Once you pick a class and show up for show registration, you are then split up into smaller groups based on height. When you check-in they will measure your height to place you. Most shows have Class A-F in each category; A being the shortest and F being the tallest. Smaller shows may only have 1-2 classes though.
LESSON THREE: SIGN-UP FOR A SHOW
Now that you have learned about the league and category options, it is time to register for a show.
#1 Register for your league’s annual membership.
For example, the NPC membership card is $135/year (as of 2019).
All rates are subject to change each year and vary by league.
#2 Sign-up for your specific show date.
This may be online or by mail. Prices will vary.
LESSON FOUR: COSTS OF COMPETING
Competing is an investment. However it is great motivation to get in the best shape of your life! If you are passionate about this, then go for it! It is such a wonderful learning and growing experience. Here some of the big costs (on average). You can do this on a lower budget if you are strategic.
- Show Registration $90 and up (for the NPC league, prices change each year)
- League membership card $135 (for the NPC league, varies based on the league)
- Supplements $400 (can do with none at all, but I highly recommend whey protein, multivitamin, vitamin C, and calcium for women) [See Related: Supplements- Your Wasted Money and No Results]
- Professional photography at the show $75 (varies by show; if you want professional photos on show day)
- Suit $90 and up (typically closer to $200-300, but you can find some on sale or on Amazon)
- Heels $45 and up
- Jewelry $30 and up
- Posing classes $100 and up (aim for at least 3-4 sessions minimum)
- Spray Tans $130
- Wax $30 (or just shave)
- Hair and Makeup (on your own or $200 and up for show day)
Are you following me on Instagram yet?
LESSON FIVE: SUIT UP
I will now cover how to choose a competition suit!
Buying a competition bikini can be difficult if you don’t have a local store to try them on. If you live in FL, Ravish Sands has a store you can try on suits at!
Know that competition suits are different than your ordinary suit. They are typically cut smaller in the butt and have diamond connector straps on the top and bottom. The cheaper suits are less detailed and “bling bling” however they work just fine if you are a first time competitor. I bought my first suit for under $100 on sale, but they can go up to around $650 for the most custom suits.
Buying a competition bikini is usually done online since not many storefronts exist. Luckily, it is very easy to take your own measurements and have a custom suit made online. They can typically make them in as little as 4 weeks notice however I recommend you order one 6+ weeks out to be sure you get it on time. To order online, Ravish Sands will ask you for specific measurements and your show date so they can make your suit just right for you.
When deciding on a suit color, consider your hair color. Which color would make you stand out from the other girls? By far, red is the most popular color suit. Blondes tend to look good in yellow, black, and blue. Brunettes tend to look good in red, green, or purple. But, it is totally up to you! Which color do you feel most beautiful in? I would avoid white because the spray tan will ruin it unless you are super careful.
For more information on how to choose a suit and step-by-step guide on how to create your own suit, read my detailed blog called How to Choose a Competition Suit with Ravish Sands. I go step-by-step how to research suit fabrics, connectors, and cuts and then I show you how to place your custom suit order. This blog is a must-read if you’re feeling confused about the bikini competition suit shopping process.
You’ll need to buy Bikini Bite glue to glue your bottoms down so your butt crack doesn’t eat your suit while you walk! (sorry for the visual). Get yours by clicking the image below (<$9).
Ravish Sands offers some really unique programs if you’re on a budget. Like their Trade in Program to trade in your old suit for a new one, their Rentals program to rent suit or heels for the day, or their DIY ravish kit that you can use to put crystals on your suit yourself!
plus free shipping on orders over $79.99!
Photo Credit from ravish sands shares of: @_aleesantos @amy.h_fit @amygregory_flex @bethany.ifbbpro @carafit3 @dancerdeb @kiaac_ @ktmillerfit @kymbirchall @lauren_eaton_fit @macros_with_megs @melissa.r.k @rachelle_baby @alba_marie
Includes a checklist for building a custom suit!
LESSON SIX: ACCESSORIZE
Your competition heels must be clear heels (except for the WBFF league). You can pick any style as long as they are clear. The average height is 4-5 inches. I recommend heels with straps on them so you are less likely to stumble or trip while wearing them. Make sure you practice walking in them – wear them to vacuum! They have lots of options on Amazon! Let me show you the best ones below.
Click the photo of the shoes you like for shopping link
For jewelry, you are allowed to wear earrings, bracelets, and rings. Necklaces and hair accessories are not allowed. You don’t want to over do it either. Stick with one bracelet, earrings, and 1-2 rings.
Stores to shop for competition jewelry are:
PS- Don’t forget, if the league you chose has other attire requirements like workout wear, club wear, theme wear, or evening gown you will have to shop for jewelry for those, too!
Click an image below to shop my favorite competition jewelry on Amazon
LESSON SEVEN: SPRAY TAN TIPS
You may wonder why a tan is necessary. It shows clearer muscle definition and it looks best under the stage lights. So two layers of spray tan are recommended. Most competitions have a spray tan company sponsoring it that are on-site the day before and the day of the show. You look super dark in normal lighting, but just perfect when on stage! Looks weird here huh…
A few tanning pointers…
Before your show, you will receive two layers of spray tan. If your show is 1-day long you will get one the day before and the morning of the show. If your show is 2-days long you will get one the day before and both days of the show (this may vary depending on which company you use though).
It is very, very dark. Whether you tan in tanning beds prior to the show is up to you. If you are health conscious and want to protect your skin, you will get by just fine with the spray tan only and do not need to tan before then.
When asked if you want your face sprayed, it is optional. Consider a light coat but nothing too dark or else your face may look dirty on stage. Then you can top it off with a dark makeup foundation and bronzer (makeup tips are covered in the next lesson).
Most competitions sponsor an on-site tanning company, which I highly recommend you use for convenience – some even require it.
If you have a darker complexion, you may be able to skip the spray tans and simply get a glaze right before going out on stage. Although some people still get one layer of tan. I recommend you consult the spray tan company regarding this decision.
If you have tattoo’s you can leave them visible or you can have the spray tan company cover them up with makeup.
1. Exfoliate really well all 3 days before the tan with an oil-free body wash.
2. Do not use deodorant the day before or the day of the show or else it will make your armpits green.
3. Do not shave within 24 hours of your spray tan or else the hair follicles won’t close and you will get black dots. That’s why I prefer to get a bikini wax.
4. You need to be completely naked for the spray tan so you do not have tan lines.
5. Wash your hair before the first spray tan. Then wear a shower cap to protect your hair during the spray tan since you will not be able to wash your hair again before the show or else you’ll wash off the spray tan.
1. You will be standing in a tent in front of a cold fan to dry for 10 minutes, most likely next to other naked women (just a heads up).
2. If you are staying in a hotel, bring your own set of dark/black sheets so they do not charge you for staining theirs.
3. Also consider bringing your own dark/black towels for the same reason.
4. Sleep in all black, long sleeve, loose-fitting sweats to protect the tan. Be sure to wash them first if you bought a new sweat suit for the occasion so you do not get little black fuzzies all over you or stain your skin.
5. You have to be super careful when urinating. I recommend bringing some Styrofoam cups. Punch out the bottom so you can squat and pee thru it. This will avoid the nightmare of pee dripping onto your inner thigh and messing up your spray tan. Sounds silly, but it works. A girl at my show didn’t know this and had to walk on stage with a messed up spray tan. Whatever you do, do not sit on the toilet seat: hover!
LESSON EIGHT: STAGE BEAUTY TIPS
The judges want to see your hair down and styled. It should not look messy. It should either be pin-straight or with nice and even waves. No fancy up-do.
Hair accessories like flowers and clips are not usually allowed.
You can do your own hair if you want to save money. If so, be sure to use extra hair spray since it has to stay looking good all day long (6am-10pm for large shows).
You can wear hair extensions, if desired, however make sure they look natural and blend in well.
The judges want to see natural looking makeup. If you walk out there with blue eye shadow and rosy cheeks you will most likely be deducted points. Your goal is to look like a golden goddess. So focus on the bronzer, smoky eyes, neutral or light pink/neutral lips, and fake lashes. Stay away from glitter.
You can hire a makeup artist or do it on your own. If you do your own makeup, you will need to buy darker foundation and bronzer so your face matches your darker, spray tanned body. Your normal makeup shades will be too light now. It is imperative to get a dark shade that is close to the color of the tan (color recommendations below).
Also, don’t forget to whiten your teeth if you want a sparkling smile!!
Makeup Recommendations (click the photo to buy it on Amazon)
MAC Studio Fix Fluid: NW 43-45
MAC Mineralize Skin Finish Natural Bronzer: Dark Deep
MAC Lipglass: Angel, Snob, Cultured, or Viva Glam VI
LESSON NINE: PREP SCHEDULE
Once you decide on a show date, begin to plan out your prep.
You will need to plan the following:
- When to sign up for the league
- When to sign up for the show
- Whether to hire a coach or write your own nutrition and training plan
- Get posing lessons and practice
- Get a base tan
- Schedule show day hair, makeup and tan
- Buy your suit, heels, and jewelry
- Whiten your teeth
- Get a bikini wax
- Shave your entire body
- Get your hair and nails done
- Consider a photo shoot
- Pack for show day
- Exfoliate your body well
LESSON TEN: PACKING LIST FOR THE DAY OF THE SHOW
click an image below to Amazon shop some of the items on the packing list
LESSON ELEVEN: PHOTOGRAPHY
Most shows have one photographer who shoots the entire show (preliminaries and finals). You only get shot if you pay for it. So if you want professional photos you can buy it at check-in. I highly suggest it because spectators are too far away from the stage to get good shots. They turn out fuzzy with bad lighting. Photos and video can be purchased individually usually.
If you want to hire your own photographer, check your show’s rules first. Some shows do not allow outside photographers.
If you want your friends and family to take pictures of you, then make sure they buy tickets ahead of time and arrive over at least 2 hours early. Unless they are in the first couple rows, the lights will be too bright to get good shots of you.
WHAT TO EXPECT THE DAY OF THE SHOW
So you are prepared and ready to go right!? Well guess what. Reality sets in…and once you walk into the building on show day nerves set in. So if it is going to be your first show, here is a peak into what show day is like so you know what to expect.
The day before the show, you’ll check-in. They take your height which places you in your height class. They give you your pin which has your number on it. This is the number they will call while you’re on stage if they want you to switch places with another girl. If your show does drug testing, it will be done now as well.
The morning of the show, they usually have a meeting for everyone. They will explain the schedule, the stage, posing rules, and answer questions. For my show, they called up all the bikini competitors and showed us the marks on stage so we understood where to walk and hold our poses at. Once the meeting is over, everyone scatters! Depending on what time you take the stage, you have a few main things to do. First, you need your hair/makeup done. Remember it should be bigger and way more than you would wear on an ordinary day because the judges see you from a distance. You also need to get your last layer of tan. Then, use Bikini Bite on your suit bottoms, put on your jewelry, put on your heels, and put on your smile.
Unfortunately, bikini is usually last to go out so there is a lot of sitting and waiting around. Spend some time getting to know the other girls backstage. You can bring a book to read or music to listen to. It is going to be a long day. Most girls wear black sweats or robes all day until it is their turn to prepare (so the tan does not ruin their clothes).
People will be around giving you updates on the schedule and when your class is suppose to line up. About 30 minutes before taking the stage, grab a bite to eat. About 15 minutes before taking the stage, use a resistance band or light weights to pump up and get some blood flowing to your upper body (mainly shoulders, biceps, triceps).
CONTEST PREP NUTRITION
Nutrition is THE most important aspect of bikini contest prep. With that said, here are some general recommendations:
- Drink at least 2L of water daily
- Eat in a caloric deficit (>250 Calories less than you eat to maintain weight)
- Make sure your meals are well balanced: Carbs vs Protein vs Fats
- Be eating enough protein to retain muscle mass while dieting (>0.7-1.0 x bodyweight)
Knowing how many calories to eat can be calculated, but often times requires trial and error in the beginning. Protein should be kept high in order to retain as much muscle mass as possible while dieting. As calories drop, carbs and fats will therefore have to drop. However, be sure you don’t let fats get too low as they’re important for hormone health. Meal frequency doesn’t matter (based on research), however it can be best to spread out protein among 3-5 meals per day and prioritize carbs before and after your workouts. I have my online contest prep clients practice flexible dieting (80% healthy choices + 20% treats) so they can actually enjoy their contest prep while still seeing results. With this sort of diet, you can eliminate the word “cheat” meal or day from your vocabulary because there’s no need to have that mentality when you’re allowed to enjoy treats in moderation daily. If you want to do contest prep the more enjoyable way (without following a strict meal plan including only chicken and veggies), checkout my Coaching Services.
CONTEST PREP TRAINING
In order to get show ready, your strength training should involve progressive overload. This means progressing intensity over time by either increasing load, slowing it down, decreasing rest, increasing numer of sets/reps, etc. You cannot let the diet wear you down. Instead, keep your exercise intensity up as high as possible – drink some caffeine pre-workout if you need it. In addition, you should slowly add in cardio over time, as needed: low intensity steady state (LISS) or high intensity interval training (HIIT). Nutrition (caloric intake) is easier to manipulate and requires less time, but once that gets low, you may have to increase calorie expenditure by adding in formal cardio or more daily steps. [See Related: HIIT]
Here are some basic exercise programming tips:
- Train 3-5 days a week so you have some rest days. Your workouts should focus on the big 3 compound lifts [See Related: The Big Three] and be glute-focused since that’s important in the bikini category.
- If you’re doing cardio, do it on a separate day or time, if possible. If it must be the same day as lifting, do it after lifting. [See Related: Weight Training Before Cardio]
- If you’re training 3x/week I suggest you do three full body workouts. If you’re training 4x/week, I suggest you alternate lower body days with upper body days so you can hit each body part at least 2x/week.
- More cardio isn’t necessarily better. It takes a lot of time, can drain your energy, and can increase appetite for some people.
- Rest breaks between sets should be 1-3 minutes to allow adequate recovery time.
- Have a friend spot you while lifting (if possible) so you can continually challenge yourself.
- Be prepared for the gym by putting together a great gym bag [See Related: The Ultimate Gym Bag List].
The best bikini contest prep training program would be a fully customized program so it can focus on your weaknesses and be tailored to your needs. I provide that with 1-on-1 coaching which includes weekly check-ins, video chats, form checks, & more.
However, if you need to take the more affordable route, I also provide group training with Strong with Steph. It’s a 3-4x/week training program in which everyone gets the same workouts. New workouts are released every four weeks in my app which you’ll get access to. The app can also track your progress and sync with MyFitnessPal, FitBit, and Apple Watch!
LESSON FIFTEEN: POSING
Even if your body isn’t as tight as you want it to be, you could still win if your posing is flawless. The most important thing is to smile, have fun, and act super confident on stage. You will want to watch videos of how the professionals pose to get ideas. Then, practice practice practice! Whenever you are in front of a mirror, stop and do your poses. Don’t worry if someone catches you practicing while you’re out…it happens to the best of us. If it is your first time competing, I recommend getting a loal posing coach to teach you. I took 6 classes with a bikini pro and I don’t know what I would have done without her help. If you can’t find a local coach, many posing coaches also offer Skype video sessions.
NPC League Posing Sequence
- Walk out on stage with a smile
- Strike your front pose for 3sec
- Turn 180 degrees to the right for a back pose for 3sec
- Turn 180 degrees to the right for a front pose for 3sec
- Wave and walk off to line up with the other girls
* Make eye contact with the judges
*Angle your hips so your waist appears smaller
* Maintain good posture
*Toes turned out
*Hand on one hip
*Your legs can be apart or crossed together in back pose
*The emphasis is on your glutes so do an anterior pelvic tilt in back pose
*It is not necessary to pull your hair to the front for bikini- optional
*Look back over your shoulder at the judges in back pose
*Here is a great video that outlines the basics of NPC/IFBB bikini posing. For other leagues, reference their websites for posing rules.
BIKINI POSING COACH DIRECTORY
I have created a page that shares Posing Coaches around the USA. You usually pay per session and they can be done 1-on-1 or group if local. If there is no one in your area, you can also find posing coaches who do posing sessions online thru Skype.
>> POSING DIRECTORY <<
LESSON SIXTEEN: JUDGING CRITERIA
The majority of the criteria is physical: your hair, makeup, jewelry, tan, bikini, smile, muscle development, body shape, posing, etc. But notice that one portion is based on poise, elegance, and grace. So the way you walk, how you transition between poses, and how you portray yourself on stage is also important. Try to be the complete package.
LESSON SEVENTEEN: TRACK YOUR PROGRESS
In order to track your progress, you can try a few different methods. Keep a journal of how you feel, your weight, your body circumference inch measurements, how clothes fit, etc. I have created a chart for you to keep track in the free EBOOK download. However the best way to track progress is to take pictures! It may seem vain and a little self-absorbed, but honestly, it allows you to see what areas have gotten better and what areas you need to spend more time on. I highly recommend taking progress pictures about every 1-2 weeks. Plus, it is so rewarding to look back at your physique when you started compared to the end result. [See Related: How to Measure Progress]
BIKINI COMPETITION PREP COMMUNITY
I know what you’re thinking…. geez Stephanie! Is this over yet?
I know this is a long guide, but my desire was to provide as much helpful information as possible to make your contest prep easier. Trust me, I could have written even more! Once you begin your competition prep, I am positive you will think of additional questions I did not cover here. For that reason, I have created a safe place to ask those questions. It is a Facebook group for you to ask thousands of other members any contest-related questions. Please join!
Some of the ladies in our FB group rocking the stage!
LESSON NINETEEN: RESEARCH
Below are links to my most popular Blog & YouTube videos regarding the topic of Bikini Competitions. Check them out!
DOWNLOAD THE EBOOK
Be sure to download the ebook format of this Bikini Competition Prep Guide. You’ll also get bonus material like my Bootybuilding Lesson and my Printable Checklists to keep you on track!
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