Physique Canada strongly believes that muscle should be the foundation of all physique classes. Unfortunately, not all athletic-looking women would do well or fit into the women's muscular physique (aka figure) category. Perhaps they don’t aspire to be that muscular or simply don’t have the genetics to do so. This is where the Athletic Physique Division comes in. Women’s athletic physique focuses on healthy, athletic-looking, toned women that do not want to be perceived as bodybuilders.
Since the judging of physiques is very subjective in nature, it is important to have guidelines and definitions to follow to ensure consistency across the entire organization. Physique Canada judges assess women’s athletic physique competitors based on the following criteria:
Muscular development relates to both muscle size and muscle shape. We are not looking for that traditional women's muscular physique (aka figure) or female bodybuilder look where large shoulders, bulging biceps, sweeping quadriceps, or a thick back are the norm. However, athletic physique competitors should display enough muscle to have that athletic look while still looking healthy and feminine. They should look like they work out seriously.
Muscle definition relates to how lean a muscle is. The absence of subcutaneous body fat and subcutaneous water helps show the degree of muscularity.
Conditioning is a very important aspect to being able to display the shape of the muscles and show separations between the major muscle groups. Competitors must display a very toned, but healthy look. Although athletic physique competitors can be as lean as their muscular physique counterpart, the difference lies in how the body is displayed. Therefore, looking emaciated, hard, striated, or excessively vascular should be avoided.
Symmetry is often one of the most neglected or misunderstood aspects of physique development. Athletic physique competitors should display an equal balance of muscle development and muscle definition between all muscle groups. This means there should be an appropriate 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 relates to the overall presentation of the athlete, including confidence, poise, skin tone, skin colour, make-up, suit selection, and execution of the quarter turns. 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 muscular development, muscle definition, and symmetry looks best on stage and best fits the definition of what Physique Canada is looking for at the time competitors are assessed. Stage presence can give athletic physique competitors an edge when things get really close.
Competitors are compared against each other and ranked accordingly. If ranking is close between two competitors, judges start comparing the overall structure and balance between the two. At this point symmetry and overall shape become a key factor. If a competitor displays greater flaws (e.g., poor shoulder development, overdeveloped shoulders, legs aren’t quite as lean as the rest of the body, wider mid-section, underdeveloped calves, etc.), then the edge generally goes to the other competitor. If the overall balance and symmetry is comparable between the two physiques, then the judges might need to decide if one’s muscularity eclipses the other’s conditioning. 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 decisions. The process can become quite complicated with large line-ups or when line-ups have several competitors with very similar physiques. It also needs to be done in a timely manner and the rankings need to be accurate.
Competitors are always encouraged to approach the judges immediately following the contest for feedback. This gives them an opportunity to learn about their strengths and flaws so they can figure out where they should focus their efforts for future competitions.