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Types of Bodybuilding Competitions: What You Need to Know Before Stepping on Stage



Mecca V.I.P.
Dec 2, 2023
Bodybuilding competitions have evolved into a multifaceted realm, offering various categories and formats that cater to athletes' varied goals and preferences worldwide. From showcasing sheer muscle mass to emphasizing symmetry and aesthetics, these events serve as platforms for individuals to demonstrate their dedication, discipline, and mastery of physique development.

This comprehensive guide delves into bodybuilding competitions, providing an insightful overview of the different contests within this dynamic sport.

Bodybuilding Competitions and Bodybuilding Federations

Natural Bodybuilding

The World Natural Bodybuilding Federation (WNBF) commits to drug-free competition and provides a platform for athletes to showcase physiques built naturally.

Natural bodybuilding competitions emphasize drug-free participation, with athletes subject to stringent drug-testing protocols to ensure adherence to natural standards. Competitors in natural bodybuilding events rely solely on training, nutrition, and supplementation to sculpt their physiques, eschewing performance-enhancing substances such as anabolic steroids.

Enhanced Bodybuilding
Enhanced bodybuilding competitions often feature larger, more heavily muscled physiques, with participants utilizing a variety of substances to improve muscle growth, vascularity, and conditioning.

Amateur Bodybuilding
The NPC is a primary pathway for aspiring bodybuilders to earn their professional status. It hosts numerous regional and national-level competitions, culminating in the prestigious NPC Nationals and NPC USA Championships, where athletes vie for professional qualification.

Amateur bodybuilding provides a platform for aspiring athletes to showcase their physique and talent before transitioning to the professional ranks. These competitions are typically open to individuals of all experience levels and serve as stepping stones for those seeking recognition and experience within the bodybuilding community.

Professional Bodybuilding
The IFBB is one of the largest and most influential governing bodies in bodybuilding. It oversees a wide array of competitions from amateur to professional levels, including the prestigious Mr. Olympia contest, which crowns the top bodybuilder in the world.

Professional bodybuilding represents the pinnacle of competitive achievement, with athletes vying for prestigious titles and lucrative prize purses on the international stage. Competitors at the professional level have typically demonstrated exceptional skill, dedication, and success in amateur competitions, earning the right to compete among the elite ranks of the sport's top athletes.

Competition Categories and Judging Criteria

  • Men's Open Bodybuilding: The most iconic and traditional category. Competitors showcase muscularity, size, and overall aesthetics. Athletes in this category aim to achieve maximum muscle mass while maintaining proportion, symmetry, and conditioning.
  • Men's Physique: Focuses on a more streamlined and athletic physique, emphasizing muscularity, symmetry, and overall presentation. Competitors typically display a lean and well-defined physique, emphasizing upper body development, particularly the shoulders, chest, and arms.
  • Women's Physique: Celebrates muscularity and athleticism while maintaining femininity and grace. Competitors showcase well-defined muscle tone, symmetry, and conditioning, focusing on upper body, lower body, and overall physique balance.
  • Bikini: Highlights a toned, athletic, yet feminine physique, emphasizing overall aesthetics, symmetry, and stage presence. Competitors typically display a lean and shapely physique with defined muscle tone and balanced proportions.
  • Figure: Emphasizes muscle tone, symmetry, and proportion, focusing on achieving a balanced and aesthetically pleasing physique. Competitors showcase a combination of muscularity, femininity, and stage presence, emphasizing presentation and poise.
  • Fitness: Incorporates athleticism, strength, and flexibility alongside physique presentation. Competitors showcase their physique through choreographed routines highlighting strength, agility, and stage presence, often incorporating dance, gymnastics, and acrobatics elements.
Preparation, Training, and Posing Routines

Athletes typically undergo intense training to maximize muscle growth, strength, and definition while minimizing body fat percentage. Training often involves resistance training, cardiovascular exercise, and strategic manipulation of training variables such as volume, intensity, and frequency.

Additionally, athletes follow strict dietary protocols to fuel their workouts, support muscle growth, and achieve optimal conditioning. It often involves closely monitoring macronutrient intake.

A well-rehearsed posing routine allows competitors to control how the judges view their physique. Hitting specific poses that accentuate muscle size, symmetry, and definition can significantly impact the final score. Posedown routines that connect with the audience and judges leave a lasting impression.

A knowledgeable and experienced coach can provide personalized guidance, program design, and accountability to help athletes optimize their training, nutrition, and supplementation strategies.

Competition Attire, Tanning, and Presentation

Competitors in Men’s Open wear posing trunks, typically made of a brief, tight-fitting material. It allows judges to assess muscle detail and separation. Competitors in the Men's Physique division wear board shorts that showcase their lower body musculature while maintaining a stylish and athletic appearance.

The Women's Physique, Figure, and Bikini categories utilize two-piece competition suits. The level of coverage varies. Women's Physique tends towards a higher cut on the leg and a slightly more covered top than a Bikini. The figure falls somewhere in between. All suits emphasize a competitor's shape and femininity.

Tanning is also essential in stage presentations at bodybuilding competitions. It enhances muscle definition, highlights muscularity, and creates a visually striking appearance under stage lights, allowing judges to assess muscle detail and separation more easily.

Peak Week and Peak Week Strategies

The week before a bodybuilding competition is known as "peak week." This period fine-tunes the physique for optimal presentation on stage. Its primary goal is to maximize muscle fullness while minimizing subcutaneous water retention, creating a more "shredded" and defined appearance.

During peak week, athletes gradually reduce water intake in the days leading up to the competition, followed by strategic rehydration protocols to enhance muscle fullness and vascularity on the event day. Athletes may cycle carbohydrate intake, depleting glycogen stores through low-carbohydrate dieting before strategically reintroducing carbohydrates to the “carb load.”

Supplementation and Injury Prevention

Bodybuilders commonly use protein supplements such as whey, casein, and protein blends to support muscle growth, repair, and recovery. BCAAs, including leucine, isoleucine, and valine, are essential amino acids in muscle protein synthesis and recovery. Creatine is important in energy production during high-intensity exercise.

Bodybuilding competition prep involves intense training, and injury prevention becomes paramount. Injuries can derail your training progress and force you to take time off. It can set you back significantly, especially as you approach a competition.

Competition Day, Stage Presence, and Positivity

Athletes typically begin their competition day by checking in at the venue, registering, receiving competitor numbers, and undergoing any necessary administrative procedures. Check-ins may also involve weigh-ins and height measurements to ensure competitors meet eligibility criteria for their respective categories.

Pre-judging is the first phase of competition day, during which athletes present their physique to the judging panel for initial evaluation.

Following pre-judging, athletes have a brief intermission before returning to the stage for the final rounds. Final rounds often include individual posing routines, where athletes can showcase their personality, style, and stage presence through choreographed routines set to music. A genuine smile, strong eye contact, and positive energy can leave a lasting impression on the judges and create a memorable performance.

After the final round, judges announce winners across each category. It is a time to celebrate all the hard work and dedication that went into preparing for the competition.

Competition Rules, Regulations, and Post-Competition Recovery

Bodybuilding federations often have stringent anti-doping policies in place to deter athletes from using banned substances and ensure a level playing field for all competitors.

Drug testing may involve urine or blood samples collected from competitors to screen for banned substances such as anabolic steroids, performance-enhancing drugs, and other prohibited substances. Athletes found to have violated drug testing protocols may face penalties, including disqualification, suspension, and loss of titles or awards.

Following a bodybuilding competition, athletes may need to adjust their training program to accommodate changes in goals, priorities, and physiological needs. It may involve transitioning from a focus on competition preparation to a maintenance or off-season training phase and adjusting training volume, intensity, and frequency accordingly.

Career Opportunities and Post-Competition Plans

Many bodybuilders transition into careers as fitness coaches or personal trainers, leveraging their expertise, experience, and knowledge to help others achieve their fitness goals. Some also pursue careers as fitness models or brand ambassadors, representing fitness apparel companies, supplement brands, and lifestyle products within the industry.

With the rise of social media and digital platforms, many bodybuilders become content creators or influencers, sharing their fitness journey, training tips, and nutritional advice with a global audience. Content creators may produce blogs, vlogs, podcasts, or social media posts to inspire, educate, and motivate others on their fitness and wellness journey.

The conclusion of a competition doesn't signify the end of a bodybuilding journey. Athletes may reflect on their competition experience, analyze strengths and weaknesses, and identify areas for improvement. They may consider aiming for a higher placing in the same division next time, transitioning to a different category, or setting a specific physique goal they want to achieve.

Frequently Asked Questions

What career opportunities are available in bodybuilding?

Career opportunities in bodybuilding include becoming a professional bodybuilder, fitness coach/personal trainer, competition promoter/event organizer, fitness model/brand ambassador, and content creator/influencer.
What categories can I compete in at a bodybuilding competition?
You can compete in various categories depending on your physique and goals. Common categories include Men's Open Bodybuilding, Men's Physique, Women's Physique, Bikini, Figure, and Fitness. Each category has specific requirements and criteria for physique presentation, posing, and overall aesthetic.
What are the judging criteria for bodybuilding competitions?
Judging criteria for bodybuilding competitions include muscularity, symmetry, conditioning, and stage presence. During mandatory and optional posing routines, judges assess competitors based on their muscle size, definition, proportion, and overall presentation.