Why do bodybuilders get so tan?

This is me under the stage lights (dark) and backstage later the same night under fluorescent lights.

This is me under the stage lights (dark) and backstage later the same night (much much darker) under fluorescent lights.

Every time our bodybuilding team comes back from a competition, I get asked the same question.

“Why do the competitors paint themselves so tan?”

That is a good question! I thought I’d write a blog post to address the situation.

(But before I explain the tanning issue, questions about these things are good. Ask away! I’d much rather answer a question than hear the following statements, which also erupt whenever the team comes back from a competition. “No offense, but that tan looks ridiculous.” Or: “Don’t they know that tan is too dark?” Or, something kinda mean.)

People who compete in physique contests — bodybuilding, figure, bikini, etc., — use tanning products to help enhance muscle definition. Stage lights are really bright and that washes out the skin and, yes, the muscle definition. So to combat that, competitors darken their skin using tanning products. People with already dark skin generally also use products to help with their skin tone.

It’s not a real tan. They do not bake in a tanning bed to get that dark.

There are several different methods and numerous products you can use to get a competition tan but they are different than the normal self-tanner products you get at a tanning salon. The solutions can be applied through spraying the body or by “painting” them on the body.

It’s quite a process — yes, you have to remove all your body hair and no you can’t wear deodorant or moisturizer for a few days before the tanning solution is applied. I know: ick. In fact, it’s such a process that a lot of competitors hire professionals to take care of their tans for them. And yes, having that tan applied by someone else often means that you spend some up close and personal time with strangers (who aren’t strangers after the show).

But competitors accept this as part of the process.

Some of the the tanning solutions can be kind of hard on the skin, too, drying it out.

A good tan can help you place higher in a competition and, perhaps even more so, a bad tan can negatively affect your placing. Tanning your skin isn’t cheating. In fact, judges often comment on the tan quality when they offer competitors feedback, so it’s a legitimate part of the competition process.

And yes, as soon as the competition is finished, most competitors can’t wait to hit the shower to get at least a layer of the tanning products off their skin.

Maybe even before they have their celebration meal!


A peek into why Peak Week has me feeling verklempt

Sometimes when I see my bikini/figure/bodybuilding clients enter the final week before their shows — “peak week” — it’s all can do not to start blubbering.

Maybe it’s partially out of empathy because I know what they are going through: the workouts, the diet, the nerves, the waxing and the tanning. Kidding! (Well, kinda.)

It’s more about having the privilege to watch them work so hard for so long and then to finally have it all come together.

Physique competitions are like ultra-endurance marathons: they require discipline, stamina and patience. There’s some pain and some sweat. They also require a lot of courage and willingness to step outside your comfort zone. Getting up onstage in front of people wearing skimpy outfits (and for the women, high heels) is not for the meek at heart.

For 8 members of my gym’s bodybuilding team (Team Maximus/BBAC), this is peak week. They’re set to compete this weekend in the Maine Event, one of two natural bodybuilding shows in Maine each year (the other is the Pine Tree State Championships in April).

Our team is kind of an odd little northern outpost in Brewer — we’re a small gym in a small city, sending an often disproportionate number of competitors to the regional natural bodybuilding shows.

Here are some very tan members of Team Maximus/BBAC at a 2014 competition in Westbrook

Here are some very tan members of Team Maximus/BBAC (and one very pale coach) at a 2014 competition in Westbrook

The team started a few years ago kind of by accident, after I competed in a few figure shows and someone asked me to help them get ready for one, and it snowballed from there. Now we’ve been at it long enough that our competitors are starting to mature.

Because as I said, bodybuilding is a long-term proposition, as change is slow (years!) in coming. It takes time and consistent training to gain the kind of muscle it takes to be competitive. For most of us, it takes more than a couple months to get ready for a show — it takes a few “progress” and “leaning out” seasons.

Progress seasons (often called “bulking”) are when you train (and eat) to put on muscle — hopefully without gaining too much fat. “Leaning out” seasons are when you train (and, more importantly, eat) to lose fat and keep as much muscle as possible.

So to see the progress the competitors have made over the past few seasons is pretty overwhelming.

What made me feel so emotional this week was watching three of my clients practice their posing, all in separate sessions. We have a rule that what happens in the posing room stays in the posing room, so I hope they don’t kill me for this.

These sessions occurred after their workouts, when they felt sweaty and gross. And during the sessions all they could could see were areas they wanted to improve.

And all I could see were their transformations. Their consistent, disciplined effort in the gym had definitely paid off.

But what got me the most was the transformation in their confidence. They shone (even though maybe their shoes pinched, their suits needed fixing, they didn’t have a tan, and blahblahblah).

Where before they felt tentative and maybe even a little awkward, now they were self-assured. Watching people find their groove is frickin’ awesome. Being a part of it is even awesomer.

And that’s why I’ve felt a bit verklempt all week.

It’s really a gift to be able to be part of it all.  And there’s really no point to this post except to say that.

(I’ll post pix from the show, so you can see what I’m talking about.)

6 days and counting …

photo (7)

The 2013 OCB Pine Tree State ~ Bodybuilding, Figure & Bikini Championships are less than week away, and I’m freaking out a little. I’m not really all that nervous about stuff I *can* control, just stuff I can’t. Like whether my body is going to do what I want it to do over the next week.

It’s been a hard year. My thyroid (I have an autoimmune thyroid problem) acted up, causing all kinds of issues. Then I suffered a series of illnesses that made it very hard to diet. My doc sent several vials of my blood away for food sensitivity testing and changed my diet (bye-bye dairy and gluten and a whole bunch of other stuff!), and I am glad to report I feel soooo much better, although my thyroid is being pesky right now, darn it! And let’s not even talk about the body changes that come with entering a new decade, oy vey.

So anyway, I am not in the condition I hoped I would be in at this point. It’s OK, as I am planning on competing in shows after this one, when I will, in fact, be in the condition I hoped to be in now.

Enough about me: What’s been so fun about this particular prep isn’t my own transformation — it’s been watching the transformation of 5 other people at my gym who also are going to be taking the stage: 3 new figure competitors, 1 new bikini competitor, and 1 new bodybuilder.

Your first show prep is a scary, adrenaline-fueled adventure. It’s a never-ending experiment on your body. I’m so proud of every single one of them — seeing them gain new confidence in themselves has been a rewarding experience. People who aren’t in this sport or who haven’t attended a show might think it’s all about vanity, but it really isn’t. The confidence I’m talking about doesn’t come from looking in the mirror and admiring yourself (although witnessing the changes you have made certainly is gratifying). No, it’s more about mental toughness, pushing yourself beyond what you thought you were capable of, doing stuff that scares you, and putting yourself out there — taking a risk. In fancy terms, it’s about self-efficacy

From Wikipedia:
Self-efficacy is the measure of one’s own ability to complete tasks and reach goals.
Self-efficacy affects every area of human endeavor. By determining the beliefs a person holds regarding his or her power to affect situations, it strongly influences both the power a person actually has to face challenges competently and the choices a person is most likely to make. These effects are particularly apparent, and compelling, with regard to behaviors affecting health.

Once you have set your mind to a big, all-encompassing goal like competing in a bodybuilding or figure show (and believe me, it’s all-encompassing!) and you see it through to the end, you learn just what it is you are capable of — you learn to trust yourself to see things through. It’s quite a gift, and it makes my heart swell to see other people gain this self-trust. I’m so stinkin’ proud of them and I can’t wait to take the stage with them — even if my butt doesn’t agree with me.

Contest preparation is not exciting

I had full intentions of blogging about preparing for my figure show(s) this year, but here is the truth: there isn’t a lot to blog about. How many times can one write about a leg workout, or about running hill sprints? Or about, I tweaked my diet a little and wow, I do love me some flax oil and raspberry-infused balsamic vinegar on my broccoli?

So, I didn’t blog about it. Instead, I just steadily and consistently worked out and steadily and consistently followed an eating plan.

Oh, hey, wow. Isn’t that what EVERYONE who seeks a healthy and fit lifestyle should be doing? Moving their bodies intentionally and eating healthy, nutritious food in appropriate quantities?

It’s not a sexy thing. It’s not all that exciting. It’s also not that time consuming or painful or difficult to do. Some days I didn’t have time to work out, and yet I did anyway. Some days I sure as heck didn’t want to work out, and I did anyway. The food part, the part everyone complains about? Well, here’s what I think about that — you need to get real about what your body NEEDS to eat and not what we’ve been culturally indoctrinated to eat. Just get over it. Eat what your body needs.

No matter what, I did the workouts and ate the foods and here I am, a couple months later, the oldest I’ve ever been (ha!) and I’m in arguably the best shape of my life.

You might not want to compete in a physique show. Heck, another truth: I’m not altogether sure why *I* even want to do it, except I’m not sure there’s another avenue for competition in the sport I happen to love.

I do know this: It’s the little, consistent things you do every day — the things that are easy to put off til tomorrow, or next week — that make make the difference. You don’t need to make a Grand Pronouncement(tm) to change your lifestyle. Just do a little something-something every day. No matter what. Those little actions will snowball, and all of a sudden: BAM!  Look at the changes you’ve made! It’s pretty cool.

It’s like this: One cheeseburger today won’t kill you. But a cheeseburger every day? Well …. maybe it won’t kill you, but it sure won’t help you.

That’s one of the things I learned from my father, and it’s being reiterated to me in some books I have been reading. It’s your little habits that are going to make the biggest differences in your life.

I’ve been thinking lots about my habits lately, and (as per happiness post below) have been changing some. It works. Give it a go and see for yourself!

What little change can you make today that will pay off in two weeks, two months, two years?