Is Competing Right For You | Shaun Stafford

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Is Competing Right For You | Shaun Stafford

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I have been involved in fitness for almost my entire life. 

What started out as a career in semi-professional rugby, quickly turned into a career in coaching after injury struck and left me on the side-lines. 

This lead me down the path of personal training and strength & conditioning, until I lost a bet with a work colleague and ended up entering a physique show.

Little did I know that losing that bet would be so life-changing. Within 18 months I had won a British, European and World Championships Title as a professional physique athlete and had started my journey into competitive fitness modelling.

Fast forward 5 years, and I am lucky enough to work with and be an international spokes model for some of the biggest brands in The World, whilst running and managing a team of over 20 of The UK’s best PTs in my central London facility, City Athletic.

So, when it comes to fitness, I may know a thing or two (or three), and I love helping others on their journey too!

Is Competing Right For You?

When I meet people at expos or in gyms, one of the questions I get asked the most is about competing. People want to know if it is something that will help them gain exposure, develop a better physique, or make them a better trainer… they also want to know if it is something that they should consider getting in to as a way of launching their own fitness career.

Now this is something that I will be completely honest about… Competing is not for everyone! Here is why-

The Upsides.

Competing is hard- it takes considerable dedication over a long period of time. This isn’t the pursuit of the “get abs in 6 weeks’ crowd”, because of this, it can be an extremely valuable process to go through.

It will test you. It will push you. 

As the mantra says, “there are no short cuts to anywhere worth going” and “nothing good comes easy”! 

If you are a little lost with your training (as I was before I started competing), it gives you a great opportunity to work towards something. A date in time… an event that you will be part of.

In short, in a certain number of weeks, you will be onstage in hot-pants or a bikini in front of a couple of hundred people, with some of your family and friends cheering you on, battling it out with other fitness competitors to see who is the best on that day.

If this doesn’t motivate you to not skip workouts, or to put down that jam doughnut, I don’t know what will.

Competing is a great way to add a real focus to your training and dieting, to unleash the competitive nature inside of you: if not to beat the other guys or girls onstage, then just to bring the best version of yourself on that given day.

As I said earlier, it is tough and it will push you… but, if you come out the other side having given your best, it is an incredibly rewarding journey. You will not only learn a shed ton about training, nutrition and how to push your body (and that of your clients if you are a trainer), but also how to tap into the inner strength and mental fortitude that you need to succeed at something you have set your mind to.

It can also give you a great platform for exposure. When I started out, social media was fairly new, but it allowed people to follow my journey, as I was consistent in posting my workouts and updates. People found it motivated them, and in return, that motivated me.

I worked harder to provide good content for the people who took time out of their day to comment and like my page. I had soon built up an online community of over a million people on Facebook alone.

Now, I’m not saying this happened purely because I was competing, but I think my journey to the stage (and how I progressed as a Pro Fitness Model), was a big factor. If you use it in the right way, it can be an incredibly powerful and motivational story for people to engage with.


The Downsides.

Now, for every plus point, there is always a demerit… and for every silver lining, unfortunately there must be a few clouds. Competing is no different.

For every new champion, there will always be scores of people who are disappointed to have not walked away as the winner. That is competitive life, and if you are not great at losing, chances are you will not get what you want from the competing process. 

Unfortunately, it can bring out the worst in people; the test of a true winner is not how they act in victory, but how they respond to defeat, and this is something you should be aware of before you start. 

It might be 12 weeks of your life that you are dedicating to a show, and we may all want to win, but it is ultimately out of your hands on the day (and rests solely with the show judges). If you are only focussed on the result, rather than enjoying the process and the event, competing might not be for you.

Also, as I mentioned a little earlier on, competing is hard. It is tough. It is also hard and tough on those around you.

Competing is a fundamentally selfish past time in my opinion: you need to do what is best for you and your physique in the run up to a show. This will probably mean missing a few date nights with BAE, saying no to hanging out with your friends to ensure you get in those extra cardio sessions, or having to sit out more than one family meal, so you can eat out of a Tupperware box, whilst watching YouTube videos of your favourite Gymshark athletes for motivation.

In order to be successful, and get in the shape you need to win a show (if that is your motivation), you will become pretty unsociable. You will probably have more than one falling out with your nearest and dearest over this, so make sure you get everyone onside before you really get stuck into it. 

Having a support network around you of people who “get” what you are doing is essential, and the social sacrifices you will have to make must be understood. Again, if you don’t think you can be selfish enough to sacrifice your social life for a few months of hard training and dieting, competing probably isn’t for you.

Lastly, and this is not something that is often talked about (if at all) by the competing community… but, if you have a slightly obsessive personality with how you look, around your relationships with food, or with how hard and regularly you exercise, you need to seriously think if competing is going to be healthy for you.

Competing and getting into “competition shape” often involves a lot of control and routine to sculpt and craft your physique over your prep. This level of consistency and control around food and exercise can lead to compulsive behaviour and form some disruptive body image issues.

Like some eating disorders and problems with body dysmorphia, the added pressure of competing and the strictness around routines can lead to some unhealthy habits developing. As is often the case, you are the last person to see the warnings.

Now, this certainly isn’t applicable to everyone who steps on stage, and the vast majority of people have a healthy, balanced and successful prep. However, for those people who have the personality traits, it is certainly worth considering and talking to your loved ones and health care advisors about before you start.

To Compete or Not To Compete?

That is the question… 

From a personal point of view, competing has been an amazing experience for me. I have travelled the world, got in to the best shape of my life, met some amazing people, who share the same passions as myself, and took part in some of the biggest and best fitness events ever.

It gave me something to work towards with my training and nutrition. It also gave my followers something to get behind and support me with. I don’t regret a single moment of it, I have loved my time on the stage, and now behind the scenes at the events.

Does that mean it is right for you? Only you can answer that.

If you have thought about it, and it interests you, why not give it a try to see if you like it. If you don’t and it’s not for you, that’s also ok! 

Whatever you do to stay motivated, happy and healthy has got to come from within… whether it is making fitness videos for YouTube, running a Tough Mudder, or taking up Zumba with your mum, however you get your body moving in a way that you enjoy is going to be worthwhile. 

After all, being happy, healthy and active is way more important than any title or plastic medal from a show. If you are enjoying yourself, that is all that matters.

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