You step out on stage and immediately see the glare of the bright lights. You know there is an audience of onlookers, but see only shadows. The vast space on which only you are standing makes you feel incredibly exposed, which of course, you purposely are. And then you see them.
The judges. Poised to, well, judge you.
Blank looks. Scribbling pens. Lack of emotion. It’s enough to make even the most seasoned competitor second-guess herself.
Don’t you wish you knew what they were thinking? What is it that they are really looking for, and do you have it? If only you knew before stepping on stage.
Now you can.
I reached out to three judges to address the most common questions asked by bikini and figure athletes. I wanted to know, what are they really looking for in a physique, and do other factors – like hair, makeup, grace, boob size – influence their placement decisions?
Let’s find out.
Meet the Judges
Name: Tina Peratino
Street cred: IFPA Bodybuilding and Figure Pro, WNBF Figure and Fitbody pro, WNBF Natural North America Champion – Fitbody Pro 2012, Vice President of the ANBF, and owner of Center Stage Figures and Physiques
Judges for: INBF/WNBF, OCB, NGA, PNBA, ANBF
Name: Lori Pyper
Street cred: IFPA Figure Pro
Judges for: DFAC, OCB
Name: Eric Peratino
Street cred: IFPA Masters Bodybuilding Pro, NGA Bodybuilding Pro, OCB Masters Classic Physique Pro, ANBF Classic Physique and Masters Pro, ANBF Physique representative
Judges for: OCB, ANBF, NGA, PNBA, INBF
What are you looking for in a winning bikini physique?
Tina: Balance, symmetry, and proper muscularity and conditioning for both the division and the competitor’s frame. Bikini athletes should have nicely developed, round shoulder caps that are balanced front/side/rear, visible ab conditioning, and visible quad, hamstring, and glute separation without deep cuts or striations. A winning physique is also balanced from top to bottom, front to back, side to side.
Lori: I look for leanness without being too lean, shape to the athlete’s figure, and some muscle definition.
Eric: I want to see good symmetry and balance top and bottom. An athlete should be toned, but not hard and striated. Curvy, but nothing loose.
What are you looking for in a winning figure physique?
Tina: Symmetry, muscularity, and conditioning are most important for the figure division. Muscles should show visible separation in all areas, top to bottom. Lines should be fluid in how the delts tie into the biceps and triceps, lats into obliques, through the glutes, hamstrings, and quads. No one body part should overpower another. Ideally, figure athletes will have a good “x-frame,” with wide lats/delts, small waist, and quad sweep with ham/glute tie in from the rear. Conditioning should be slightly more than bikini, showing visible separation in all muscle groups without being overly striated, “hard,” or stringy-looking. Muscles should be full and shapely.
Lori: I look for good muscle structure, including a v-taper from the rear pose and leg definition in the quads.
Eric: I want to see good symmetry and tone with good muscle separation. This includes nice development of the delts, back, quads, and hamstrings.
Besides physical attributes, what other factors are you considering once an athlete steps on stage?
Tina: I’m looking at posing and how they present themselves. Are they smiling and looking like they enjoy being on stage? Do they appear confident and fluid in their posing, and are they poised? How does the suit fit, does it flatter the athlete’s physique? Hair, makeup, and tan also play a role in the overall presentation. If these things are not flattering to the competitor, they can be a big distraction on stage. Everything on an athlete’s body should compliment their physique, not take away from or overpower it.
Lori: I’m definitely looking for confidence. I can tell when someone has been practicing in her heels. I worry less about having a posing routine that appears memorized, and instead look for grace on the stage. Hair and makeup play a small factor – you want to look the part – but it’s not as important as stage presence.
Eric: For bikini athletes, I’m looking at their stage presence, posing suit, hair, and makeup. For figure competitors, hair and makeup aren’t as important, but the posing suit (and how well it shows the physique) is an important consideration.
If you have an athlete whose physique surpasses the others’ on stage, do you automatically give her first place? Or are there things that could bump her from this placement despite being number one physically?
Tina: This depends on the federation’s judging guidelines and can change from show to show based on what the specific federation emphasizes for importance. For instance, the ANBF identifies symmetry, muscularity/conditioning, and posing as three separate scores/placements. This enables me as a judge to place an athlete according to each of these things. In this case, I don’t have to prioritize symmetry over conditioning between athletes because they are being judged and placed in each category separately. Therefore, the person who has the best in all three categories wins. Some federations also put emphasis on the routine/t-walk as part of the scoring presentation, so that may bump a competitor’s placement as well. For federations who don’t score these categories separately, the best physique who has all the ideal criteria for that division should win regardless of the other presentation factors.
Lori: This would be a splitting hairs decision; sometimes there are athletes who are shredded or have more muscle development. Yet, if they don’t know how to pose and show their physiques, it will definitely hinder their placing. It’s very possible to be defeated by someone who simply knows how to display herself better.
Eric: It depends. Sometimes when two athletes who are close to one another in their physiques, then you have to pick little things apart. However, sometimes there may be a clear winner as far as physical development, but if she doesn’t present her physique well, she could lose to someone with a lesser physique because of it. For example, if a competitor has a great back, but has no idea how to flare her lats out on stage, I can only score what I actually see while she’s posing.
If an athlete’s tan is different than everyone else, is she marked down for this?
Tina: I wouldn’t say someone is marked down just because her tan is different, but it can impact my ability to see a competitor’s muscle tone. If someone’s tan is too light, they will appear too washed out and not as defined as another competitor with a darker tan. In other words, an athlete isn’t penalized just because her tan is a different color, but rather what the judges are able to see or not see because of the tan.
Lori: No, an athlete isn’t marked down if their tan is different from the others. However, if she is too light, this can hurt her placement.
Eric: A competitor will not be marked down as long as her tan shows her physique well. Sometimes lighting plays a factor in that. If the lights are very bright on stage, then a light tan will not work well for the competitor (in this case, too much sheen can also work against an athlete). So realistically, the answer is, “It depends.” I’ve actually seen where an athlete has a completely different tan from everyone else and she actually looked better.
How important is a competitor’s eye contact with the judges while on stage?
Tina: I don’t want a competitor to stare at me or the judges table the whole time. They should make brief eye contact with the judges, but then they should be looking out to the audience. They should be looking “around” the audience – not just staring straight ahead – so they appear more relaxed and confident. I had an athlete literally stare at me for ten minutes on stage, and it made me very uncomfortable. As a competitor you certainly don’t want the judges not to look at you because you are making them uncomfortable with your staring. It’s also important that an athlete makes brief eye contact as she enters and exits the stage.
Lori: I don’t consider eye contact super important.
Eric: I think an athlete should avoid making eye contact with the judges all together. Since the judges are sitting lower than the stage, athletes have to look down at them to make eye contact, and this can come across as a lack of confidence. It also makes me feel a little uncomfortable when a competitor looks at me, which makes me want to look away from them; which of course you don’t want a judge to do.
Many ladies think that having short hair like a pixie cut or being flat-chested will cost them placings. Can you clear up if this is the case, or if these attributes contribute to the overall presentation?
Tina: If the haircut is flattering and they can rock it on stage, then it absolutely does not play a role in how I score an athlete. However, I do know of federations that have specifically told athletes they should wear a wig of long hair to make them “more beautiful,” but I disagree 100% with this. An athlete should rock what makes her comfortable. As far as being flat-chested, sometimes there does come a time when an athlete’s symmetry may be impacted by lack of breast tissue. For example, very muscular women with no breast tissue can look “boxy,” but I can say with 100% honestly that in my 10+ years as a judge, I have never scored someone down because of either of these factors.
Lori: I always remind people that this is a bodybuilding competition, not a hair competition. I also point to Dana Linn Baily as someone who has achieved great success even without implants.
Eric: I have seen situations where an athlete’s symmetry is thrown off because her upper body does not appear symmetrical with her lower body due to the size of her chest. However, choosing the right suit top and posing correctly can solve this issue. As far as hair, it is dependent upon the individual’s body type. I’ve seen women who may benefit from longer or shorter hair. We are judging an athlete’s entire package.
If a competitor stumbles on stage, will you mark her down for this or is there a bit of grace in this area?
Tina: This can depend on the federation and if they score on presentation or stage walks specifically. I have never scored a competitor down for stumbling on stage. If a woman stumbles and recovers (versus awkwardly falling over), she shouldn’t get scored down for that. However, if an athlete literally cannot walk in her shoes or transition without falling over or wobbling, then yes, that can impact her score. But a small stumble? Absolutely not.
Lori: If a stumble can be worked out gracefully, then no. However, if an athlete’s overall stage presence looks unpolished then yes, it can hurt their score.
Eric: If a woman stumbles once or twice, no. If it continues to happen, especially with a bikini competitor, then that can take away from her overall stage presence and ultimately affect her score.
What is the most common mistake you’ve seen competitors make?
Tina: Not learning how to pose properly. I’ve seen many amazing bodies on stage who pose poorly or don’t use the best posing position for their body types. Good posing can really enhance a physique that isn’t perfect, but bad posing can literally ruin a great physique.
Lori: The most common mistake I see are athletes who didn’t practice their posing enough…it shows.
Eric: Poor posing. If someone puts in all that work to build a great physique, but doesn’t concentrate on posing to show it off – shame on them.
Based on our judges’ answers, I think it’s fair to say that athletes looking to hit the stage – regardless of division – should invest their time and efforts on the following:
- Developing a balanced physique
- Learning how to pose properly
- Improving their overall stage presence/confidence by practicing their walks and quarter turns (in heels)
- Having hair, makeup, tan, and posing suits that emphasize all of the above
If you have a goal of hitting the stage, but feel like you could use a some guidance with meeting the expectations judges are looking for, I’m here to help. Just send me an email or visit my website for more information.