This is a short story of my 4 month journey of preparing for my first men’s amateur fitness competition… and winning first place in two divisions!
I’ve written this short article to share my personal experience and “behind the scenes” as an ordinary guy of what it takes to get stage ready (i.e., shredded and half naked!), for hundreds of strangers to look at and a line of judges to critique.
Before I discuss my journey to my first fitness competition, I need to give you a quick overview of my fitness transformation story.
My Fitness Transformation — A Quick Backstory
My fitness story of being sick and tired of being skinny-fat, goes back to the end of 2014.
I was 29 years old and I had just walked out of a 6-year relationship and away from the beginning of a commercial pilot career. I was also regularly sick with chest infections and on some occasions, fell ill with pneumonia.
I also struggled with the mindset of having “skinny genetics” given that for almost my entire 20s, I was a skinny guy!
For the sake of brevity, I’ve shared my fitness transformation story in a separate article. But long story short, I was just a normal guy that just wanted to get into shape, build some muscle, and look (and feel) good.
For the first time in my life, my body looked and felt amazing!
The Big Decision to Compete
To be brutally honest, I spent so much time pondering the decision to compete! I was so nervous to make a firm decision.
The idea of standing half-naked in front of hundreds of strangers and a row of judges, just didn’t sit well with me. I repeatedly asked myself: “why am I wanting to do this?”
It wasn’t until the end of 2016, I decided that getting on stage meant pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. It wasn’t to win but, rather, to see what I was capable of.
I started the process of searching for a Federation to compete within.
As an all-natural fitness guy, it was important for me to register with a Federation that drug-tested their competitors.
If I had registered with a Federation with no drug-testing policies or procedures, then I wouldn’t be on an even playing field with the other guys on stage. As many of them do take performance enhancing drugs to be competitive.
After some research, I came across ICN or iCompete Natural. I spent several months learning the different male divisions and the characteristics the judges look for in the competitors.
For me, I was interested in competing in the fitness model division. This is where the judges grade competitors on a certain look, symmetry, poise and charisma. In essence, they are asking themselves: is this guy marketable on the front page of a fitness magazine?
If you are interested, the complete criteria for what the judges are looking for can be found here.
Finding A Competition Coach
Finding a coach that could guide everything from training to mindset, over a 4 month period, was a matter of word of mouth and a Google search.
If you are looking at competing — do your research! There is no shortage of coaches that are reckless with their clients during their prep, and cold shoulder their clients post-competition.
For me, there were a few essential ingredients that I was looking for in a competition coach. Previous competition experience, knowledge of the Federation, and ethical coaching practices, to name a few.
A coach that ticked all of these boxes, at least on the outset, was Penny Lomas (pictured below). A former cover model and author of The Hormone Connection.
I learned of one red flag to look for when finding a coach. Never settle with a coach that fails to reverse diet you out of a strict diet once the competition is over.
Too many competition coaches “wipe their hands” after you’ve competed, leaving the competitor on a dietary lurch of binge eating and insane weight gain! You must be reverse dieted back to a functional diet.
One of the common, less-talked-about areas of fitness and bodybuilding competitions — particularly with females — are the binge eating and unhealthy relationships with food that occur as a result of the competition process.
You’ll rarely see confession posts by female fitness competitors on Instagram. The stoppage of their menstrual cycles, late night binge-purge sessions, obsessive calorie micro management, and body dysmorphia.
These are all but common themes that run rampant among female competitors in this space and can be mostly mitigated and controlled through ethical coaching practices.
One of the reasons why I decided on a female coach was this inherent appreciation and bias for health and hormone function over aesthetics. After all, Penny did author a book on hormones!
In one conversation with Penny, I remember reminding her that I was prepared to pull the pin on the competition if I felt my health and well-being was taking a toll.
Learning the Quarter Turns and Stage Presence
This was probably the hardest part of the preparation for the stage. Not only did I have to find a coach that specialised in the posing routine, but I also had to cross the chasm of feeling cringey.
Learning the mandatory 4 quarter turns, the ab pose, and “stage presence” definitely did not come naturally to me. I felt really self-conscious and constantly doubted my ability to master it before competition day.
The four quarter turns (pictured below) allow the judges to grade you from all angles. The front pose, left side, rear, and right side. Ending with an “ab strike”.
While in-pose, I learned how to “engage the judges” with a bustling smile and occasional eye contact. This was all part of the criteria for grading in the male fitness model division.
Learning how to enter and exit the stage, the “welcome wave”, and learning good sportsmanship of shaking your competitors hands, were all part of the training.
After 3 sessions with Ben, it came down to practicing the fundamentals over and over again until it was automatic.
Six weeks prior to the competition (pictured below), I decided to visit another posing coach — Vicki Arief — to get a second opinion and to sharpen my technique.
As the head judge of the judging panel for the ICN Federation, Vicki showed me exactly what the judges were looking for in a male fitness competitor.
Tweaking my arm position, tucking the thumb, flexing the calf muscle on the support leg, correcting my postural imbalance in my lats, and so on.
She reminded me that although my conditioning looked really good, it means nothing if I cannot showcase my conditioning on the day of the competition.
She taught me that, as a judge, she sees so many guys and gals come through with impeccable physiques but, they fail to place in the competition due to improper posing technique.
After two “touch-up” sessions with Vicki, it was back to the giant mirrors in the empty group fitness classrooms at my 24/7 gym.
Practicing the stage walk and quarters turns, over and over again. I dedicated 4–5 times per week, in the gym and late at night, perfecting this routine.
I pretended there were an audience in the empty fitness room. I waved, smiled, flexed, and worked hard to apply everything I learned about posing.
At that point, I was more comfortable in my own skin and slowly lost interest in caring if casual gym-goers thought I was a moron.
One of the skills I learned during my competition preparation journey was caring less about what others perceive of you. A valuable life skill that is transferable outside of the world of amateur bodybuilding.
The Insane Stage Tanning
When I was growing up, one of my first impressions of bodybuilding competitions was the ridiculous tan all of the competitors would wear.
I had no idea why it looked so over-the-top and slight overkill, until I embarked on this journey myself.
I learned that failing to get a proper stage tan would mean the bright stage lights will wash out your physique. In other words, the judges will see a pale ghostly figure and not all of those shreds you’ve worked hard to build.
I must admit, off-stage, the stage tan looks over the top! However, the darkness of the tan will wash out from the stage lights, allowing your physique to truly shine.
In the week or so leading up to the competition, I had organised 3 visits to see professional tanners that specialise in tanning competitors.
Prior to the tan, I had to completely shave down my body to the bare skin! For the first time in my life, I had to exfoliate my skin and prepare it for the first coat of tan.
This was another level of discomfort for me as I’d never done this before!
However, I learned that shaving and exfoliating is essential for a successful competition tan. So I did it.
The day before the competition, I received a second layer of tan. I had to buy loose pyjamas to “protect” the tan and sleep on disposable bed sheets.
Overnight, the tan was designed to mature (i.e., darken) so that waking up on the day of the competition meant you’d see something like this (pictured below).
The Big Day!
I woke up and saw myself in the mirror! My tan had darkened considerably overnight. It looked so ridiculous.
The day had finally arrived and my feelings could be accurately described as nervous excited. Four months of preparation and hard work had brought me to this moment.
I had packed my duffle bag with my competition essentials and I was ready to go!
Two tubs of jam, a packet of rice crackers, a pair of dumbbells (for the pump-up), a towel, bottle of water, an ab wheel, and a tub of hair gel.
My competition coach had given me instructions of what to eat, how to pump-up, and other pointers, for the day of the competition (pictured below).
Waking up started with guzzling 5 raw whole eggs! Rocky style.
It was one of the most disgusting things I have ever done. But I did it.
After that, the planning was simple. I confirmed my stage times for two divisions (12:30 pm and 1:50 pm) and planned backwards.
My final coat of tan would take place around 90 minutes before my first stage appearance, and pump-ups approximately 30 minutes before the stage.
For quick boosts of energy, I was eating 2 tablespoons of jam every 10 minutes from the tub! Some competitors chose honey, my coach wanted me to eat jam and rice cakes!
The “Pump Up” Process
About 30 minutes before my stage time, it was time to do the “pump ups”.
Using a pair of dumbbells that I had packed for competition day, I did a series of pump-up exercises to encourage extra blood flow through the muscles, making them appear fuller.
Some competitors prefer to use resistance bands or resistance tubes. It’s a personal preference.
The idea of the pump-up is for your muscles to look as pumped as possible for the stage.
If you’ve ever done a serious weight lifting session in the gym and noticed your muscles are thicker and fuller than usual — you’ve experienced a muscle pump. After leaving the gym, the pump disappears and most people are left slightly disappointed at the “resting” appearance of their musculature.
The short-term nature of a muscular pump is the reason we do our pump-ups within 30 minutes of our stage appearance.
The Big Moment: Stepping on Stage
There were about 10 guys, including myself, lining up and waiting to be ushered onto the main stage in front of a cheering audience.
At this point, the adrenaline surged through my veins as the emotions of sheer fear and excitement took over my 87.3 kilogram (192 lb) body.
There was nothing more I could do now but to live in the moment and bask in the glory of the spotlight, in front of hundreds of people.
Below, you’ll see a line of judges which sit in front of the audience and, if you look closer, you’ll see the Head Judge, Vicki Arief, seated in the middle!
When asked if they could remember seeing an audience on stage, most competitors will not remember. For me, I remember seeing hundreds of people in the audience and a line of judges.
I couldn’t see their faces. It was mostly a blur. You are on stage for only a few minutes before the judges determine the placings of the competitors.
And to this day, I will never forget my number (№ 87) being called out as the winner of the men’s amateur fitness competition.
Me! Number 87… what!??
To this day, I still cannot believe I actually walked away with a giant trophy and Champion Trainer Award. It was the first time in my life that I actually won something — especially in fitness — which was never a strength in my life.
As mentioned in my fitness transformation story; starting the journey of getting into the best shape of my life was a function of being sick and tired of being skinny-fat, and sick with pneumonia.
There was no intention whatsoever to compete.
After competing and winning in the first division that I entered, I had some time to reset my mind and prepare for another appearance on stage.
After a few photos with my supportive gym buddies and a side-stage interview, I was back on stage to repeat the process all over again.
To my surprise, lightning struck twice! I won first place in the Rising Star division!
Below, I’m pictured having just cleared the stage with another giant trophy and Champion Trainer Award.
I hadn’t completely come to terms with the first win, let alone the second. A feeling of elation and disbelief swept over me. I was in complete shock!
Although my competition coach was not present on the day of the competition, I had an incredibly supportive group of gym buddies that saw the behind the scenes of my transformation journey.
They also helped film the event which I’ve produced into a video which complements this article.
One of the consequences of winning first place is being drug tested!
The Drug Testing Process
The moment I walked off stage, I was ushered to a back room with a lady where I gave a urine sample.
As expected, the results came back negative. Although I still couldn’t believe I was being treated like an athlete in a competitive sport.
My old identity was adapting to the world of the competitive sport of amateur bodybuilding, and getting drug tested is an integral part of the game.
As I write this article in July 2020, I have vivid memories of my competitor number being called by the MC. “And the winner is, Competitor 87… Brad Newton!”
After walking off the stage for the second time, it was time to indulge in an avalanche of donuts, chocolate bars, and a host of other junk food which lined the side stage.
If you ever decide to undertake the competition journey, you’ll learn that donuts are almost a tradition that marks the end of months of dietary deprivation.
It is not uncommon to see competitors, having completed their stage appearance, walk around with a box of Krispy Kreme donuts to celebrate their hard work and dedication.
Such traditions of binge eating junk food post-competition raises the question of the mental health implications of competing. It’s a conversation that is rarely talked about and to be fair, I knew nothing about until after the competition.
It is common for competitors to gain around 5–15 kilograms within 24–48 hours of their competition. This typically has huge psychological implications, especially for female competitors, which feeds the desire to compete time and time again.
After I left the venue, I visited my competition coach at Fitness First to give her the Champion Trainer Awards.
The Financial Cost of Competing
I had no idea how much the entire competition preparation journey would cost me financially until after it was all said and done.
The entire preparation costed me a little over $4,000 AUD. It’s alot of money but to be honest, I had a corporate job at the time and was able to front the cost.
What was the prize money, you might ask? Nothing!
Here is a cost breakdown of my contest prep.
Some competitors choose not to hire a competition coach and rather, self-coach. This can easily save a fourth of the cost.
Personally, I needed someone to show me the ropes and be an emotional pillar during times of uncertainty. It was $1,240 dollars well spent on Penny, who helped me cross the finish line.
What Next? The World Titles!
After doing so well in my first fitness content, I was invited by the Federation to compete in the World Titles.
As you can imagine, I was already in shock from my first stage appearance! After some thought, I decided to formally register for the World Titles!
This added the logistical challenge of taking annual leave from my corporate job, booking flights, and finding another competition coach.
Although my journey to the World Titles deserves its own article, in short, I can say that I didn’t win the competition.
The guy standing in the middle (pictured below) won first place!
I walked away with a few achievement medals and 5th place.
To be honest, I was just happy to be sharing the same stage as some of the best athletes in the Federation (and world). At that point, it wasn’t about “winning”… I felt I had already won by finally getting into shape and being so healthy, I never returned to hospital ever again.
While I was competing in the World Titles, I had organised my second photo shoot with a local photographer (based in Phuket).
If you ever decide to do a fitness contest or bodybuilding show, I highly recommend hiring a photographer to take photos of you for your own memories. It’s the best investment!
This photo was taken around the Slate Resort during the World Titles.
My fitness competition journey all started with a decision to compete in an amateur show, with the intention of pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.
I never expected, nor did I know I was capable of, winning the show!
In my fitness transformation video, I share the humble beginnings of my fitness journey. For my entire 20s, I was a skinny guy doomed by “skinny genetics”. I had no fitness role models in my family nor was a sporty kid at school.
As an ordinary guy with ordinary genetic potential, winning my first fitness contest elevated my confidence that anyone with the right mindset could also succeed.
Ironically, as I write this article in July 2020, I have never competed since the World Titles in June 2017! The reason has been a change in direction with my fitness ambitions, with more of a focus on training (and filming) my adventures on Fitness street.
I hope you can walk away from this article with a different perspective. Perhaps some inspiration to kick start your own fitness journey.
If you are interested in learning more about the process I went through to get into the best shape of my life, don’t forget to browse through my website. I’ve written a ton of articles with the beginner in mind and strategies to help you get started in your own fitness journey.
Once again, if you would like to watch the video version of this article, click on the video below.
Thanks so much for reading 🙂
Are you looking at competing or starting your own fitness journey?
Let me know in the comments below!