Although sometimes the winners are obvious, judging men’s bodybuilding is not always straightforward. The best bodybuilder is not necessarily the most shredded competitor on stage nor is he the biggest competitor either. You might wonder then what it is specifically that judges look for when assessing men’s physiques. What follows should help clarify how some decisions are made and what competitors should think about when training and getting ready for the stage.
It is important to note that the judging of physiques is very subjective in nature. As a result, it is important to have some guidelines and basic definitions to follow to ensure consistency across a judging panel. Physique Canada judges assess Men’s Bodybuilding physiques based on the following criteria:
Bodybuilding is primarily about muscle development. This includes muscle size as well as muscle shape.
Muscle definition relates to how lean a muscle is. Muscle definition, also known as conditioning, pertains to the absence of subcutaneous body fat and subcutaneous water. It plays a very important role in displaying the degree of muscularity and shape of the muscles, as well as showing separations (between muscle groups) and striations.
Symmetry is about having both equal muscle development and equal muscle definition between all muscle groups. This means that there should be a proper balance between the left side and the right side of the body, the upper body compared to the lower body, and the front compared to the back.
Stage presence pertains to the overall presentation of the competitor, including confidence, skin tone, skin colour, and execution of the mandatory poses. Skin blemishes such as acne, scars, tattoos, blotchy application of skin colour, and stretch marks can negatively affect stage presence.
No physique is perfect. With competitors presenting different strengths and weaknesses and displaying various degrees of muscle definition and muscularity, judges need to decide which combination of muscularity, muscle definition, and symmetry looks best on stage at the time competitors are assessed. Stage presence can make a difference when things are really close.
Bodybuilding competitors are not assigned points. Instead, they are compared against each other and ranked accordingly. If two competitors are very close, judges must compare the overall structure and balance between the two. Symmetry and overall conditioning then become key factors. If a competitor displays greater flaws (e.g., no calves, poor hamstring development, legs aren’t quite as lean as the rest of the body, wide midsection, etc.), then the edge generally goes to the other competitor. If the overall balance is comparable between the two physiques, then the judges might need to decide if one’s muscularity eclipses the other’s muscle definition. Sometimes it can boil down to minor differences in stage presence.
As simple as it sounds, it’s not always easy when it’s time to make the decisions. The process can become quite complicated with large line-ups or when line-ups have several competitors with very similar physiques. If you are a competitor and don’t understand your final placement or where you should focus your training on, the best way to find out is to discuss it with the judging panel that assessed your physique.