We’re going to fix the NPC

But first, we have to acknowledge that it’s broken.

Judging a bodybuilding show is, to be certain, a completely and totally thankless job.  Controversy abounds and most often times is subjective – how many times have you heard that competitor ‘x’ was WAY better than competitor ‘y’ but finished lower?  Occasionally actual “mistakes” are made where scores are miscalculated and trophies given to the wrong person (I’ve witnessed this in person…it’s not pretty or fun for anyone involved).  Human beings make mistakes though, it happens (see also:  2017 Oscar’s Best Picture).

What I really wanted to talk about here is the fact that the judges have been given a completely impossible task due to the mind-numingly VAGUE judging guidelines presented by the NPC.  At it’s heart, this post is a plea for the NPC to conduct wholesale revision on their publicly posted judging guidelines for all categories.  I won’t stop there, but I figure that’s a good place to start.

For the bodybuilding division, there is only one actual “guideline” given.  From the bodybuilding rules page,

Judges will score competitors according to the NPC “total package” which is a balance of size, symmetry and muscularity.

When I search for “NPC total package”, I get results for a couple training programs under that name, a page for a show with that name, and the link back to the page where that phrase is mentioned.

Rule #1:  don’t use a term to define your target aesthetic that you then fail to define.

This assumes that everyone can read your mind and know what you’re talking about, and when writing official rules for a big money-making operation, that doesn’t work.  Also, they do mention size, symmetry and muscularity.  So…conditioning doesn’t count?  Posing?  Presentation?  Can we please also add to the official rules that the individual posing routines are not scored, while we’re at it?  This is the document people look to when trying to plan their training, diet, competition schedule for the year, etc – it’s a big deal.  People who compete invest a ton of time and money into doing that – a big organization like the NPC should respect that by giving clear guidance to people looking to throw money their way.

Next, a little “did you know?” question and answer session:  did you know that when judges score a competitor, they do so with a single number?  Check out this standard NPC/IFBB scoresheet:

At this show there were 5 judges.  In this case, Joshua Lenartowicz was liked by all 5 judges for first place.  So they all gave him a “1”, giving him a total score of 5, and as in golf the low score wins.  This means as a judge sitting at that panel, all you have to do is say “ok he’s first, that guy’s second, screw that guy, third right there, fourth, that dude should have stayed home, fifth, and let’s go eat…”

Fun question:  ever heard anyone complain about judging at a bodybuilding show?  I know, neither have I.  <insert over-the-top maniacal laugh here>  THIS IS WHY.  When there is no justification or transparency behind scores, you are literally begging for controversy and accusations of political favoritism.  It is common at high level shows for competitors to be denied placings they would otherwise deserve due to things that happened off-stage – like social media posts that judges take exception to.  How is that acceptable in any way at all?

The solution is easy, and serves a dual purpose.  And, to tie everything together, it wraps back into my first chief complaint as well.  Get ready, I’m about to fix competitive bodybuilding in one bullet point list.  It’s gonna be sweet.

  1. Clearly define the categories that competitors will be judged on (size, symmetry, conditioning, posing, presentation, hair, whatever)
  2. Establish a weighting system for each category (ex:  maybe size counts for 35% of your score in bodybuilding, but only 20% in bikini) – all elements add up to 100% of your score
  3. Assign the competitors a score in each category – either on an absolute (1-10) or relative (ranking in their class) scale.
  4. Do some basic math to figure out who wins.

EASY.  And the dual purpose?  Publish those scoresheets after the show, and every competitor knows why they finished where they did.  Your size was awesome, but your posing was total ass (or vice versa).  No more guessing.  No more emailing judges for feedback and getting the same response literally every competitor gets:  “bring up your glutes, tighten up your hamstrings, work on your posing” – that is the “post-show judge feedback cut and paste response” because A) it’s usually accurate, and B) how the hell could a judge remember any particular person from a show with 300 people they looked at all day?

Ok, now I know I said I was going to fix bodybuilding in that above numbered list, but there’s another thing we need to address to REALLY make everything hum along.

The pre-judging/finals all-day-shitshow show format has got to go.

Is there anyone who likes that?  Anyone who doesn’t find it phenomenally annoying?  It’s always fun explaining how it works to an uninitiated friend or family member who wants to come support you:

“So, we start at 10 and that’s what they judge, but they don’t hand out any trophies.  But we usually know about what the results are, but we have to wait and come back 8 hours later for the actual awards.  So if you want to come and cheer when I actually need the support, be there at 10.  But if you want to see if I win something, come at 6.  Or blow your whole day and pay for 2 tickets and do both.  I paid a fortune to compete in this show so you should pay a fortune to watch me, too.” – You, explaining bodybuilding to your mom

I mean, it’s just about the most asinine way to format and organize a show that anyone could possible invent.  We’re all miserable, tired, hungry, thirsty, cranky, and we stink like ass because we can’t shower – so let’s prolong the day as much as possible!

Instead, let’s take a cue from other organizations and implementing a running format.  It works like this:

  • All divisions are assigned a time (figure:  10am – bikini:  12pm – men’s physique:  2pm, etc)
  • At 10 am, the figure classes go through the normal “pre-judging” routine.  Classes are judged, scoresheets filled out
  • Immediately following that, individual walks are done and competitors are introduced while scores are tabulated (because that takes more work now)
  • After the individual walks, hardware is handed out

And viola – at 11:30am, you – as a figure competitor – are done with the show and can go eat, shower, mow your lawn, hit the grocery store, and be back in time to work in 2 episodes of Westworld that same night.  What the hell is Dolores going to do next?  Will Maeve find her baby?  I MUST KNOW.

Who doesn’t win in running it that way?

The promoters.  Oh yeah, forgot about them.

With a prejudging/finals setup, they get the opportunity to sell 2 tickets.  It would be interesting to see the numbers on what percentage of show-goers actually buy a ticket for both parts of the show.  The solution is simple:  one general admission ticket good for the entire day that costs a little more.  If you’re pre-judging ticket is $25 and your finals ticket is $35, make your one ticket $30 and few people will complain.

So I think with these changes, everyone can be happy.  Let’s recap:

  • With revised judging standards, judges have data to back up their decisions
  • With improved scoresheets, competitors benefit from greater transparency, get instant feedback, and enjoy a shorter and more compact show day
  • Audience members don’t have to pick and choose when to go, can catch all the meaningful moments, and don’t have to waste an entire day
  • Promoters should still come out ahead in the end

So, what are we waiting for?  Talk to your NPC state chair heads and let’s take some action on this.  Search “<name of state> NPC”, find your state’s (or region’s) website, and contact the chairperson asking them to consider changes like these.

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