Do it right and show your physique off at its best!
You’ve got the physique – but can you show it?
So you’ve decided to compete. That’s great! I urge all bodybuilders to give themselves the gift of competing at least once. It’s the best way to see exactly what your physique looks like with most of the bodyfat and water stripped away, as well as being a thrilling experience you will never forget. Chances are you will also make at least a couple new friends. You know that you’ll need to train hard, diet strictly, and hit your cardio to look your very best on show day. One aspect that many fail to give proper time and attention to is posing. Often, those who haven’t competed dismiss the posing as an afterthought, assuming they can wing it on the day of the show. Hey, as long as I look good, who cares? You should care a lot, because it’s one thing to have a good physique and another thing entirely to be able to display it properly. I’ve actually been to contests where competitors lost to someone who didn’t necessarily have a better physique, but by posing with mastery, they were able to beat a rival whose horrible posing made them look worse than they truly did. Keep in mind that bodybuilding is judged purely by what the judges see before them on stage. Two men or women could have identical physiques, yet if one has no clue how to pose and the other knows exactly how to accentuate his or her strong points and take attention away from weak points, it will appear as if that second competitor is vastly superior. With all this in mind, let’s take you through all the various poses you will be asked to hit during the judging portion of a bodybuilding contest.
Quarter turns (Symmetry Round)
The very first thing you will do is walk onstage in a lineup with your class, be it a weight, height, or age division. All competitors will be put through ‘quarter turns,’ where the judges assess the relative shape, structure, and proportions of the various physiques. Initially you will be facing front, then asked ‘quarter turn to the right (clockwise),’ to view you from the left side, another quarter turn to the right to see you from the rear, another turn to see your right side, and finally you will end up facing from again.
Facing front in this round is referred to as the ‘front relaxed’ pose, but rest assured you do not want to relax. Every muscle group should be tight and tensed.Stand tall with your chest up, lats flared, and shoulders squared. Keep your midsection tight and your stomach sucked in. Do NOT try to flex your abs here, it will take away from your V-taper. Flare your quads by imagining trying to push them apart with your feet rooted firmly to the floor. Don’t try to flex them by locking out the knees, you will have a chance to do that in other poses coming up. Be careful to have your arms hanging down at your sides rather than jutting out. Some competitors have their arms so high up and out they appear to be attempting flight. Don’t be that guy or girl!
When turned to the side, you want to twist a bit to create a better illusion of being what I call ‘big up top, small in the middle.’ Your left arm isn’t hanging straight down, but instead pulled back behind your torso. This both enhances the aforementioned illusion and gives the judges a good look at your serratus and obliques, which hopefully are shredded! Your left leg should be squashed up against your right, with the foot flat on the floor. Everything from head to toes, as always, should be tensed, with your gut sucked in.
Here’s where the judges get their first look at your back, glutes, hamstrings from the rear, and your calves. Spread your lats as wide as possible, and grip the floor firmly to put tension on your calves. Flex your glutes and tense your hamstrings. As in all rear poses, look straight ahead. Often competitors tend to look down, which is an odd posture.
The judges will ask for one more clockwise quarter turn to the right to see you from the right side. This is why it’s called the Symmetry Round – they want to see if you are developed evenly from both sides. If you have one arm that’s much bigger or smaller than the other, this is where they will catch it and mark you down.
Mandatory poses (Muscularity Round)
Front double biceps
The first pose in the second round is always the front double biceps, and I would guess that at least half the final decision is made based on this one pose. Here judges are looking not only at your biceps, but also the shoulder to waist ratio and quadriceps development. Do not crunch down on your abs here! That will take away from your taper and make you look blocky. Your thumbs should be tucked inside your fists, and your upper arm bones should be parallel to the floor. Most people hit this shot straight on, but if you find that slightly tilting your hips to one side or another improves your overall shape, do it that way.
Front lat spread
Truly good lats can be seen from the front, and that’s the basis for this pose. Dig your knuckles into the top of your hip bones and spread your lats as far apart as possible. Be careful not to lean too far forward or backward. A slight backward lean often allows the lats to be seen better from the front, but don’t go overboard.
In the NPC, you are given the option on the two side poses to hit either side, and of course you would want to choose the side that you look better in. There are two main variations for this pose. The first is what I call the ‘old-school’ style side chest as seen in the past from greats like Arnold, Lou Ferrigno, Franco Columbu, and Ken Waller. The torso is sideways to the judges and audience with the chest popped up high on the ribcage. In the more modern version, the torso is angled toward the audience so you are able to show the shoulder and arm of the other side as well as more of the entire chest. I snidely refer to this as a ‘side most muscular’ pose. In either variation, the judges are looking at shoulder, chest, and arm development as well as the glutes, quads, hams, and calves from the side. Grasp the wrist of the arm facing the judges and set your elbow down and back as you flex the arm, as in the midpoint of a curl. The leg facing the audience should be bent slightly so you are able to flex the calf. As in the side ‘relaxed’ poses, the legs should be firmly pressed together.
Rear double biceps
The biggest mistake people make here is to mash the shoulder blades together in an attempt to show the thickness of the upper back. This takes away from your taper. You want to flare your lats as wide as possible with a very slight lean back. The arms should be in the same position as in the front double biceps. Spike one foot about a foot back from the other and flex that calf and angle the leg slightly outward to show your quad sweep from behind. The glutes and hamstrings should both be flexed hard.
Rear lat spread
This is the toughest pose for most people to master, bar none. The key is to learn how to spread your lats as far away from your spine as possible. I find focusing on spreading the scapulae or shoulder blades is the best way to figure it out. As in the front lat spread, dig your knuckles into the top of your hip bones before spreading your lats out. Do not hunch forward! Your legs should be in the same position as for the rear double biceps.
Reach behind your back with both arms and grasp the wrist of the arm in front with the other hand to flex the triceps. If your shoulders lack flexibility, you might have to grab just the fingertips of the hand belonging to the flexing arm. Lock the elbow out for a fully straightened arm and completely flexed triceps. The legs should be the same as in the side chest.
Abdominals and thigh
Start by putting your arms overhead and bent, so your elbows point to the roof. Keep the arms tucked in close to your head. Blow out all the air and flex down on your abs. Put one leg forward with the knee locked and flex your quadriceps for dear life. The foot of that leg should be flat on the floor, not tilted up to show what may be a dirty underfoot from walking around barefoot backstage. The other leg should be angled out from the torso to show width and sweep.
The head judge will either just call for a most muscular pose, or will ask for ‘your favorite most muscular.’ The most popular version is the crab, which you’ve seen plenty of non-lifters emulate. Bend forward slightly at the torso and assume the position of the finish position of a cable crossover rep, with chest, shoulders, and biceps all crunched in to form what I like to call a ‘ball of muscle.’ If you have great shoulders and traps, this is probably your best option. Next up is the hands on hips most muscular, which shows off the delts and V-taper better. Take the meat of your palms below the thumbs and press them against the top of your hips bones, then push as hard as possible to bring out the striations in your pecs and delts. Finally, there is the hands clasped most muscular, in which you set your hands just below your navel and push them together forcefully. This was a favorite for both Dorian Yates and Kevin Levrone.
To be perfectly frank with all of you, the posing routine is not scored and thus has no impact on your placing, regardless of how masterful or cringe-worthy yours happens to be. That being said, it’s your one and only chance to shine all by yourself on stage; to showcase all your best poses and show off all your hard work, and also to let people get a glimpse into your personality. Typically these days you are only allotted 60 seconds, so make them count! First off, choose a song that you really like, preferably love, and either only pose to the first 60 seconds or have someone edit a portion of it for you. Next, take a little time and figure out what your best 7-10 poses are, as this is all you really have time for. Then, you assemble them in an order that makes sense. Most competitors start with a front pose or two, then move to a side shot or two, then show a couple back poses. In essence, it’s almost like the quarter turns except you are hitting the poses that show you at your best. You are not obligated to include any of the mandatory poses, but usually most are in there along with a couple unique poses you choose. If you have a great back, you would definitely want to hit a few back shots. Conversely, if your back is a weak point, don’t hit any back poses. Even though the routine isn’t being judged, again it is your only opportunity to show your physique exactly as you wish it to be seen. Watch posing routines on YouTube for inspiration and to see how the best in the game do it, but don’t copy someone else’s routine unless you happen to have their exact body! Transitions between poses should be smooth and fluid, not jerky and awkward. Finally, feel free to throw in a couple dance moves if you happen to be a great dancer. Otherwise stick to hitting poses.
3 Additional tips
Find a good posing coach
The best way to become a solid poser is to find someone who is already great at it and get them to teach you. You might be able to find one in your area, or else most of them also work with clients remotely via Zoom, Facetime, or Skype. A posing coach can quickly correct things you’re not doing optimally that you otherwise would have been completely unaware of.
Take photos and videos
If you don’t enlist the services of a posing coach, the next best thing is to take photos and videos of yourself in all the poses and do your best to evaluate what you’re doing right and what could be adjusted or improved.
Practice, practice, practice!
Finally, just as you wouldn’t expect to just hit a couple workouts and cardio sessions and diet for a couple weeks to show your best package onstage, don’t assume you can start working on your posing presentation a few days out from your contest. For first-timers, I suggest starting at least 8 weeks out with a good 15 minutes a day, running through all the quarter turns and poses and holding them for 5 seconds each. After a couple weeks, bump that up to 20 minutes and 10 seconds, then finally 30 minutes and 20 seconds. It’s brutally difficult, a workout in itself, but it pays off on stage when you look confident, polished, and professional.