Choosing a Figure Competition: Should You Do a Big or Small Show?

Aaah, so you want to do a show!

You’re all pumped up to head to the stage…

Maybe this is your first time, or maybe you’ve done it before, but you’re trying to decide which show is best for you to kick off your season.

I get a lot of clients who wonder is it a better idea to stick to small shows, and often worry if they can be competitive in bigger shows – so they might avoid them altogether.

I always say that you get into this game for a challenge, so never shy away from one.

But nerves and more can determine which kind of show a competitor may want to choose, or even feel ready for.

So let’s take a look right now at the pros and cons of choosing one type of show over the other.

Smaller Shows – Their Pros and Cons

Now, before I go into anything, I should preface things by saying that you can’t really know ahead of time how big (or small a show will be).

If you are familiar with the particular show you are considering, and know that traditionally there’s usually x amount of people that compete in it, then you may be able to predict to a degree what to expect when you step on stage. But never see that as a guarantee, and be prepared to own the stage – no matter who shows up. So now that’s out of the way, let’s discuss the pros of doing smaller shows.

Pro: You Get Your Feet Wet

If you’ve never competed before, you don’t know what to expect – and that in and of itself can be nerve wracking enough. At least if you choose to do a smaller show, you can learn the ropes of the game, and how everything works. It’s much easier to get out there, look crazy (like we ALL do our first time), and not worry about looking like a seasoned pro with smaller shows. You might feel a kind of security in the fact that the line up isn’t too deep, and thus you can focus on what you have to do as you learn about this new sport that you’ve come to love.

Pro: Better Feedback from the Judges

When you’re in a smaller show, it’s a lot easier for the judges to know exactly who you are. So when you go to them and ask for feedback, they can give you a more detailed point of view about what you need to work on. The better the feedback you have, the faster you can improve as an athlete (provided you actually apply those corrections). Feedback is crucial for the development of any athlete, and being seen is an important part of that – and something doing a small show can provide.

Pro: Less Nerves for New Competitors

It’s natural to be nervous! And for new competitors, you want to just focus on having fun. I know that when I see that a show is a bit smaller than I anticipate, even I get a sort of calm over me. And it allows me to focus on the job I have ahead – to simply present my best. For newbies, this is much the same. A smaller show, allows you to just relax, and enjoy the moment. These shows usually move quickly, and by the time you’re up there, you’ll be done in an instant. So more time to relax, make friends, and enjoy the moment without the potential fuss big shows can cause.

Pro: Easy Qualification Points for the National Level

Need to quickly qualify? Well, doing a smaller show is a great way to do that! Here’s the thing, you need to place in the top five at national level shows (within the NPC rules) to qualify to compete at the next level. If you do a show and there’s only 3 of you up there, every single one of you automatically qualify. Boom! You’re in!

Now, this can backfire because let’s say you have 6 or more competitors in your class… Small show or not, if you don’t hit that top 5, you’re out of luck. So make sure that if you try to use this strategy to earn your national level qualification, you STILL bring your best!

Con: You Qualify But You May Not Be Ready

Ok, so let’s say you earn that qulification. Here’s the thing, just because you qualify, it doesn’t mean you’re at all ready to compete at the next level.

Look, I don’t even let some of my seasoned clients step on the national level until they are truly ready. And you shouldn’t be in a rush to either. It’s a better idea for you to focus on building your physique, and becoming a better athlete on the local level BEFORE stepping on the national level.

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I wrote an article about this – and it’s something you really need to check out. My 5 tips for competing on the national level. In it, I talk about some of the things to consider before you step onto that stage. Doing so before you are truly ready can be an experience you regret! So make sure to move on only after you have a few (bigger) shows under your belt.

Con: You Don’t Get To See How You Really Stack Up

Smaller shows are great for getting your face out there, and getting your feet wet. But unfortunately, they don’t really tell you how you really stack up against seasoned competitors.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean a thing to those of you who have no aspirations of taking this beyond your local events. But for those with pro card dreams, this can mean a whole lot. When you finally get to the national level, you WILL see that those girls DO NOT come to play games. Every single one is focused on that coveted card that is only given out to the top 2 or 3 in your height class. And that class CAN have upwards of 30 women in it – OR MORE.

If you stay in those small shows prior to the national level, you don’t get that full experience of being among the best. And that can trip you up in your head once you do experience it for the first time. So make sure to step out and get into those huge shows – especially before you move onto the national level.

Con: You Can Outgrow That Pond

Once you’ve been competing for a while, you start to move up the ladder and place well – if you do your homework and work on your physique. What you might find happening is that in your local shows, you start to win all the time, or at least have decent placings. And that’s great for your  ego, but when it comes to improving as an athlete, it can be detrimental for your long term goals.

At some point, you want to be on stage with those who are on the same level as you. Continually doing small shows don’t present an opportunity for you to grow and challenge yourself. So get out there, get uncomfortable, and make yourself aim higher. No matter what your goal (pro card, or not), it can help you to appreciate how much more work you can do for your physique. And help you to continue to evolve as an athlete.

Bigger Shows: Their Pros and Cons

So now that we’ve discussed the pros and cons of doing smaller shows, let’s take a look at what bigger shows provide. As well as what their potential pitfalls are.

Pro: You Get to Have Some REAL Competition

I’ve always been one to want to do, and embrace, big shows! I love a deep line-up. And I love feeling like if I place well in one, I’ve truly accomplished something great. We got into this sport because we are competitive by nature. So why RUN from the competition? Show up, show off your best, and hope to be rewarded. That’s how this game works. Doing big shows, and doing well in them satisfies your competitive nature. And I really feel it ignites that fire you even more to strive to be better and better.

Pro: It Better Prepares You For the National Level

When you have your eyes set on that pro card, you cannot be afraid of standing next to the best on the local level. These will be some of the same women you will see at the next level. These will be the same women you will likely be matched up against time over time to reach the pro ranks. You want to be familiar with your competition, and know exactly what to expect at that next level.

Bigger shows will often be the practice ground for seasoned national level competitors – particularly as the get ready to do upcoming pro qualifying shows. So even if you aren’t ready to step on the national level stage yet, you get to see what those girls actually look like. And, more importantly, how you compare standing next to them.

You can then use this information to improve yourself, and bring your best when you’re read to move up the ranks.

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Pro: If You Qualify, You May Be Truly Ready to Move Up The Ladder

Getting a national qualification at larger shows can indeed signal that you ARE ready to be competitive at the next level. If you go into a show and beat out 20 to 30 girls in a solid class, you might have a chance to do the same on the national level. Now, keep in mind that’s no GUARANTEE, it’s just an indication that you potentially have what it takes to be truly competitive.

Keep in mind, national level shows are often PACKED with competitors. We’re talking shows with over 1000 competitors EASILY. And with all the divisions in the sport now, it’s not unheard of for national level shows to have 1500 or more competitors showing up from around the country.

When you think of those kind of numbers, it helps you to understand the gravity of what you’re up against. So making sure to be able to handle the pressure is crucial for your success in achieving your competitive goals.

Con: You Can Get Overlooked

This is probably one of the more annoying things about big shows… You can indeed get overlooked! Judges are human, they get tired, they get hungry – they get bored, lol. And some other competitors catch their eye, and that competitor happens to not be you! It’s happened to the best of us. And it sucks when it does, but you move on.

And this is another reason WHY you SHOULD do larger shows. It allows you to truly learn to present yourself in a way to stand out on stage – and do it in a good way. You learn about how to make those judges LOOK UP and see you. And that can only be a major positive, particularly if you plan to move onto the national level.

Con: It’s Much Harder to Nationally Qualify

Finally, doing bigger shows does indeed make it much harder to qualify. Remember, only the top 5 in each class will earn a national level qualification. And you absolutely cannot control where you place. It’s just out of your hands. So you go out there, you try your luck, and you simply see what happens. That’s just the way this game works!

However, if you happen to qualify here – at a big show – you can better rest assured that you are ready to move onto the next level with greater confidence.

Here’s The Major Takeaway…

There are pros and cons for each show – big or small. And really only you can decide what’s right for you. There have been plenty of competitors who do well on the national level who got there by way of doing smaller shows. Conversely, there are competitors who may have qualified at larger shows, but go their asses handed to them on the national level. The MOST important thing is that you get what works FOR YOU out of this game, no matter what size show you choose.

Need Some More Help About Choosing a Figure Competition? Get My Best Contest Prep Tips to Help You Prepare for Your Next Show – For Free!

I absolutely love sharing my knowledge, and helping other competitors to succeed at this game that we all love. The truth of the matter is that there is more than one way to skin a cat, and more than one way to prep for a show.

Despite all of that, there is STILL a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to contest prep. So I want to just help you out and share some of my best tips and advice to get you on the right path to top 5 success – All Science/NO BS.

Download my free eBook, Contest Prep Crash Course! In it, I share some easy to apply and understand tips that you need to consider before embarking on your next show prep. I’ll also share with you the same advice I give to my clients when it comes to deciding what you next steps should be when you get off of that stage – and everything in between.

It’s time you start to get ready for your show – the right way! And I’m here to help you out.


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