Competing in bodybuilding is a great opportunity for women to test their limits (physical, mental and emotional) and develop discipline as they work towards a goal. The women’s bodybuilding world has exploded over the last few years and more women than ever before are getting ready to step on stage.
Before you sign up for your first competition and begin your training program, it’s important to know in which division you want to compete.
If you’re ready to lift like a girl and start working on your competition physique, keep reading. Explained below is everything you need to know about choosing the right women’s bodybuilding division.
There are five main women’s bodybuilding divisions. Funnily enough, only one actually has the word “bodybuilding” in the title. The competition divisions from which you can choose are as follows:
The bikini division is the most popular of all the bodybuilding classes. The desired “look” for women competing in this division is a balanced, curvy physique.
Bikini competitors have more of an “X” or hourglass shape to their bodies (meaning they have smaller waists with more developed glutes, quads, and shoulders). They are separated into competition groups based on their height, and their body fat percentage usually ranges from 10-14%.
Women who compete in the bikini division are often smaller and have less muscle mass than women who compete in the other divisions. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have a lot of muscle, though.
In order to be competitive and have a chance of winning in this division, you’ll need to spend time building muscle (especially in the glutes, quads and shoulders) so you can present a desirable package when you step on stage.
For women who have more muscle mass or have a tendency to put on muscle quite easily, the figure division may be a better division to consider.
In figure competitions, judges place more of an emphasis on muscle development and muscle separation. They want to see very balanced and firm physiques as well -- although they don’t want to see women looking too lean.
Women’s figure competitors usually have a body fat percentage that ranges from 8-12%. They’re also divided up by height.
Women who place well in figure competitions often have naturally wider shoulders (emphasized even more by greater shoulder muscle development) and narrower waists.
The next step up in terms of muscle mass and physique development is the women’s physique division. Women who compete in this division have more muscle mass and a slightly larger, more athletic build. They also have lower body fat percentages -- often between 8 and 10%.
Unlike women who compete in bikini and figure, women’s physique competitors are barefoot on stage instead of wearing high heels. They have a series of mandatory poses that they must present to the judges in addition to their own individual posing routine.
Women’s physique judges want to see symmetrical body shapes with a good amount of muscle tone. There’s a limit, though.
While women who compete in this division have more muscle definition that bikini or figure competitors, judges still don’t want to see competitors who are too muscular. The rules for this decision note that women competing in the physique class should not be “ripped” or “shredded.”
For women who are even more muscular -- perhaps too muscular for the women’s physique class -- bodybuilding is another division worth considering. Women who compete in the bodybuilding division will have the most muscle mass of any other competitors.
Their posing routines also look quite different, too. Women’s bodybuilding competitors perform a series of more traditional bodybuilding poses, including closed-fist poses. They also perform an individual posing routine.
Symmetry and physique shape both play a significant role in determining the winner of the women’s bodybuilding class. Women are divided up based on weight, rather than height when they compete in this division. Their body fat percentages are lower than other competitors’ as well -- nearly always in the single-digit range.
Finally, there is the women’s fitness division. This division is not as popular as some of the others, but it’s still worth considering, especially if you enjoy performing and want to do more than pose on stage.
Women’s fitness competitors perform a routine that shows off their physical fitness. These routines often include a variety of gymnastics and dance moves, as well as poses that showcase their muscle mass and the symmetry of their physiques.
Women who compete in this division usually have a body fat percentage of 9-11% and are often former dancers, gymnasts, or other types of performers.
Choosing a Bodybuilding Division
There are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to deciding on a bodybuilding division. How do you know which one is a good fit for you, though?
Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself to figure out the best division for your first competition:
How Does Your Current Physique Look?
Based on the descriptions above, how would you describe your current physique? Do you have quite a bit of muscle mass, or are you on the smaller side?
Be honest with yourself. This will help you choose a division that you have the greatest chance of winning.
How Soon Do You Plan to Compete?
Think about how soon you want to compete, too. If you’re willing to put off participating in a show for a while, you can work on developing your physique to compete in one of the more advanced divisions.
Remember, too, that most coaches recommend spending time in a bulking phase (building muscle and eating in a calorie surplus) before you try to cut down and lean out for a show. You’ll need to take this into account when planning which show you want to compete in first.
How Much Time Can You Commit to Training?
This is an important question for every competitor to ask, but especially those who plan to compete in a division like physique or bodybuilding. These divisions require more muscle mass, which will mean more time in the gym training. Are you ready to commit to that kind of time?
This is not to say that the bikini and figure divisions are easy or aren’t time-consuming -- you’ll have to put in a lot of work if you want to compete in them, too. You just might not have to spend quite as much time as you would if you were competing in a different division.
How Much Do You Want to Perform?
Consider your desire to perform as well. Do you want to do poses only, or do you want to put together a more complex routine?
If you’re someone who loves to put on a show and has performance experience, the women’s fitness category might be more rewarding to you than competing in one of the other classes.
Do You Have an Easy Time Building Muscle?
Think about how easy it is for you to build muscle. Are you someone who can “bulk up” pretty quickly, or does it take a lot of time for you to experience muscle growth?
If you’re someone who is a “hard gainer,” you may have a harder time holding your own in a division that places more of an emphasis on muscle size and shape, such as physique or bodybuilding.
What Does Your Coach Think?
Don’t be afraid to ask for your coach’s opinion. In fact, your coach is one of the first people you consult when considering which bodybuilding division is right for you. They have experience in the industry and will know which division is a good fit for people with your particular physique.
Which Look Do You Like the Best?
Don’t forget to take your personal preference into account, too. If you don’t like the women’s bodybuilding look, it’s probably not a good idea for you to try and compete in that class.
You’ll have an easier time sticking to your training and nutrition goals if you’re working toward competing in a class of which you actually like the look. It’s important to think about the class for which your natural physique may be best suited, but that’s not the end-all-be-all.
Which Bodybuilding Division is Right for You?
Now that you know more about the different bodybuilding divisions from which you can choose (and the requirements you need to meet in order to be competitive in each of them), do you know which one is a good fit for you? Keep this information in mind as you begin your journey.
Choosing the right division will help to increase your chances of placing well during your competition. It’ll also help you create more concrete goals to work toward as you start prepping for the stage.
Don’t forget to check out our supplements for bodybuilders, either. We have everything you need, from pre-workout products to supplements that can help with recovery, to ensure you present your very best package when the time for your competition arrives.