Fitness Judging: When Your Body Goes On Trial

You spent months perfecting your body. Now the show is over and a judge is telling you otherwise. Can you handle the truth? You bet. Here's how.

When you step onto any fitness stage, you will be judged—not by a jury of your peers, but by a panel of physique-show judges. As you maneuver from backstage to the judging pit, you might feel disappointed by the placing you received.

You may be hungry, tired and irritable. You are definitely exposed and vulnerable—and yet you want feedback.

How else can you improve?

I know this feeling. From June 2013 to August 2014, I competed in eight fitness shows, and received critiques after each one of them. In one show, I won my division, but I lost in the overall to a girl who had a tiny waist. The judges told me I needed to appear thinner.

At another contest I received the opposite advice: that I needed to be rounder and fuller. At yet another contest I was told I needed to tighten up my glutes.

This seemingly contradictory feedback led to a realization: Critiques are subjective, and can vary depending on the judges. (If a judge sees you on stage multiple times, he or she can give you better perspective, but this isn't always the case.) Because of this subjectivity, you shouldn't let your placing in a fitness show become the difference between fulfillment and disappointment.

Contest History
  • 2nd Place North American Championships (Nationals August 2014)
  • 4th place Texas State Championships (August 2014)
  • 2nd place Championships (March 2014)
  • 1st place NPC Irongames Bodybuilding Championships, Bikini C class (November 2013)
  • 1st place NPC Border States Classic, Bikini C class (October 2013)
  • 1st place NPC Pacific USA, Bikini C class (August 2013)
  • 3rd place NPC Los Angeles Championships, Bikini C class (July 2013)
  • 4th place NPC Southern California Championships, Bikini C class (June 2013)

But I also came to another realization: This information, as fragmented and confounding as it might be on occasion, can be very helpful. Ultimately, you have to take what you hear and learn how to address it in your training and nutrition for the next go-round.

There are alternatives to approaching a judge in person after the show. You can get feedback later via email. Some contests in the NPC and other divisions provide reviews and critiques on their websites. These tools can be extremely helpful and insightful, so use them.

Here are four examples of the sort of feedback I've received from judges, as well as my strategies for addressing each critique.


You need to bring a fuller and rounder package to the

  1. I increased my caloric intake of complex carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes and brown rice, and proteins like steak and lean ground beef—which are higher in fat than chicken and ground turkey.

  2. I started lifting heavier to build mass and "fill" myself out. Before the critique, I was lifting at 8-12 reps. Afterward, I aimed for 5-8 reps on my lifts.

  3. I switched out my high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and replaced it with supersets. I superset lifts for body parts: legs superset with shoulders, back superset with biceps, and chest superset with triceps.


Your physique is lacking from behind—meaning legs
and glutes

  1. I changed my training plan to emphasize building my quads, hamstrings, and glutes by training them approximately 4 times every week.

Multijoint Leg Day (Paired With Shoulders)
Single-Joint Day (Paired With Triceps)


You need to have (or appear to have) a smaller waist

  1. I modified my lats training to make my waist appear smaller in my poses.

    I increased my sets to 4-5 with a rep range of 5-8 reps. I added an extra lat exercise to my workouts—4 exercises, 3 sets of 5-8 reps. I also implemented variations in grip on pulldowns, including the V-bar and wide grip with handles.

  2. I changed my caloric intake as I approached show day, to bring my waist in nice and tight. Modifications to my pre-contest nutrition plan included a decrease in carbohydrates—especially sweet potato—which can result in bloating. I decreased my intake of red meats, which tend to be higher in fat.


You need to tighten up your glutes

  1. I started training glutes 4 times per week. Before the critique, I would train glutes only on leg days (twice per week). Afterward, I also started training glutes on my shoulder and triceps day.

  2. Modifications to my glute training included a decrease in weight on one-legged cable kickbacks and cable abductors, with an increase in reps to avoid engaging my quads.

  3. For stiff-legged deadlifts, I increased the number of sets from 3 to 5, decreased the weight, and increased my rep range to 15-20 reps. The modifications help to work on the conditioning of my hamstrings and glutes, and to focus on engaging the muscles without using so much of my lower back.

  4. I incorporated more glute-bridge exercises. I use the Smith machine with moderate weight, aim for 20-25 reps with a full range of motion, and focus on engaging my glutes and pushing with my heels.

The Next Steps

I have my eyes on competing at nationals in Miami this November. I will continue to tighten up my glutes and hamstrings in order to achieve a more conditioned look for my back pose. I'll also continue to include more lat exercises on my back days, mainly pulldowns with variations in grip.

My body is in a constant state of construction and I wouldn't want it any other way. As the saying goes, the work is never done and it doesn't get easier. You just get better!

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