Well, I'm 8 weeks out from the competition, and that means it's time to start thinking about the finishing touches. To be fair, if you don't have your diet and training on track, none of these little details will make or break your performance, but a polished and professional appearance and presentation certainly can't hurt! A few things to think about as the competition nears...
1. Tan, Color and Oil
Competitions are usually held under multiple very bright lights. This means washing out is a major concern. What is washing out? It's a simple lighting effect that causes muscle definition to disappear under the glare of your own skin. To counteract this, competitors generally tan naturally, either in the sun or in tanning beds, as much as possible up until the competition, then apply additional tanning products in the final week to really deepen the color--the lights are so bright that even a dark natural tan can wash out! Choosing the right product for your skin tone can make a big difference in your on-stage appearance as well--some tanners will look orange on the wrong skin tone, so it's important to pick a product that has neutral undertones. Being very well-versed in cosmetics makes this a no-brainer for me, but not so for others. In general, pick a tanner that approaches black as it deepens, rather than any particular shade of brown--browns can lean cool or warm, lending your skin an orange or greenish cast as the tanner is layered onto your skin. For the average self-tanner user, a single coat of tanning product would be sufficient to suggest a sun-kissed look, but because bodybuilding competitors need so many additional layers, the color can easily become distorted. I recommend ProTan; it covers evenly even after multiple coats, looks pretty damn natural, and doesn't run too much--especially if you rinse the excess off between coats per the instructions. You'll definitely want someone to help you with hard-to-reach areas such as your hamstrings and back.
Posing oil is another tool used to help accentuate muscle tone and definition. Oil is prohibited for many classes, such as figure, however promoters are generally pretty lax with this too. Keep in mind that many tanners will streak once oil is added to the mix, so be sure to rinse off excess tanner before you apply your oil. It's also a good idea to simply spray the oil directly onto the desired areas, and resist rubbing the oil in--you want it to sit on top of your skin and provide shine anyway, it's not a moisturizer! Bring a couple towels back-stage to help blot any streaks or sweat drips that may occur--again, resist wiping!
2. Suit Selection
Next you'll need to pick a suit that not only complements your body type, but fits properly as well. Be honest with yourself, do you need fuller coverage on your glutes because you didn't lose all the fat there? There's no shame in opting for a more generous cut; it could help hide imperfections and could even make you look better. Make sure you pick a size that will be appropriate to your contest weight too--oftentimes competitors buy suits ahead of time, only to have the suit be too baggy on-stage because they lost a bunch of weight during their diet. Being something of a seamstress, I usually opt to buy suits one size too large, then tailor them to my body in the final week. When it comes to color, make sure the shade of your suit will mesh well with your darkened skin tone--if you normally look good in cool tones such as blues, greens, or purples, stick with those colors on-stage as well (same thing goes for warm tones such as reds, pinks, yellows, or oranges). Black is always a good default choice if you can't decide or just don't know what kind of undertones you have.
There are rules governing the patterns, fabric finishes, and embellishments that are permitted within each class. Generally, a plain, single color suit with no sequins, rhinestones, or holographic fabrics is expected at the pre-judging for all classes except figure and bikini, although many smaller shows permit these items anyway. At the finals, anything goes within reason, although g-strings are always prohibited.
It's a good idea to start practicing your posing early and often--especially if you're like me and pose in the off-season when you're fat and pose differently because of it :P Enlisting the help of a seasoned competitor always helps too--a second or third pair of eyes can help you see things you may be missing yourself. Don't be afraid to adjust any of the mandatory poses to suit your physique either--a good poser can hide flaws and imperfections to their benefit and make themselves look much better, so take advantage of this opportunity when you can! For example, Arnold talks extensively about the hip twisting he used to employ on-stage to hide his wider frame and make his waist appear smaller. Posing is also hard work; you need to keep everything flexed all the time, even during transitions, so practicing becomes essential if you want to limit shaking, cramping, or lost tension on-stage.
4. Routine Music
Bodybuilding, physique, and fitness competitors get to showcase their physiques in an individual routine during the finals as well. Fitness competitors are expected to perform certain strength moves, in addition to showcasing their endurance and flexibility, with a fast-paced cheerleader type routine. Physique and bodybuilding competitors, on the other hand, get to do a minute and a half of their own choreographed posing with no actual requirements--another great opportunity to showcase strong points in your physique, hit variations of poses you like, and generally be yourself. This 90 second routine can be performed to music chosen by the competitor, which is a great way to display your personality. There are a few things to consider when picking your music though, as not all music types are well-suited to a routine. Firstly, you need to consider pace. How many poses are you willing to incorporate? How many poses do you know? Generally, faster music warrants faster posing, so choosing a song suited to your posing ability, as well as your posing repertoire, plays a significant role. I like to choose relatively slow songs so I don't end up hitting the same poses again and again and again. Secondly, you need to consider the sound system of the venue. Most venues will have a pretty crappy system, so even though you love dubstep, it's going to sound really REALLY bad at full volume on a sound system that isn't set up for it. To that end, make sure you're getting a decent quality version of whatever song you choose. Thirdly, you want to pick a song that is not likely to be picked by a bunch of other people. It's common to see at least one or two "repeats" within a single show. I try to stay away from "current," popular music for this reason--as tempting as it may be--opting instead for classics, covers, or other obscurities, such as "Dirty Diana" by Michael Jackson, which I used at my last competition, or Pink Floyd, which was my training partner's choice. No repeats there. Start putting your routine together early--even though you might think you'll be able to just make it up as you go, this can easily lead to hesitation and awkward pauses on-stage, especially when you're nervous--a dead giveaway that you didn't prepare!
In the end, you still have to diet and train like a champ if you want to win--the best posing routine, the most even tan, and the most flattering suit won't help you if you didn't diet properly. But in a close call, a polished presentation can help you edge out the other guy (or girl), and a professionally presented on-stage presence will always be something you can feel good about. And oh yeah, don't forget to smile!