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Competition Strategy

by Brandi

I had the pleasure of volunteering for the CBBF Bodybuilding and Physique Nationals that were in Edmonton this weekend, and as usual there were many triumphs and heart breaks. There will always be some who question the judging but from where I was, (very up close and personal) I supported most if not all of the decisions made. Something to take into consideration when trying to peak for an event is what the current trends are. Using techniques and strategies that worked 5 or 10 years ago is not going to serve you today because the sport has changed, and it keeps evolving. One must stay current as to what is being rewarded on all levels, international, national, and provincial.


There are 5 components to judging bodybuilding competitions (as can be found here: ). And they are:

1. Muscularity

Muscularity refers to the size of the muscles, their shape, separation, definition, and hardness or visibility of striations and vascularity. Muscularity is determined by the extent of development in relation to the size of the skeletal structure. Also to be considered is the shape and contour of the developed muscle and muscle groups. Of equal importance is the separation or lines of demarcation between adjacent muscles, and striations delineating sections or fibers within the same muscle group, and the degree of firmness of muscle tone. Body fat retention and water retention are conditions, which should subtract from an athlete's degree of perfection in this round.

In comparing muscularity, judges should look for evidence that the competitor is a bodybuilder, with muscularity that is greater than average. An impressive development of muscle, and not the definition of average muscularity achieved simply by dieting, is the quality sought in this area. In gauging muscularity, the judge should examine the degree of muscularity over the entire body.

A full, well-positioned muscularity has a more favorable appearance and should be judged accordingly. Size is not necessarily the key-determining factor, but evidence of thick muscularity is desirable in comparing qualities among bodybuilders.

2. Definition

Indicates the degree of muscularity brought about by the absence of subcutaneous body fat. Defined muscularity is necessary to fully display the development of the physique. Definition is only of value when it allows massively developed muscles to be displayed.

There should be evenness between hardness in the upper and lower body, between extremities and the torso and between corresponding sides of muscle groups or the entire body (between arms and between legs).

3. Proportion

Implies an even balance of muscular development in comparison to each muscle group. Theoretically, a "strong body part" can be just as detrimental as a "weak body part". Bodybuilders must strive for equal development among all muscle groups. The aspect of definition is equally important in judging muscularity. It must be possible to distinguish between muscles and muscle groups, as in demarcation of muscle outlines, as well as the visibility of striations between fibers within a separate muscle. Leanness is important but an anorexic or overly dieted appearance is neither advantageous nor desirable. Definition within the confines of a well-muscled physique is what judges should be looking for. Definition and hardness are the signs of a "finished" physique, which is the result of hard training, the absence of body fat, and a limited retention of body water. Vascularity is a sign of a defined muscularity.

4. Symmetry

Symmetry refers to the structural harmony of the physique including the structural size on the muscles, the relation of each muscle in a group to all other muscles in the group. It shall also include the balance and proportion of components (upper and lower body, upper and lower parts, and front and back). Also to be considered is the degree of separation, definition and detail. Symmetry is a measurement of evenness of development and how well the parts of the physique fit together.

In evaluating symmetry, the judge should be concerned with the harmony and proportion of the physique. This evaluation should begin with the SKELETAL STRUCTURE itself. Although a competitor may be limited by his genetic structure, the judge has to honestly examine this characteristic to make necessary distinctions between bodybuilders. The ideal structure should include a near-equal ratio of torso to leg length, broad shoulders and narrow hips. Furthermore, skeletal deformations must be judged as imperfections despite the athlete's inability to change them.

Symmetry also includes judgment of muscular development and the muscles themselves. The upper body and lower body development should be synergistic and fit together well. Likewise, the arms and legs should be in proportion to one another and also within each front to back. The physique should look balanced from the front, back and side, with no angle overshadowing the others. Within the muscles themselves, balance must be existent pertaining to quality of muscle peak, height, development, length, shape and proportion. Judging symmetry involves finding defects within the physique by careful evaluation, which are separate from defects found in the area of muscularity. Symmetry is a difficult marker of physique competition to be judged.

5. Stage Presence

Includes posing performance and other factors influencing general appearance such as skin tone, grooming, charisma, and poise. Effective stage presentation is essential to display the physique to its maximum potential. Presentation is the effectiveness of display of the competitors' most favorable development, including posture, carriage, projection, posing ability and stage presence. Skin quality, evenness of tone, choice of posing outfit, and grooming are also considered. The selection and order of poses used in the individual routine and the finesse in assuming them, along with smoothness of transition between them are factors included in the judgment of presentation.

The focus in presentation is on all aspects of the performance other than the actual physique itself. Presentation judging begins with the SEMI-RELAXED round, in examining how the contestant presents himself. Contestants should face the position request by the judges (front & back) without twisting, posing, moving, etc. They should stand erect and symmetrical, weight on both feet and arms at the sides. Any movement (posing) which impairs the judges' ability to look at the presentation should be reflected in a markdown in scoring, costing the athlete possible higher placement. Grooming is also examined during this time, which the emphasis on the athlete's ability to present a well-prepared and attractive appearance.

Included here are evaluations based on hair style and length, skin tone (free of blemishes not under his control), discoloring of skin, tan quality and evenness, stretch marks, sagging skin, etc. Jewelry other than rings and non-hanging earrings is prohibited.

The individual POSING ROUTINE gives judges the opportunity to study the competitor's stage presence and ability to display his/her physique. The routine should include a broad selection of poses (to show all aspects of physique and be non-repetitive) and have an orderly progression of poses with smooth and finessed transitions. Likewise, poses should be held long enough for judges to gain an impression of the physique. Also, routine should fundamentally be a bodybuilding display, and not dance, gymnastics, burlesque or other displays.

Use of these techniques can enhance a routine if used sparingly, but judgment of posing should not be predicated on outside athlete or dance ability. The competitor should enjoy the routine and communicate this to the judges and audience with the absence of gritted teeth, grimaces, quivering or shaking, balance problems, arrogance, etc. Slouching or lack of attention between requested poses should be viewed negatively by judges.

Presentation involves a significant amount of pre-contest preparation, which is reflected in everything from stage presence to the posing routine. Many elements make up this portion of judging, all which should be considered when placing competitors. Presentation should be judged equally with muscularity and symmetry.


I have bold what I felt to be the more relevant points to current trends and this discussion. 5-10 years ago I think it would be fair to say that Canadian Bodybuilding was largely a dieting contest. If you were to compare the Canadian winners to the NPC winners (American) you could see vastly different looks were being rewarded. The Canadians were most often very hard, ripped to the bone and dry, but consequently a little smaller. Whereas the NPC seemed softer but much bigger in size. From what I have seen in the past 4 years the trend is moving more towards the Americans and is now currently sitting somewhere in the middle.

The hardest part about doing a competition is figuring out how to peak for the event. For those who want to push to one extreme or another (size vs ripped) for personal goals thats great, but for those that are wanting to win some contests you have to be more careful with your strategy and find some balance.

The purpose of dropping water is to create more definition and hardness. When you are lean, really lean, in my opinion you should not have to drop your water to see more definition, and in most circumstances it will do more harm than good. When you have very little to no subcutaneous fat left on your body, where exactly is the water going to come from? The answer is your muscles. The lower blood volume can reduce the appearance of size dramatically without adding any extra benefit. All things being equal, according to current trends if two guys are standing next to each other and one of them is freaky ripped but smaller, and the other has deep cuts, no loose skin, isnt freaky ripped but is bigger - the 2nd guy is going to be rewarded. This is something to seriously consider when planning your strategy.

Another component that cannot be understated is grooming. If someone walks on stage looking like they just got out of bed then they don't take the sport seriously in my opinion. You should be shaven, clean cut, hair, nails and makeup done for women. Tan needs to be even, there was a lot of patchiness going on, and very few people were prepared with their own muscle sheen or touch up products. You are judged on all of these things, I can't imagine working so hard and losing points because I looked like sloppy.

Symmetry... yes we are all judged on things that we have no control over. That is the game sometimes. You could have two people the same size, same everything, and one person has unusually long legs in proportion to his/her body. (me! lol). Oops, that's a deduction for no reason.

So for those that seemed somewhat confused on why things ended up the way they did, I hope this helps bring a little clarity to the situation.