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What are Judges looking for in a Bikini Competitor?

February 17, 2020 / Coaching, Contest Prep, Judging
What are Judges looking for in a Bikini Competitor?

What exactly are the judges looking for in an NPC and IFBB bodybuilding competition?

If you have also found yourself wondering what judges are looking for, we’ve got that covered for you! Many competitors come to us and tell us that it is very hard to determine what the judges are looking for. One of the reasons is they see a competitor win a show who they feel is too hard. In other shows a competitor may win who seems softer. Still yet in other shows, a competitor may win with very little muscle so that her resulting physique just appears thin and less shapely. Are any of these just the results of “bad judges” or “politics” or “judging criteria or judges making it up as they go?” The answer is No. Someone has to win each show.

Why did someone win who doesn’t fit the standard?

There will always be a first place competitor, even if only one competitor is competing. If that person is out of shape, you’re going to have an out of shape winner. It doesn’t means that person is what the judges are looking for. This person winning a show does not make them our new standard. Simply put, out of those who showed up on that day, this person was the closest to the standard. You cannot lose sight of the fact that regardless of how lean you can come in or how shredded you appear in your mirror, if you have a clear strength, that means you have a clear weakness. We will start this series off with what the judges are seeing when looking at the ideal bikini competitor.

Elisa Pecini is a shining example of what judges are looking for in a bikini competitor.
Elisa Pecini is a shining example of what judges are looking for in a bikini competitor.
Elisa Pecini is a shining example of what judges are looking for in a bikini competitor.
Elisa Pecini is a shining example of what judges are looking for in a bikini competitor.
Elisa Pecini bringing her hand up to eye level bug keeping her elbows at about the same level the entire time.
Elisa Pecini is a shining example of what judges are looking for in a bikini competitor.
Elisa Pecini is a shining example of what judges are looking for in a bikini competitor.
Elisa Pecini in transition, still maintaining the shape of her glutes.

Who is the best representative of The Standard for Bikini Division?

IFBB Bikini Pro Elisa Pecini is Ms. Bikini Olympia 2019. She is the current Gold Standard for the division in both the IFBB and NPC and is exactly what judges are looking for.  Notice that she has a very balanced frame. You do not look at her and see shoulders or glutes or quads or obliques or hamstrings. Elisa has built a very symmetrical physique. She has muscle mass but it is not overbearing.  No single body part is more developed or less developed than the rest. There are no striations and you don’t really see a lot of cut up definition. You can tell by looking at her in movement that if she flexed a particular body part, she would likely show that definition.  However that definition is not displayed in the bikini poses.

What judges are looking for from the front

In her front pose, you can see that the bulk of her upper body width almost mirrors her lower body width. You see a nice rounding of both shoulders in the pose due to the amount of torso twist she has. The arm that is down has the lat flared, lending to the fabulous tiny waist and accentuating the S curve that she gets with her lat out and her glutes lifted. Her glute is flexed enough to see a distinction between the glute and the quad muscle, which is different from actual muscle head separation, which would be detrimental to her look as a bikini competitor. She lifts her torso and stretches her abs upright, simultaneously holding them in. She has a nice oblique line and you can clearly see ab distinction, but not thick overbearing obliques or a protruding 6 pack.

Digging deeper

Her bent leg is up on the toe, displaying a nice complementary calf muscle that is not overly built, as well as her inner thigh with distinction in the quad muscles, but not actual separation. If you took a straight line from the top left of the pic at her shoulder, across to her opposite hip, and then another beginning at the opposite shoulder, to her knee, you would have a nice X. This is what we mean when we say that the ideal shape is an X frame. Standing straight on, as you see in the walking photos, she does not naturally look like an X, but her posing is strategically creating that illusion for the judges.

What judges are looking for from the rear

From the rear, we see nice rounded delts with a nice amount of distinction.  There is no individual deltoid head separation and no striations. She holds her head upright, and her upper back flat. This allows judges to see the width created from nice lats and softly rounded shoulders. This tapers down to a small, narrow waist.  Her glutes are nice and high due to a low back arch. There is no flex to the glutes, no striations, and they still look soft and feminine without any visible hardness. The glutes are nice and rounded up top. The shape and placement of her suit bottoms mimics the curve of the bottom of the glutes.  The suit bottoms reinforce the illusion of a rounded peach shaped bottom that the judges are looking for.

Digging Deeper

You can see where the eye meets her forearm and her glute that there is outer perimeter rounding on her glutes, rather than just a slant. This is the area judges are referring to if they tell you that you need to build your upper glutes. Arm placement in the front can impact the way that this looks to judges as well. Ideal arm/hand placement on you may be different than on another physique. So play up the shape of your glutes and use the placement that helps visually round the top of the glutes. The bottom portion of the glute is finished off in a teardrop shape leading the eye toward the upper portion of a visible but not overly prominent hamstring. This area seems to be a popular area of confusion among competitors. The aim here is not to have flexed prominent hamstrings. We don’t want you to sacrifice the shape of your glutes by trying to force your hamstrings to show. The level of muscularity of her hamstrings, quad sweep seen at this angle, and her calves are well balanced and match that of her upper body. There is no squaring of her glutes and her quad sweep has a soft roundness as opposed to a more angular look that is seen in Wellness and Figure competitions.

The finishing touches

As she walks, moves, and transitions, she shows off her narrow waist. When she walks, she crosses one foot in front of the other, keeping her glutes nice and high. She always keeps her elbows at about the same level in her arm movements.  Her hand never raises higher than eye level at any point. She is always posed and poised. Each movement is purposeful and intended to showcase her physique in its best light, without regard to what may work better for another competitor. Makeup is quite a bit darker on the outer edges, leading into a brighter center.  This gives her depth and contrast under the harsh lighting. Her hair is soft and styled nicely, complimenting the very feminine look overall. It is not so full as to cover her delts from the rear.

Bodybuilding posing, in all divisions, is about showing off all your hard work and strategically minimizing any weak points. Her suit color is a jewel tone (Aquamarine).  This contrasts nicely with her hair color and is far from the undertones in her tan. This allows judges to quickly see where the suit ends and the physique begins. The suit connectors are very high on the hip, elongating her leg and reinforcing the V taper of her waist.  The back of the suit bottoms dips down in the center, to complement the rounded glutes.

A complete package

She is wearing bling jewelry, but doesn’t have a large ring on every finger. Bling is great, but don’t feel the need to overdo it. Let your physique do the shining for you! She wears her competitor number in a location where it is clearly visible in all but the rear pose. You can read the number in her front pose, but also during her transitions as well as her walk. The judges will not be left trying to determine which number the competitor was who impressed them so much! Her smile is confident and proud, as is that of her posture the entire time she is on the stage. Elisa is the perfect example of a judge’s dream bikini competitor!

Now what?

We’ve broken down all aspects of the IFBB’s top bikini competitor’s physique and stage presentation, but what does this all mean?  Judges are looking for the entire package.  We are not looking for great glutes or a tiny waist or nice shoulders and triceps.  We are looking for all of those and much more! The judging criteria doesn’t change from show to show, the competitors who show up change. Don’t base the physique you’re building off of the18 last winner of that show.  Build a well balanced physique and learn how to properly show it off.  Now you know exactly what the judges are looking for out of today’s bikini competitor!

Meet the author!

Natalie Nichols is an IFBB Pro, NPC Judge and Physique Coach and can be contacted at

*Images courtesy of NPC Bikini Competition galleries.