So you finally got here, your first major competition. All that hardwork, all those sacrifices are now heading towards competing with other fitness enthusiast. This is a major milestone and probably your most important competition as it will set the tone for you expectations for years to come. 12 weeks out and you start to feel the emotions running through your veins and start to get many ideas on how to be ready for the big day. Here are some basics to keep in mind in order to be well prepared with no unwanted surprises.

Define you competition goal

This is the best starting point for your first major competition. What would you ideally want to achieve? What would you realistically want to achieve? You need to be objective about this and consider that you cannot massively improve your body just before competition. Sure you can make small improvements with certain diets and exercises, but your overall tone is already set. Keep this in mind when deciding your goals, make a plan and stick to it.

Don`t try any new stuff

Our desire is what`s pushing us towards competing. Make sure we keep it positive and don`t allow it to take over our rationale. Don`t bring some crazy new exercises in your routine. Actually you should only train with exercises that make you feel that you have the total control over the biomechanics of the movements. There are so many variations for each exercise that we can`t even remember them all.

Take the classic bench press for example. Variations include: flat press, incline, decline, reverse grip press, hands close together, hands apart, lowering the bar, elevating the bar, etc. If you only worked with these exercises make sure you stick to them pre-competition. Don`t add any chains or band to your bench press just because you heard it`s better because of the extra resistance. “Muscle memory” is real; make sure you use it to stay away from injuries.

Avoid huge amounts of cardio

So many fitness competitors fall under this category. When they realize they are not as defined as they should be they suddenly go on drastic cardio training. They run every day, sometimes for hours in a single session. This is totally new to their bodies. All those extra muscles are only going to put extra pressures on ligaments and knees. You don`t want to be limping on competition day.

Make a calculated weight loss plan. Decrease calorie intake and gradually increase cardio. Don`t starve yourself either. Going through extremes will only damage your body and will lower you immune system on the long term. No competition is worth losing your health for. Baby steps are best for this period.

Keep your diet in place

One major factor that will either give you a boost or make you stagnate is pre-competition diet. So many fitness competitors overlook this aspect that on competition day they fell terrible. You should avoid eating foods that give you crazy amounts energy because that will make you stay in the gym longer and increase injury risks. Avoid high caffeine and taurine supplements and make sure you get enough quality rest. Discuss you diet with a trainer or unbiased professional. Sometimes getting another opinion can balance our own views on the perfect pre-competition diet.

Write everything down

Although you may already be doing this as you are on the brink of the competition you need to write everything down. Write what you ate and what you drank and how it made you feel that day. Some foods can influence our mental well-being. Don`t believe it? Where have you seen someone sad or depressed after eating a raw lemon? Write down your weekly routine. Count your sets, reps, number the intensity on a 1 to 10 scale and write it down. Time you sets and take notes. You are doing all of this to benefit your body. If you are asking for a second opinion it makes things so much easier when you have the hard evidence in front of your eyes. “This is what I`ve done, should I continue or change it up”?

Work hard and rest hard

All this work and stress will eventually make you feel more tired. Make sure you have enough sleep every night with no distractions. A cooler room is scientifically proven to provide a better sleeping experience than a warmer one. Make sure you go on a few walks each week as the competition approaches. It will give you the chance to think things over and relax with some fresh air. Talk to your friends and family and listen to their problems. This is a good trick to get your mind off your own problems and focus on bigger issues.

Your first competition has a major psychological impact on you. Realize this but don`t take it to any extremes by going too soft or too hard on training. Have a clear goal in mind and make a daily plan to reach it. Don`t try new exercises that have greater injury risks and stick to what you proved already worked for your body. Avoid overdoing cardio and focus on having good overall muscle balance by addressing your weaker points for better definition. And in the end if you are unsure about any of this, just write it down and speak to a trainer or a professional.

Words by Dan Chabert

Writing from Copenhagen, Denmark, Dan is an entrepreneur, husband and ultramarathon distance runner. He spends most of his time on Runnerclick, GearWeAre, TheGearHunt & FightingReport and he has been featured on runner blogs all over the world.