What the Judges Want: Bikini Division

by | Jul 24, 2018 | Beginning Bodybuilding, Bodybuilding, Contest Prep | 0 comments

Next up in my “What the Judges Want” series?  The one I knew when I started writing these that I would hate the most:  bikini.  If the judges themselves actually knew what they wanted with this division, it would help my writing efforts a ton – not to mention make life so much easier for all the women competing in this division.

I think that more than with any other division, bikini is most susceptible to the winds and whims of what happens to be in the air (or minds of the judges) at a given time.  Judging has gone through phases – sometimes with women getting penalized for being too hard, sometimes for being too soft, and there was a time when not having oversized implants meant you couldn’t be successful in a pro show (thankfully those days are mostly done).

Bikini has been around since 2010 (only that long?  Yes, that’s it!) and the NPC and IFBB know there is money to be made in making this division BIG so they hand out a ton of pro cards for it – but since SO MANY WOMEN compete in this division compared to others, your chances of going pro are no better, and in fact likely worse than in other divisions.  At the NPC Nationals in 2017, there were 874 total competitors – a full 278 of them in bikini (Men’s Physique was the next most populous division with 173).  If you were “tall” (5’7″ and over) it was going to be you and 42 other women on stage.  You could be truly exceptional and still easily get missed in a crowd that size.  It practically puts you in a position of stalking the judges on Facebook to try and guess what their favorite color is and then ordering your suit to match.  Fifteen pro cards for bikini were handed out at that one show alone.

It’s important to note – what flies at the highest level of the IFBB and at the NPC National Level isn’t exactly/necessarily what’s going to be rewarded at local/regional shows.  The same standards will apply, but the overall level of conditioning and development is going to be less extreme of course.  Keep that in mind if you choose to compare yourself to the photos that follow.

As I mentioned in my write-up on the figure division – and this is even MORE true with bikini – judging standards evolve over time.  Let’s have some fun and check out the winner of the Bikini Olympia in 2010, it’s first year:

Now of course, Sonia Gonzalez here looks great – but it’s crazy to think that just 8 years ago, this was the gold standard of the division and what the judges wanted to see more of.  To say that things have changed a bit since then is something of an understatement.  So let’s check out Ashley Kaltwasser, who won the Vancouver Pro a couple weeks ago:


First up:  wow, posing has really changed a bit hasn’t it?  One thing about this division is that you’re given very, VERY rough guidelines on what the posing should look like, and from there you’re on your own.  So looks and angles tend to change quite a bit from person to person.  Next, it isn’t until you see 8 years of judging standard evolution side by side that it really hits you – they want you harder, bigger, and more conditioned now (of course it can be REALLY easy to overdo it on those fronts as well, even still).  Note the almost total lack of glute development 8 years ago vs. that being the dominant feature of the physique now.  Midsection is much tighter also.

And at the highest amateur level, check out Jessica Telesco, who won the overall at Jr. Nationals last month:

A lot of the same thing here – really tight midsection, lots of glute development, much much tighter glutes and hamstrings also.  Good, full quads help round out the picture and getting that quad sweep to show in the back pose gives you a HUGE leg up (pun intended…groan away).

One thing that really bugs me about this division specifically with the NPC and IFBB – they don’t want you to move your hair in the back pose.  So it’s really a butt/hair pose, not a back shot.  I think the powers at be would do well to remember that this is a bodybuilding show first and foremost, and that muscular development and conditioning are the name of the game.  Completely hiding your back and eliminating it from any kind of consideration?  Dumb, dumb, dumbOther organizations don’t make this foolish mistake, and the NPC/IFBB would be smart to fix this.

So clearly, depending on where your physique is now you could spend a fair bit of time growing/building to put on the size necessary to compete in bikini.  It does have the lowest “barrier to entry” of any division in a bodybuilding show, but no one goes to the gym on day 1 with a physique ready for this division.  So when I’m talking about long-term strategies to compete in the bikini division, we typically mean a shorter “long-term” than if the goal were figure or women’s physique – where more time building/growing would be necessary.  So what should we be thinking about long-term if your goal is to compete at the highest level?  Very generally speaking, I like this approach:

  • Sustainability.  Bikini, by it’s nature, doesn’t typically need a long, protracted growth/bulking phase between shows.  Because of this, if you really wrap your head around a good dieting strategy, it can be pretty doable to maintain a physique that’s about 8-10 weeks out year round.  The amount of weight you drop for a show prep in bikini should be less than for other divisions, after you’ve done a show.  Putting on a bunch of weight between shows isn’t very helpful, so focusing on a diet that is sustainable and flexible – perhaps even intuitive for some stretches – should be the goal.  Macro-based dieting works wonders here
  • Consistency.  Don’t get complacent – you don’t need a 10 month off-season between shows and you don’t need to pack on 10lbs of muscle either – but continue pushing hard on your lifts and maintain at least a small amount of cardio year round to maintain a slightly sharper level of conditioning, but back off from pre-contest levels there.  Gotta give yourself room to add more when it’s needed.

When it comes to training priorities, I believe in the following:

  • Glutes win the day – all things being equal you should be hitting legs at least twice a week, often times even more than that but with a glute emphasis more days than not
  • Focus on actually recruiting your glutes in compound moves.  Sure you can get them firing on a hip thrust, but can you really recruit them on squats?  Leg press?  Lunges?  Using an activation routine comprised of bodyweight movements to help train the brain to get them firing more effectively is a big bonus
  • Don’t get too cute.  A LOT of what is trendy these days – using bands on every exercise under the sun, using the abduction machine backwards or at ridiculous angles – none of this stuff is necessary.  If it makes things fun for you and you enjoy it, great – but none of it is necessary to build a wicked set of glutes.
  • Decide how many days per week you want to train and figure out your upper body pairings from there.  Lots of valid examples here.  If you want to train 5 days per week and hit legs 3 of those days, you can split up the remaining 2 into push/pull (chest/shoulders/tris and back/bis), or something less conventional like chest/back and shoulders/arms.  If you have implants, less direct chest work is fine (typically it should NOT be avoided altogether for postural reasons and to avoid imbalances).  Three to 4 sets of one exercise per week might be sufficient there.
  • Calves – don’t be afraid to hit calves 3 to 5 times weekly with moderate volume as finishers.  Especially if they are notoriously difficult to grow.
  • Abs – depending on how long you’ve been training I often recommend backing off on ab training.  Maybe not entirely, but one quality 20 minute session every 2 weeks or so is fine.  During a pre-contest phase they can be hit more regularly but remember – ab work does not make your midsection leaner.  Diet and cardio do that.  When you’re lean, your abs will show (unless you don’t have any – in which case yes, hit them harder).  Trying to build/develop them further becomes less helpful over time.
  • Waist trainers – just no.

Are you interested in competing in the bikini division, or have you competed before and maybe you’re looking to step up your game?  Check out the details on my online coaching program for contest prep.  All programs are customized for you and I offer a high level of feedback engagement with everyone I work with.

Looking for a good workout routine based on the criteria I spelled out above?  Head on over and check out my workout plans and specifically look at #24 – Bikini Ready.  This plan was built from the ground up to meet the aesthetic demands of the bikini division.

Or maybe you just have more questions after reading all this – that’s ok too!  Reach out and let me know how I can help and I’ll be happy to set the record straight however I can and answer whatever questions you have.