Choosing Which Physique Division to Compete In. What You Need to Know Before Your Next Show.

Bikini, Figure, and Women’s Physique – OH MY!! Which physique division is right for you when it comes to your contest prep?

With the growing popularity of the sport of bodybuilding, now is one of the greatest – and easiest – times to get involved with the sport.

Years ago, women only had one physique division to choose from – bodybuilding.

And it is from there that all other physique divisions came along. Today we have 4 incredible divisions for women to be able to sculpt their bodies to their liking, and then show it off on stage next to others – with the hopes of placing well or even winning.

But with so many options, how do you know where to start? And moreover, when do you know it’s time to move on to the next division than what you currently compete in?

Let’s dive in and discuss just that!


Your Current Structure Dictates Which Physique Division You Should Choose

As I mention a moment ago, ALL of the women’s divisions in the sport evolved from the mother division of female bodybuilding.

There is one shape which is coveted within that division, and that’s the X frame. The Holy Grail of the ideal bodybuilding structure.

As we come down step by step in divisions, the extremes of what we want to see from that X frame somewhat diminishes in some way. To understand what I mean, let’s breakdown what the criteria for each division is – and what the judges look for in a winning physique.


The Bikini Division

bikini divisionThe bikini division is probably one of the most “lucid” divisions of the sport because the criteria isn’t as cut and dry as some of the other physique divisions.

In general, the judges want to see a beautifully shaped physique with top to bottom symmetry, when it comes to how much muscle a competitor has. Extreme muscularity in this division is often scored down.

Think of bikini as more of the “entry level” to the sport. So you’re not going to have competitors with super capped delts, well developed back muscles, insane abs, peaked biceps, nor really developed legs. In fact, this all goes against the basis of the criteria for the division.

With bikini, you want to have a more “athletic” look. Something a little more achievable for the average woman. And this is not to say that ANYONE can do this division and do well – but at the same time it’s not so easy that you can simply jump off the street and win a trophy (for most).

Ask any bikini competitor, and they will tell you that the one thing that does win shows is a great butt. So well developed glutes, and shapely legs that don’t overpower the physique are important.

Shows are won from the back, and this holds true for SURE with this division.

When you turn around to do your back pose, the judges want to see tight glutes (with no jiggle) when you move and walk. So get those squats going, and focus on keeping the ship TIGHT back there.

When it comes to conditioning, this is NOT the division for ripped abs, legs, and upper bodies. You want to have a more “athlete’s tone” – so seeing the slight lines of these muscles without it being overpowering is important.

Note though, some bikini competitors tend to get very lean when dieting for their shows, which is GREAT. What fixes that is all in how you pose and present your body.

Don’t mistake not having to be ripped with not being lean enough for the stage!

You can ALWAYS adjust the look of how conditioned you are through what you eat the last week and final hours going into your show, and again by how you present/pose on stage.


The Figure and Fitness Divisions

figure divisionI’m going to group these together because essentially they are one in the same. The only thing that separates the two is that with fitness, you must perform a routine.

As a division, fitness was the first of the two to come along.

When the look of bodybuilding started to evolve and change to a bigger and harder physique for the women, many federations wanted to give women another alternative to being able to display their bodies on stage, but do so in a way that looked for a more “athletic” and less muscled physique.

Thus was created the fitness division.

I’m not entirely sure of how the routine aspect of it became a part of the game, but I would gather that in the golden era of bodybuilding – when there was just ONE division for everyone, you presented your body on stage through comparisons and mandatory poses. And then you performed a routine to entertain the crowd, and to show the judges your BEST poses.

I can imagine that when the fitness division was created, it was under that same impression. The difference was that whereas with bodybuilding you need to present actual bodybuilding poses in your routine, with fitness you had to present mandatory moves that displayed your strength and athleticism.

So high kicks, straddle holds, and one arm push ups (among others) were compulsory for the competitors to have an acceptable routine in the eyes of the judges.

Over the years, the fitness division has evolved to the point where the women display INCREDIBLE strength, fluidity, flexibility, and explosive power.

I remember at one point it seemed like EVERY fitness competitor had a background in gymnastics given the tremendous tumbling passes often seen in many a routine. While gymnastics is NOT required, it does help in putting together something that wows and captures the audience.

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But the truth is that not every woman who wants to compete can do this, nor do they want to do a routine at all. And it was for that reason that the figure division was introduced as an option.

Now, because the only thing separating figure and fitness is the fact that one performs a routine, and one does not – the criteria for both are very similar when it comes to the ideal physique.

In general, the ideal shape is the coveted X frame. Although at times in the past, the division has swung between that shape, and what’s called more of a “martini glass” or Y shape.

However, with the introduction of bikini, and women’s physique in more recent time, the figure/fitness divisions have really come back to the base of all bodybuilding and fully adopted the x as the ideal frame.

To better understand the criteria for these divisions, I need to break things down in a front-to-back, side-by-side, and top-to-bottom fashion to give you a full picture of what the judges want.

Top-to-Bottom Symmetry

When comparing athletes on stage, the judges are looking for a nice well developed back that forms a “V-taper” starting with the shoulders into the lats, which then ties into a tiny waist. From the waist down, the judges are looking for quads that flare out to show off a nice sweep, and calves that are strong and developed without overpowering the lower half.

Side-by-Side Symmetry

When you quarter turn to the right, the judges are now looking at how your body matches up in the side facing pose.

For this, they are generally still looking for an X frame, however this time, you’re simply facing sideways.

So in this position, the judges are looking at how developed the actual caps of your shoulders are, and how well they tie into slightly developed triceps/biceps as you are viewed from this angle.

Once again, they can also clearly see how developed your back/lats are as you take a twist into this pose, and how that ties into a tiny waist.

For the bottom half, you want to have legs that show off well developed and rounded glutes, and a nice peak/sweep of the hamstrings. The quads in this position will take a little more of backseat to the development of the hamstrings and glutes – as they are better seen and displayed in your front and back poses.


Front to Back Symmetry

In this comparison view, what you want to think about is overall symmetry and conditioning. Take a look at your physique… How do your lines flow?

Are there any parts that stand out and overpower your shape when looking at your body as a whole?

When you face front, the judges want to see a body that has beautiful flow and lines, with all muscle groups possessing the same kind of density and size, with your conditioning matching both sides as you turn from front to back.

So as you embark on your own training program, whether you are off season or in prep, keep these things in mind.


The Women’s Physique Division

physique divisionThe women’s physique division is a step up from figure, and a slight step down from traditional bodybuilding.

Started in 2011, it was a division intended to allow for women who carry a bit to much muscle for figure – yet not enough for bodybuilding – to have a stage and space in which they can fit in.

Now, the division has evolved A LOT in the few short years it has been in existence (as of this publication), but it still has similar roots as the figure division.

Overall, the judges are looking for EXACTLY the same as I mentioned above in the section breaking down fitness/figure. The MAIN difference being that with women’s physique, the competitors will have a lot more muscle and harder conditioning.

Think of women’s physique as almost lightweight women’s bodybuilding (without the specific weight requirements), and you’re a bit more on track with what the general look is for the division.

In addition to the increased muscularity and conditioning (despite having a similar base to the figure and fitness criteria), women’s physique competitors must also perform 5 mandatory poses in addition to the quarter turns, as well as perform a routine.

Let’s take a closer look at what the judges are looking for with the 5 madatory poses for the women’s physique division.

Front Double Biceps

In this pose, the judges are looking a few things… As implied by the name, you are flexing both arms to show off the development and peaks of your biceps. In addition to that, the judges are also paying attention to the midsection and conditioning of the legs.

You’ll often see two different poses with the front double biceps – the front leg crossed over the body, or a more open position resembling (and displaying) a perfect X frame.

Which one you choose to do will depend on YOU, and your overall shape.

Competitors who naturally have a nice tiny waist can get away with either and kill it. For those who have a wider/square waist, taking the twist may help to taper that a bit, and be much better for your lines. This is something you need to play with – and work with a coach who can teach you exactly what works for you.

And finally, in this pose the judges can also see the development of the lower half, particularly the sweep of the quads on both legs – and how well conditioned they are.

Back Double Biceps

Back double bi’s is just like the front pose in some respects as far as what the judges are looking for with development of the arms.

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In this position though, they can CLEARLY see how well developed your back is, not only as far as your V taper is concerned – but in the density and detail of the muscles in your middle back. And this should be even more pronounced than what you see in figure.

As we scan towards the lower half, the conditioning and symmetry of the muscularity of your legs vs. your upper body is being judged.

Seeing glutes that are developed WITH some separation from the hamstrings at the glute/ham tie in is the ideal. Seeing separation in the actual hamstrings as well is also an important detail you don’t want to miss.

And honestly, that’s the hardest area for many women to get truly lean. Once you’ve nailed this, you may find yourself with a top finish.

Side Triceps and Side Chest

As you may have guessed from the name alone, these two poses are all about the development of the arms for the side triceps, and the chest + arms for the side chest.

Ideally, with your side chest, you want to show off a developed chest, particularly in the upper chest fibers. This should tie into nice tear dropped shaped delts, and from there, developed triceps to complete the look.

When you hit your side triceps pose, you want to not only think about how you show off the triceps muscles, but also how you present the delts and the waist.

Come to think of it, displaying a tapered waist is important for the side chest as well. The thing you want to remember is to always maintain your X frame – no matter what position you hit.

Abdominals and Front Thigh

The final mandatory pose in women’s physique is the abdominal and front thigh. And it’s your BIG opportunity to show off a nice ripped stomach and crazy leg separation at the same time.

I always try to pose in a way to show off the abs without crunching down and looking too blocky, and I advise you do that as well.

Leaning back into it, and slightly flexing the abs, all while straightening out the posing leg to fully flex the quads will give you the ideal shape for this pose.

Which side you choose to do is up to you. Even with the side chest and side triceps. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SHOW BOTH SIDES! Choose your best one to present to the judges because remember, this game is all about hiding your flaws while presenting your strengths.


How Much Muscle YOU WISH TO CARRY Should Influence Which Physique Division You Choose

I want to finish off this (long and very detailed) post today with a little caveat for you to consider when trying to figure out where you fit in…

If you’ve never competed before, take a look at your structure first and foremost. Ask yourself the following questions:


  • How long have I been training? (Those who are more advanced can sometimes carry more muscle than the average beginner – and have more density as well. This will impact where you fit in.)
  • What division do I LIKE the most?
  • Which division is my shape CURRENTLY closest to given the criteria above?
  • How developed is my body – do I have capped delts, a wide back, and sweeping or developed quads and legs overall? Or am I more shapely on the bottom vs the top?


By answering the above questions, and studying photos of the top competitors in the respective divisions above, you’ll be able to see where you currently fit in.

But understand that this does NOT have to be set in stone.

Competitors move in and out of divisions ALL THE TIME! In fact, I have myself as well. So it all comes down to where you are structurally at this moment, and also where you wish to be later on down the line.

Not every woman wants to be a figure or women’s physique competitor, and that’s TOTALLY fine!

What you always need to do, once you figure out where you belong, is train in a way to build your body for the criteria of YOUR CHOSEN division. And exactly what that means will vary over time as you get more advanced, and seasoned, in this sport.

If you are someone who is really on the brink of being able to successfully bump up to the next division – but you don’t want to – then you will have to curtail your training a bit to focus on keeping your current size, but perhaps working on improving single weaker parts instead.

Once again, working with an amazing coach who knows the industry in and out is the first step in your success, and taking out the guesswork of what YOU specifically need to do to bring your best to the stage.


If you are in the market for a new coach, I kinda know someone who might be right for you… Click here to meet her.


Got any questions beyond what I’ve shared with you here? Go ahead and post them below in the comments section…

And always remember – sharing is caring.

Feel free to share this post on your social media, or send it to anyone you know will benefit from learning how to choose the right physique division for their current structure and goals.

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