Being a bikini competitor is almost the new norm for anyone who wants to take their fitness dedication to the next level. On local and national stages, their divisions are taking over -- sometimes with 30 to 45 girls in each 6 height classes. Almost everyone is either a competitor, training to become one, or contemplating giving it a shot. What people don’t realize is that preparing for a bodybuilding show is tough. It's serious business and the last word I would use to describe it is "easy." It is, without a doubt, one of the most challenging things I have ever mentally, emotionally and physically done, but after competing in five shows myself, I can confidently assure you it's equally one of the most rewarding. It's worth it. It really is. But before you get excited about the sparkling swimsuits, high heels, tan skin, and hot bod you're about to have, take a listen. You need to read this first.

Before you decide to take the plunge, you need to objectively and realistically evaluate why you want to compete.

I highly recommend not competing if you simply want to “look good” and be “skinny.” Because contrary to popular belief, that “hot” body is yours for approximately one day. Months of dieting, weight lifting, and double cardio sessions just to look your best for one day. I'm not kidding -- one day. Before you know it, the show will be over, you’ll enjoy a few post-show cheat meals and those chiseled abs and bicep veins will disappear. The body you have on show day is not maintainable, so don't expect it to stick around. It won't.

You have to come into this world (yes, the bodybuilding community is something of itself) with more of a purpose -- or else you’re going to find excuse after excuse to give up and give in to your cravings and exhaustion when your show is over. Your body will be changing, and your muscle-defining tan fades to a blotchy, reptile-like appearance, and your perfect show day makeup is wiped off. Plummeting self-image, body dysmorphia, binge eating disorder tendencies, and post-show depression are common once you survive your first season of competing and transition into your off-season. These things are real and more athletes suffer from them than you'd think.

To compete, you should be sound with yourself and everything you are and aren't. You have to be accepting and loving of your body in all stages and forms. Your worth is not equivalent to your physique. You are more than just your degree of leanness or a plastic trophy. If you haven’t found acceptance and self-love, I recommend continuing to train, building muscle, and working on yourself. It's not your time. The stage isn't going anywhere.

So when you think you’re ready to compete, be real with yourself. Are you ready? Are you actually ready for this rollercoaster? Are you ready for the mental and emotional battles you’re about to face? The selfishness it requires? The self-control you’ll be forced to develop? The pressure you’ll put on yourself to succeed? Are you ready for the constant second-guessing? The doubt? Are you ready to commit your time and energy for months on end for one day? For 30 seconds on a stage? To be judged solely on your appearance? Are you ready to climb mountains and dig ditches to better yourself on every level?

Think about your “why.” Find it. Search for it, and make sure it’s good. Decide if competing is right for you for where you are in your life. It’s not for everyone. But when you decide to take that leap of faith, make it through your first bodybuilding prep to the stage, and feel the hot lights beaming down on you, you’ll understand why your “why” matters so much. Competing changed my life, and it can change yours. But know that once you start, you probably can't stop. Thankfully, you won't want to.