How Bodybuilding Is Judged – An Insider’s Look at the Criteria and Scoring

  • By: Dave Moffat
  • Date: June 12, 2023
How Bodybuilding Is Judged

Bodybuilding is a unique sport that combines physical prowess with aesthetic appeal, showcasing the incredible potential of the human body when pushed to its limits.

Competing in a bodybuilding contest is both physically and mentally demanding, requiring months if not years of dedicated training, strict dieting, and unwavering discipline.

But how do judges determine the winners in these competitions?

In this blog post, we will delve into the criteria and process used to judge bodybuilding contests, providing an inside look at what it takes to stand out on stage.

The Bodybuilding Judging Criteria

Bodybuilding competitions are judged based on several key criteria that assess competitors’ physiques and presentations.

While specific guidelines may vary slightly depending on the competition or organization, the primary factors considered by judges typically include:


The degree of muscle development is a critical aspect of bodybuilding, and judges will closely evaluate competitors’ muscular size, density, and overall mass.

The aim is to identify athletes who have achieved a harmonious balance between upper and lower body muscle development, displaying impressive size without sacrificing proportion or symmetry.


In addition to size, judges will also assess the definition or separation of individual muscles.

This involves examining the visible lines and striations that separate different muscle groups, as well as the degree of vascularity (visible veins) displayed by the competitor.

A well-defined physique demonstrates low body fat levels and meticulous conditioning, reflecting the athlete’s dedication to their training and diet.

Symmetry and Balance

A winning bodybuilder must display a physique that is symmetrical and balanced, with proportional development across all muscle groups.

Judges will compare competitors’ left and right sides, as well as their upper and lower body development, to ensure that no single area is overly dominant or underdeveloped.

Achieving symmetry and balance requires careful attention to detail in both training and posing, as even minor imbalances can detract from the overall impression of the physique.

Stage Presence and Posing

Bodybuilding is not only about physical development but also the art of presenting one’s physique in the most flattering and impressive manner. Competitors must master a series of mandatory poses that highlight their best attributes while minimizing any weak points.

Judges will evaluate athletes’ stage presence, confidence, and overall presentation, as these factors can significantly impact the perception of their physique.

How Bodybuilding is Scored

The International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) Pro League has developed a comprehensive scoring system for bodybuilding competitions.

involves seven judges who evaluate each competitor based on three key factors: size, symmetry, and muscularity.

To ensure fairness, the highest and lowest scores from each judge are dropped, and the remaining scores are calculated to determine the average score.

In the Mr. Olympia competition, competitors are ranked on a 1–15 scale. Interestingly, the overall winner of the competition is not the competitor with the highest score, but the one with the lowest overall score.

This scoring system is designed to identify the athlete with the most balanced and impressive physique.

This approach ensures that the competition is not solely based on individual body parts, but rather on the “total package” of the competitor.

The Judging Process

Bodybuilding contests typically consist of two main rounds: pre-judging and finals. During the pre-judging round, competitors perform mandatory poses in groups and individually, allowing judges to compare physiques and make initial assessments.

This round is crucial, as it often determines the majority of the final scores.

The finals round consists of individual posing routines set to music, where competitors have the opportunity to showcase their creativity and personality.

While this round may not significantly impact the final scores, it provides athletes with a chance to leave a lasting impression on both the judges and the audience.

After both rounds are complete, the judges will compile their scores and determine the winners based on the established criteria. In some cases, there may be a “pose-down” between the top competitors, allowing judges to make any final comparisons before announcing the results.

How Different Divisions Are Judged

Each division in bodybuilding and fitness competitions has its own unique set of judging criteria, emphasizing different aspects of physique, conditioning, and presentation. Here’s a brief overview of how each division is judged:

Men’s Open Bodybuilding/212

In Men’s open bodybuilding and the 212 Division, competitors are judged based on muscle size, definition, symmetry, and overall balance. Stage presence and posing skills are also essential factors.

The primary difference between these two divisions is the maximum weight limit for the 212 category, which is 212 pounds for competitors under 5’5″ and increases by 7 pounds for each additional inch of height.

Classic Physique

Classic Physique emphasizes a more streamlined and proportional look than traditional bodybuilding.

Competitors are assessed based on their muscularity, symmetry, and overall balance, but with a greater focus on aesthetics and the so-called “classic” bodybuilding look reminiscent of earlier eras.

Posing is also a crucial component, with competitors required to perform specific mandatory poses.

Men’s Physique

Men’s physique competitors are judged based on their overall appearance, muscularity, body conditioning, and stage presence.

The emphasis is on a fit, athletic physique with broad shoulders, a narrow waist, and well-defined muscle groups. Unlike bodybuilding, posing is less intricate, and competitors wear board shorts instead of traditional posing trunks.

Wheelchair Bodybuilding

Wheelchair bodybuilding follows similar judging criteria as Men’s open bodybuilding, focusing on muscle size, definition, symmetry, and balance. However, the evaluation is limited to the upper body, and competitors must demonstrate their posing skills while seated in a wheelchair.

Women’s Bodybuilding

Women’s bodybuilding competitors are judged based on muscle size, definition, symmetry, and overall balance, similar to men’s bodybuilding.

Stage presence, posing skills, and presentation are also taken into account, with competitors required to perform specific mandatory poses.

Women’s Physique

The Women’s Physique division focuses on a balanced and aesthetic muscular development, combining elements of both bodybuilding and figure.

Competitors are evaluated based on muscle size, definition, symmetry, and overall balance, with an emphasis on femininity and grace in their posing routines.


Figure competitors are judged based on their overall appearance, focusing on a fit, symmetrical, and aesthetically pleasing physique.

Muscularity is important, but the emphasis is on proportion and balance rather than sheer size. Competitors wear two-piece suits and perform quarter turns to display their physiques from all angles.


Fitness competitions consist of two rounds: a physique round and a performance round. In the physique round, competitors are judged on their overall appearance, focusing on a fit and balanced physique.

In the performance round, athletes showcase a choreographed routine that emphasizes strength, flexibility, and athleticism, with judges assessing their creativity, skill, and execution.


Bikini competitors are judged based on their overall appearance, with an emphasis on a toned, fit, and feminine physique. Stage presence, confidence, and presentation play a significant role in this division.

Competitors wear two-piece suits and perform specific poses and turn to display their physiques from all angles.


The wellness division is a relatively new addition to the competitive landscape, focusing on a curvier, more athletic physique with an emphasis on well-developed glutes and thighs.

Competitors are judged based on their overall appearance, muscle tone, and balance, with stage presence and presentation also playing a crucial role. Similar to the bikini division, competitors wear two-piece suits and perform specific poses and turns.

Understanding the judging criteria for each division is vital for competitors looking to excel in their chosen category.

Tailoring training, diet, and posing practices to meet the specific requirements of each division can significantly impact an athlete’s success on stage.


Judging bodybuilding is a complex and nuanced process that requires a keen eye for detail and a deep understanding of the sport’s aesthetic principles.

By assessing muscularity, definition, symmetry, balance, and stage presence, judges can identify the athletes who have achieved the pinnacle of physical development and artistic presentation.

For aspiring bodybuilders, understanding how competitions are judged is essential for tailoring their training, diet, and posing practices to meet and exceed these rigorous standards.

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Hi, I'm Dave Moffat the founder and Chief Editor of and certified International Personal Trainer and Certified Nutritionist. My passion has always been bodybuilding but with 15 years' experience in weight loss programs too, it's hard not to mention all that when you're working at your fitness level fullest (I hope). When Im not in the gym or spending time away from my family i often think about what advice would help others achieve theirs goals just like these inspired mine.