Tom Venuto's

Are You Ready To Compete In Bodybuilding?

Tom Venuto

How many aspiring bodybuilders do you know who desperately want to compete, but who keep saying, “Im not ready”… “I need more muscle mass”? But how do you really know if you’re ready? How do you know what you will look like when the layer of winter adipose comes off? Naturally, bodybuilding is about muscle mass. Muscle mass is one of the criteria for judging so if you ain’t got any, you ain’t ready. However, you don’t have to be the size of Jay or Ronnie to be ready. For example, at 5’ 8” or 5’ 10” and 175 lbs, you’d never even make it onto the IFBB stage let alone be competitive. But in some of the local and natural competitions, you might very well WIN the whole darn show if your conditioning were on point. But you will never know unless you say “damn the critics,” make the committment, get yourself ripped and get up on that stage…will you? In today’s post, I answer a reader’s question, “Am I Ready to compete?”

Q: Dear Tom: 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 “Burn The Fat” 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?



bodybuilding_competition.jpg A: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 each inch of your 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 means they have more muscle, inch for inch and will look thicker and fuller. In open competition, a man 5’8 (let alone 5’10), should ideally be at least 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.

natural new jerse bodybuilding 1st pl lightweight

Here is a (very old) photo of me at 20 years of age, 5’ feet 8” and 154 lbs. (yes a lightweight!) Today, I just squeeze into the 176 lb middleweight class.

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 back then, 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, which still sits on my shelf to this day! 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 one of those typical Internet “haters” who has nothing better to do than troll forums to criticize others and say that “natural bodybuilders look like swimmers.” To heck with them! Those aren’t the kind of people you listen to. Their (usually anonymous) opinions don’t matter. In fact, those people don’t matter and they know it, which is why they have to knock down others and hide behind screen names.

I got so sick and tired of the caustic, critical mentality that pervades internet bodybuilding forums, that I actually started my own Internet community last year and I hardly ever step into other forums anymore. Do whatever it takes to surround yourself with supportive, positive people and put yourself in a motivating environment. Ignore the negativity and destructive criticism.

On the other hand, definitively take advice and accept honest 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.”

Combine “sensory acuity” with high enough standards and some intellectual honesty, and you will know when you’re ready.

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 to be highly competitive in my division, am I going to skip this competition and work on adding more size, or am I just going to go for it anyway?”

“Is my physique balanced and symmetrical and will I be so shredded that I can beat a bigger guy on conditioning and aesthetics?

“Why am I competing? Am I doing this for myself, for personal improvement and satisfaction; do I even care where I place, or am I dead set on beating everyone else and winning?”

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 always about beating the other guy; if it’s nothing else, bodybuilding competition is great motivation to push yourself to get in the best shape of your life.

To learn more about how the world’s best bodybuilders and fitness models get lean for competition, take a look at my ebook BURN THE FAT, FEED THE MUSCLE

Published on 04 August, 2007


John Matherne said:

Good article Tom. It help me look back at the goals you helped me write down and get motivated. I hit my 3 month goal and need to get working on my 6 month goal. I have taken a little break which seems to have helped in some muscle growth but the BF creeped up a little.

BFFM is a great book and is much more than a fat loss and muscle building book.

Thanks for being my mentor.

Posted on Aug 04, 2007 11:53 AM

Chris said:

Thanks for a good read Tom. I for one agree with you, and I know there are
many others, who prefer to see the natural athlete up on stage. It's a
better look, period!


Posted on Aug 04, 2007 07:54 PM

Wade McNutt said:


Well written, and right on point. As a competitive natural competitor myself I can only agree with everything that you have said. Great article.

If there's one thing I might add it would be if a person is considering doing a show, GET PROFESSIONAL advice as one's first show can be very challenging mentally and emotionally because of all the underlying unknowns.

It also helps to have an objective eye who understands what it takes to look your best. Friends often times have a hard time being completely honest with you and way to many bodybuilders listen to the "half-baked" advise from everyone and anyone who has an opinion.

I have seen so many guys with great physiques fall apart the last few weeks because of "contest voodoo" tactics that bodybuilders often resort to out of desperation, insecurity, and lack of a structured plan.

If one is going to compete. Get a plan, a coach and stick to it no matter what. Once the contest is over you can honestly assess your physique and make adjustments.

It's also important to document the journey so you can compare and learn from it for you next show or just to get in your best shape.

Anyways I could go on... but Tom you said what needed to be said. Well written as only a successful veteran competitor could write.

Posted on Aug 05, 2007 11:35 AM

Matthew said:

Dear Tom

I enjoyed reading your article.

At 40 and relatively new to training with weights, I read your words with interest looking for the door to open that says "your life's not over to look your best."

I think the biggest issue for me is not so much starting weight training later in life, nor not having yet experienced anything less then 13% BF, the biggest issue I have is fear of competing.

Body building is very competitive / comparative and to get out there thinking you've done your best (which may be true) but finding that you may not stack up against others is huge. I know now that physically I don't have the body yet.

I would like to think I can achieve a competitive body, though I am finding that I have to read your book over and over and every time something jumps out that opens possibilities, and that is like starting all over.
To be honest there are so many holes in my nutritional/training education.

The bottom line is. Some of us are training in faith that we will get there. Faith because we have not yet achieved it. But until one realises that it is or not possible, then options seem so far away. But I will not quit until I have tried... almost everything ;)

Hats off to all competitors!

Posted on Aug 05, 2007 05:29 PM

JC said:

Wow! You even looked good at 20! :)

Great work Tom!

Posted on Aug 05, 2007 07:55 PM

Matt said:

Great article Tom. You look shredded in that photo of you in your 20's.

Posted on Aug 06, 2007 01:23 AM

aidil said:

Hi Tom thanks, it's good read..

to prepare all of body for competition is not enough without feel confidence. i rarely seen others who don't proud of their body althought it seems usual.

after i read your article it makes me know more what i have to prepare


Posted on Jan 25, 2008 07:23 AM

Pretty said:

Tom that was an amazing read! I'min awe of how much you are pouring out in such a practical and understandable way! And you look hot at 20!

Tom I was wondering though if you know how an aspiring figure/fitness competetor could apply these principles?

Do you know any all natural female have beens that I could reference on the net for some female competetion specific info?

Kind Regards

Posted on Feb 01, 2009 02:42 AM

tom venuto said:

thanks pretty!. check out janet Marsico for info on figure and fitness. She has a site at and you can read my interview with her at:

train hard and expect success!


Posted on Feb 01, 2009 12:04 PM

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