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Contest Routines and Posing

Body Building Contest

All of the hard work you've put into a bodybuilding program will finally pay off when you enter a bodybuilding competition. Bodybuilding competitions are held at the local, regional, state, national and even international levels.

Bodybuilding competitions exist worldwide for both men and women. Bodybuilding competitions are divided into two main categories: amateur and professional.

So long as you possess a reasonable level of experience in bodybuilding, odds are good that you'll find a competition that is appropriate for your current level of muscular development, as many organizations offer a novice division and even a juniors division.

In addition, in order to advance to the professional bodybuilding level you must win specific competitions at the amateur level.

At the same time, not all bodybuilders immediately recognize why competing in a bodybuilding event is so beneficial. The main reason, aside from the thrill you'll receive by finally showing off the spoils of your hard work, is that competing will improve your rate of bodybuilding progress. By competing regularly, you'll be forced to mix up your training routines, in turn forcing your body to respond to a wide variety of muscle stimulus.

Another reason why competing improves your progress is motivation. After your first competition, you'll have a much better idea of where you stand in relation to other bodybuilders. If you fall short of winning this year, it will certainly motivate you to work even harder for the next competition. Fortunately, you'll learn so much from your first competition (how the judges respond to various poses, the specific criteria they're seeking, what your competitors have done to prepare) that you'll be much better equipped to train and compete the next time around.

How to Qualify for Specific Bodybuilding Tournaments

Qualification requirements differ from one bodybuilding competition to the next. The exact rules are decided upon by the bodybuilding organization hosting the event. In some competitions, you'll need to qualify in order to be eligible for the next competition in a series. Other competitions are open to all bodybuilders interested in performing and competing.

One example of a bodybuilding organization that implements qualifying competitions is the IFBB, or International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness. The IFBB hosts the Mr. Olympia and Ms. International competitions, two of the most prestigious bodybuilding competitions in the world. In the IFBB Pro League, you'll find the IFBB Pro Olympia Qualification Series, which requires you to earn points based on your placement in initial competitions in order to qualify for later competitions. The better you do, the more likely you are to receive an invitation to the next event.

Although the IFBB Pro League is only intended for professional bodybuilders, the same organization contains a separate league for amateurs entitled the NPC, or National Physique Committee. By competing in the NPC, you can eventually earn yourself an IFBB Pro Card which gives you access to professional bodybuilding events hosted by the IFBB, such as the Mr. Olympia competition.

Some of the other bodybuilding organizations with which you should become familiar include the following:

Bodybuilding Competition Categories

Different bodybuilding organizations and competitions have different formats and categories. Some have "teenage" or "junior" divisions intended exclusively for teenagers. Some competitions also have a "novice" bracket designated for first-time contenders. However, all bodybuilding competitions are separated into men's and women's divisions. From here, these divisions are separated into weight groups, as follows:

Front Double Biceps Pose

Women's Division

  • Lightweight: under 114 pounds

  • Middleweight: 115 to 125 pounds

  • Heavyweight: over 125 pounds

Men's Division

  • Bantamweight: under 142 pounds

  • Lightweight: 143 to 156 pounds

  • Middleweight: 157 to 176 pounds

  • Light Heavyweight: 177 to 198 pounds

  • Heavyweight: over 198 pounds

If possible, try to compete as close as you can to the top of your targeted weight class. In other words, if you're a man targeting the Middleweight division, it's better to compete closer to 176 pounds rather than 157 pounds, so long as you don't go over. This will make it easier to outshine your competitors who may be smaller despite sharing your weight bracket.

Bodybuilding Competition Poses

Posing is an extremely important aspect of a bodybuilding competition that's too-often overlooked, particularly by those entering a bodybuilding contest for the first time. All of the careful preparations you've completed prior to a bodybuilding competition (strength training, cardio, dieting, maximizing muscle definition, mass, strength and density) will be wasted, at least in part, if you don't understand how to properly hit the various poses. A 200-pound bodybuilder, for example, can look like a 180-pound bodybuilder with improper posing, just as a 180-pound bodybuilder can appear 200-pounds with excellent posing.

As a rule of thumb, you should practice your posing at least once each day for 10 weeks prior to the contest. Doing so will not only help you to learn the poses and transition between them naturally, but also increase your motivation levels and remind you of why you're putting in all this hard work in the first place.

Remember, posing in a competition is much more difficult than posing at home. During the contest, you won't have a mirror, you'll be blinded by the stage lights, the temperature could exceed 100 degrees, and the judges may request that you hold each pose for up to 20 seconds. Without the proper level of practice and conditioning, you'll end up shaking and cramping while you hit your poses. This will be unimpressive to the judges, but it's something you can fix easily simply by practicing ahead of time.

The following are some of the most common poses included in a bodybuilding competition routine, along with tips on how to properly perform them:

Standing Relaxed - Front

  • Keep your quads flexed and knees slightly bent.

  • Either flex your abs or puff out your chest while drawing your abs in.

  • Choose the latter method (puffed chest) unless your abs and shoulders are particularly worth showing off.

Standing Relaxed - Side

  • Flex your triceps muscles in the arm facing the judges, and make sure that your obliques are visible.

  • Flex the obliques slightly, but don't overdo it.

  • Press your opposite arm against your chest to enhance the apparent size of your pectorals.

  • Press the leg closer to the judges against your back leg, enhancing the size of the hamstrings facing the judges.

  • Flex your calves, glutes and quads.

Standing Relaxed - Rear

  • Flare your lats as wide as you can and keep your rear delts flexed, which will enhance apparent muscle definition.

  • Lean back a little to display the definition of your lower back.

  • Avoid squeezing your shoulder blades together.

  • Keep the calves, glutes and hamstrings tight.

Front Double Biceps

  • Flex the quads and raise your upper arms slightly above shoulder level.

  • Move your arms slightly forward, as if you're performing a bent arm machine fly. Doing so will give you a wider appearance and increase the visible striations in your pectoral muscles.

  • Keep the abs relatively relaxed.

Front Lat Spread

  • Flex the quads and place your fists above your hips.

  • Spread the lats.

  • Lean back very slightly.

  • Keep the abs relaxed.

Side Chest

  • Position the leg closer to the judges against the opposite leg, enhancing the apparent size of your forward leg.

  • Spike your toe into the ground, flexing the calf of your front leg.

  • Press the arm opposite the judges against your pectoral muscle, and flex this same pectoral muscle.

  • Using the hand of the same arm that's pressing against your pectoral muscle, grab your opposite wrist and flex the biceps muscles.

  • Raise your chest while arching your lower back.

  • Squat slightly if you're tall, or stand up as tall as you can if you're short.

Side Triceps

  • This is very similar to the Side Chest pose, except that you'll reach behind your back using the arm opposite the judges and grab the wrist of your other arm while flexing your triceps.

  • Flex the obliques hard.

  • Flex the abdominals to slightly lesser degree.

Rear Double Biceps

  • Spike one of your legs into the ground with your toes and flex your calf and hamstrings.

  • Avoid squeezing your shoulder blades together.

  • Lean back very slightly.

  • Raise your arms just above shoulder height and flex your biceps.

Rear Lat Spread

  • Perform this the same way as the Rear Double Bicep.

  • The only exception is that you'll need to spread your lats as wide as you can while leaning back and arching your lower back.

Hands Over Head Abdominals

  • Place either leg forward and flex it.

  • Place your hands behind your head.

  • Flex your abdominals.

Display Obliques and Intercostels

  • Turn one of your sides toward the judges and flex the obliques on that side of your body.

  • Place the hand of your outward-facing side behind your head.

  • Press the bicep of your opposite arm against your pectoral to enhance its size.

Most Muscular

  • This pose has several variations, such as hands on hips, hands together and hands behind hips.

  • Experiment with different variations of this pose to determine what works best for you.

Assorted Tips for a Bodybuilding Competition Posing Routine

The following are some general tips to keep in mind, both when you're preparing your posing routine and actually performing it in a competition:

  • Consider enlisting the help of a bodybuilding routine choreographer when creating your posing routine. He or she will know what types of poses the judges in your current competition are looking for. If you choose to create your individual posing routine by yourself, choose 10 to 15 poses that best show off your body, and with which you're most comfortable.

  • Practice your posing routine exactly as you intend to perform it well ahead of the competition. The routine should feel natural and memorized by the time you actually hit the stage. If you're uncomfortable with your routine in any way, this will come across to the judges.

  • Choose a song that's meaningful to you, and make sure that it fits your body type and the theme of your routine. If you're targeting a lighter weight class, for example, choosing a heavy metal song might not be appropriate. No matter what, make sure the song is one that gets your adrenaline and energy going. This will be of great assistance when you're actually on stage.

When you're on stage...

  • Keep smiling.

  • Move smoothly and gracefully.

  • Transition naturally between poses.

  • Have confidence in yourself (after all, you just put yourself through the extreme rigors of preparing for a bodybuilding competition, and if anyone deserves to be confident, it's you).

  • Have a good time! If you look frustrated and unhappy, you'll make the judges unhappy as well.

How a Bodybuilding Competition is Judged

Most Muscular Pose

Most bodybuilding competitions actually include two separate judging phases: a prejudging event and an evening show. The prejudging event is where most of the actual judging takes place, while the evening show includes some judging but is more focused on the spectacle of the competitors and the enjoyment of the audience.


Bodybuilding competitions are typically presided over by five to nine judges. The judges are typically a mix of males and females regardless of the gender of the competitors performing. In order to judge a bodybuilding competition, each judge must first be evaluated and certified.

The job of the judges is to rank the competitors. This takes place after each round. Each competitor receives a score for each round that is equivalent to their ranking for that round.

For example, a 1st place finish receives a score of 1 while a 6th place finish would receive a score of 6.

After all of the rounds have completed, the judges will add the scores together for each competitor. The competitor with the lowest score is declared the overall winner. As such, it's possible to lose some of the rounds (or even potentially all of the rounds) and still win the overall competition.


Prejudging typically takes place in the morning, and can be thought of as a rehearsal for the show that will occur later in the evening. However, despite this "rehearsal" status, it's very important to take the prejudging event seriously because this is when the judges will likely decide who is to win the competition. Maintaining focus in the prejudging event is easier than in the evening show because there will be no audience to distract you and the judges.

Prejudging is usually divided into four separate rounds:

  • Symmetry round

  • Compulsory poses (five for women and seven for men)

  • Comparisons

  • Individual posing routines (sometimes only included in the evening show and not the prejudging event)

These rounds are described in detail below.

The Show

The actual bodybuilding show usually occurs around 7:00 pm, and contains the same rounds as the prejudging event. The only real difference is that a large audience will be present, which provides an adrenaline rush to the competitors that can sometimes present itself as nervousness. Maintaining your composure and performing your routine with confidence are crucial at this stage in the competition.

Once all four rounds are complete, the judges will come to a decision and the competitors will take part in a pose down. During the pose down phase, the competitors hit freestyle poses on the stage together. The pose down is not a judged round, but rather a celebration for the competitors and their fans.

Following the pose down, the judges will announce the winners and hand out awards and trophies.

Symmetry Round

The symmetry round is your first opportunity to impress the judges. The primary aspects the judges critique in this round include your muscular symmetry, definition and proportion.

You'll start by facing the judges and performing the Standing Relaxed pose, detailed above. Remember to keep your muscles under control and properly flexed during this pose.

Staying flexed is far more difficult than most non-competitive bodybuilders realize. After you flex for 10 minutes or more, your muscles will become sore and cramped feeling, and your heart rate will increase. Maintaining your composure and keeping your muscles from shaking is crucial at this point.

After holding your Standing Relaxed pose, the judges will ask to to turn 90 degrees to your right. This will allow them to judge your body from a side view. Keep your muscles tense as you make this move.

Following this, the judges will again ask you to turn 90 degrees to your right, allowing them to judge you from a back view. Keep your legs, back and glutes tense during this phase.

The judges will then ask you to turn 90 degrees to your right two more times, giving them another side view and finally a repeat of the front view.

Compulsory Round

The compulsory round is perhaps the most important part of the whole bodybuilding competition. This is where you'll have an opportunity to truly impress the judges. In order to complete this stage, you'll need to perform seven compulsory poses, all of which are described above under the Bodybuilding Competition Poses section. The poses included in this round are as follows:

  • Front Double Biceps

  • Front Lat Spread (men only)

  • Side Chest

  • Side Triceps

  • Rear Double Bicep

  • Rear Lat Spread (men only)

  • Display Obliques and Intercostels

During the compulsory round, competitors will perform their posing routines in groups of two or three, meaning that you'll need to share the stage with at least one other person during this round. The judges will decide their rankings after viewing all competitors. This judging phase is often referred to as the comparison round.

Individual Posing Routines

While the compulsory round requires you to hit specific poses in a set routine, the individual posing round, also known as the free posing round, is where your creativity comes into play. In this round, you'll get to choose whatever poses you like and incorporate them into a routine that lasts approximately 90 seconds at the amateur level. This is also where you'll have control over the music that's played during your routine, so be sure to choose a piece of music that matches your physique and selected poses.

Since you can choose whatever poses you want in this round, your goal should be to select poses that emphasize your strengths and downplay your weaknesses. The overall routine should also be highly entertaining for the crowd and the judges, since a strong crowd response can tip the judges' opinion in your favor if the competition is tight.

In general, it's a good idea to start with your strongest poses, or the poses that show off the best aspects of your physique. From here, it's a good idea to arrange your poses in a way that will make it easy to smoothly transition from one to the next.

As you can tell, competing in a bodybuilding competition will likely rank among the most challenging and rewarding athletic experiences of your life. Because of this excitement, some bodybuilders choose to enter a competition before they're truly prepared.

Remember that properly preparing for a bodybuilding competition takes time, not only because of the changes that you must force on your body (hitting your target competition weight while maximizing muscle definition and retaining muscle mass, strength and density), but also because of the time required to create and thoroughly practice a posing routine.

Mr. Olympia Winner

If you've never entered a bodybuilding competition before, consider attending the first one as a member of the audience rather than as a competitor. Doing so will allow you to simply observe the process and flow of the bodybuilding competition. You'll see the level of muscular development achieved by the competitors, as well as how they perform their posing routines. You'll also see what it takes to win the competition, and what types of mistakes send a competitor to the bottom of the rankings. Finally, you'll experience the overall atmosphere of the competition, which will help you to decide whether competitive bodybuilding is for you.

As is evident, to excel on the world stage of body building takes years of hard work, focus, and dedication. In addition, there are several aspects of body building that you will need to simultaneously focus on.

For example, defining your workout routine and continually modifying it to maximize your muscular gains, consuming a diet that supports and promotes muscular development, receiving enough rest to allow your muscle tissue to develop, and supplementing your diet to promote an even greater rate in which you develop muscle tissue and density, to name a few.

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