Thinking of Competing? Nancy Noreman Talks Budget!


By Nancy Noreman

How much does it cost to compete in your first amateur physique show? In the beginning, ignorance is bliss, but it can cost you!  Spending big bucks won’t guarantee you the winning trophy, and there are ways to cut expenses, especially when you are beginning your competition journey.

You can spend as little as $500 or as much as $10,000 on your first show!

This is where knowledge is power. Just because you can afford some of the luxuries of competition prep, doesn’t mean that you need them. No one who is seasoned at this will tell you to dive in and spend crazy money when you start out.  People will tell you to spend wisely and ask questions of those you trust who have traveled these roads before you. You may be pleasantly surprised when you reach out to top competitors. The IFBB pros, especially, are happy to provide words of wisdom and tips on how to save some money.

The following is based on a 12-week prep for a figure competitor in the NPC. Contest preps last from as little as eight weeks to as long as 24, but the average is 12 to 16 weeks.

Expense Checklist: What You Need and What You Don’t

Join the NPC—a Must! In order to compete in the NPC, you must be a member. The fee is currently $125. (I pay more for girl scouts. Just sayin’.)    Go to for information on divisions, rules, membership, and other info regarding NPC competitions.

Entry fee—a must! It costs approximately $100 to $125 per class to compete in a show.  You can enter as many classes as you want. If you are unsure of which division you belong in, it’s a good idea to try different ones to see where you fit the best. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the show promoter while completing your first registration form. The promoters are happy to assist you.  (Note that you can compete as a novice until you win a novice overall title. So check off as many boxes as you can when you register to get the most out of your competition diet and training.)

Posing suit and heels—a must! As a figure competitor, you can pay anywhere from $100 to $1,200 for your posing suit and from $50 to $400 for your heels. Why so much variation? The answer is in the materials. With suits, a lot of the cost is due to crystals and the labor it takes to apply them. If money is a concern, you can borrow a suit or buy a used one from another competitor. You can find a suit for $200 if you search. You can also rent suits. Just remember that it’s much easier to adjust the bottom of a suit than the top. You can always bring a larger suit down, but you cannot make a smaller suit bigger.  Another option is to buy a plain suit and sew on the crystals. You must be resourceful to save money.

Hair and makeup—a luxury. Being able to do your own hair and makeup is an obvious way to keep your budget down, but you must take the time to research how to do it. You definitely want to learn how to apply lashes and stage makeup correctly.

If someone else is going to do your hair and/or makeup, make sure that person understands stage makeup. At most shows, makeup artists will be at the venue or the host hotel. They will be seasoned and a good choice, but book early. Having your hair and makeup done for a one-day event will run $100 to $300. You also want to have a backup plan. I know how to do it myself, just in case, and I strongly advise that you be prepared to do the same.

Posing coach—a luxury. This is a relatively new development in the world of physique competition, and it’s a very good thing. I highly recommend that you invest in learning to pose correctly, and then practice, practice, practice on your own—weekly posing sessions for the full 12 weeks, if you can swing it. You can find classes for $25 to $40 and privates ranging from $50 to $125. If you want to cut costs on a private, find a friend and turn it into a semiprivate. Just make sure you choose a coach whose posing you admire.

Tip:  nother way to cut costs is to barter. If you’re good at makeup or hair, and someone else knows posing, swap it out. Or if you have a suit to exchange for something, swap that out.

Tanning—a must! There is zero excuse for an ugly tan. Don’t skimp here and try to do it yourself. It may turn out streaky, especially if you haven’t done it before. If you are not dark enough, with even color, your hard work will not be showcased properly.  If you have someone competent to do your tan, the product will cost about $15 a bottle. You should have at least two bottles for a show, three to be safe.  A professionally applied tan will cost $100 to $200. Nowadays, the local tanning salons offer competition tans. Plus, there’s always a tanning specialist at the show.

Trainer—a luxury. You have to train somewhere, so let’s not forget your gym membership. The average cost is $60 per month, and many people pay annually to save money.  If you choose to have a trainer, he or she will run $50 to $100 per session.  – This is where you have to consider what you can afford. Do you really need a trainer? Is your trainer also your coach? A coach is someone who writes your training and nutrition program to bring you in for your contest. (A nutritionist is another level altogether.) Most good trainers in the industry can bring you in for a first-time show. Still, you want to keep it basic—no tricky manipulations.

You can cut back here if you know how to train properly and are self-motivated. A good idea is to get a training partner—it costs nothing and you can help each other for free.

Prep coach—a luxury. If you go this route, you want a seasoned person who understands diet, nutrition, competition and all the details necessary to help you make changes in your program, as needed. The fee can range from $100 to $300 per month. Usually, the first month is more, or there is a total cost for the 12 weeks. So figure at least $1,200 for a good coach. You may want to save this for the next time, after you see if competition is for you.

Travel expenses—a must! How much will it cost you to get to your show? Do you need to stay overnight? You can cut costs here, but, again, this is your big day. If check-ins are early—or on Friday—and the venue is more than an hour away from your home, the last thing you want to do is drive. The promoters do a great job of arranging for a good hotel at reasonable rates, usually about $125 a night. The rooms sell out quickly, however, so book early. Again, I advise going in with a roommate. You will not only cut costs but also have a partner to go through the process with.

Food-prep service—a luxury.  This recent—and pretty cool­—addition to the competition world can run about $40 a day for all your meals. You can save by ordering only your travel meals or the meals that you find harder to prep yourself.

Note that I have not included any protein powder or supplement costs here. (Check out Digital Muscle’s Supplement Blog for useful supplement reviews).


Bargain Basement Bottom Line

  • You have to join the NPC.
  • You have to pay the registration fee(s).
  • You have to travel to the show.
  • Prepare your own food.
  • Train with a partner.
  • Get a moderately inexpensive posing suit, and add your own crystals, if you can’t borrow one.
  • Find a posing coach for every other week, or attend posing classes every week and splurge for two or three privates before your show.
  • If you have the bucks, consult a respected prep coach.

One of the great things about physique competition is that the judges don’t care how you got to a show—or how much you paid for prep. On the day of the show, everyone is judged the same, and it’s all about who did her homework.

Good luck to all who are competing this season.  And feel free to drop me a note if you have any questions!

More Articles From Nancy Noreman!

Nancy Noreman has been immersed in the fitness industry for more than 25 years.
Her unique perspectives, coming from her experiences as a supplement maker, media host, fitness model, trainer, designer, author and wife to one of the brightest minds in the sport, has made her a keen observer of all facets of the fitness lifestyle. Formerly the owner of Nuclear Nutrition, Nancy is also a judge for the United States Pole Dance Federation (USPDF), as well as a trusted insider on the bodybuilding scene.