Female Bodybuilding: Competition Categories Explained

Female Bodybuilding: Competition Categories Explained

Thanks to the massive growth in the number of women who are weight training, female bodybuilding has become much more popular and accessible.  

More women than ever are wanting to take their training to the next level by conditioning their bodies to competition standard.

The challenge many of those women face; is that as an ‘outsider’ it can be difficult to get reliable information and support into the world of bodybuilding.

Lipstick Lifters is working to close that gap, starting with this guide and continuing to offer further information and support for women in weightlifting.

The purpose of this guide, is to look at the different categories in the sport and explain the basics of how each one works, including what the judges will be looking for.

There are 6 main categories to consider:

  • Wellness
  • Bikini
  • Figure
  • Fitness
  • Physique
  • Bodybuilding

Different locations and federations will have their own line up of competitions and standards, for example; not all competitions will have a wellness, or, a bodybuilding division. 

With that in mind, you should use the information provided here as a guide. 

Check locally (or farther out if you’re willing to travel) to see which competitions are available to you and which divisions are being hosted.  

Meanwhile, see below a breakdown of categories and judges requirements…

Wellness

Wellness is a relatively new category in female bodybuilding. 

Introduced circa 2016 wellness bodybuilding opened the doors to the fuller figured woman.  

The Wellness category is a classic ‘healthy woman’ look.

This is a category where the judging isn’t based on absolute muscle size, or incredibly low body fat levels. 

Wellness is geared more towards symmetry, proportions, general appearance and essentially, the ‘overall package’.

Competitors are typically slim and athletic, without being heavily muscled or incredibly lean. They are expected to be fit, healthy and elegant.

These ladies are strong, with the overall look being ‘shapely’ but not ‘muscular’.

Wellness competitors need to present a healthy and fit figure, with a firm appearance, sporting fuller hips, thighs and rounded buttocks.

Wellness competitors are assessed by a panel of judges across…

  • Stage presence
  • Quarter turns
  • ‘I walks’ (along a stage or catwalk)
  • Vertical proportions (legs to upper body proportion)
  • Horizontal proportions (hips and waist against shoulder)

This is a category where extreme muscle definition, separation, very low body fat levels, dryness and muscle size are marked down.

The wellness category opens the doors to a new wave of armatures, if you want to find out more, checkout; Wellness Category Bodybuilding – The Game Changer for Women >>>

Bikini

Bikini competitors present an hourglass figure, with evenly proportioned shoulders and hips. 

The bikini category has potentially been the most appealing category to women entering into the sport.  However as the Wellness division word spreads, bikini may lose the top spot – I could be wrong, only time will tell.

Bikini girls require good and balanced muscle definition, without extreme muscularity or low body fat levels.

The judging of bikini competitors is based on a healthy, balanced and well-proportioned physique.

As with classic bodybuilding, points are awarded for symmetry and balance of muscle shape and size.

Judges are looking for a classic hourglass figure, with particular emphasis being placed on the shoulder muscles, a small waist and good, well-proportioned glutes.

Skin tone is very important, so make sure that skin is firm, moisturised and tan is well applied.

Bikini competitors are assessed by a panel of judges across…

  • Front and back poses
  • Quarter turns (natural federations)
  • Overall presentation
  • ‘I walks’
  • Posing
  • Confidence and stage presence.

Judging is across two rounds, wearing a two piece bikini and high heels.

In both rounds, competitors will be expected to perform front, back and both side poses.

For the second round, competitors will start with the ‘I walk’, in which they will be expected to show their stage presence and physique on the move.

Points are accumulated for; look, physique and stage presence.

I-walking

The competitor walks confidently towards centre stage, in addition to this, they will stop to perform 4 different poses of their own choosing.  

Finally, they will walk to join the line up at the back of the stage.

Figure

The figure category is where we start to enter more of a classic female bodybuilding arena.

Ideal for women with a naturally athletic physique, good muscle shape and tone.

Figure competitors tend to be muscular with broader shoulders, a smaller waist and narrow hips.

When it comes to muscle balance, judges are particularly impressed with strong, muscular shoulders and backs.

This should be balanced with strong quads and glutes giving an impressive ‘X’ shaped physique.

When combined with even skin tone and the right level of body fat (typically 8-12%) this creates a strong and lean look.

Judges are looking for full muscles, with clearly visible separation.  Muscle striations are to be avoided.

Competitors can be marked down for being too lean and of course for not having enough visible muscle mass.

Figure competitors are assessed by a panel of judges across…

  • Quarter turns (front, both sides and back)
  • Muscle size, symmetry and proportion
  • Visible muscle separation
  • Aesthetic qualities such as skin tone, make up, clothing and overall appearance

Poses are the classic quarter turns (allowing the judges to see all sides of the physique). 

Points are awarded for muscle size, symmetry, proportion and how lean the competitor is.

The aim is to be ‘lean’ rather than ‘ripped’ and ‘muscular’.

Competitors typically do not have to walk in the figure class, but over two rounds they will be judged in both a single piece swimsuit and two-piece bikini.

Fitness

The fitness category is where female bodybuilding, fitness and talent meet.

The women’s fitness category is a bit of an anomaly.  It’s not just about  appearance; here you will need to demonstrate your strength, flexibility and talent.

A fitness competitor’s physique will match closely to a figure competitors, but in the fitness category; there’s more.

Not only are competitors required to present a well-built physique, they are also expected to perform a fitness routine to music. 

This is an opportunity to demonstrate physical strength and fitness ability.

Competitors may have a background in dance, gymnastics, cheerleading or the like, but essentially this category is open to anyone who can satisfy the judges as outlined below.

As with other categories there is the first round of physique judging (this is done in a two-piece swimsuit and includes the usual quarter turns etc).

Round two is the fitness round – here competitors will have to perform a two minute routine.

It doesn’t have to be gymnastic or dance based, but it does have to be set to music and depending on the level of competition, include the following power and flexibility moves…

  • One armed push up
  • Straddle hold
  • Leg extension hold
  • High kick
  • Front and side splits

Competitors are judged on fitness, style, co-ordination, movement, routine quality and overall personality.

The final round is the one-piece swimsuit round.

In this round judges are assessing the competitors in their athleticism, firmness, poise, elegance, overall appearance, symmetry and proportion.

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Physique

Physique competitors move even closer to the female bodybuilding end of the scale, but they are expected to be more feminine and athletic than their bodybuilding counterparts.

Judges are looking for larger and more defined muscles than a figure competitor. 

Physique competitors are muscular, but not so much so that they would be described as ‘ripped’. 

Around 8-10% body fat is appropriate.

Points are scored for muscle size, tone, poise and balance.

Female physique competitors are judged in a traditional bodybuilding pose style, with all women having to perform the following poses…

  • Front double biceps/open hands (no flat footed full front pose – some sort of front twisting pose)
  • Back double biceps/open hands
  • Side triceps with leg extended
  • Side chest with arms extended
  • Front ab/thigh

In the physique category, competitors have to perform a routine choreographed to music of their choice.

It is here where they can demonstrate their physique during movement.

Physique competitors are judged on their muscle mass – they are expected to have full muscles (but not as thick as the bodybuilding women). 

Women’s physique competitors should step on stage with a very low level of body fat.  Some muscle striations are allowed in this category.

The overall look that the judges want to see is, leaner and more muscular, than the other categories.  The thick muscles and extremely low body fat levels of female bodybuilders is not desired in this category.

Physique women are expected to have a wide back and shoulders, a tiny waist, strong, lean, legs and glutes combined with perfect symmetry and balance to their physique, with some muscle striations.

Bodybuilding

The female bodybuilding category has dropped off in terms of popularity, with most women not wanting to go down the route that it takes to succeed at the very top levels in the sport.

It does still exist, but in a much smaller form than before.

The bodybuilding category is the only of the women’s physique sports that is judged by weight and not height.  This is because the judging is largely down to muscle mass and body fat levels rather than athleticism, appearance and femininity.

Female bodybuilders are judged across the pose routines – these are mandatory poses…

  • Front double biceps/open hands (no flat footed full front pose – some sort of front twisting pose)
  • Back double biceps/open hands
  • Side triceps with leg extended
  • Side chest with arms extended
  • Front ab/thigh

The judges will also call out further poses they wish to see in order to make their judgements.

Bodybuilders are then allowed to go through their own pose routine.  Competitors will choreograph this themselves.

This is an opportunity for female bodybuilders to show off their best poses, angles and muscles in order to score extra points with the judges.

Points are scored for muscle size, symmetry and balance alongside low body fat and posing quality.

In terms of body fat, the lower the better – muscle striations are expected all over the body and muscles are expected to be thick and full.

The perfect female bodybuilding physique should also be:

‘Dry’ (as much water removed from under the skin as possible)

‘Granular’ (body fat so low that the muscle texture can be seen)

And ‘vascular’ (body fat and water so low that the blood vessels are big, thick and visible all over).  

A female bodybuilder with all of the above will score maximum points.

Your category and your goals

A dramatic decline in popularity of the female bodybuilding category, coupled with the explosion in popularity of weight training amongst women, means that the sport as a whole had to evolve.

It did so by adding all kinds of categories to women’s physique sports, leading to the wide range that we now have available.

These female bodybuilding categories are broad enough that there’s likely to be one that suits your interest, your physique and your training goals, – should you wish to go down the competitive road.

Your natural physique may be suited to some categories more than others – take an honest look in the mirror and see which category will suit you best. 

While natural body shape plays a huge part in where you fit in the world of bodybuilding, you should not forget that this is bodybuilding after all.  Therefore, the objective is to ‘build’ your desired physique, in the gym, with weights.

Bodybuilding is about sculpting your body and weightlifting is the only way to do this. 

Women who want to enter into this arena should be working with weights already, if you’re not, you need to be.

If you’re looking to the future and you want to start laying the foundations, you should start building now. 

It can take years to build your physique up to competition standard so the sooner you start, the better.

Remember that you don’t have to restrict yourself to one female bodybuilding category, many women go in at one level and work their way around throughout their ‘career’.

How far you want to take this is entirely up to you.

If you need good muscle building workout plans; check out Members Zone.  You can sign up for free and sample our no nonsense workout plans designed to build lean muscle and strength efficiently.

Do your own research

Be mindful of the fact that each federation will have their own set of rules.  Make sure you check these out and that you don’t take this guide as a definitive.

The best research you can do is to visit some shows as a spectator. 

By doing this you will be able to familiarise yourself with the format and the standard of competition.

Go one step further by talking to some new people, ask about their experiences and allow yourself to get a real feel for the world of bodybuilding.

Get a coach

Different training methods will reap different results in different ways, this is why if you do decide to go pro you absolutely must get a good coach on side. 

A good coach is imperative to your success, as they will be able to give you an honest opinion on which category they think will suit you best. 

Your coach will (should) ensure you get on stage in peak physical condition.   

If you’re not ready for a coach, but you want reliable weightlifting plans to assist you with laying your foundations, check out our options in Members Zone >>>

Spoiler alert

One of the open secrets of the bodybuilding world is the use of steroids and other PED’s (performance-enhancing drugs).

Your life, your choice; we’re not judging or exposing anybody.

We mention this because if you’re unaware of their use (and you are a clean athlete) you may find yourself in a category you just can’t win in. 

So be mindful of where you compete and who you are up against.

There are plenty of drug-free competitions, so do check locally to see what competitions are available to you.

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