Eric Helms is a pro natural bodybuilder, raw powerlifter and a coach at 3D Muscle Journey. He is based in Auckland, New Zealand.
Even for a natural bodybuilder I am not the biggest guy. But I have beaten bigger guys on stage because once they stand up there they have no idea how to pose or present to the judges just how big they are.
Bodybuilding is about being big and ripped and if you can present yourself to look as big and ripped as possible you will do very well. There may be guys backstage who dwarf you, but if you know how to present your physique better, then you might just beat them.
You can take two guys, with exactly the same height, stage weight, muscle mass, body-fat percentage, everything. For all intents and purposes they are identical. But one knows how to showcase his physique and the other doesn’t. Put them next to each other on stage and go through their routine and they will look completely different. There will be no comparison, the one who can properly display his physique will win hands down. So knowing how to pose really does make that big a difference.
In fact, for a competitive bodybuilder I would say that learning how to pose on the stage is as important as knowing how to train and knowing how to eat for the stage.
Our eyes are always drawn to certain points when we look at any object. The same is true when looking at a physique. And that point is the waist. Besides getting shredded, there’s nothing you can do about the size of your waist, no amount of training or dieting can change your bone structure. But you can create the illusion of a smaller waist by increasing the appearance of what’s around it.
In bodybuilding this requires knowing how to fully showcase your lats, delts and your quad sweep to create the impression that your waist isn’t as big as it is. Now, this isn’t only a question of making your delts, lats and your quads bigger, though of course muscle size is always key, but also knowing how to stand and pose to bring these muscles out.
You are not being judged by a set of computers that work out muscle circumference, body fat mass, lean muscle mass, shoulder to hip ratio or any other objective criteria, but by a panel of human beings with subjective – and sometimes biased – opinions. The way you present yourself on stage determines how you will be judged. If you are obviously nervous, or can’t maintain your poses, or look like you have no control over your muscles, then the judges aren’t going to want to reward you.
You need to be on stage and look like you belong there. You need to smile and show that you love being a bodybuilder. You need to make it look easy. Shaking like a leaf and looking for the exit because you can’t wait to eat a bowl of pasta – even if that is the case – just won’t cut it.
You want to memorable. I competed in one very large show in my first season and there were 23 people in the novice middleweights. Each call out only had about five minutes to go through the poses in front of the judges. In a show that big you have to find a way to stand out from the crowd if you want to get noticed and want to be rewarded. Because you can’t get judged if you don’t get seen.
Ripped and relaxed
Looking relaxed when you’re posing is also a great way to stand out, even if you don’t feel relaxed in the slightest. Posing is very, very difficult. But you want to make it look easy. A great way to do this is never pose at 100%, but at 90% to 95% instead. The appearance of muscles contracted at 90% vs 100% is identical, but putting out max effort can change the expression on your face and make your body shake so it seems you are struggling to hold it all together.
This becomes more important the longer you have to pose. Pre-judging in some competitions can last 30 minutes. That is a long time to be posing. If someone tells you that there’s no performance aspect to bodybuilding try doing isometric contractions for half an hour.The point is the way you present yourself is as important as everything else. If six days out you ask your prep coach ‘what are the mandatory poses’ then you have a big problem. Regularly practicing your posing is essential.
Just as you make adjustments to your training based on how you look, you also need to make adjustments to your posing based on feedback. Taking photos is good. Taking videos is better. It’s more relevant to what you’re going to have to do on stage than photos. On stage, you have to make transitions between poses and you’re seen the entire time, not just once you hit a shot, so use video to see how the poses and the transitions look together. Anyone can spend 15 minutes trying to set up the perfect photo, but a video will highlight absolutely every element of your routine and what’s good and what’s not so good so you know what you need to work on.
Practice each pose until you’ve mastered them individually, then work on holding them for as long as possible, then work on how you transition between them as smoothly and impressively as you can. And I don’t mean doing a huge flourish between poses, but rather maintaining your position between poses to maximise the appearance of size and symmetry and leanness. Video allows you to see the transitions and also it shows the aspect of time. That’s another limitation with photos – you only have to hold the pose for a second or two tops. With a video you have to get good at holding each position far longer.
Bodybuilding is about as subjective as a sport gets, and I can’t tell you how to do the perfect pose because there is no such thing. Every body is different so there are different methods of highlighting your strengths and minimising your weaknesses. There are key points though. Pose in a way that minimises waist size and maximises your shoulder-to-waist ratio and your quad-to-waist ratio. How you do this is different for everyone, but the principle is the same.
One final bit of advice is don’t start your posing practice if you aren’t yet lean. If you’re still carrying a lot of body fat you will start adjusting your posing to make you look leaner. You’ll flex your abs when you should be expanding your rib cage, and you’ll exhale and twist when you should be inhaling and straight.
You could spend hours making yourself look better, but when the time comes and you’re shredded, those poses will no longer be the best for you. When you’re shredded, you don’t need to manipulate your posing to look shredded, it’s apparent. Instead, you’ll need to manipulate your posing to look big and to highlight your symmetry. Don’t develop bad habits by practicing posing until you’re ready, perhaps when you are 12 weeks out and starting to look the part. If you do practice posing when you’re still out of shape, remember, don’t tweak it to bring out definition: pose to highlight the X frame and V taper, and remember the waist!