Bodybuilding Competition FAQ Version 1.0
By Steve Kidwell
I. Who is the author of this FAQ?
So, you want to know about the author huh? 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 and history of bodybuilding
competitions. If you would like to know more about me, then go to the following
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
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 and requirements. 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.
C. Will the FAQ have revisions?
I truly hope so. I am hoping that several people out there reading the
FAQ will have worthwhile suggestions for additions. Any comments or additions
I use from other people will be noted in the acknowledgment section.
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. Gruskin.
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
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
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
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 audience.
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
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 posing.
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
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 bodybuilding events.
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 further.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Even if
you just have any comments or questions drop me a line. I’d love to hear
This FAQ is the sole property of it’s author. Absolutely no reproduction
in part or whole may be used without consent of it’s author. You may link
this FAQ from your web site or include it in any reference sources you
have as long as credit is given to the author. All contents of this FAQ
are correct as known by the author and do not represent the absolute truth.
Any inaccuracies that are pointed out to the author and shown to be valid
will be appropriately corrected.
The Bodybuilding Competition FAQ can be found at the following web site:
Natural Physique Systems, http://nps.ticz.com/bbcfaq.htm
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