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Do I need to gain more muscle mass before I compete in bodybuilding?

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Question:
I am a 40-year-old male 5’10”, 183 lbs. I’ve lifted most of my life and was a competitive bodybuilder in my early 20’s. In my 30’s I got married, had a child, and got fat. Three years ago, I was 186 lbs with 22% body fat. I began the Body For Life Program which got me back into the swing of things and I’ve kept my body fat below 12% ever since.

I’d given up on even thinking about competing again long ago. I’m somewhat of an ectomorph and never thought it was meant to be. However, after reading your excellent e-book, I got motivated and began wondering if maybe I could do again.

The NPC South Carolina State Contest is coming up and I’ve considered entering the Masters Division. If nothing else, I know this would be what I need to push me to my best shape in years. The BFL photo shoot was fine, but not the same as standing in front of hundreds of people practically naked.

If I retained my LBM and dropped my body fat to 4-5%, I could still come in at 170 Lbs. What concerns me is a quote I saw on a forum. Someone was defending the freaky mass of drug using pro bodybuilders as compared to smaller natural bodybuilders, and said, “The only thing more ridiculous looking than a 5’10” 300 lb. bodybuilder is a 5’10” 165 lb. bodybuilder.” Do you think I’m really ready to compete again or should I take another year to put on more muscle mass?

Answer:
It’s very smart to track your numbers and have goals for body weight and body fat, but don’t get too hung up on the digits because you must have a visual goal as well, and that’s the real issue here.

The judges don’t jump up on stage to weigh and measure you. Work to achieve a certain look, not a certain weight. Whether you get that look at 3% body fat and 168 pounds or 4.5% body fat at 182 lbs or 6.1% body fat at 188 lbs, or whatever, is irrelevant.

Don’t get fixated only on body weight. That is only one of many tools you can use for feedback. There’s absolutely no way to tell how you’re going to look at 170 until you’re there. What does the mirror tell you? Bodybuilding is VISUAL, not quantitative. It’s not your weight that counts, but how well your muscular weight is visually distributed on a 5′ 10″ frame.

That said, it’s true that the taller you are, the smaller your muscle bellies will appear. Even if you’re ripped, you could lose to men who are equally as ripped and have more size at the same height. Size IS definitely one of the judging criteria. If you don’t have enough size you look “ripped, but skinny” and when all else is equal, the bigger man wins.

Check out other guys your height in the same divisions and the same level of competition (masters or open?, local or regional? tested or not tested? Etc.), and see what they weigh. What you’ll probably find is that men 5’10” (even in drug free local competitions) are usually heavier than 170 (sometimes substantially so), so your concern is a valid one.

I look very closely at the guys in my division (middleweight), to get an idea of the standards. In open competitions, middleweights are almost all shorter than me, sometimes much shorter, which indicates that in open competition, a man 5’8 (let alone 5’10), should ideally be a light heavyweight and may look a little thin in the lower weight classes.

In drug tested competitions, it’s different: The average height in the natural middleweights seems to be 5′ 7″ or 5 ‘ 6″, but there are plenty of natural middleweights at 5’ 8″ who have excellent physiques and they are highly competitive.

One thing you should NEVER do though, is look at the height and weight of the IFBB pro bodybuilders or even the NPC national level bodybuilders, and compare yourself to them, because that is a whole different ballgame… if you know what I mean.

Get an idea of what a “competitive weight” is for your height, but again, it’s not just a weight issue, its a visual issue. I won my first contest, the Novice Natural Mr. New Jersey at only 154 pounds. I was not big, but I looked bigger onstage than I actually was. A 5 ‘ 10″ heavyweight can be the biggest guy in the show, and be handily defeated, because even with all that mass, he may lack definition and symmetry.

If you look at my arms and legs you can see they were pretty thin compared to today. If I were perfectionistic, overly critical of myself and caught up in bodyweight, I would have told myself I was too light for my height and possibly not even competed. However, it was only my second show, I was a novice, it was drug-tested, it was a state level event, and guess what… it was good enough to take home a 1st place trophy! Was I glad I went through with it? What do you think?

People will always have opinions, especially in bodybuilding. The guy who made the snide remark about a 5′ 10″ natural bodybuilder competing at 165 pounds is a typical Internet “hater” who has nothing better to do than troll forums to criticize others. Ignore the negativity and destructive criticism.

However, definitively take advice and accept constructive criticism, especially from those who have competed successfully.

We’ve all been to shows where someone got on stage who really didn’t belong there; whether that means they were downright fat (seen that many times), or whether they just didn’t have any muscle (seen that before too). On one hand, you want to be nice and commend them for getting up there on stage and making the effort, but on the other hand, you want to go wack em’ upside the head and say, “Hello… McFly…. What were you thinking????”

You can’t help wondering why some people don’t realize the type of shape they’re really in. How can you look in the mirror and not see it? And how could friends, coaches and advisors not see it? (or DID they see it, but they were just being “nice?”) Sometimes the best gift someone can give you is a brutally honest critique of your strengths and weaknesses. Often, you don’t take it well in the beginning, but later you look back in gratitude.

One of the most important and rarest skills a bodybuilder can ever possess is knowing when you’re really in shape, at your peak and ready… and when you’re NOT. I cover this topic in chapter 4 of Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle, it’s a skill called “sensory acuity.”

So the real questions to ask yourself are:

“Do I have enough muscle mass for my height to be competitive in my weight class?”

“If it’s clear that I need more size to fill out my 5′ 10″ frame, am I going to skip this competition and work on adding more size until I compete, or am I just going to go for it anyway – for myself?”

“Why am I competing? Am I doing this for myself, for personal improvement and satisfaction, or am I dead set on beating everyone else?”

As long as you give it 100% and you’re honest with yourself about your condition, you’re NOT going to “look ridiculous.” You might even surprise yourself by placing above other guys who outweigh you – or even coming home with a 1st place trophy. But like you said, it’s not about beating the other guy, if nothing else, competition is a great way to motivate yourself to get in the best shape of your life.

Burn The Fat, Feed the Muscle is the most detailed, one-stop guide to fat burning nutrition you’ll ever find.That’s why so many people call it the fat loss bible.

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