What’s the Difference Between Figure and Physique?
You are here because you want to know the difference between figure and physique. You may have thought about entering one of those figure competitions, or maybe it was that bikini competition. Wait, no, it was women’s physique. Yes, I’m sure it was the women’s physique contest you wanted to enter. There’s a female bodybuilding category too? With so many fitness and physique categories to from how do you know which one to enter? What’s the difference between figure and physique?
Now that you’ve established that you do indeed have a desire to compete in a show, it’s now time to narrow things down and figure out which category is best suited for your interest.
Let’s start off where it ALL began and work down from there so you can get the whole picture.
The entire women’s fitness interest all started with female bodybuilding contests that can be dated back to the late 1960s. The first legitimate FBB show was held in 1978. From that point on, the women became more competitive, gained focus, trained harder to build more muscle, and dieted smarter to decrease body fat.
Female Bodybuilding is judged and scored on muscularity, proportion, and symmetry
By the time the late 1990s rolled around, female bodybuilders had perfected their sport. The competition was so immense that only the best of the best could hold either own on stage. Those who could fight the competitive battle could move up in ranks, which was fairly hard to do in the 1980s and 1990s.
Female bodybuilders had to have a very competitive physique to enter a National Qualifier and only the perfect packages could make it to the Nationals to earn a professional status and pro card. Some notable great female bodybuilders are Sue Price, Tonya Knight, Brenda Raganot, and Rozann Keyser.
Six years later, in 1984 fitness competitions hit the stage. This category served as an alternative to female bodybuilding for the women who wanted to compete in the sport, but not have to be judged on muscle mass and definition solely. This group started as sort of a “fit” beauty contest for women. Fitness competitors guidelines required them to display their physique doing quarter turns in posing suits.
To give proper attention, and to be engaging to the audience, the fitness competitors were also required to do a fitness performance to display athleticism. More women with skilled dance and gymnastic backgrounds began entering the fitness contests, raising the athleticism bar.
Fitness Competitions are judged and scored on degree of athleticism as well as build, appearance, and presentation
The fitness competitions became HIGLY competitive in the 1990s and only those who could do advanced flexibility movements (side-split, front-split, high kicks) and advanced strength movements (one-arm push-up, straddle hold, leg extension hold) in a choreographed routine could command the stage and even be noticed. Just as with female bodybuilding, the fitness competitions became very demanding and only the best of the best could survive. Monica Brant was a top-ranked fitness competitor, as well as Lisa Cusmano (pictured above; photo compliments of HardFitness.com), Mia Finnegan and Adela Garcia.
The trendy figure competition is the off-spring of female bodybuilding. It began in 2001 so women could compete in a physique show, but competitors weren’t required to have in-depth muscle size or have to do a fitness routine. Figure competitions allowed for almost any women who worked out and dieted to some degree to compete on stage and even a chance to win a trophy.
Just as with fitness competitions, as the years passed the figure competitors grew more and more competitive. Each year figure athletes would build bigger muscles and get more defined, blurring the lines between the established categories of the figure division and women’s bodybuilding.
Figure Contests are judged and scored on a small degree of muscularity, separation and appearance
Over time this category has also become extremely competitive The small curvy Figure ladies are getting more and more muscular with deeper cuts. Due to this obvious competitive drive women have, another division (Bikini Contests) had to be introduced to keep women entering the shows.
Some notable Figure Pros that have ranked well and have earned respect in the fitness community are Erin Stern, Jenny Lynn, and Larissa Reis.
In 2009 the International Federation of Bodybuilding (IFBB) introduced the bikini contest division. Since female bodybuilding requires intense anaerobic training and precision dieting, fitness competitions require extremely skilled athletic performances, and the figure competitors are getting as muscular as female bodybuilders, a new door had to be opened to keep women interested and entering the shows.
The striking difference in the bikini portion of the show is surprisingly, the contestants don’t need to have, and shouldn’t have overly developed muscle mass or muscle definition. This is direct specifications from the International Federation of Bodybuilding. Having over developed muscles and striations in this division will count against you.
So what’s the category for? Well, the bikini competition allows women to compete on the physique stage, but they are not required to have extreme muscle development, striations, or display any physical athleticism. It could be a platform for the bikini competitor to test the competitive waters and see if she’d like to advance to Figure, Physique, or Female Bodybuilding.
Due to the light judgment on this category, a hardcore bikini competition diet plan and extreme muscle building training is not necessary. A general fitness program for overall conditioning works well. Cassie Smith at www.bodybuilding.com states, “The judges at bikini competitions aren’t looking for muscle density, so do 15-20 reps for toning and shaping.”
The basic requirements for the bikini portion of the show in judging are to simply look good in a bikini from structured dieting and training and pose to the corresponding guidelines.
“You are obviously biased to the larger muscle divisions but to say the above is simply ignorant. Muscle definition and hardcore dieting are ABSOLUTELY necessary to even be considered as a legitimate competitor. You seem to be mistaking an actual “bikini” contest held during spring break with a competition bikini contest. Make no mistake, there is a HUGE difference! The only requirement is NOT to “look good in a bikini!” Alisha Biehn Joyner Thanks for your misguided insight. You might want to take a look at the Bikini Rules posted by the IFBB [PDF]. (See page 4, Article 134, #2) I do my homework shweetheart.
Having muscle development or muscle definition in this category can place you at the bottom of the totem pole as stated by the IFBB in Bikini Rules, Article 134.
Women’s Physique Contest (Female Muscle Comes Knocking Again)
The women’s physique contest was birthed in 2010. This division was created for the women who still wanted to compete in female bodybuilding, yet didn’t want to have to get so muscular to be competitive. The women’s physique division can be viewed as a somewhat lighter version of female bodybuilding. Women’s physique training can be intense to build a solid foundation. The NPC guidelines express that women are permitted to have muscle, but not striated muscle detail. In the the women’s physique division the lat spread was removed. The side chest pose is executed with the arms extended and crossed. The front and back double biceps poses are executed with open hands rather than clenched fists. The competitor’s feet must be extended to the side on the front and pack poses rather than the flat-footed position.
Women’s Physique is judged and scored on a reasonable degree of muscularity and overall aesthetics
If you will notice the cycle, each division started off with an intention of allowing women with muscle to compete against one another. Women trained and dieted to meet their goal and to become the best at their sport. For that reason, new divisions are constantly added because the women become competitive.
To choose with division you would like to compete in take some time and research each. Also go to a few competitions so you can see the divisions and classes, and how the women actually appear on stage in real life.
Now, take the next step and join over 73,000 other women who are losing fat and getting in shape to compete in everything from Figure to Women’s Physique. Get my FREE Contest Prep Crash Course and start making changes this week. Click the link below…
Karen Sessions NSCA-CPT
Thanks for reading over my article! I hope you found the information helpful. If you have any questions you can contact me directly using the “Contact Link” at the top of the page. I answer all emails.
If you did like this article then you should sign-up for my FREE Contest Prep Crash Course. These lessons provide science-based information on fat loss, muscle gain, and contest prep. Get the facts and you get the results.