People get into weight training for a variety of reasons. Whether you got into it for sports, to improve your stock on the dating market, or simply as a hobby, you might one day acquire the itch to compete in powerlifting, bodybuilding, or some other iteration of strength/physique sport.
But when is the right time to start?
This is a common question, and a tough one at that. Obviously you need to get some training under your belt to make competing a feasible goal. From that perspective, I understand why so many prospective competitors are often timid about taking the plunge and converting from hobbyist to competitor. However, the majority of individuals take too long to make this transition, myself included.
I knew I wanted to do a bodybuilding show some day, but I just needed to add some more mass. I did, but then I found that I needed some more time to allow my legs to catch up with my upper body development. They did, but then I found that my chest was lagging behind a bit, so I needed a bit more time to focus on added some size to my pecs. You probably see where I’m going with this- if you wait until you feel ready, you may never feel ready.
As I mentioned, I had added a bunch of mass already, and was in the process of building up my chest. And it was working- I was walking around at 195 lbs, which is about 40 lbs over the stage weight I turned pro at. My bench was at 355 (touch and go) and climbing. I was walking home from the gym when I crossed a street that I was pretty sure was a one-way street… Except that it wasn’t.
I got nailed by the car, and it tossed me like a rag doll. Luckily (somehow) I walked away totally unharmed. At that point I decided, unequivocally, it was time to compete. You never know when you’re going to get sick, get into a freak accident, or even just acquire a simple gym-related injury. If you’ve got a decent amount of training under your belt, you’re healthy, and you’ve got the itch to compete, I would urge you to go for it.
Aside from the whole carpe diem justification, getting your feet wet as a competitor will probably improve the effectiveness of your training and facilitate/accelerate your progress. Perhaps you’ll get your butt kicked the first time around- this might be a humbling reality check that sparks some change. Maybe you’ll do well, and obtain a boost in motivation and focus moving forward. Either way, you’ll get submerged into a world that includes seasoned veterans and a more broad collection of knowledgeable perspectives, and you’ll be forced to objectively evaluate how you stack up against some competition. You might even find some friends, colleagues, peers, or mentors in the process who can help you moving forward. People who will keep you accountable, give you ideas, give you something to chase, or even take you under their wing and show you the ropes.
My first bodybuilding competition was, as it should be, my worst showing ever. Not a bad showing, not a bad experience, but a necessary first step. I was actually very happy with how I looked and had a great time. More importantly, I got a good assessment of my strengths and weaknesses, made some mistakes that I learned from, met some great and tremendously helpful people, and got a huge motivation boost. This first competition was a huge stepping stone in accelerating my progress in the gym.
While prepping for my competition, I ended up befriending another competitor who also competed in powerlifting. He got me into the whole powerlifting thing, and we ended up racing to see who would be the first to get an official 500-lb squat at a sanctioned meet. Aside from being really fun and keeping both of us honest, this little “challenge” also basically forced my hand with regard to when I would start competing in powerlifting. As soon as I got near a 500 lb squat, I’d enter a competition, simple enough. My first powerlifting meet was similar to my first bodybuilding meet- I had fun, met some great people, got another huge motivation boost, and learned a ton.
In hindsight, I’d say I probably waited too long to compete in both bodybuilding and powerlifting. Competing is such an invaluable experience when you consider the connections made, the techniques and lessons learned, the motivation gained, and the enjoyment obtained. This combination of factors can really accelerate your progress moving forward, so I’m a big advocate of competing a bit early in the career. This doesn’t mean you have to compete often; just frequently enough to refine your skillset and tactical approach over time and keep your motivational fire stoked.
If you’re one of the many people who plan to compete “someday,” go out and make it happen! Whether it’s bodybuilding, powerlifting, or some other strength/physique sport, getting your feet wet with your first competition will be a fun, motivating, and educational experience that is likely to give your progress a boost. More importantly, if you wait to compete until you feel big enough, lean enough, or strong enough, it may never happen. Those goalposts have a way of constantly moving themselves further and further away as we approach them.