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

  • By: Dave Moffat
  • Date: December 15, 2023
How Bodybuilding Is Judged

Bodybuilding is a cool sport that mixes physical strength with looking good, showing off what the human body can do when pushed to the max.

Being in a bodybuilding competition isn’t easy. It needs months or even years of hard training, really careful eating, and a lot of self-control.

But how do the judges pick who wins?

In this blog post, we’re going to dig into how bodybuilding competitions are judged, giving you a peek at what it takes to shine on stage.

The Bodybuilding Judging Criteria

Bodybuilding competitions are judged based on several key criteria. These 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:


How much muscle a bodybuilder has is important in this sport. Judges will closely examine competitors’ muscle size, density, and mass.

The goal is to find athletes who have a good balance of muscle development in their upper and lower bodies. They should have big muscles but still look proportionate and symmetrical.


Besides how big the muscles are, judges will also look at how well-defined or separate each muscle is.

This means checking out the visible lines that show different muscle groups apart, and how many veins you can see on the competitor’s body.

A body with well-defined muscles shows low levels of body fat and careful preparation. It tells the judges how committed the athlete has been to their workouts and eating plans.

Symmetry and Balance

A top bodybuilder needs to show off a body that’s symmetrical and balanced, with all muscle groups developed evenly.

Judges will look at competitors’ left and right sides, and the muscles in their upper and lower bodies, to make sure no single area is too big or too small.

Getting everything just right needs a lot of careful focus on both working out and posing. Even a small imbalance can take away from how good the bodybuilder’s physique looks overall.

Stage Presence and Posing

Bodybuilding isn’t just about building up muscles. It’s also about showing off your body in the best and most impressive way possible. Competitors have to learn certain poses that make their strong points stand out and hide any weaker areas.

Judges will be looking at how well athletes carry themselves on stage, how confident they are, and how they present themselves overall. These things can really affect how their bodies are seen and judged.

How Bodybuilding is Scored

The International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) Pro League runs professional bodybuilding. They have a special way of scoring bodybuilding contests.

Seven judges evaluate each competitor on three important aspects: muscle size, body symmetry, and muscularity.

To make sure the scoring is fair, the highest and lowest scores from each judge don’t count. The rest of the scores are added up and averaged to figure out the final score.

In the Mr. Olympia contest, competitors are ranked on a scale from 1 to 15. But in a twist, the winner isn’t the person with the highest score, but the one with the lowest overall score!

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This scoring system was made to find the athlete with the most balanced and impressive body.

It makes sure the contest isn’t just about who has the biggest muscles in one area, but who has the best overall “package”.

The Judging Process

Bodybuilding contests usually have two main parts: pre-judging and finals. In the pre-judging part, competitors have to do certain poses both by themselves and in groups. This lets the judges compare everyone and start making decisions.

This part is really important because it often decides most of the final scores.

The finals are when competitors get to do their own posing routines to music. They can show off their creativity and who they are as a person.

Even though this part might not change the final scores much, it gives athletes a chance to really wow the judges and the people watching.

Once both parts are done, the judges add up their scores and decide who the winners are based on certain rules. Sometimes, there might be a “pose-down” between the top competitors. This gives the judges one last chance to compare them before they announce who won.

How Different Divisions Are Judged

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

Men’s Open Bodybuilding/212

Competitors in Men’s open bodybuilding and the 212 Division 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. Competitors under 5’5″ must weigh 212 pounds. Taller competitors can weigh 7 pounds more 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. There’s 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

In men’s physique competitions, the judges look at how the competitors look overall. They also consider how muscular and fit the competitors are. Judges also assess how well the competitors present themselves on stage.

The focus is on having a fit, sporty body with wide shoulders, a slim waist, and muscles that are easy to see. It’s different from bodybuilding because the poses aren’t as complicated. The competitors wear longer shorts instead of the short trunks usually used in bodybuilding.

Wheelchair Bodybuilding

Wheelchair bodybuilding follows similar judging criteria as Men’s open bodybuilding. It focuses on muscle size, definition, symmetry, and balance. However, the evaluation is limited to the upper body. 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. This is similar to men’s bodybuilding.

Judges also consider stage presence, posing skills, and presentation. Competitors must perform specific mandatory poses.

Women’s Physique

The Women’s Physique division focuses on balanced and aesthetic muscular development. It combines elements of both bodybuilding and figure.

Judges evaluate competitors based on muscle size, definition, symmetry, and overall balance. They emphasize femininity and grace in posing routines.

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Figure competitors are judged based on their overall appearance. Judges focus 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. Judges assess 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 newer part of these competitions. It’s all about having a fuller, sportier body, especially when it comes to the butt and thighs.

Just like in other divisions, competitors are judged on how they look overall, their muscle tone, and how balanced their body is. How they present themselves on stage and their overall performance also matter a lot. Like the bikini division, competitors wear two-piece suits and have to do certain poses and turns.

Knowing what the judges are looking for in each division is really important for competitors who want to do well in their chosen category.

Athletes can make a big difference in how well they do on stage. They can change how they train, what they eat, and how they practice their poses to fit what’s needed in each division.


Judging bodybuilding is a tricky job that needs a sharp eye for small details and a good understanding of what looks good in the sport.

Judges evaluate competitors based on their muscle definition, balance, and stage presence. This helps them find the athletes who have reached the top in both their physical development and their performance.

People who want to be bodybuilders must understand how these competitions are judged. This can help them change their training, what they eat, and how they practice their poses to do even better than the high standards set by the judges.

Dave Moffat

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.