So You Want To Compete in Fitness? Where to Start …

January 14th, 2010 by

The following is a guest article by IFBB Fitness Pro Sandi Stuart


I hear it all the time: ‘I wish I could do fitness, but (insert excuse here).’ Ladies, I have to tell you, if you REALLY want to compete in fitness? It’s not as hard as it seems. With a little guidance and a lot of heart, it can easily be done.

Take me, for instance. I have zero background in anything. No cheer, no dance, no gymnastics; heck, I never even played a sport!  But, I wanted to follow my dream. And now? I’m an IFBB Pro.  Pretty cool, huh? And, did I mention that I’m a full time emergency physician?  Not like I have a ton of free time on my hands, but the truth of the matter is, I wanted to follow my dream more than I wanted the excuses I made for myself to hold me back. And, if fitness is YOUR dream, too? I can help you get started.

It all seems so overwhelming at first. Where do you even begin?  I would suggest to begin at the beginning: by surveying the rules on (or the rules of whatever organization in which you are contemplating competing).  There are 3 components on which a routine is judged: strength, flexibility, and performance/showmanship.   Read it carefully; nowhere does it say ‘gymnastics’ or  ‘tumbling’.

Next, start by attempting to master the mandatory moves: the one-arm pushup, the straddle hold, the pike press hold, the side splits, and the alternating high kicks.  There are no required moves currently at the local level, but at the national level you will be expected to execute all the mandatories cleanly and precisely. So, before you try and throw your back out re-learning tumbling you did when you were ten, I suggest you start with the mandatories.  (BTW, I’ll be posting instructional videos on my youtube channel and on bodysport TV within the upcoming weeks to help you get started.)

After you master the mandatories, I think it’s important for each competitor to focus on where her individual strengths lie. Some girls are ‘Kim Kleins’; they can tumble effortlessly with precision and grace, and that is their strength. Others are ‘Jenny Hendershotts’; they have that charisma or ‘it factor’ where they just mesmerize the crowd from start to finish, no matter what they do. Then, you have your ‘Tracey Greenwoods’, the girls who are so strong and skilled at strength moves that  they can press planche all day long without ever looking tired … but you will never, EVER see them throw a tumbling pass, nor will you ever notice nor care that they didn’t tumble.  You have your ‘Stacy Simons’ girls, who are as flexible as any contortionist in Cirque de Soleil; lastly, your ‘Tanji Johnsons’, who can dance with the best of them.  Very few girls, even on the pro stage, have all these attributes. But, what they DO have is the ability to display their strengths and hide their weaknesses.

I hear frustration frequently from younger competitors in the form of, ‘But I had more tumbling! My routine was more difficult. I don’t understand why it didn’t score higher than the other girls.’ Tumbling does not necessarily make a winning routine. Understand that you are going to be judged most likely by a panel of ex-bodybuilders, NOT by a panel of former gymnasts.  Once you understand that few on the judging panel understand how much more difficult a standing back tuck is versus a round off backhandspring series, but that anyone with half a brain can see clean versus sloppy execution, you are already a step ahead of your competition. So, with that being said, there’s no point in adding in things you don’t execute cleanly. Tumbling does not get you extra points with the judges unless you do it well.

So, you’ve learned the mandatories  and zoned in on what your individual strength is. Great!  Now it’s time to start planning a competition and a routine.  I think in general, it’s a bad idea to be learning skills and learning a routine simultaneously; I think ideally a competitor should focus on skills they already have and build a routine around those elements. Again, why make things harder on yourself than they have to be?

In general, faster music works better. I see often times many girls with a lot of talent whose music is dull. Good music should make the audience want to move along with you. It’s a ‘total package’. A good routine is not just about the skills you display; it’s your execution/performance/entertainment factor, and that includes good music and an appropriate physique-flattering costume.  Watch the routines on youtube and you will see what I mean. Also, there needs to be variation in the music tempo to provide some contrast (generally, most will slow down for  a few eight counts mid-routine, then pick back up for a big finish). This also has the added benefit of giving you a mini-break.

I always recommend using a choreographer. All too often, I see girls with tons of potential scored down because their routines don’t flow.  While it may seem like an expense, I firmly believe it’s an investment well-worth the money.  Most girls will use one routine for an entire competitive season, and when you compare the cost of a choreographer to the cost of traveling to a national show, it becomes less daunting. Why not start out the RIGHT way, rather than wasting money on show after show after show?  Also, a good choreographer will help you maximize your individual strengths and can teach you easy yet eye-catching transitions to cleanly link together the skills you have.

Naturally, some girls will learn faster or have more natural ability than others, but I would suggest 3-6 months as a ballpark time frame to work on routine skills before investing in music and choreography. Depending on your comfort level and skill level, I think 16 weeks is probably a good starting point to put a routine together. Again, some girls will need less time and others will need more; these are just rough estimates.  The best thing about just getting started is that there’s always another show on the horizon.  There’s no need to rush greatness! Just have fun with the process, and I guarantee you will love the results!