Looking for contest prep info? All you need to know is in this collection of posts: Competition Articles and Info.
In this post:
- Divisions explained: Bikini, Wellness, Figure, Physique, Fitness, Bodybuilding
- Crossing over
- Which division do I choose?
In the world of bodybuilding, there are several divisions woman can enter; bikini, wellness, figure, physique & fitness with a few federations offering Angel’s, transformation and sports model divisions.
Bikini women are judged on their lean and firm physique scored on proportion, symmetry, balance, shape and skin tone. The “X” factor is important. It’s that hour glass figure that shoulder caps, a tiny waist and glutes will get you (not to neglect the back, bi’s, tri’s and chest). During comparison judging in height classes, bikini women do a front and back pose. In natural federations, there are quarter turns. Bikini girls may be judged on their walk, presentation and posing as these elements can become a deciding factor to determine a winner. Confidence and conducting yourself on stage with ease is very important! Bikini woman are generally in the 10-14% body fat range. Each federation has their own set of guidelines and posing criteria. Such as, the NPC and OCB require half turns where the NANBF/IPE and INBA/PNBA require quarter turns. But the NPC/IFBB, OCB and INBA/ PNBA have a similar back pose where the NANBF/ IPE is different? Here is a list of federations websites at Divisions Explained and then check out Bikini Posing for Natural Federations.
The wellness division is a new division added since, 2019 and only exists in the NPC and the WBFF thus far. This division is between bikini and figure for women with a strong lower body and a lesser developed upper body. I like to think of it as a figure bottom and a bikini top! LOL.
This is a fun division that federations like the INBA/ PNBA have available.
It is judged more on presentation than any other category. You need to show your sassy, fun and sexy personality here along with a well put together costume. A bikini body is most desired in this category as are the half or quarter turns are similar to bikini divisions.
In this division, women wear fashionable gym clothing and perform quarter turns. This is a nice division for those that are in between bikini and figure. The INBA/ PNBA offers sports model.
Figure competitions are a blend of bodybuilding and fitness. During comparison judging in height classes, woman will line up and do a series of quarter turns to the right (front, left side, back, right side) being judged on symmetry, presentation, and other aesthetic qualities such as skin tone. The “X” factor is important. Shoulders, back, quads and glutes are very important muscle groups to give the “x” type of shape (well formed shoulders and upper back, small waist and shapley glutes and quads). Visible muscle separation but no visible striations is desired. Figure woman are generally in the 8-12% body fat range.
Women are judged on their athletic physique showcasing femininity, symmetry, muscle tone, poise and beauty/flow of physique. Physique women are judged in a round of quarter turns just like the figure girls and then they have 8 mandatory poses. They also have an individual choreographed routine set to music as well as comparison judging by height classes with mandatory poses such as front double bicep, side tricep with front leg extended, side chest with arms extended and front leg extended and so on. (see federations sites for specifics such as the NPC or NANBF and see the NPC, NANBF, IFBB??? Federations Explained!). Visible muscle separation and some visible striations are desired but are not to be excessively muscular or shredded. Generally in the 8-10% body fat range.
Fitness is a division which fuses female bodybuilding and another physical talent such as dance, gymnastics, martial arts (etc) into one. There are usually two parts: comparison judging with quarter turns much like figure divisions, and then a gymnastic routine round where they will do a routine set to music in costume showing their athletic ability. Fitness woman are generally in the 9-11% body fat range.
Even though women’s bodybuilding has pretty much died out in some major federations, natural federations still have it. Female bodybuilding is similar to physique but size and muscle striations are to a great degree. Symmetry and shape are very important and bodybuilding women are divided into weight classes, not height. Leanness and being shredded are desired. Shredded means that you are able to see the muscle striations and lines. There are 11-13 mandatory poses plus initial quarter turns (like figure and physique).
Some federations (list here) such as the NPC or a show promoter (the person running the show) will allow you to cross over and compete in different classes within a show. For example, you may be able to compete in figure and bikini divisions or figure and physique in the same show. Other shows or federations do not allow that. You must check all the rules for that federation and specific show before registering. Most federation sites will have a list of shows for the year with the show promoters email so you can contact them ahead of time if need be for planning purposes.
Which division do I choose?
Choosing a division will depend on your interests, when you want to compete and current musculature. Say you want to compete in physique and have average muscling. To be competitive, you would want to take at least a year or three to build muscle before you hit a cut phase (to be in a calorie deficit to shed fat for a contest). Once in a calorie deficit for contest prep, muscle building is not optimal. (see How to Cut Calories)
The off season is where people are able to really build muscle – when they can eat lots of food! Top natural, I stress natural figure and physique women take YEARS to build that muscle naturally without the use of anabolic steroids. If you don’t want to wait a year or more to compete, you can start with bikini and work your way through the more muscular divisions. If you have gymnastic or dance abilities, fitness may be another division to consider. (see How to Bulk)
If you are in a competitive range muscularly, and you are thinking figure, physique may be a division to try as as well! In physique, size isn’t as important as symmetry and there are 8 more poses to show off your physique. AND, you can out condition the next person that may have more size. By that I mean… you can get leaner to get an edge!
Consulting with a knowledgeable person can help you with your decision. Once you have competed, you can see where you stand, build on your weak areas and focus on the next goal.
You should attend a local bodybuilding show and watch some youtube videos of each division to really get a feel for the sport before you decide which division to choose.
You will meet a lot of people throughout the process and make some great connections. This helps build your knowledge base to improve in the future aside from building some really great friendships.