Bodybuilding Competition FAQ
A. Why a competition FAQ?
Why is a FAQ needed on bodybuilding competition? Believe it or not, the sport of
bodybuilding is very confusing. Even competitors who have been around the scene
for a few years are still uncertain as to how things actually work. This FAQ is
an attempt to answer some of the most frequently asked questions.
B. What exactly is the goal of this FAQ?
This FAQ is not being written to serve as a rule book of any sorts. Each
organization and sometimes even contests have their own rules. They all vary
slightly but still hold the same general goal of selecting the best physique.
Therefore, the FAQ will be written in generalities in reference to specific
rules of organizations and contests. They are always subject to modification
anyway, so listing them now would serve very little future purpose. If you have
questions about specific rules from an organization or contest, you should
contact them directly. This FAQ is not a �how to� instructional manual either.
You will not find contest preparation secrets here. The goal of this FAQ is to
serve as a guide to the basic understanding of how a bodybuilding contest works.
II. What are the various sanctioning organizations?
bodybuilding has become like boxing in the last couple of decades. There are
several organizations and it can become alphabet soup sorting them out. However,
just like in boxing, there are three main organizations with a fourth making a
strong bid. In boxing, the three I am referring to are the WBA, WBC and the IBF
with the WBO getting some recent notoriety. In bodybuilding, the top three are
the AAU, NPC, and IFBB with the NABBA-USA starting to gain popularity.
If you live in the United States, are into sports, and don't know what AAU
stands for I have one question for you. What rock did you crawl out from
underneath? The Amateur Athletic Union sanctions several different sports in the
United States and was the first organization to sanction bodybuilding. The Mr.
America was the first bodybuilding competition ever held. It was started in 1939
and was actually called, �America�s Best Built Man,� that year. Everyone
referred to it as the Mr. America. In 1940 the AAU decided to change the name of
the event to the Mr. America and has held it as their prized jewel ever since.
You can walk up to any person on the street and ask them if they know what the
Mr. America is and with near 100% accuracy, they'll know it has to do with
muscles and bodybuilding. The AAU also uses the "Mr./Ms." titles to designate
their Champions. Mr. America, Mr. USA, Mr. Indiana, etc., etc. are all examples
of AAU titles. The list of AAU Mr. Americas looks like a who�s who in legends of
bodybuilding. John Grimek, Steve Reeves, Bill Pearl, Boyer Coe, Tony Pearson,
and Chris Dickerson were all AAU Mr. Americas.
The National Physique Committee is another one of the top three prominent
sanctioning bodies in the United States. It was founded in 1982 by former
committee members of the AAU National Physique Committee. The NPC's
Championships are designated the following way: National Championships, United
States Championships, Indiana State Championships, etc., etc. The NPC does not
use the "Mr./Ms." titles. Several people still use the Mr./Ms. titles when
referring to NPC champs out of habit, but technically they are incorrect. The
NPC is also the amateur qualifying grounds for the IFBB professional circuit.
Lee Haney was the very first NPC National Champion.
The International Federation of bodybuilders is the world wide organization
started by Joe and Ben Weider. When most people think of the IFBB, they think of
the Mr./Ms. Olympia. The Mr. Olympia is the top professional contest in the
sport today and has produced several bodybuilding legends like Arnold
Schwarzenegger, Sergio Oliva, Frank Zane, and Lee Haney. The Mr. O is definitely
the IFBB's flagship contest but they also sanction several amateur events like
the IFBB World Championships and North American Championships. To become an IFBB
professional, you must qualify through one of their designated amateur events or
receive a special invitation. In the United States, the NPC is the official
amateur wing of the IFBB.
NABBA stands for National Amateur bodybuilding Association. It's an organization
that is based out of England. They have been around since the 40's and have been
sanctioning the Mr. Universe since then. Their Mr. Universe contest has been won
by such greats as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Pearl, and Jeff King. A strange
thing to note is that although NABBA has the word amateur in the title, it also
has a professional division. Bob Gruskin, who had always hand picked the team
from the USA to participate in the NABBA Mr. Universe in the last decade,
decided to start a division of NABBA in the United States. He aptly named the
organization NABBA-USA. In order to qualify for the NABBA Mr. Universe, you must
win your class at the NABBA-USA National Championships or be invited by Mr.
E. Various others.
There are several other sanctioning organizations out there. Some of them have
developed quite a following also like the USNBA (United States Natural
bodybuilding Association), the NGA (National Gym Association), the ABA (Amateur
bodybuilding Association), the WNBF (World Natural bodybuilding Federation), the
WABBA ( World Amateur bodybuilding Association), and the list goes on to
infinity as new organizations are sprouting up all of the time.
III. What are the different events that make up the contest?
A. contest Judging Rounds.
Each contest has specific rounds in which the competitors are scored. They all
have certain independent characteristics from one another. The judges are
looking for specific things during these rounds. The rounds listed below do not
always occur in this specific order.
1. Standing Relaxed - symmetry Round.
The first round of the competition is the symmetry Round. During this time, the
judges are looking for overall body symmetry in the competitors. They are
looking for relationships between the muscle groups. Are they all developed
evenly? Within each specific group, does it flow nicely? Does the competitor
have a symmetrical bone structure? The more evenly developed the competitor is,
the higher he or she will be placed.
There is no direct flexing in this round. Competitors are viewed in what is
called the Standing Relaxed position. Typically, this consists of a competitors
heels together, toes pointed out at a forty-five degree angle, and lats
semi-flared. Every competitor has their own way of standing relaxed, but in
reality it is semi-flexed. Every muscle should be tight on stage. The
competitors are viewed from the front, both sides, and the rear.
2. Comparison Round or Muscularity Round.
This is where the real flexing begins! Competitors are called upon to hit the
Mandatory poses in this round. The judges are comparing the level of muscular
development and definition each competitor has acquired in relation to the other
competitors. Section II.B. below has a list of the mandatory poses and a brief
description of each one.
3. Free posing Round.
The Free posing Round is where each competitor gets to express their muscularity
how they see fit. Usually, this round is accompanied by music, but in the NPC
during prejudging, the free posing is considered �dry.� This means no music
other than possibly background house music is allowed. All organizations allow
music in the evening finals. It is often debated as to whether this round is
actually even judged. It�s my feeling that this round in the NPC only serves to
give an overall impression of the competitor. It could make a difference in an
overall decision which is decided in the evening show after the free posing
round, but doesn�t do much for prejudging. The AAU usually allows competitors to
pose to music during the prejudging, so it actually can have an effect on class
placings. The IFBB scores the round separately at the evening show, and
therefore puts more direct weight on the round than anyone else. However, when
looking at the scores given at IFBB events for this round, many experts feel
that the scores don�t reflect the ability of the competitor to free pose. It�s a
very controversial subject, but one thing is for sure, the Free posing Round is
most definitely appreciated by the fans in attendance.
B. General Mandatory Poses.
The following are the mandatory poses that are called out for competitors to
hit. As I said in the beginning, this is not a �how to� manual. Therefore, the
descriptions listed below will be only to ascertain what poses are being hit,
not how to hit them. The following order is not always the order in which the
poses are called either.
1. Front Double Biceps.
Arms are out to the sides with biceps flexed and the competitor is facing
forward towards the judges and audience.
2. Front Lat Spread.
Hands are located somewhere near the competitors waistline and elbows are flared
out showing the lats. The competitor is facing forward.
3. Side Chest or Side Lifted Rib Cage.
The competitor is turned so judges can see his profile. He has one calf flexed
by raising his heel from the ground. Hands are clasped or wrist is grabbed with
the back arm coming across the front of the torso somewhere below the pec line.
The forward arm is pulled down and back toward the competitors rear. The chest
is raised and flexed. The rib cage is usually expanded.
4. Side Triceps or Triceps Pull.
The competitor is in the same basic position as the side chest except his arms
are clasped behind him. The forward arm is flexed straight down showing off the
triceps. The back arm is stretched across the lower back and it�s hand is
clasped with the forward arm�s hand.
5. Back Double Biceps.
The competitor is facing the rear of the stage away from the judges and
audience. Arms are out to the sides and biceps are flexed. One leg is back and
that calf is flexed. The back muscles are also flexed.
6. Back Lat Spread.
The competitor is in the same basic position as the Back Double Biceps except
the hands are attached at the waist and the elbows are pulled out and the lats
are flared outward.
7. Overhead Abdominal and Thigh.
The competitor is now facing forward. His arms are tucked behind his head and
one leg is placed farther forward than the other and flexed. The competitor is
also flexing his abdominal muscles.
8. Most Muscular.
Typically, judges will call for the competitor�s favorite most muscular pose. At
this point, they have the option to hit which ever of the most muscular poses
they feel make them look the best. They are all variations of the Hands on Hips,
Crab, or Hands Behind Back Most Muscular poses which I will describe below.
C. Optional Mandatory Poses.
While the above poses are the standard ones in bodybuilding competitions, judges
reserve the right to make competitors hit other poses. They are called the
optional mandatory poses. I have been at shows where it literally looked like
the head judge made up a pose for the competitors to hit. However, the following
are the typical optional poses though.
1. Front Victory.
The competitor�s arms are raised overhead in a �V� fashion. He is facing
2. Rear Victory.
The same as the front, except the competitor is facing away from the judges and
3. Serratus Intercostals Twisted Crunch.
The competitor is showing his side like in the Side Chest pose. The forward arm
is tucked behind the head, showing off the serratus and intercostals muscles.
The rear arm is tucked behind the competitor�s back.
4. Flexing calves from the rear.
Competitors are facing away from judges and asked to go up on their toes to show
off their calf development.
5. Flex Thigh and Twist and Rotate.
Facing forward, competitors extend one leg at a time and flex and rotate it.
6. Crab Most Muscular.
This is the Incredible Hulk pose. Lou Ferrigno always hit a crab in the TV show,
�The Incredible Hulk,� right before he growled. The arms are forward and down,
making an arch in front of the body. Fists are clenched and either touching or
close and located somewhere over the stomach. The traps are pulled up and the
chest is flexed. The competitor is facing forward.
7. Hands on Hips Most Muscular.
Facing forward, the competitor places his hands on his hip area with the thumbs
forward and fingers pointed down or back. Everything in the front part of the
body is flexed. Usually one leg is placed farther forward than the other.
8. Hands Behind Back Most Muscular.
Competitor is facing forward and both hands are placed behind the back at the
waistline. Traps are pulled up and everything from the front is flexed much like
the Hands on Hips pose.
9. Flex Hamstrings.
Competitors can be told to either face the side or the rear in this pose. One
leg at a time, the competitor will raise a foot and bring it up by bending the
knee and flexing the hamstring.
III. How Are The Competitions Judged?
contests are judged by a panel of people who are deemed worthy by the sponsoring
organization of the contest. In large shows and national events there are
usually nine judges including eight regular judges and one Head Judge. When
there are nine judges on the panel it allows for each competitor�s two high and
two low scores to be thrown out making for a more unbiased score. If seven
judges are used, then one high and low score can be thrown out for each
competitor. If only five judges are present, then all five must be used as
scoring judges. Typically, shows are not judged by less than five people.
A. Head Judge.
The Head Judge is in charge at the prejudging. He serves to instruct the
competitors on what to do. He calls out the different poses and changes of
position. He will consult with the other judges to see if there are any special
requests for comparisons or poses they may have in order to be sure of their
decision. The Head Judge is usually the most qualified and experienced person on
the judging panel.
B. Regular Judges.
These the people who make up the rest of the judging panel. Although they don�t
call out the poses during prejudging to the competitors, their scores are
weighted as equally as the Head Judge. Their role in determining the outcome of
the contest is just as important.
C. How points are scored.
This is extremely confusing to many people including experienced competitors.
The standard system used by almost all organizations is to rank each competitor
from one to whatever the last number may be per class by the order the in which
each scoring judge feels they should place. For example, if there were ten
middleweights, you would pick out who you thought deserved first and give them a
one, pick out second and give them a two, and so on until you gave the person
you felt deserved tenth a ten. Then for each competitor a score will be
tabulated. This is done by throwing out the appropriate number of highs and
lows, depending upon the number of judges, and arriving at five scores per
competitor. These five scores are then added up and the competitor with the
lowest score wins. For example, competitor #1 earned scores of 3, 1, 2, 2, 1, 3,
1, 2, 2. Competitor #2 earned scores of 2, 2, 1, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 1. Competitor #1
would have his two highs (the two 3�s) and his two lows (two of his 1�s) thrown
out and his score would total 9. Competitor #2 would have his two highs (two of
his 2�s) and his two lows (two of his 1�s) thrown out for a total of 7.
Competitor #2 would beat Competitor #1 by two points. A perfect score in
bodybuilding is to receive all 1�s. The IFBB judges score individual rounds in
this manner, whereas the amateur show judges only give one score per competitor
as a composite score for all rounds. The class winners will then compete at the
finals for an overall champion and be put through the symmetry and comparison
rounds and scored again.
IV. I've got lots of other questions about things I've seen.
bodybuilding can be viewed as quite a strange endeavor. Countless questions crop
up about the different oddities in bodybuilding competitions.
A. Why do the competitors have a funny color to their skin?
In order for bodybuilders to show off all of their hard work, certain things
need to be done. First, the bodybuilder must have a deep, deep tan color.
contest lighting is usually very bright and tends to wash out a lot of the
definition a bodybuilder may have achieved if he isn�t dark enough. Getting a
suntan through natural means or with the help of a tanning bed is a great start,
but it isn�t going to be enough. Tanning agents, skin dyes, or Bronzers must
also be applied in order to achieve the depth of darkness a competitor needs to
be fully appreciated on stage. That funny coloring you see is more than likely
one of these products. They are applied either right before the show, or
sometimes days in advance of the show in order to attain the correct hue. Each
product works a little differently.
B. They always look shiny, is putting on oil required?
Oiling is not required and sometimes not allowed. However, if not restricted,
applying a light coat of oil to the physique helps bring out highlights and
definition on the competitor. Some contestants overdo it and look slimy, but a
good sheen can really benefit the competitor.
C. Do the competitors work out right before coming on stage?
No. There aren�t competitors backstage working out. Some competitors do desire
to get a pump before going onstage though. This is done by doing very light
repetitions with weights provided backstage and by flexing. Some competitors
prefer not to pump at all and just allow themselves to pump up gradually by
D. Why do they shave their bodies?
contestants shave their bodies so they will look as absolutely hard and defined
as possible. body hair when viewed from a distance can obscure definition and
hide those hard earned cuts. It can also appear to be a thin coating a fat or
Water. The hair just has to go.
E. Do tattoos hurt the competitor's placing?
Anything that detracts from the physique will hurt the competitor�s placing. If
the tattoos aren�t a distraction or don�t hide muscularity, then no, they won�t.
However, distasteful or overly done tattoos most definitely will.
F. How would I get involved in competing?
The first step to getting involved with competing is to attend a contest. You
need to experience one as a spectator to get a feel for how things are done.
Next, you can talk to people at your gym who compete. Veterans are always a good
source for pointers. Most health clubs regularly post upcoming events for
members. If yours does not, then look through some magazines on the newsstands.
They usually have contest calendars in them. You can contact the promoter for
more information. The internet also has web sites which list upcoming
G. Are all contests are tested for steroids like other sports?
If I had a nickel for every time I�ve been asked this, I would be writing this
FAQ from my vacation house in Gulf Shores, Alabama. The answer is no. There are
certain organizations which are not willing to implement steroid testing on a
full scale at the national level. Some organizations have dabbled in it in the
past and bailed out before they gave the idea a chance. The AAU now drug tests
all national events. The NPC and IFBB do have several contests which are steroid
tested, but their flagship events are still not tested for anabolics. It�s a
subject of great controversy to many people. There are pros and cons for both
sides of the issue and this FAQ isn�t going to get into that debate.
F. What is a �Natural� contest?
contests with the term �natural,� in them are used to designate shows that are
to be free of banned drugs which aid in the bodybuilding process. Each contest
has it�s own banned substances and time limits for being drug free. Once again,
this FAQ isn�t a rule book or a how to so I won�t be going into this subject any
V. Acknowledgments and Rights
As of now, I don�t have anyone to acknowledge other than the various people I
have had the privilege to meet and learn from in the sport of bodybuilding.
These people include, but are not limited to Ted Karnezis, AAU National Physique
Chairman, Bob Gruskin, NABBA-USA President, Jim Marchand, former AAU National
Judge, Joe Borgia, NPC Indiana State Chairman, and Tim Murphy, long time
bodybuilding photographer and fan. If you have any worthwhile additions or
subtractions (but please, no long division) for me to modify the FAQ with,
please email me at email@example.com. Even if you just have any comments or
questions drop me a line. I�d love to hear from you.
About the author
I'm Steve Kidwell. I've been involved
with competitive bodybuilding now since 1987. I've been involved in almost all
phases of the sport. I've been a competitor, judge, head judge, expediter,
promoter, sponsor, trainer, coach, and photojournalist. During that time, I've
come to learn several of the ins and outs of bodybuilding competitions. If you
would like to know more about me, then go to the following homepage:
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