Body Conquest Articles | Physique Transformation Competitions

on Tuesday, 16 April 2013. Posted in Training

Physique Transformation Contests-Good or Bad, Real or Fake?


Physique transformation competitions have been around for a while now. Their popularity doesn't appear to be waning, and indeed the sophistication of the competition rules and regulations is increasing. Whilst they have their merits, they also have their pitfalls. There is no doubt that they can be the catalyst for spectacular results, but is it all what it appears in those "after" photos? Where is the physique transformation contest now headed and why?

I can recall the first 8 Week transformation contest. It was organised and run by Bill Phillips from the United States and he used his now defunct magazine "Muscle Media 2000" as the vehicle through which to advertise this new kind of competition. Bill was also the owner of EAS a supplement company and naturally consumption of EAS products were touted as one of the keys to successfully completing the competition. In August/September 1993 issue he announced the first ever physique championship that pitted competitiors directly against themselves, instead of against the musculature of another athlete on stage.

1156 people from all walks of life entered that contest, and during the course of 8 weeks they made some incredible changes. Winners were judged on their overall level of improvement taking all considerations into mind, such as adversities overcome. The contest was open to everyone-young, old, athlete, non-athlete, male, female, everyone. Due to the overwhelming success of this contest, the second "Best Shape of Your Life" was announced for 1994.

The first annual Body for Life competition was held in 1996. It was then called the "EAS Grand Spokesperson Challenge". Entrants had to take 'before' and 'after' photos. The time period was extended from 8 weeks to 12 weeks. Contestants also had to write about their experience of the program, and explain how it had "changed their life", and the more emotive the better. By memory, I think I am right in saying that Bill offered the first place getter a brand new lambourghini diablo coupe. Prizes vary each year, but in 2005 the first prize was $1,000,000! Not bad for doing something that ultimately improves your health, appearance, vitality and quality of life.

David Kuykendall won the first MET-Rx/Muscle Media 2000 "Best Shape of Your Life". In June 29 1993 his body fat was 16.7%. 8 weeks later August 24, his body fat was 8.9% and he had the photos to prove it! David wrote a top 10 list recounting how he had achieved those outstanding results.


10. Worked each body part once a week

9. Trained to failure on every set

8. Took every other day off from weight training

7. Did 45 minutes of aerobics five times a week

6. Ate 6 meals a day, alternating protein intake daily from 1.3 grams to 1.7 grams per pound of bodyweight

5. Alternated carb intake daily from 250 grams to 310 grams

4. Kept fat intake to only 7% of calorie intake

3. Kept calorie intake at about 2500, but varied it daily to keep metabolism off balance.

2. Took ephedrine, caffeine and aspirin stack twice daily (ephedrine was legal in the USA at this stage)

1. Believed in my heart that I was going to dramatically change my body in only 8 weeks and win.[1]

As you can see, on many accounts, not much has changed with the basics in the past 15 odd years. Many of the traditional principles of bodybuilding will always remain the crux of astonishing transformations. Certainly we as bodybuilders have been aware of these training and nutritional strategies, but one of the good things to come out of these body challenges is that the public are starting to understand them also....they are starting to "get it". "It" being the fact that weight training is so much more than "being a bodybuilder", it is about retaining youthfulness, strength, discipline, power. "It "is about warding off disease, illness, poor health, and "it" is about how to manage body fat levels, and to fuel their bodies with nutritious, tasty foods that empower their physiques, not detract from it.

Mind you with the advent of that first "Best Shape of Your Life" competition there were many detractors and Bill Phillips had his fair share of hate mail and bagging. Those that classified themselves as "hardcore bodybuilders" and failed to see what Phillips was trying to achieve went "off their dial" at his promotion of the competition:

"real bodybuilders don't need a "prize to go to the gym and bust their ass everyday...only a pussy wannabe bodybuilders would even be interested in your stupid promotion.....Your amateur-hour skit is another example of what's wrong with bodybuilding these days......the wimp that can't get massive without a "prize" should save himself years of misery, do us all a favour, and just get out of the sport"......[2]

What this cynical heckler didn't get was that the contest wasn't ever about replacing bodybuilding or running a less prestigious "Mr Olympia":

"Real bodybuilders compete in bodybuilding contest with only one goal- to win the Mr Olympia title", [3]

or even necessarily targeting bodybuilders, it was about promoting everyone from any background to transform their physiques to the best of their capabilities in a pre-determined time-frame. Another way to look at it is that people who try to build the best bodies that they can, day in and day out, for the most part with little hope of recognition and financial reward are often the backbone of our sport and deserve to be rewarded in some way. This was also partly what Phillips set out to achieve.

Since Bill Phillips and the Body for Life program there have been numerous physique transformation challenges. Indeed this very magazine has been running a very successful "Body Blitz" competition for a number of years and has produced contestants with simply outstanding results and dramatic changes. Ironman's sister magazine "Women's Health and Fitness" also run the Body Blitz and the winners results have propelled thousands of people to take up the challenge of transforming their entire lives.

What is it about these challenges that are so appealing? Is it the prizes, the nature of the competition, the results, or a combination of all three? I think being in a "competition" and having a set time frame promotes the urgency for people to respond to. It has been said that it is "only when we are under tremendous pressure do we achieve our greatest accomplishments in life". Bodybuilding and related goals often get a low priority sometimes in people's lives, and if they don't have competitive stage aspirations-there are no deadlines-and that's why some people decide to do these contests-to push themselves to the max.

The result is the ultimate quest,(a fabulous and fit'n healthy body) and I suspect that any prizes are merely the cream on top. I mean, in these types of contests everyone is a winner because they have all made habitual changes within their lifestyle and all look appreciably different at the end of the 12 weeks. The "before and after" photos are incredibly compelling. The very fact that these people are perceived to be "just ordinary people" doing extraordinary things makes the 84 day journey very doable.

Recently a new type of physique transformation has emerged. Created by Australian fitness celebrity Adam Waters, a glance at the contest rules reveals that The Real Time Physique (RTP) Body Transformation Contest goes far beyond transformational contests like "Body for Life" or the current television program "The Biggest Loser" in both documentation and transparency. This transformation contest has an incredible "accountability" system within it that encourages daily compliance to one's fitness goals. Adam is known as an accountability coach and is regarded by many as the Internet's most successful fitness blogger with 4 million you tube views for his transformation video. You should go to you tube and watch it; it is quite remarkable and incredibly inspirational.

Interestingly, Adam is the first to state that he has more "before" photo's than you can poke a stick at, enough to "fill a whole photo album". He had many attempts and many failures before he came up with this whole accountability system, although he did achieve some success with the Body for Life program. The problem was exactly what I will discuss a little further on in this feature.....he didn't stick with the new habits, and went back to his old, unhealthy self.

Tom Venuto, the co-promoter of the contest, states: 'You will be held accountable for your actions - your training, your nutrition and your lifestyle - every day, like never before.' And he is right. Contestants are required to document in blog form their daily progress and upload photos every single day of their 84 day contest. They also have to grade themselves daily, for example they given themselves 6 points for each meal consumed on time, of the right sources. So their daily score is out of 10 and then they have an accumulated score and cumulative % compliance. You must retain at least 91% compliance. Sure, you can cheat.....but as Adam states...."Photo's don't lie".

Both Waters and Venuto strongly believe health and fitness success begins and ends with the right mindset. For example, they believe it's essential to create a positive, empowering "frame" that inspires both action and results. Venuto and Waters are both fans of the influence of semantics.  That's partly why Waters went against popular convention and refused to call his contestants "fatbloggers" or "big losers.'.....(who wants to be any kind of loser??). Instead, they are known as shredders. This is very likely to be the new era of 12 week transformations and it has been likened to the web 2.0 for your body. So, will a photo a day keep the fat at bay? I am unsure, but will sure as heck be watching both the outcome and the feedback of this revolutionary contest.

There has never been a "real time" accountability body transformation competition in the history of the fitness industry. So for anyone who has tried to make over their body in the past with disappointing results or for anyone who failed to complete a 12-week fitness challenge competition in the past, (and I know that there are hundreds if not thousands who have), this accountability factor - where your trainers, mentors and fellow contest "shredders" hold you to your training and nutrition commitments - will be the motivational leverage that could make all the difference next time round.

Personal trainers and bodybuilders have used before and afters for years as "social proof" of how they can transform other people's physiques. Obviously this is for business reasons to garner new clients, but again, it shows the compelling nature of the "after" photos. Interestingly, now there is actually a systemised Complete Body Transformation System titled "Metabolic Precision" that is being sold to personal trainers to enable them to deliver results to all clients over a period of 12 weeks. It is the first of it's kind in the world and is science driven and research proven, which makes it a terrific system. The popularity of this program in its infancy highlights the drawcard of the complete alteration to one's physique. It also promotes a "new normal", which offsets the potential crises at the end of the 12 weeks, by encouraging the repetition of the new habits daily, forever. Although not in itself a competition with rules, regulations and prizes, in many ways it promotes a competition within each person who completes the program with a checklist and many accountability tasks within the program to foster compliance to the fundamentals.


What are the pitfalls of completing 12 Week transformation contests? Cynics may have cited that these "before's and after's" aren't real, or that lots of steroids and fat burning drugs have been used in the process. Even nowadays people question whether the results in publications are real. We now know with 100% certainty that we can change our shape from something that is average or even less than average, to a 'hard to believe', walking, talking depiction of health and fitness. You can do astonishing things in 84 days. Drug free!

Of course there are little tips and tricks that you can do to heighten the difference of the before and after photo. That's undeniable You can present your before photo with a dodgy hairstyle (or no style at all!), stark, white skin, an unflattering bikini or posing trunks, minus the make-up, and really poor posture. Conversely, you can get a tan, wear a dazzling pair of bathers, stand up tall, crack a stunning smile, with hair and make-up professionally done to create the "wow" factor of the after photo. Of course these tips will create a visually different picture.

So, the pitfalls? Well, mainly the same things you need to be aware of when you go "on a diet". Essentially, to complete an amazing make-over you have obviously been required to make amazing changes to your daily habits. If at the end of 84 days you revert back to your previous habits, its only logical that your body is going to revert back to the same old, unhealthy, fat physique that it used to be. If you are going to make the decision to partake in one, embrace the fact that these new changes will need to be life-long, for a long life.

Unfortunately many people do exactly this, and don't maintain the frequent eating, the protein intake, the drinking of water, the moderation of sugar and unhealthy fats, the weight training/cardio and return to their previous weight. The main problem with that apart from the obvious health implications is that it perpetuates that sense of failure that usually accompanies diets. Whereas in fact the contest should be used as a catalyst to forever employing these nutritional and weight training strategies on a permanent basis. Until people are willing to accept that optimal health and peak performance as well as maintenance of a desirable body composition takes a daily commitment on a permanent basis, there are going to be people that slide back to their former poor, unhealthy selves.

If you are truly prepared to step outside your comfort zone, and embrace new habits, and say goodbye to old ones, then you are ready for a physique transformation challenge. Just keep it in mind that the new habits you adopt are to be maintained life-long, not just for 84 days. These contests are "physique championships" that offers everyone a chance to "compete." The motivation the contest offers and the personal challenge and rewards of improving your personal health, as well as your physical and mental fitness is fantastic. Everyone is a winner because everyone finishes in better shape than when they begun.