Competition 101: So You Want To Compete?

Thinking about competing in Figure, Fitness or Bikini? Our guide will help you get started.

You've worked hard in the gym and now you're ready to take it to the next level. But where to start? Oxygen consulted with two coaches — Tanji Johnson, IFBB Pro Fitness competitor and owner of Save Fitness; and Lindsay Messina, WBFF pro bikini competitor and owner of the Fitness Divas — as well Bikini Pro Amanda Latona — to get their experienced opinions and advice on how our readers could get started in fitness.

Which competition is right for me?

Bikini: This is the newest, most popular division. You do a “model walk” onstage and wear two-piece swimwear, heels and jewelry. You are judged on personality, poise and physique, so if you’re sassy and confident without being cocky, you’ll probably do well here.

Figure: Figure was introduced as an alternative to fitness for those with little dance or gymnastics background. It is still a popular division among women who carry more muscle, and rewards symmetry and balance. You pose using strict form doing quarter turns in a two-piece swimsuit.

Fitness: Former dancers and gymnasts will enjoy this division, as it involves a two-minute choreographed routine (⅔ of your score) and a swimsuit round (⅓ of your score) where you can show off your fabulous physique in quarter turns. The routines are judged on factors such as creativity, stage presence, outfits and degree of difficulty, and physiques are judged on symmetry, proportion and presentation.

How do I pick a show?

Once you’ve chosen a division to shoot for, consider these things:

Location: A local show will likely be smaller and less saturated. You’ll be able to have friends and family come support you, and you’ll save a bundle on travel.

Field of Competitors: “Choose a show with a good percentage of novice competitors if you’re a first-timer,” Tanji Johnson advises. “You’ll compete against people close to your level and will likely have a better experience overall.”

Timing: Choose a show far enough in the future that you have plenty of time to prepare and train.

Obligations: Take into consideration your work, family needs and other responsibilities. You should have as few distractions as possible, especially if this is your first show.

Where do I get a swimsuit, and how much should it cost?

“I actually won my first show with a $70 suit literally off the rack in a swimwear store,” says IFBB Bikini Pro and Olympia veteran competitor Amanda Latona. If you want to have one tailored to your physique, listed below are a few designers and sites that offer custom suits for fitness, figure and bikini. Word of warning, however: Some of these suits are extremely expensive (we’re talking thousands of dollars!) If you don’t have the budget for an expensive suit, consider “renting” a professional suit from pros online or purchasing one on a consignment site.

Suits You Swimwear

Fitness Pro Direct

Barely Visible Swimwear

Posing Suits By Skinz

Cynthia James

Diva Exchange

Fun Fact: Olympia veteran Erin Stern bought her first competition suit from Diva Exchange for $100!

Should I join a team?

Competition used to be an individual sport, but it is now becoming more of a team effort. With the continually changing rules and complicated training and dieting strategies, many women find solace with others who understand your pain. “It’s always great to have a training partner or a group who are like-minded and love the same hobby as you do,” Messina says. “You’ll instantly have a group of people who will be on the same stage as you, so you’ll feel less intimidated and more confident right off the bat.”

There are a number of teams who welcome new members each month. And don’t worry about not having a good coach in your backyard: “I do physique assessments, posing workshops and diet alterations with a lot of my girls on Skype,” Messina says. Here are a few good teams to check out. Go to a camp or workshop and see which one might be a good fit for you.

Fitness Divas

Tanji Johnson's Save Fitness

Bombshell Fitness

Oddo’s Angels

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