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Written by expert bodybuilding coaches Peter Fitschen and Cliff Wilson, Bodybuilding: The Complete Contest Preparation Handbook will guide you through every step of the process to select a competition, prepare for the contest, and make the transition to the off-season

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Book Description

The popularity of bodybuilding is at an all-time high, and the sport is continuing to grow. But seasoned competitors and beginners often have questions about how to look their best on show day. Written by expert bodybuilding coaches Peter Fitschen and Cliff Wilson, Bodybuilding: The Complete Contest Preparation Handbook will guide you through every step of the process to select a competition, prepare for the contest, and make the transition to the off-season. With no other book like it on the market, Bodybuilding offers you scientifically supported and experience-based guidelines to help you have your best show ever.

Bodybuilding takes the guesswork out of preparing for a contest and answers common questions such as these:
How do I choose the competition and division that are right for me?
What mandatory poses do I need to learn for my competition?
What is the best workout to do during contest prep?
What should I do if I start to spill over during peak week?
How long is too long to maintain stage-lean levels of body fat?
The authors have created an easily accessible handbook that guides you step by step. The chapters begin with a background of the sport, followed by a discussion of the competitive division options for both men and women. The next chapters will help you through the process of obtaining a stage-ready physique with an evidence-based approach that combines scientific literature with practical experience. These chapters discuss important topics such as nutrition, training, and preparation timing.

The next chapters address posing, peak week, tanning, and a number of other topics that will help you bring your most polished physique to the stage. More than 60 full-color photos show body types for each division and each mandatory pose, offering a visual guide to the proper positions for each pose. You will also find information on how to handle the transition to the off-season.

With unparalleled detail, Bodybuilding is your go-to guide for bodybuilding success!

Bodybuilders of all levels as well as contest prep coaches and practitioners who prepare clients for competition.

Table of Contents

Introduction. Evolution of the Sport of Bodybuilding

Early Physique Competitions

The Early 1900s

Pre–Golden Era

Golden Era

Is it possible for bodybuilding competitors to compete in another strength sport (powerlifting, for example)?

The Late 20th Century

Chapter 1. The Art and Science of Bodybuilding

New Divisions

Drug-Tested Bodybuilding

Misinformed Approaches to Contest Preparation

Many competitors at my gym use methods you do not recommend yet have been successful in their competitions. Why should I follow the approaches discussed in this book rather than what the guys at my gym are doing?

Chapter 2. Sorting Through the Sanctions

Drug Use in Bodybuilding

Untested Amateur Sanctions

If I am drug-free, can I compete in untested competitions?

Untested Professional Sanctions

Drug-Tested Sanctions

Are banned substances taken for diagnosed medical reasons allowed in drug-tested competitions?

If I win a pro card in one sanction, can I compete in professional competitions in other sanctions?

Chapter 3. Breaking Down the Divisions and Classes

Criteria Defined

Men’s Divisions

Women’s Divisions

Can a competitor compete in more than one division at a show?

Final Word on Division Criteria

I feel like I may be able to compete in more than one division. How do I choose the best division for me?


Why are there multiple classes within the same show? For example, why are there three open men’s bodybuilding classes?

Can competitors make a living from prize money earned in professional competitions?

Can a competitor compete in more than one class at a show?

Chapter 4. The Reality of Readiness

New Competitors

As a new competitor attending a competition for the first time, is it important for me to attend a competition in the sanction in which I plan to compete?

Experienced Competitors

Would you ever recommend competing with less time between shows?

Readiness for Contest Prep

Patience and Time Pay Off

Chapter 5. Show Selection and Timing: The Secrets of Preparation

Selecting the Right Show

What is the best time for me to start contest prep?

Appropriate Rate of Loss

Does my weight need to decrease to get stage-lean?

Benefits of Longer Prep Time

Determining Needed Prep Time

Do I need to select a show before starting contest prep?

Could I achieve stage-lean levels of body fat in less time than you recommend?

Chapter 6. Fueling Your Physique for Contest Preparation

Energy Balance

Caloric Intake

What do I do if I fall off my nutrition plan for a day?


Are high-protein diets safe?

Should I be concerned about sugar intake during contest prep?

Individual Differences in Macronutrient Needs

What is the best way to accurately measure my food?


Vitamins and Minerals

Can I have artificial sweeteners during contest prep?

Meal Frequency

Protein Timing

Carbohydrate Timing


Diet Breaks

Monitoring Progress

How should a woman handle weight fluctuations due to her menstrual cycle?


Chapter 7. Tweaking Your Physique for Contest Preparation

Increasing Energy Expenditure

Should I do cardio fasted?

If I am lifting weights and doing cardio in the same workout, which should I do first?

Resistance Training

What is the mind-muscle connection I have heard about?

How many days a week should I be in the gym?

Do I need to train to failure? If so, should I do it in every workout?

Monitor the Need for Recovery

Sample Training Programs

Chapter 8. The Art of Posing

Bodybuilding (Men and Women)

Classic Physique (Men)

Men’s Physique

Women’s Physique

Figure (Women)

Bikini (Women)

Posing Routines and T-Walks

Effective Practice Posing

Should I practice the poses in my posing suit?

Should I pose in a sauna?

Chapter 9. The Finishing Touches and Final Preparation



Posing Suit



Hair Removal


Do all competitions allow the same type of tan?

Do I need to get a base tan in a tanning bed before my competition?

Makeup and Hair

Other Logistical Details

Chapter 10. Peak Week Explained

The Mysterious Peak Week

Prerequisites for Effective Peaking

Terminology and Definitions

Peak Week Objectives

Peak Week Objective Nonstarters



Would you ever recommend that a competitor cut water during peak week?

Sodium-Potassium Balance

Peaking Network

Peak Week Strategies

Learning Your Load Look and Choosing a Peaking Strategy

Peak Week Training

Peak Week Cardio

Managing Your Physique on Show Day

What if I mistime my sodium, sugar, and pump up backstage, and I am too early?

The Perfect Peak?

Chapter 11. Contest Weekend: Strategizing for Success

Focus on What You Can Control

The Day Before the Show

Show Day

How ready should I be when I arrive at the venue on show day?

Can I go out to eat after prejudging?

After the Show

Chapter 12. After the Event: Recovery and Recommendations

Postshow Analysis

Competing in Multiple Shows

Physiology of Being Stage-Lean

Transitioning to the Off-Season

Does everyone need to regain body fat after a show?


Peter J. Fitschen, PhD, CSCS, is the owner of FITbody and Physique, where he works full time as a contest prep coach. His combination of education and experience are unique in the sport of bodybuilding. He has a PhD in nutritional sciences from the University of Illinois, a master’s degree in biology with a physiology concentration, and a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse. As a researcher, Fitschen has coauthored 18 peer-reviewed publications, including several directly related to bodybuilding contest preparation. He is certified as a strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He has been competing in natural bodybuilding since 2004 and won his natural pro card in 2012.

Cliff Wilson is a professional natural bodybuilder and one of the top physique coaches in the industry, having established himself through his work with competitive bodybuilders and powerlifters. Using a combination of scientifically proven methods and experience-driven techniques, Wilson’s clients have amassed over 100 pro cards, more than 60 professional titles, and 9 world championships. His reputation as a coach has also allowed him to become a noted fitness author, with articles published in dozens of magazines and websites. Wilson is also a noted guest speaker who has given lectures around the world.


Muscularity Ideal muscularity for the women's divisions can be hard to determine. If women's bodybuilding aims for maximum muscularity, then women's physique would best be described as slightly less than that maximum. Even though the criteria for women's physique call for less muscularity than in the bodybuilding division, both authors find it rare for a drug-free female to achieve a look considered too muscular for this division. Most women have best results training for maximum muscularity.

Conditioning and Muscular Definition Although the criteria for women's physique call for being slightly less lean than in the women's bodybuilding division, in real life, most competitors who place highly in women's physique achieve maximum conditioning. The goal should be to get as lean as you can.

Symmetry The criteria for muscular symmetry in women's physique are pretty much identical to those in the bodybuilding division. The goal is to have an even balance of development among all muscle groups. For structural symmetry, it is ideal to have wide-set shoulders, a small waist, and narrower hips.

Additional Considerations Some sanctions require a rhinestoned suit and heels for this division, but some sanctions do not. Be sure to check with your sanction or promoter before the show so you know what they require. Typically, hair and makeup are considered part of the presentation portion for this division. This does not mean judges expect you to look like you are in a beauty contest, but choosing makeup and hair that is suited for you is important.

For the women's physique division, there is not a lot of difference between women's bodybuilding and women's physique. However, the posing is more feminine, and an overall physique deemed a bit more feminine will be judged more favorably here than in bodybuilding. This must be considered when deciding between the two divisions.