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February 16, 2015

Bodybuilding Divisions for Men and Women

His and her abs.Quick! What image comes to mind when you hear the word bodybuilder? Probably an image of Arnold Schwarzenegger, right? But, bodybuilding has gone beyond the art and science of building a physique with the biggest muscles in a proportionately aesthetic manner. There are now different bodybuilding divisions for men and women each with different goals. Bodybuilding is expanding in different directions to meet the demands of would be competitors and to seize other markets..

There are also a growing number of organizations that sponsor competitions that the non competitor may find confusing. We will cover the main or most popular bodybuilding divisions here.

Chris George who is a personal trainer helped to provide some of the information below.

Bodybuilding Divisions for Men

Traditionally there have been only two classifications of bodybuilding for men – open and natural (drug tested).

A new division in men’s bodybuilding is Men’s Physique. The Physique division was created in 2011 and is growing by leaps and bounds because of its emphasis. Think of a beach body when you think of the Men’s Physique division.

The goal of traditional Bodybuilding is develop the biggest muscles possible in all parts of the body. The emphasis in Physique is to a sculpt a more athletic body and appearance and more amateurs and professionals find such a body more desirable. Some organizations have a Men’s Fitness division which is similar to Men’s Physique and we will simply use the term “physique” here.

Men’s Bodybuilding (traditional bodybuilding)

Men’s bodybuilding is broken down into six weight classes as follows:

  • Bantamweight: up to 143 and 1/4 pounds.
  • Lightweight: over 143 and 1/4 pounds up to 154 and 1/4 pounds.
  • Middleweight: over 154 and 1/4 pounds up to 176 and 1/4 pounds.
  • Light-heavyweight: over 176 and 1/4 pounds up to 198 and 1/4 pounds.
  • Heavyweight: over 198 and 1/4 pounds up to  225 and 1/4 pounds.
  • Super heavyweight: over 225 and 1/4 pounds.

In Men’s Bodybuilding competitors are judged on muscle size, muscle definition (lean and ripped) and symmetry (body shape and proportions). Many feel this division is the easiest to judge. In Men’s Physique competitors are judged on muscularity, body condition, symmetry, and proper shape with excessive muscularity being marked down or viewed as a negative. Physique is a toned down version of traditional bodybuilding to a large degree.

Men’s Physique

Men’s Physique is broken down into 4 classes based on height as follows:

  • Up to 5’6″
  • Over 5’6″ to 5’8″
  • Over 5’8″ to 5’10”
  • Over 5’10”

Bodybuilding Divisions for Women

Women’s Bodybuilding is even more confusing with more divisions and much overlap between divisions that even competitors sometimes aren’t certain what criteria are being used to judge them. Where one division ends and another begins isn’t always clear.

Like the men, women’s traditional bodybuilding is broken down by weight classes as follows:

  • Lightweight – Up to and including 115 pounds.
  • Middleweight – Over 115 up to and including 125 pounds.
  • Light-Heavyweight – Over 125 up to and including 140 pounds.
  • Heavyweight – Over 140 pounds.

Below are the various bodybuilding divisions for women:

  • Bodybuilding: judged on muscle size, definition, and proportion. Similar criteria as men’s bodybuilding division.
  • Physique: judged on symmetry, shape, proportion, muscle tone, poise and beauty flow. A toned down version of bodybuilding division.
  • Fitness: judged on very lean and muscular look without extreme muscle bulk or extreme definition or vascularity (veins) showing. Requires exercise (dance) routine where competitors are judged on strength, flexibility, and cardio. Requires more athletic skill.
  • Figure: similar to fitness but no exercise routine required. Judged on small degree of muscularity without visible striations, muscle firmness with lean but not ripped look.
  • Bikini: judged on balance and shape. Requires a model walk. Think sexy look with athletic/fit presentation.
  • Fitness model: a different name for bikini used by some organizations.

Women’s traditional bodybuilding where women are judged like men on muscle size, definition, and proportion is a dying division. The look of women in the bodybuilding division is not as desirable (think female versions of Arnold) as it is for the other divisions. At the end of the day most want women to look feminine and that is lost in the traditional division of women’s bodybuilding. So the other divisions especially figure and bikini (fitness model) have become more popular.

Obviously, the judging of bodybuilding especially on the women’s side is rather subjective.

One main reason to consider competing is though you may not win your event, you still come away a winner by developing a more attractive body and improving your fitness and health in the process. Afterall, bodybuilding is a way to better health.

So that’s a nutshell look at the various men’s and women’s bodybuilding divisions. Which one appeals to you?



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Dr. Joe Jacko

Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio at Grandview Primary Care. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

  1. This is a very good tips especially to those new to blogosphere, brief and accurate information… Thanks for sharing this one. A must read article.

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