So, you want to compete…

Before deciding on which federation you should compete with, or even which category is best for you, when considering competition, it’s best to do a little homework first. Read about the federations through their websites. A few of them are:

Ontario Physique Association (OPA)

Canadian Body Building Federation (CBBF)

International Drug Free Athletics (IDFA)

World Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation (WBFF)

Physique Canada

Ultimate Fitness Events (UFE)

International Federation of Body Building (IFBB)

National Physique Committee (NPC)

World Natural Bodybuilding Federation (WNBF)/International Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness (INBF)

That’s just a few… there are MANY more.

Judging is subjective

Read up, and get to know what the federation you’re interested in looks for in each category. The most important thing to remember is, despite what they say their “Judging Criteria” is for each category, at the end of the day, judging is subjective. If you can accept that, it will avoid many disappointments and confusion throughout your competition career. Believe me, I still get confused with how the judges place competitors. Is it a full moon? Does the head judge have a headache or need their eyes checked? Nope. It’s just plain subjective.

Here’s an excerpt from INBF for their Figure category:

In this round we are looking for the following::

1. Structural flaws – Faults within the competitor’s skeletal structure
2. Proportion – The balance of one muscle group to another e.g. lower body to upper body, biceps to calves, waist to quadriceps etc.
3. Balance – The left side of a competitor’s body compared to the right, the front compared to the rear.
4. Symmetry – The competitor’s overall shape and line.

In this round a competitor losses one point for every fault found. So that the competitor with the fewest points is ranked 1st.

Figure International Overview

Muscular Development
• Muscular and toned figure. However, this is not a bodybuilding competition so excessive mass will take away from the overall muscular toned physique
• Reasonable level of body fat showing separations between major muscle groups (ex. biceps to triceps) without visible striations in the muscle groups
If we look at the IDFA, there are different criteria for the same category:

Judges will be basing their decisions on the following criteria:


  • Muscular toned feminine physique
  • This is not a bodybuilding competition so excessive muscularity will take away from the overall muscular toned physique
  • Reasonable level of body fat showing separations between major muscle groups (eg. biceps to triceps) without visible striations in the muscle groups


  • Confidence
  • Execution of quarter turns and figure walk
  • Skin tone, make-up, suit selection
  • Overall poise and presentation

Both federations agree that there should be “separations between major muscle groups without visible striations in the muscle groups”, however sometimes the rule is not always the case. I have repeatedly seen those that truly represent the category on paper, lose out to someone “excessively” lean, overly muscular, or someone with very defined muscle striations. It causes confusion for the rest in the pack when that person gets scored higher and wins. But, as I said earlier, if you accept that this sport is loosely judged on bias, rather than the laid out “criteria”, then you will remain sane.

My best advice is to decide which category your body type most resembles, and work from there. Go to a few shows before you compete to check out what the judges lean towards – it may be totally different from what it says on their website. Don’t take it personally if you lose out to someone who looks like they belong in a different category. Instead, stick around after the show and speak with the judges about your scorecard. They’ll be happy to provide feedback. Don’t be a sore loser, politely ask what you can do to improve for your next competition, if you decide to return to that federation to compete. Be gracious, professional and polite ALWAYS.

Which federation?

I get asked this question A LOT, and I always answer the question with a question: What are your goals?

If you want to grow through the ranks of competition, and competing at the Arnold or Olympia is your dream, then you MUST join a federation that will get you there. In Ontario, the OPA is the only federation that will provide the route to the IFBB, which is where you need to be to compete at those elite events. If you’re happy growing within a smaller federation, and remaining within that federation alone, then there are more options.

Don’t expect to get rich from these competitions either. Plain and simple: you’ll spend more than you make – even at the pro level.

You may also choose a federation simply because the date of the competition fits in with your contest prep timing.

Of course, if you only intend to enter a competition as motivation to change your lifestyle, or fulfill a personal goal, then any federation is suitable. I’ll tell you now though, you won’t stop at just one. Shows are addictive. I wish I had known more about the tiering system of federations long before now, I would have chosen my path differently. Regardless, I’ve had a blast at every competition and am in them as much for the social aspect, as for the competition – and that’s the right attitude to have.

As I said earlier, if you expect to win every show because you look great – and your trainer, friends and family all agree – then you’re setting yourself up for failure because there’s no telling how the stars will be aligned on the day of the show, or what the judges are really judging that day.

Have fun, stay positive, and enjoy yourself. You worked hard to get there – OWN THAT STAGE.


4 thoughts on “So, you want to compete…

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