Bodybuilding Competition Faq
From: (Steve Kidwell)
Subject: Bodybuilding Competition FAQ
Date: 1998/05/31
Message-ID: <>
X-Deja-AN: 358308587

                           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 of bodybuilding competitions.  If you would like to know
more about me, then go to the following homepage:

    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
contestants.  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.

    A. AAU

    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 to 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.

    B. NPC

    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

    C. IFBB

    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.

    D. NABBA

    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 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

        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
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

        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 are 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

        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 Hand
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 forward.

        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 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. Hand 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

    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

    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

    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

    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 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
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 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 

Even if you just have any comments or questions drop me a line.  I’d
love to hear from you.

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

    Natural Physique Systems,

* "All I can say is WOW! The usual aspersions about Indiana, the GOP and  *
* over reliance on Rush Limbaugh as the source of all wisdom leap to mind * 
* but in this case, this nonsense is pure, unadulterated Kidwell.."       *
*                                                                         *  
* -rpj                                                                    *

Steve Kidwell, Natural Physique Systems
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