[see Part 1 here if you missed it]
So, in my head, this is the view I would have.
Close enough to smell the oil. Close enough to hear her exhalations. Close enough to see individual muscle fibres twitching. Close enough, you might say, to feel the heat.
I'd be close enough (and centre enough) for her to see me.
She'd sense my excitement, revel in it. Her eyes would bore into mine, transporting me suddenly to a place where it was just her and me and every pose, every movement, every twitch of those muscle fibres was solely for my own personal pleasure.
In my head, the film plays out in exactly the HD detail familiar from years of pouring over contest galleries on FTVideo and the work of Igor Kopcek of Eastlabs fame.
But what's it really like to attend a show?
I'm not, it seems, the only head who's wondering. This, or a similar question, crops up more often than you might think on the forums and, again perhaps unexpectedly - especially on the forum whose first rule is... - those who regularly or irregularly do so are very candid about their experiences and generous with their advice.
There's good news and bad news.
THE BAD NEWS
1. The view you see in the photo galleries - that's the photographers' view.
And they don't share.
Photographers at contests can be massive douchebags. At this show 3 of them stacked multiple chairs to be higher up pretty much screwing up everyone's view in the audience. Sometimes they stand up and sit down like in a whack a mole game...
2. Potential cost.
With all of the most famous FBBs, the ones you really dream of seeing, competing exclusively in the US or nearby, your trip to the IFBB Pro League to make the dream come true will mean you have to part with a hefty chunk of moolah.
I'm from England and it's a shame that there's no pro contests in Europe we could more easily get to. I did some research last year after wondering about going [to the Rising Phoenix in Arizona] myself. I only got to the early stages because the cost was so high - not the event itself, but the cost of getting and staying there.
There's a couple of points here. The first is that on the whole, experiences shared on forums suggests that - at least at NPC/IFBB shows in the US - female classes often take place in front of very few people. The audience basically get up and leave when the women come on - and the bigger the women, the more the place empties. Now this may not be true of say, the Rising Phoenix or other shows which are exclusively for female competitors, and we'll be revisiting this when we start with the good news in a moment, but the downside is, according to some, that suddenly there is absolutely no atmosphere in the place and the ladies' divisions do their thing to almost total silence.
The second point is based on anecdotal evidence shared by an FMS reader who attended a regional NABBA show some years ago, back when NABBA still had a Physique (ie. Bodybuilding) category for women. The room was packed (and didn't empty when the women came on) but being alone, he managed to squeeze himself into a chair with a half-decent view. His excitement mounting, he sat through some male classes, hardly noticing the comments from those sitting near him. When the ladies did come on, though, and nearby spectators started voicing their displeasure, he felt somewhat isolated, not a little intimidated. I didn't dare clap even, though I wanted to jump up and down and shout encouragement and just go crazy, cos that's what I felt like doing! It totally ruined the experience to have to sit there in stony silence while these stupid meatheads around me took the piss. Afterwards I was angry about it, and ashamed of myself for not having the balls to show my appreciation.
THE GOOD NEWS
1. The place empties when the women come on.
The nice thing about prejudging is that you can sit a lot closer to the stage. The ladies of all divisions, other than Bikini maybe, at most shows compete at empty or near empty venues. About 70% of the room just get up and leave after the men.
Are the men always on first? I think not, but the point remains, if you do go to a show where the room does empty you are much more likely to get a better view and...
2. If you are on your own, the chances are you'll be able to meet other heads.
Lots of anecdotal evidence for this. If "70% of the room just get up and leave" that means whoever remains is more than likely only here for the muscle ladies. There was a guy in the same row a few chairs away from me and it was quite obvious he was feeling just as excited as me. We made eye contact, and hilariously he made this shocked face and mouthed "Oh my God!", meaning "Oh my God look at these women!". I mouthed back, "I KNOW!". We got talking after the show... had a great weekend together. Hooking up with a fellow fan just made the whole thing. Great experience.
You can fill in the ... yourself. What would you do if you hooked up with a fellow female muscle head far from home in a city where nobody knew you having just watched all the ladies divisions including four FBB classes at the 2012 NPC Nationals?
3. The competitors.
Quite apart from potentially seeing the contest from a pretty good vantage point, there's also the chance you might even be able to get up close and personal.The real opportunity at a contest is to say hi and ask for a pic as the competitors wander through the lobby, says one contest enthusiast. And if you think you are not in shape or good-looking or confident enough, let's have a look at what's possible, shall we?
"Top Gun" came back from the recent New York Pro with souvenirs.
And that's just a taste of the up close and personals he got.
A "first timer" who went to the prejudging at the same show spent time at the booths at the back of the venue while the men (yawn!) were on. The women walking around had me in awe. Aside from the amazing competitors Colette Nelson was there, then when I stepped out to the bathroom I saw the back of Tischa Thomas. Colette was bigger than most women - or men - there. Tischa was bigger than the bouncers!
Which brings us onto...
4. The audience.
Contests tend to draw members of the local bodybuilding community to the audience. FBBs there can outnumber the ones on stage. Let's go back to the "photographers at contests can be massive douchebags" photo above and zoom in a bit.
You might have noticed the amazing forearm next to me, says the head responsible for it. Well, that is the reason you should go to a show. Not only for the view but for the ladies in the crowd too. Many women that take fitness to the extreme don't have much social activity outside of the gym, he reckons, but they will come out, for example, to support friends, possibly their own trainer, at a competition.
Very few stories of attending a show (that I have come across anyway) end with the message that it's not worth the effort and expense. None in fact. So despite the potential cost and the fact that you might not get the sort of view you dream of, every female muscle fan who's talking about it has had, at the very least, a good enough time to recommend the experience of being in the audience at a contest to others.
Check out the NABBA, UKBFF, WABBA, and (with an ever-increasing number of shows) PCA events calendars for information about events in the UK. If your budget is a bit bigger, you might consider looking further afield, Europe perhaps. If so, check out the IFBB calendar here, and if you really are in the green and thinking about travelling to North America, check out upcoming NPC events, and the IFBB Pro League schedules.
Ten minutes on the WABBA and PCA sites and I've found more shows than I expected within about two to three hours' drive from where I live. The Hercules Olympia anyone? I've always been quite curious to see exactly what Milton Keynes is like!