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Judging Women's Fitness Modeling in the IDFA

  • Written by Steve Duperré

Jennifer Lambert FosterFitness-modeling competitions are not without their share of controversy, and competitors seem to be confused more than ever with regards to what judges look for specifically when assessing the women’s physiques. The two most frequently asked questions are: How much muscle is acceptable? and How lean should competitors be? What follows should clearly explain what fitness modeling within the IDFA is about and eliminate any confusion or misunderstandings about this class. Current and future competitors will also be in a better position to decide if they belong in this class or not.

Although it is true that fitness modeling is sometimes considered a beauty contest in the industry, within the IDFA the primary focus is on the physique. According to the IDFA’s rules, fitness-modeling competitors are defined as beautiful, lean, healthy, athletic-looking bikini models. As mentioned in “Judging Men’s Bodybuilding in the IDFA” and “Judging Women’s Figure in the IDFA,” the judging of physiques is very subjective in nature. Therefore, to ensure consistency across the entire organization, the IDFA has guidelines and basic definitions that each judge is required to follow. According to the IDFA rules, women’s fitness modeling is assessed based on the following criteria:

Muscular development: This relates to both muscle size and muscle shape. It is important that fitness models look like they work out, while retaining a healthy, feminine look. However, they should not be as muscular as their figure counterparts.

Muscle definition: This refers to how lean the person is and how much muscle shows. The absence of subcutaneous body fat and subcutaneous water helps show the degree of muscularity. Fitness models should be lean enough to show the shape of the muscles, demonstrating a fit, healthy, athletic look. Although the IDFA wants to see light separations between muscle groups, competitors should display softer lines than their figure counterparts.

Symmetry: Competitors should display equal balance of muscle development and muscle definition between all muscle groups. 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: This refers to the overall presentation of the athlete on the stage, including confidence, poise, skin tone, make-up, suit selection, execution of the quarter turns, and the model walk (aka T-walk). The fitness models should display a photogenic quality.

No physique is perfect. As a result, competitors present different strengths and weaknesses and display various degrees of muscle definition, muscularity, and symmetry. So, based on the definitions of the criteria, judges need to decide which combination of muscular development, muscle definition, and symmetry looks best onstage at the time competitors are assessed. Stage presence can certainly give fitness-modelling competitors an advantage when things get really close.

Competitors are compared against each other and ranked accordingly. Just as when assessing bodybuilding, 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., overdeveloped shoulders or legs, legs that aren’t quite as lean as the rest of the body, wider midsection, too lean, etc.), then the edge generally goes to the other competitor who doesn’t show as many flaws. If the overall balance and symmetry are comparable between the two physiques, then the judges might need to decide if one’s muscularity eclipses the other’s muscle definition. 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 for the judges 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.

2011 IDFA Pro Universe fitness-model class

One last thing that I feel is extremely important to mention: Quite often, women decide to compete in both figure and fitness modeling. Although it is possible to do well in both classes, it always depends on the line-up. Although the judging criteria are essentially the same, the definitions of what the IDFA is looking for with regards to muscle development and muscle definition are not the same for both classes. If the quality of the competitors is high in both classes, then winners of one class should not do well in the other.

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 decide where they should focus their efforts for future competitions.

. . . 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.

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