The Types of BodyBuilding for Women

The International Federation of Bodybuilding was established in 1946 by Joe and Ben Weider as a male bodybuilding competition. It may have started out as a sport for men, but women started competing in the IFBB at the professional level in 1980 with the Ms. Olympia competition. Since then, three other categories have been added for women, allowing them to compete under the IFBB or the amateur organization, National Physique Committee. Women now have a choice to compete in bodybuilding, fitness, figure or bikini competitions.

Female bodybuilders in bikinis backstage during a competition. (Image: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

Traditional Bodybuilding

Female bodybuilders work out to add lean muscle mass, much like male bodybuilders, and reduce their body fat to reveal the underlying muscles. In a bodybuilding competition, women have a comparison round where they go on-stage in groups to perform mandatory poses that show off their muscle definition and balance. There is also a round where each woman performs a posing routine set to music. In this round each competitor can show off her physique and personality.

The Fitness Competition

The fitness competition focuses on an athletic appearance. Unlike bodybuilding, the competitors don't reduce their body fat as much and don't add a lot of muscle mass. Women compete in a two-piece swimsuit comparison round with heels, but there is no posing like bodybuilding. In the fitness competition, the judges look at each woman's shape from different angles. There is also a round set to music where each competitor can show off her personality and physical fitness, including strength, flexibility and any gymnastics training.

The Figure Competition

In figure competitions, the judges look for the same type of physique as fitness competitors, but there is no fitness routine. Competitors compete in a two-piece swimsuit and heels, and are judged from all angles against other contestants. The goal is an athletic appearance with wide shoulders and slim hips and thighs.


The bikini division is the newest category included in the NPC and IFBB. In this category, women are still very lean, but don't exhibit the same muscle definition of the bodybuilders, fitness and figure competitors. It is a softer look. Competitors are judged in a two-piece swimsuit and high heels. Judges compare the competitors based on balance, poise and physical appearance. Each competitor is judged from the front and back, but not from the sides.

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