Bodybuilding Competitors: The Posing Rounds

In the past, some bodybuilding competitions were conducted with all the competitors and the judges sitting in the same room a few feet apart, giving the judges a chance to look at all the bodybuilders, move them around and make comparisons, and finally decide which order they should give up. (The first Ms. Olympia in 1980 was done this way.) This method has certain advantages. But it doesn't allow an audience to participate. It doesn't create a "show" for you to sell tickets to.

In 1980, the first Ms. Olympia pre-judging was conducted at close range, allowing the judges to move the athletes in comparison and decide what order the competitors should take. Bill Dobbins

So over time we had the development of today's "round" system. It's about competitors presenting themselves in different ways for the officials' scrutiny. These are

  1. The "Symmetry" Round.
  2. The compulsory round.
  3. The free posing round.
  4. The pose down.

These rounds are one thing according to the rules on paper, but often very different in reality.


For example, the symmetry or "stand relaxed" round shall involve the contestants "standing at attention" and facing in four directions to give the judge a view of the overall shape and proportions of their bodies. It's not supposed to be about flexing and showing off your musculature. But starting in the 1990s, bodybuilders began twisting heavily from the waist, flexing their triceps in the side poses, and expanding their lats in the back view. For some, the effort was so great that they had trouble just getting through the round. I remember watching IFBB pro Paul Dillett compete in the Olympics and his effort seemed so intense and tiring that I didn't believe he could pull it off.

So obviously the symmetry lap has become just another muscle flexing lap and it's not about symmetry. This has now been tolerated for so long that it seems unlikely that the federations will step in to change things back to what the rules originally required. So bodybuilders

Players with obviously high levels of symmetry will be disadvantaged by playing this round this way, and those with less symmetry can mask their weaknesses.

Symmetry Round Dobbins Rather than "standing to attention," bodybuilders today twist and bend, making it difficult to judge them on the basis of "symmetry." Bill Dobbins


The obligatory posing round is not very controversial. This is a series of poses designed to show the judges a competitor's strengths and weaknesses in the simplest way possible. So, bodybuilders do a front and back biceps pose, a side chest and triceps pose, front and back lat spreads, and an abs and hamstrings pose. The competitors each make these poses for themselves and then in comparison to others. And that's very important. As you reach higher and higher levels in bodybuilding, virtually all of your competitors are amazing genetic geniuses and truly amazing compared to everyone else. Most of the time, when they first come on stage and are seen as individuals, they all look like winners. But human perception is largely based on comparison and contrast.

If I gave you a 25 gram weight to hold and asked you to estimate its weight, it would be difficult to come close. But if you hold a 24 gram weight in one hand and a 25 gram weight in the other hand, you can immediately tell the difference. That's the power of comparison. In the same way, you take a bodybuilder you thought was great and place him or her next to another in the lineup, and small differences are immediately apparent.

ABS and thighs dobbins Abdominal and thigh pose is one of the standard duties. Bill Dobbins

In addition, our perception of something takes place in "layers". The brain quickly scans what we see and then uses subsequent scans to get more information and register more details. This is an unconscious process that happens automatically. Aside from the fact that it would be more difficult to create a show that you can sell tickets to, it would probably be best not to score by round and just keep the judges watching bodybuilders posing for more than an hour or two, to give their brain time Gather the maximum amount of information. In most cases, without any conscious effort, it would become painfully obvious who is the best or better.

Lat spread dobbins The lat spread pose is one of the basic chores. Bill Dobbins


In each case, the mandatory round involves the judges saying, "Show me your physique in a way that will give me all the information I'm looking for without obscuring your weaknesses." Then comes the round of individual poses, in in which participants put together a routine for showing their bodies in a way that draws attention to their strengths and addresses their weaknesses. Ideally, this round is a chance for contestants to change the judges' mind: "My physique is actually better than you first thought."

Some competitors focus on movement in their routines, even to the point of dancing, or presenting themselves as "robots" or doing the "moonwalk." But the question should always be, "Will this routine cause the judges to rate the athlete higher than they otherwise would?" Some competitions have "Best Poser" awards, but the winner of these is rarely the winner of the competition .

Most muscle dobbins THE MOST MUSCULAR POSE - Variations on the "most muscular" pose are not part of the requirement, but judges may request this pose during comparisons. However, this is something that happens in male bodybuilding, but not in females. Bill Dobbins

Many simply rely on free-posing routines, which are basically just more versions of the mandatory poses that the judges have already seen. Bodybuilders with truly outstanding physiques often don't need to do much more than just strike the same basic poses over and over again to remind the judges how good they are.


The posedown round where the bodybuilders are all running around the stage, striking all sorts of poses and making comparisons with their rivals is very exciting. It would be great if this had an actual impact on rating, but this rarely seems to be the case. Usually the pose down takes place while the scoring results are tabulated.

The posedown allows contestants to seek out a rival and try to show the judges who is superior. But this can have the opposite effect. I once saw a bodybuilder run across the stage to put his legs up against Tom Platz, who had the most incredible legs in the sport. I would have called this action a moment of madness.

Posedown dobbins The posedown is often very exciting, but rarely counts. Bill Dobbins

Perhaps there could be a posedown round during pre-judging as well as the evening finals. This could actually affect the score. But as it is, the posedown is mostly just for show.

The only absolute requirement for these posing rounds to work is accurate and unbiased judgment. In the past, this has often been problematic, with officials allowing political, economic, or even sexual bias to cloud their judgment. Fortunately, this hasn't been a big consideration in the recent past. Judging bodybuilding will always involve a balance between the objective and the subjective. Two judges may see the same type of physique developing, but one prefers it while the other doesn't, or at least not as much. There are so many elements of a competitive body, including things like size, musculature, symmetry and definition - and another that is aesthetic beauty - that it's inevitable that two judges will develop differing opinions when it comes to scoring. But not "too different", otherwise the associations will not consider this judge to be really qualified.

For judging to work, there must at least be a consensus about what the competition is about and what everyone is there for. Therefore, differences in judgment and perception must be within certain limits to be accepted as a quality assessment.

Showoff Dobbins Lee Labrada's signature pose allowed him to best showcase the best qualities of his body. Bill Dobbins

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