Although the winners are sometimes obvious, judging men’s bodybuilding is not always straightforward. Quite often the winner is not the most shredded competitor onstage and not necessarily the most muscular competitor either. So you might wonder what it is specifically that judges look for when assessing men’s physiques. What follows should help clarify how decisions are made in well-judged bodybuilding competitions.
It is important to remember that the judging of physiques is very subjective in nature. As a result, it is necessary to have some guidelines and basic definitions to follow to ensure consistency across a judging panel. According to the IDFA rules, men’s physiques are assessed based on the following criteria:
Muscularity: Bodybuilding is primarily about muscle development. This includes muscle size as well as muscle shape.
Muscle definition: This relates to how lean a muscle is. The absence of subcutaneous body fat and subcutaneous water helps show the degree of muscularity.
Symmetry: This means having equal muscle development and equal muscle definition between all muscle groups. There should be an appropriate balance between the left side and the right side of the physique, the upper body compared to the lower body, and the front compared to the back.
Stage presence: This pertains to the overall presentation of the competitor, including confidence, skin tone, and execution of the mandatory poses.
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 onstage at the time competitors are assessed. Stage presence can give competitors an edge when things are really close.
Before the audience is allowed into the auditorium and the competitors come on stage, Steve holds a meeting with all the judges to ensure that they understand the judging criteria and the rules. This helps to ensure consistency in the judging and that no mistakes are made.
Although this should be common knowledge, some people are still unaware that competitors are not assigned points. Instead, they are compared against each other and ranked accordingly. If two competitors are very close, judges start comparing the overall structure and balance between the two. At this point symmetry becomes a key factor. If one competitor displays greater flaws (e.g., weak calves, poor hamstring development, legs aren’t quite as lean as the rest of the body, 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 the muscularity of one eclipses the muscle definition of the other. As already mentioned, if things are extremely close, then stage presence can certainly be the deciding factor.
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 similar physiques. If you are a competitor and don’t understand your final placement or what you should focus your training on, the best way to find out is to discuss it with the judging panel that assessed your physique.
It’s important to mention that the IDFA has been working hard to improve the quality of its judges. There is a process in place to ensure that judging is done fairly and consistently across the country. There are absolutely no politics in any of the decisions made. Any competitor should be judged the same way no matter what IDFA contest he or she decides to compete in and no matter who is sitting on a judging panel.
After every contest, each judge’s scores are reviewed for consistency. They are accountable to the head judge and the chief judge. For the remainder of the 2011 season, the IDFA will be including the final scores when publishing competitor placements. Starting in 2012, the IDFA will also be including the individual scores from each judge.
. . . Steve Duperre, IDFA Pro
Note: Steve Duperre is a lifetime natural competitor, a pro bodybuilder in the IDFA, and the head judge for the IDFA. The IDFA is Canada’s top physique organization featuring men’s and women’s competitions.