Competitive Bodybuilding For Women isn’t What You Think. Learn How it Works

Currently, I’m a full time student in my last year of college working here at DIR, as well as in the marketing department for a local health club. Also on my schedule is studying for my personal training certification. When people ask me what I do in the little spare time I have, I tell them I compete in bodybuilding competitions. They look at my 5’4″, 115-pound, lack-of-size body and either laugh because they think I’m being sarcastic, or they get a dumbfounded look across their face because they’re confused and don’t know what to say.

When I said bodybuilding, they were more than likely thinking about the ridiculously large and vasculin women who are rather androgenous. What people don’t realize is there are several different divisions in a bodybuilding competition for women. These include bikini, fitness, figure, and bodybuilding. For all divisions other than bodybuilding, each class is divided by height. Bodybuilding is divided by weight. The number of classes depends on the number of participants.

Bodybuilding shows are held year round all over the world. Anyone can sign up for one at anytime, anywhere. Listed below are the different body types that go into each different category, what takes place at a show, and what the judges look for.


Did you know there’s a bikini competition within a bodybuilding show? It’s actually the division I compete in myself. It’s not the average spring break bikini competition found on MTV, and it’s not something you can just decide to enter last minute (unless you contain incredibly blessed genes). This category is about the overall look and presentation of a woman.

Judges don’t look for the skinniest girl on stage, and they don’t look for the most muscular either. What they look for in this body type is leanness and the appearance of being fit. The girls are to walk on stage in front of hundreds of people, if not thousands, in nothing but a skimpy two-piece and high heels where they will perform model turns both individually and in groups next to the other competitors in order for the judges to closely compare each body. Some bodybuilding shows/organizations will also hold something like a model round, where the girls are required to answer questions from the judges and the winner will receive a free photo shoot and spread in a fitness magazine.

Body fat for bikini contestants is usually between 12-15%. Are there politics involved when it comes to scores? Maybe somewhat…let’s just say you don’t see many flat-chested girls walking away with the winning trophy.


This category is slightly more muscular than the bikini division and emphasizes muscle tone rather than muscle size. Figure preparation takes serious knowledge and dedication toward weight lifting.

When it comes to judging, this category can be subjective because there’s no set guidelines for what the judges are looking for. Each organization may have different criteria for what they expect from figure competitors. These girls will also wear a two-piece suit and heels, and stand on stage in the same format as the bikini division.

In bikini, there very well may be contestants who spend little time prepping, but with figure, I doubt there’s hardly anyone on the planet who’s able to enter last minute and walk away taking first place. These women take anywhere from months to years developing this muscle tone, depending on what their goals are.


This division is for the women with the stage personality and the athleticism. In this category, contestants will actually perform stunts on stage to show off their fitness capabilities. The types of things they perform could be gymnastics, dance, or even obstacle courses.

They are judged on showmanship, athletic ability, and ease of execution for the routine as well as a stopwatch time for any obstacle course. They do not wear a bikini for the fitness round but a showy outfit that matches the genre of their chosen routine. Women competing in the fitness category will also partake in a physique round where they will wear a two-piece suit and heels and are judged like those in the figure category.


Last on this list is the women’s bodybuilding division. This is the group that people mistake me for. Here’s why they get that stunned look on their face when I speak of my hobby… These women are judged on muscularity, symmetry, definition, and leanness. In order to do well, 10% or less body fat is required. They do where a two-piece like the other categories, however, heals are not required. What is required of them is to perform their own posing routine, like the men do, where they flex and show their muscles. The women are lined up side-by-side with the other competitors in their weight class so that the judges may choose a winner.

The hardest part about being a competitive bodybuilder isn’t lifting weights or gym time, it’s actually the diet, no matter what division you compete in. There’s a very limited amount of foods that are allowed during a competition prep, and most diets last anywhere from 8-15 weeks, depending on where you’re starting. When people ask me why I participate in something like this and deprive myself from what people call “normal” eating habits, I say, “Why do runners run 50 miles at one time? That sounds pretty crazy to me.”

Some people like to add a fitness competition to their bucket list; a one time great accomplishment. That’s originally why I decided to do one (and because I needed some extra motivation that would force me to shed a few extra pounds of fat). When I first began I really had no intentions of competing a second time around, but I surprised myself and found a new passion that I love working hard at to be the best I can be. As weird as it may sound, I can say I’m literally excited for the next time I start my competition prep diet.

Also Read:

Jamie Eason Delivers Beauty in Bodybuilding

Weight Lifting Techniques Defined

The Refeed Diet: I’ll Have a Stack of Pancakes with Extra Syrup

Photos from bodybuilding, muscleandfitness, rxmuscle


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.