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When it comes to competitive bodybuilding there are several federations that you can choose to compete with.
Each of these federations offer different bodybuilding categories with competitors choosing the one most appropriate depending on their physique. This helps to create a level playing field for each bodybuilder.
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Some of the more popular bodybuilding organizations include the WBFF (World Beauty Fitness and Fashion), INBF (International Natural Bodybuilding Federation), and IFBB (International Federation of Bodybuilding).
Each of these may have slightly different regulations for their competitors to adhere to such as mandatory poses and stage attire.
In this article, we look at the different types of bodybuilding divisions. We also explain how they differ, helping you to decide which division may be best for your body type.
Different Types Of Bodybuilding Divisions For Men
Depending on the federation, there are five divisions for male bodybuilders. These are open bodybuilding, classic physique, Men’s physique, wheelchair and the 212 class.
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The open bodybuilding category comprises of the largest competitors with the most amount of muscle. The aim here is to be as big as physically possible with bodyweights ranging anywhere from 280lbs to a massive 360lbs.
Think of bodybuilders such as Ronnie Coleman, Big Rami and Jay Cutler.
From a spectator standpoint, this class is the most popular bodybuilding division and for competitors offers the most in terms of prize money, especially for the Mr. Olympia.
Not only is size important, but conditioning and symmetry also make a difference between winning and losing. The very best competitors will aim to reach a body fat percentage of around 4% allowing for a dry, vascular appearance and clearly defined muscle striations.
However. it’s worth noting this is extremely low and may result in health issues.
Even though it’s the most popular bodybuilding category, it’s not been without its negative press. Some competitors were focusing so much on size, their conditioning was not as it could be with a common issue being a distended abdomen, referred to Palumboism.
This resulted in an unfavorable look likely caused by factors such as a poor diet or abuse of human growth hormone (HGH) or insulin.
The classic physique division focusses on the competitors that have a look like that of Arnold Schwarzenegger and is about the golden era of bodybuilding.
Whilst you need to be big, you need less muscle mass when compared to the open bodybuilding category.
The required look for this division is more an ‘X’ shape.
So, wide shoulders, big back and chest which tapers down to a smaller waist. You need to have big legs for this class with wide, thick quads and hamstrings.
For conditioning, it’s not as extreme as the open bodybuilding category with a competitor often having a body fat percentage of around 6%.
Men’s Physique is for the smallest athletes in terms of musculature. Sometimes this bodybuilding division is referred to as the beach body class where the competitors’ attire on stage is a pair of board shorts.
The typical look required for this division is for wide shoulders and a small waist resulting in a well-defined ‘V’ taper. Depth and density are required to both the chest and back muscles.
In terms of conditioning, the typical body fat percentage of a men’s physique competitor sits at around 8 to 10%. If you’re new to competitive bodybuilding, this is a good division to begin with especially if you plan on working your way up to the open or 212 class.
A competitor in the wheelchair division of bodybuilding will work on developing all the muscles of the upper body. Attire for this division is long training pants.
Competitors are judged on muscle size, proportion, and symmetry of the upper body with each bodybuilding undertaking seven mandatory poses.
The Wheelchair bodybuilding category is a new division and was first featured at the Arnold Classic in 2016.
The 212 class is defined by the weight of the competitor and, as the name suggests, anyone competing in this division must not have a bodyweight that exceeds 212lbs.
This makes this a good class for the shorter bodybuilder whose height would often range from between 5 foot 2″ to 5 foot 5″
In terms of the aesthetic, the look required is very similar to that of the open bodybuilding division with exceptional muscular development and a balanced physique.
Conditioning is also important in this class with a very lean and vascular look required with clear and defined muscular striations.
Different Types Of Bodybuilding Divisions For Women
Women’s bodybuilding is categorized as follows; bikini, figure, physique, bodybuilding, fitness and wellness.
Women’s wellness bodybuilding division is essentially a more muscular version of a bikini athlete.
A wellness competitor will typically carry more muscle around the lower body, especially the quads, hamstrings and glutes.
Something to consider if that it’s important not to over develop the quads so as not to take away from the gluteal development.
Upper body development is not the main focus in the class and athletes should concentrate on thigh, glute and hip mass. In terms of conditioning, this sits between bikini and figure.
A little softness to the legs is OK and no feathering should be visible to glutes or leg muscles.
In women’s bodybuilding, the figure division is for women with good muscle shape and naturally athletic physique.
Athletes must have broad shoulders, narrow hips, and tiny waists with focus being on a ‘V’ taper. Judges look for well capped shoulders and a strong defined back.
Figure athletes should not have overly muscular legs in this category, if so, you’ll probably be bumped up to the Physique class.
When it comes to conditioning, female competitors should not be too lean with no visible striations to glutes and quads. A figure athlete should have a harder appearance when compared to wellness and bikini classes.
The women’s physique division is similar to the classic division in men’s bodybuilding, where there is a balance between the upper and lower body focus.
Judges consider the athlete’s muscle tone, stage presence, proportion, shape, and symmetry to make a decision.
Equal balance is needed between the upper and lower body with a small waist. If you tend to be more quad dominant with good muscle mass to the upper body, this category would be the best choice.
In physique bodybuilding competitions, you’ll need to be leaner in this class when compared to figure. The typical bodyfat percentage of a world class physique athlete would be around 8%.
It’s important for judges to be able to see clear separation and striations to muscles in this class.
The bikini bodybuilding category is the most popular amongst female athletes and therefore the most competitive. In the bikini division, athletes must have a well balanced physique with good muscle tone.
Their body fat should not be too low, and they shouldn’t have too much muscle. The focus tends to be on well developed gluteal muscles with a good tie in to the hamstrings.
Conditioning can be softer with a little water under the skin.
Stage presence with a good and confident posing routine is important for bikini athletes along with more a model look.
The fitness category is a bit different from other bodybuilding divisions since it involves flexibility and strength rather than just appearance.
Fitness competitors should have a physique similar to Figure competitors with a feminine look. There overall physique makes up just one third of their overall score.
Besides the physique, they also have to show their fitness routine to music of their choice. Athletes with a background in cheerleading, gymnastics, and dance have a good chance of doing well in this division.
Athletes do a two-minute fitness routine in this round.
The routine doesn’t necessarily have to be dance or gymnastic based. But it must be set against some music and should include flexibility moves.
This is also the only division that allows the athletes to use props during their routine.
The women’s bodybuilding division is for the largest of the female athletes.
A female bodybuilder should have a very muscular physique with low body fat percentage allowing for visibility of muscle striations and clear separation.
This class is very similar to physique in terms of conditioning with body fat percentage usually being around the 8% mark. The primary difference between this class and physique, is that more muscle mass is required for bodybuilding.
Some of the above-mentioned divisions, such as physique and bodybuilding, are the same for men and women. However, the rules on what to wear and which poses to perform might differ for both types of athletes.
Something else to note is that the different types of bodybuilding can be further broken down by weight or height class. This enables judges to fairly assess each athlete taking into consideration their physique, stage presence and posing routines.
Before choosing the division you wish to compete in, be sure to check the rules and regulations of each federation so you know what to expect and can plan accordingly.