Tips For Competing – From The Judges Table

By on May 7, 2015

Although I still compete, I also have been blessed with the opportunity to judge several shows, I believe it’s a job that requires integrity, honesty, knowledge and experience, so I feel very honoured when I’m asked to judge a show and I take the role seriously. You have a responsibility to the show organisers and the participants to get it right, to judge fairly. I currently judge for the following federations: INBA / AFNE Spain (Natural Bodybuilding) MASS Society University Physique and Bikini Champs, Miss Galaxy Universe.

One of the main questions people have when competing is, what are the judges looking for? Well this isn’t a simple question to answer as every competition, every federation and every class has different criteria and requirements, which can all be interpreted differently! But there are certain elements that are required in all classes to a greater or lesser degree and some tips to help you catch the judge’s attention and make the most of your physique on stage!

Judging Criteria

Each Federation has a set criterion, usually this can be found on their website so you can look at the criteria for each class and see which appeal to you and fits your body type best. It’s important to do some research as there are a lot of choice of competitions from traditional bodybuilding, bikini and physique, pageant / fitness style comps, fitness modelling competitions. Within those federations there will be a number of classes requiring a different physique, talent etc. It’s important to read and understand the criteria as ultimately this is what the judges will be scoring you on.

The main physical criteria for any show are Shape, Size, Conditioning, Symmetry & Proportion. There will be a varying degree of importance for each of these depending on the class. In some competitions and classes there is an element of ‘star quality’ ‘aesthetics’, the ‘full package’, with hair, make up, skin, tanning, style, confidence, suit / outfit choice all be taken into consideration to some degree. Other important elements are posing ability, stage presence, marketability and in some classes athletic / gymnastic ability / theme wear. Some classes will place more importance on mass and conditioning where as others will be more on aesthetics and shape. The importance of each criterion really depends on the competition and class, depending on what look that federation are looking for.  The key for judges and competitors is to understand the level of importance of each aspect of the criteria for each particular class.

Physical Attributes

Size – some categories have weight limits / ratios and each class’s criteria will state to what degree of muscle mass they are looking for.

Conditioning – This is the level of body fat / leanness that needs to be achieved. There is a balance required to achieve a low level of body fat without losing size and some classes, especially the bikini / figure and men’s physique classes, where a small amount of body fat is required, but without deep striations, so it’s important to make a judgement call on how far to take conditioning if it’s not a men’s bodybuilding / women’s physique / bodybuilding class, where you need to be looking at a very lean look.

Shape – Generally most classes will look for a V taper from wide shoulders and back to a narrow waist. Shapely glutes, legs, arms and shaped / full chest. Abdominals will be visible to varying degree depending on category.

Symmetry and proportion – Aesthetic physiques should have symmetry front to back, upper body to lower body and left to right. So if you have any imbalances, this is something to work on. We are looking for physiques that flow with all muscle groups being in proportion to the others. Competitions are not won on one insane body part, if the rest of the physique lets you down. Your physique is the most important aspect of any class, so it’s important to look for any weaknesses and work on them.


A tan is designed to help enhance your definition, making it more visible for the judges when you are on stage under harsh lighting. This is so important. If you are using a tanning service, make sure you follow their skin prep and if doing your own tan, try and get some advice and maybe have a trial run to see if the tan works for you or how many layers you need.  It’s really frustrating when you can’t see an athlete’s body properly because they are washed out under the lights or because the tan is so patchy, too much glaze dripping off, or so thick you can’t see any definition.


Competitions will have different requirements but all will have a mixture of the following. Quarter turn comparisons, compulsory poses, T walks & routines. The style of posing depends on the class. So bikini & fitness model will have relaxed / or model style catwalk / photographic poses. Men’s physique and women’s figure will have open handed poses and in general all traditional bodybuilding & women’s physique classes; will have closed fist traditional posing. You need to learn which style of posing is required and what actual poses you need to learn. Then you need to find the poses that work best for your physique as there may be more than one option for a compulsory pose and in model classes, there is freedom to pick the poses that suit your body the best.

One of the biggest things that will let a competitor down, even if they have an amazing physique, is their posing. Why spend years in the gym, eating clean, making sacrifices, just to damage your chances because you didn’t learn how to pose well? The judges can only mark what they see, so if you can’t spread your lats, how will they know you have a wide back? In a close competition with two competitors with similar physique, the result could be down to the posing ability. So make sure you learn the required poses and practice regularly.

Make sure you have nailed the poses, practice until its subconscious, not fully tensing or holding a pose well, can ruin your chances, even if you had the best body on stage. Know what suits you and how to show off your best assets, we only see what you let us see! Oh and front relaxed pose… it’s not relaxed… you have to work hard to make it look relaxed!!! But it’s anything but!!!

Stage Presence

Stage presence can be everything from how you walk, your general posture, your ability to connect with the audience and judges, the confidence you portray to your facial expressions. When a competition is very close, everything becomes important and where stage presence is a part of the criteria, it is essential to consider the image you portray. Judges want to see athletes that look happy, confident – looking like they are enjoying their moment on stage. It’s your opportunity to show off your hard work after all! So if nerves are kicking in, fake it til you make it! Create an alter ego; treat it as acting a part in a performance, whatever helps!

Staring at the floor, looking bored or scared won’t do you any favours! Don’t just practice your static poses, walking, (especially if you wear shoes for your class), if you stomp across stage like a baby elephant it’s not a great look, practice walking as if you are a model on a catwalk, men as well as women, first impressions count so a confident walk as you appear on stage can really set the tone for the rest of your presentation! Standing at the back of the stage. DO NOT SWITCH OFF…. just because you are not performing your t walk, or in a call out group, does not mean we are not looking at you.

In a large line up where the standard is similar, we may check back to look at other athletes, especially if it’s another judges call out going on, I might be scoring other athletes, so don’t slouch, stare at the floor and do not stop holding your ‘relaxed’ pose until you are off stage, completely out of our sight! If it’s a really close contest, do you want to be caught messing with your suit & fidgeting while your rival is standing perfectly composed next to you…. we are judging from the second you come on stage until you leave!

Aesthetics / Full Package / Marketability

Particularly important in Bikini, men’s physique and the model classes & pageant style federations. Judges are looking for someone with star quality. The full package includes everything from tan, costume choice, hair and makeup, style, personality. So it’s important to consider all these factors. Although they may be less important in the criteria for more traditional bodybuilding, in a large line up of 30+ athletes, you need to make sure you stand out, if you fade into the background, the judges may just not notice you.

Other criteria

Fitness Class – This is where athletes perform a routine to display their agility, strength, flexibility and energy, sometimes gymnastic skill too.

Theme wear / Sportswear – Some competitions have theme wear / sportswear rounds, it’s important to check what rules there are for choice of outfit. Usually judges are looking for personality, originality, stage presence as well as choice of outfit.

Evening gowns / Suits – Judges will be assessing your style, elegance, choice of outfit, ability to pose in a suitable way for the outfit. (Consider styles that flatter, material colour, footwear, accessories etc.)

Props – If props are allowed, consider how you will use them, do they add to your routine or hide important aspects of your physique. Make sure they add to your overall package not hinder your performance.

There is a lot to consider when competing in bodybuilding competitions – its so much more than just training and eating right. Its important to do your research on the competition you want to aim for and work on making improvements in all the elements that the judges look for. It’s a subjective sport and its important to keep in mind that if you made the commitment, made it to the stage, did everything you could to be in your best shape, that in itself is the most important reward and the judges choice is just a subjective opinion on that day, with a particular group of athletes in front of them. Your competition should really be yourself, to be the best you can be, that way you can be proud of your achievement regardless of placings and if a trophy comes, it’s an added bonus.

For more information on competing in bodybuilding competitions please visit

This post was brought to you by GN Academy member Julia Hubbard. If you’d like to find out more about the GN Academy or apply to join then you can do so here.

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