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Bikini and Figure: What the Judges Want

bikini posing don'tsWhether you’ve competed before, or you are just thinking about competing, the one question everyone wants to know is “what do the judges want?”

Recently, I went to a seminar led by judges from our region in hopes of finding the answer. Here is what I learned – and what I didn’t.

10 Things A Competitor Should Know

bikini walk1. Make your first few steps count. First impressions are EVERYTHING. One of the first things the judges said is they can tell if you are winner as soon as you step on stage. So, as soon as you are in view, the judging begins. Your first step should be just as strong and confident as your final one. Your smile should already be on, your posture should already be rocking, and your attitude should already be in play. Many competitors practice all their moves for center stage, but neglect practicing their walk and transitions (moving around in comparisons, etc) – and it shows. Don’t wait to nail your favorite pose, win them over in your first few steps.

2. Pose to look good from 5 feet below. Judges reminded competitors and coaches they are normally 4-5 feet below the stage. What may look symmetrical in front of a mirror, may not look the same from the bottom of the stage. This means, when you face away from the judges and bend over to stretch out your butt crease, you may giving the judges more than they want to see. The judges suggest trainers sit on the floor while coaching their athletes, or competitors practice on a platform to get the most accurate view of each pose.

bikini posing dos3. Stand naturally. Judges prefer competitors look natural. They don’t want a bodybuilder lat spread, and stiff hands that look like you are pointing a fake gun at everyone. They want competitors to stand tall and proud, maintaining a tight core while having relaxed arms and soft hands. I admit, it does look a lot better – unless you have a flaw that needs hiding. In that case, I suggest you do what you think makes your body look its best. Some of the most common mistakes were winged arms, flared lats, poor posture, forward shoulders, downward chin (showing insecurity), severe bent-over glute pose, torqued waistlines and awkward stances.

I picked out a few pictures online, from both bikini and figure competitions, to help clarify what they are not wanting – as well as show you what they want, which is demonstrated beautifully above by this woman in the blue suit. Refer to the very first photo in this blog to see how to make corrections.

bikini posing don'ts

bikini posing

4. Don’t resort to poses made popular by people who were trying to hide flaws.  Some competitors will twist more at the waist to hide width, or bend more at the hips when showing their rear pose to get rid of lose skin. However, if you don’t need to do these poses, then don’t do them. The judges prefer you stand normal with arms down to the side and only lifted slightly. In many ways, posing is smoke and mirrors trickery. But, it is always best to stand and walk as naturally as possible, while posing in a way that flatters you most. This is just my opinion, but based on what the judges said, I’d venture to say the girl with the legs crossed is fit enough to stand normal, as well as the girl with her legs awkwardly spread out wide. Of course, if you need to cross your legs, go for it – but if you’ve got the total package, stand comfortably in it and leave the awkward poses for the people who need it.

Since presentation is everything, a person who well-hides their flaws still have a great chance to beat out a hot body who lacks confidence and is missing other elements, so don’t be discouraged if you have to use the alternative poses. I think their whole point is not to do them if they aren’t necessary.

bikini dos and don'ts5. Be original. Just because someone else does something, doesn’t mean you have to. Choose your walk, suit, hair, style, poses and sign-offs that fit your own personality – not someone else’s. The judges love it when a person’s unique personality comes through. Some girls are girlie, some are sassy, some are classy, some are a bit sexy (but be careful on this one), and some are bouncy and fun. The key to your success is choosing what looks best on you,  going with your own personal style, and going with it 110%. Remember, they see competitors alllll the time – so give them something fresh and new to look at!

figure side pose6. Avoid the awkward side glide. No one really enjoys walking away from someone while in a bathing suit, knowing your butt is bouncing all over the place – but what looks even more ridiculous is someone obviously trying to walk away from you while forcing their body to face forward. The same goes with people walking out on stage. Side-gliding across the stage looks funny. It’s natural to point your body in the direction it is going. I only wish I could have found a photo to demonstrate this ridiculous looking walk, but I came up empty handed – so you just get this crazy quarter turn side pose (which I’m sure the judges would hammer by the way).

They key to looking natural is practice, practice, practice! When you are walking on stage, you can still face your head toward the audience, while looking natural walking across the stage. If you want to avoid bouncing your bottom across the stages in front of the judges, you can still limit the time your body may have it’s back to the crowd while walking, but you need to do it in a way where know one notices. So practice how you would get on and off stage, how you would change places in comparisons, and how you will return to the back if asked to step to the side.

bikini pro attitude7. Bring your attitude – and if you don’t have one, act like you do. Have you ever wondered why the guy or girl that looks like they have enough attitude to go around (even if they appear a little TOO confident) always wins? Well, after this seminar, it was clear the judges want confident competitors. So, while the cockiness may be a complete turn off to me, the judges will take a confident cocky competitor over a pretty, but bashful, one. And, if you lack confidence, they suggest you fake it. This is when acting skills become very valuable. 99% of the crowd has no idea who you are, or what your real personality is, so bring your alter ego to the show and leave Little Miss Shy at home.

 nathalia melo8. Your posing suit won’t win the show for you. If you thought you needed to spend $500 on a suit to win, think again. The judges said there is no reason to spend a bunch of money on blinging out your million dollar suit – especially if you aren’t blinging out your body. I’d suggest spending the money on the things that matter most – like good training and a professional tan (the judges highly recommend getting sprayed at the show). As for the suit, its primary purpose is to have the right shape that flatters your physique. All the extra bling is just that – extra. This doesn’t mean you go pick up a bathing suit at Kmart, but it does mean that you shouldn’t let a pricey suit get in the way of competing. While overall presentation is super important, no one will notice that you have 100 less rhinestones than the next person – especially if you have the most rocking body! 2012 Bikini Olympia Champion, Nathalia Melo, (pictured here) proves a simple suit can still look like a million dollars.

 doutzen-kroes-2009-victorias-secret-fashion-show-019. You’re a bikini athlete, not a victoria secret model. One of the judges actually made a comment in the seminar that they wish they could just pop the heads off and judge their bodies. While I do understand the point they are trying to make (and realize the focus is on the body) the way you style your hair, wear your make-up, and express yourself through facial expressions is also a big part of your appearance and attitude. Although we can’t pop off your heads (sorry, you are stuck with it), what you choose to do with it still matters in my opinion.

What I believe the judges meant was this. When choosing your hair style, you shouldn’t be constantly trying to flip and rearrange your hair, or allow it to cover your body. They same way you don’t want your hair to be a distraction, your makeup should not be distracting either. Your make-up should enhance your natural beauty – not take over your face like a rhinestoned leaper. Most importantly, don’t spend a ton of money and energy on the extras. The judges aren’t judging how natural your extensions look or noticing the stones on your false eyelashes.

bikini competition tips10. Be YOUR best. The judges explained that they never know ahead of time what will win a show. What they meant was, if a bunch of hard girls show up, the winner will most likely be hard. If a bunch of soft girls show up, the winner will be most likely soft. This was super frustrating to me. Since I have seen how much judging can fluctuate from show to show, this is what we’ve always told our competitors. Choose ahead of time what YOU want to look like. Personally, I’d rather a competitor lose because they are too lean, than too soft. At least, even if you don’t win, you didn’t lose because you were too fat and deconditioned.

Before you compete, you need to decide WHY you are competing. Are you doing it to force yourself to diet and train hard? Are you doing it as a science experiment, to see what you can do with your physique? Are you doing it to win a trophy or get “discovered”? I would venture to say most competitors are doing it to look their best – and all the rest is the icing on the fat-free high-protein cake. Of course we would all like to look THE best, but that is a bit relative – so I suggest you just focus on looking YOUR best, and if the judges agree…BONUS!

CLICK HERE to read the Bikini Division Rules

CLICK HERE to read the Figure Division Rules


What I didn’t learn

I didn’t learn what judges want a competitor to look like in the ideal world. Their answer to that question was “it depends who shows up”. Ughhh!

What I took home from the seminar

Although the judges did say what they don’t like to see when it comes to poses, suits, etc – the fact of the matter is you WILL see people win who still do this stuff, so I don’t really think they necessarily count against these things, I just think they don’t prefer them. I still think it’s valuable to consider them and try to give the judges what they want as much as you can, while doing what you can to look your best.

What I wish the judges WOULD do (a girl can dream right?)

I wish they’d decide on what they want each division to look like and judge accordingly no matter who shows up. In other words. If a bunch of hard girls show up, but they want a softer look, give the trophy to the softest conditioned girl – or vice versa. Eventually competitors will “get it” and move into the right division and begin to show up prepared. But, right now, there are soft out of shape girls winning some shows and shredded girls winning other shows – all judged by the same judges. Although I totally understand the dilemma, I feel judges have the power to guide the sport more by who they give the trophy too. Bodybuilding seems most consistent (which to me is much easier to judge), but it gets squirrely with the women it seems. That’s just my opinion, but the fluctuation drives competitors bonkers and that can do a number on you mentally.

Are you a competitor? Do you want to be?
What are YOUR Thoughts, Questions, Concerns?



Owner of Lift Vero and motivational "pfitness, pfood and pfaith" blogger in Vero Beach, Florida.


  • James Scott

    Your article – Like many others on the same topic seem to cover the entry level of competition, (101) – what a lay person might not know ? The brochure edition. Many more girls (women) whom are competing have been doing so for 10-20-30+ shows in their careers. You don’t cover any of the concerns the seasoned competitor must face. To be fair- if You want to truly talk about what judges want then You are deeply remiss in ignoring a pool of experience that has first hand knowledge on facts I believe You only have a passing knowledge thereof. You fail to discuss the toll on the body doing backto back to back shows. You fail to mention the cost (approx$2000.00) / show- depending on location. Hawaii, Australia Rio & Europe costing more. None of the counts the maintenance in Clean food – Chiro- massage- Cryo- coaching – posing – blood work and RX to remediate any unwanted disproportionalities. The intensity and discipline required to succeed at this sport is incredible and the women who undertake it are among the bravest, strongest, and sensitive, and they are the Most Hardened Delicate Warriors I have the pleasure of knowing ! Most importantly You haven’t addressed the glaring subjectivity of this ‘sport’ – the Clique that the judges (very few) acquire seeing the same competitors in multiple events throughout different areas. You fail to mention that these competitors are constantly changing their bodies to accommodate these judges critiques given after “finals” (pre-judging is the actual event). Where competitors get ‘input’ from Judges telling them what they need to do for being too lean one show (108lbs) – to too full the next show, (105lbs !!!) (same competitor- same judges !|! ). You need to identify the partnerships that are corrupting the sport between sponsors and Bikini-teams and competitions ~ I apologize for being abrupt Ms. Pfister but your article seems very shallow. It could have been so much more if you had spent time to actually study the sport, Interview the competitors, and Investigate the dynamic at play here. Sadly this drivel is what seems to pass as journalism in 2018.

  • John Tra

    Any event with subjective judging is not a competition. What is the big secret about judging criteria? I’ve been looking for two days for specific criteria and cannot find any. Taking people’s money and telling them after the event what criteria was used is stealing.

  • Alison

    I have never competed & workout for me & love the muscular look I have, however, I get asked a lot if I compete & the seed has been sown in my head that maybe i should give it a go, so I’ve just found reading your article very interesting……thank you! 🙂

  • V

    I understand that some girls are so muscly and should tone it down, however, I love feminine muscle – “murves” 🙂 So I really hope that bikini doesn’t ever become Ms hawaiian tropic, it IS still considered bodybuilding. A skinny soft girl with little muscle maturity should not be the ideal either. Thanks for the article!

    • Bonnie Pfiester

      I agree! I like the fit look, not just skinny bikini girls. It needs to still be about fitness, not just who looks good in a bathing suit for sure!! 🙂

  • monica

    I came across this article through a Google search. I heard rumors that NPC/IFBB is looking to reduce the size of figure competitors. Women are getting really big and may even give Physique a run for their money. Now, let me reiterate: These are only rumors that I heard (and not even from reputable sources, just Instagram chatter). I am wondering if you know/heard of anything along these lines? I love the figure division, but I don’t know if my body can get as big as the girls winning NPC Jr. National events, and that’s kinda my dream. Thanks for such a cohesive article! I’m definitely taking notes 🙂

    • Bonnie Pfiester

      I think there are many leaders that see this as a problem and would like to see the right body types in the right classes/divisions. However, it takes getting all the districts across America involved. As long as we have winners in small shows that are jacked, we’ll have jacked girls showing up to nationals. I think to really get this started, judges are going to have to quit giving physique bodies 1st place figure trophies.

      This is only my opinion, but I’d like to see judges stick to the classifications for each division and not let people win that really should be in another division. Eventually they will get the message. It’s so confusing to have a girl who could easily do figure when bikini – but then the next contest a skinny slightly unfit looking girl win over a more conditioned girl. (that just happened a few weeks ago).

      This is why we work hard to NOT focus on the places, but just the transformation. Whether it’s your dream or not to compete in the Junior Nationals, you should follow through just to push your body and achieve new goals – not to place or win, but to be YOUR best – whether you make it to Junior Nationals or not. You will still be the best you’ve ever been – and THAT’S quite a reward!!!! Keep me posted!!

  • Brenda Terry

    Super good info on what judges like and don’t like. I totally agree with you Bonnie and Vanessa. Judges should have a look for girls to aspire to. I use to show horses, and halter class is like a bodybuilding competition for horses. Each breed has a perfect look in the horse they would like to see. I think if more people would tell these federations, that we want a physique to aspire to, maybe we could get them to do this..Just a thought. I’ve seen girls win bikini class, that looked like figure competitor! I think that is totally wrong and confusing to everyone.

    • Bonnie Pfiester

      I know!! I’ve never been a judge, so I can’t really know what they deal with, but it does seem that it would be as easy as not placing the beefy girls and making sure the thinner, more feminine looking girls are winning. Eventually the more muscular girls would get it and move to figure or physique. Again, I may be missing something, but I do think the judges could help direct people into the right category. Same with men’s physique. There are guys that shouldn’t be winning (too big) that need to go back to bodybuilding. Men’s physique should look like the guys on the cover of muscle and fitness. Slender, tone, muscular but not jacked! 🙂

  • Susan Royston Fiori

    Do you think that judges prefer long hair to short hair? I am usually a short hair gal but have also been a long hair gal too! I am changing my hair ALL the time 🙂 Should I worry about growing it out or keep it however I like it? Seems ALL of the girls I see have long locks!

  • Erika

    This may seem silly, but I’m afraid I’m not pretty enough to compete. All these women are gorgeous with long thick hair and perfect teeth. It’s a huge confidence kicker even if judges are focusing on fitness and physique.

    • Bonnie Pfiester

      I understand what you are saying – it’s so easy to look at competitors and see how pretty they look on stage, but you’d be surprised how much different they look off stage. I’ve had many competitors really transform before my eyes with some make-up – and even hair extensions. This is your day to reinvent yourself, pretend to be whoever you want. It’s a day to be your very very best – to be a princess, and feel like one. While it’s not about looks at all, you will feel SO pretty! Just remember, it’s about you being YOUR best, not THE best. It’s you being YOUR prettiest, not THE prettiest. Go for it! <3

  • lingersips

    Really helpful article ! Was told a while ago that judges judge you from what gym you go to aswell. Whether its a commercial one or local gym. I didn’t think anything at the time. But surely they don’t right? I mean Aslong as u get the job done.

    • Natalie Nichols

      I know this is way old but that is entirely false. I’m an NPC Judge and we literally have no way of knowing which gym you attend, nor do we care. Even if we did care, there is no time to pay attention to which competitor it is standing up there beside which other competitors. Judging is so fast and we’re frantically scanning muscles and shape and looking back and forth and trying to jot down critiques for you after the show and trying to place you appropriately and going back and forth again to make sure we don’t feel like we missed anything, passing our scores down for your placing and trying to look up to make sure we don’t miss the next group of competitors to walk out. It just doesn’t work like that with the imagined political slant so many people want to give it.

  • Aurore Cottet

    hello, thank you for your article !! really good !
    I agree with you too for the judge that should decide what they really want…
    I’ve been competing twice, and I get 3rd place both times… because I wasn’t soft enough !!! This is really hard to heard when you work so hard to lose this weight and get where you are ! And especially when your body looks exactly like the Pro girls !

    • Bonnie Pfiester

      Honestly, in my opinion, I’d rather take 3rd for being TOO conditioned than to be too fluffy. The goal for you should be to look YOUR best! Even if you place 3rd, they know good conditioning and discipline when they see it – and they will respect you for it. I’d rather take home respect than a 40 trophy for mediocre!

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  • appleberryink

    I was looking at bikini competition videos for the first time and the “butt pose” gave me the wide eyes, like “Why are they sticking their butts out like that, Maxim style???” You’ve put my mind at ease a bit with this article, stating that you don’t *have* to be so extreme about it if you don’t *need* to. I understand judges wanting to see the backside, but some of those poses for the butt were like “yikes!!!” (for a second I thought the judges needed to see if they got a good bikini wax or spray tan in that area…). Great article. 🙂

  • Mike141

    Wow, thanks for sharing the info. Would of never known what the judges actually look for in a bikini and figure competition especially how the first impression counts.

  • Kirsty

    Hellooo! 🙂 great piece and very helpful. I’m looking at competing. My only worry is that I am too small! I am doing all the right things in regards to building muscle and diet and I have been to see a show but I just cannot even begin to compare my body shape to theirs. I would need someone right next to me with a tape measure until I could figure it out! I am 5.5 and 8 stone 5, 19% body fat. So I am toned but I don’t think I have the shape yet of a bikini class girl. Is it easier to be bigger and cut down or be smaller and build up? Do you know any girls that compete around the 115-120 mark? I know I have a quite a bit of muscle to build but I was just wondering how big the girls actually are. They always look so curvy but muscular on stage. Thanks.

    • Amy Fox

      I competed in my first show at a stage weight of 109. I’m 5’6. This was after about a 40 pound weight loss. I wasn’t the smallest, but definitely wasn’t the most muscular. Don’t get so hung up on the weight. If you need any further help, contact me.

  • Sarah Jane @Fit Betty

    I always have to laugh when I see women doing the “severe bent-over glute pose” especially on their Instagram photos. Um…OW! That actually looks like it would hurt your back after too long, plus it does look plain silly

  • elizabethannep

    Thank you so much for posting. I have actually just recently started to look into competitions, and still have a long way to go before I could compete, but these tips are great!
    Are there any requirements / guidelines or negative thoughts regarding tattoos?

    • Bonnie Pfiester

      I’m so sorry I missed your question! No not really. Unless it hides muscle definition for physique or bodybuilding. Normally tan is so dark it really hides tattoos a lot. But, there are SO many competitors who have tattoos now, it seems not to be much of an issue 🙂

  • Vanessa Nunez

    Thank you !!! I must say I agree with your statement of what judges need to do in guiding the sport… it is tough enough to show up be lean and lose tell you to soften show up the next show with their recommedations and lose beacause too soft… Too much subjective judging is not good… Thank you again…

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