Is bodybuilding a sport or a form of performance art? Physique competitors train and toil for months on end to develop a specific quality that they then show off to the world — not all that dissimilar from most sports.
On the other hand, a bodybuilder’s moment of glory doesn’t come after submitting an opponent, hitting a home run, or hoisting a world record overhead; it comes from having the best physique under the stark lights of the bodybuilding stage.
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How does the bodybuilder convince a panel of judges — not to mention the audience — that they’ve got the most impressive physique on the day? Size matters, sure. So does proportion. But a good posing routine can seal the deal.
These are the mandatory poses of Open bodybuilding, plus a couple of compelling (and controversial) extras you’ll only see in special circumstances.
All bodybuilding competitors open up their stage campaign with a series of quarter turns. The competitor gradually rotates on stage, presenting their physique from different angles for both the judges and audience to see.
The quarter turns aren’t a pose in the same sense as the rest of the selections on this list. These turns are, however, essential for displaying the entirety of the bodybuilder’s physique as a precursor to the rest of the competition that follows.
Front Double Biceps
This pose has the bodybuilder stand with their legs shoulder-width apart and then raise their arms to flex the biceps. This lets the judges assess the entire front musculature from top to bottom. This is a great pose to judge what’s called the X-frame, which is defined as broad shoulders and sweeping quads, which create a visible “X” shape. Posers need to keep their elbows high and drive their lats out and forward.
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A good front double biceps pose will also display the competitor’s arms, abs, and thighs. There isn’t much of the way of personality to this pose; some competitors will opt to turn their wrists one direction or another to change how their biceps flex, but that’s about it.
Front Lat Spread
The front lat spread pose highlights back width, shoulder width, and overall torso taper. The competitor starts with their feet shoulder-width apart, toes turned out at an angle, and contracts their thighs.
They then place their hands on their hips, palms down, and flares their lats out. A good front lat spread should also contain relaxed abdominal muscles. This allows the bodybuilder to lean back slightly as they open their backs, creating the illusion of a wider shoulder girdle and slimmer waist.
This pose presents the physique from the side. Here, judges look for complete hamstring and quad development from a side angle and a full and complete chest and thick arms. Bodybuilders will first perform the pose on the right side. They’ll plant their right foot, with both knees slightly bent, and bring both legs together, squeezing their hamstring and quads.
The competitor spikes their audience-facing foot up to flex their calves as well. Despite facing perpendicular to the audience, the side chest pose illustrates a large amount of muscularity at once. It’s also one of the few poses that demonstrate both quadriceps and hamstring muscularity at once.
Back Double Biceps
One of the oldest adages in bodybuilding is that shows are won from the back. The back is made up of many muscles, and this pose is meant to show the competitor’s back size and symmetry in tandem with his or her arms, shoulders, hamstrings, and calves.
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Performing the back-double biceps pose requires the competitor to flex their biceps with their arms out to their sides and the back’s entire muscularity. The competitor should not pinch their shoulder blades together but rather keep them open so that the lats can flare out wide.
The competitor should lean their torso back slightly toward the judges and always keep the elbows slightly higher than the shoulders to accentuate a V-taper. Additionally, one foot is placed backward on the ball of the foot to contract a calf. Hamstrings and glutes should also be contracted to display separation and definition within those muscle groups.
Rear Lat Spread
This pose is functionally identical to the front lat spread, save for one obvious difference. The rear lat spread has the competitor perform the front lat spread, but with his or her back facing the judges. Here, judges are looking mainly at back width and thickness, as well as the overall shape and taper of the competitor’s torso silhouette.
Competitors also use to show off their triceps, hamstrings, and calf gains from the back. A good rear lat spread also requires the competitor to lean back, tilting their shoulders toward the audience. This creates the illusion of a narrower waist and helps bring out the coveted “Christmas tree” shape in the lower back.
Like the side chest, this pose focuses on the triceps muscles and how the chest and shoulder tie into one another. Because competitors aren’t blocking their waists with their arms, as they do in the side chest pose, they’ll have to be sure to keep their abs flexed and controlled.
The same leg position in the side chest applies here. The competitor must keep their legs close together and flex nearly every muscle in their body. Good posers will use their “off” leg to push their visible hamstring out, while also pulling their arm against their torso to make their triceps really pop.
Abdominals and Thigh
Although it is called the abdominal and thighs pose, this pose also emphasizes lat width and the contestant’s V-taper. The bodybuilder performs this pose by taking a staggered stance, flexing their legs and calves in the process.
Then, they raise their arms up and clasp their hands together behind their head while exhaling sharply and contracting their abs as hard as possible. The abdominal and thigh pose highlights a shredded core and shows off all the best parts of a well-developed set of legs.
Some competitors in the Classic Physique division will opt to begin their abdominal and thigh pose by performing a stomach vacuum to illustrate how much control they have over their midsection.
The most muscular pose is exactly what it sounds like; one chance for the bodybuilder to flex as much of their overall musculature as they possibly can. While not an officially-recognized pose in every bodybuilding federation, most competitions offer their contestants a chance to perform their favorite version of the most muscular pose at the end of judging rounds.
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Some bodybuilders opt to lean forward and flex their arms with their fists facing the audience. Others will stand more upright and clasp their hands together down in front of their waists. Both achieve the same outcome but give off different silhouettes and allow each athlete to play to the strengths of their physique.
The iconic stomach vacuum pose is mandatory only for bodybuilders in the Classic Physique division. It’s a modification of the abdominal and thigh pose in which the athlete removes all the air from their diaphragm and draws in their abdominal wall.
This creates the appearance of a “hollow” stomach; a torso that has been vacuumed of its contents. The stomach vacuum not only shows off muscles like the lats, serratus, and hip flexors, but also demonstrates a level of bodily control that isn’t seen in many other divisions of the sport.
The vacuum also harkens back to the beloved “Golden Era” of bodybuilding, during which competitors placed more emphasis on their shoulder-to-waist ratio and the stomach vacuum was par for the course on the stage, even when standing in relaxed postures. Vacuums are one of the key features that separate Classic competitors from Open bodybuilders.
You won’t find any bodybuilders performing the moon pose during bodybuilding competitions — it is prohibited by the International Federation of Bodybuilding & Fitness and other major federations. Most organizations consider it unnecessarily lewd or vulgar.
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However, the moon pose offers the athlete a unique way of demonstrating both their flexibility and hamstring muscularity. Bodybuilding icons like Tom Platz popularized the pose; Platz in particular is famous for having, arguably, the best legs in bodybuilding history, and he wasn’t afraid to show them off by turning away from the audience and bending over at the waist. Bottoms up.
Mandatory Poses vs. Posing Routines
Bodybuilders — at least in the Men’s Open division — must complete the eight mandatory poses so judges can compare and contrast the athletes. It’s during the mandatory poses that the judges decided who looks best. After (or in some shows before) the mandatory poses, competitors have around two minutes to perform a posing routine. Typically, these include variations of the mandatory poses. However, the posing routine allows the competitor more creative freedom in how they present their physique.
Bodybuilders, no matter their division of choice, take great care in crafting a posing routine that sets them apart from their competitors and offers visual flair. They’ll select specific soundtracks and perfect their transitions between poses to match the cues of the music. Individual posing routines are where bodybuilding most strongly resembles performative artwork.
How Bodybuilding Is Judged
The Mr. Olympia competition — the sport’s most prestigious event, held once per year — hosts 11 unique divisions:
Each division of competitive bodybuilding judges different criteria and has its own ruleset. For a comprehensive breakdown, check out BarBend’s YouTube video discussing each division and its judging criteria at length:
The Men’s Open and Women’s Bodybuilding divisions house the most muscular competitors overall. Categories like Figure attempt to bring more athleticism into the fold, with its women competitors performing dynamic calisthenics-based routines and gymnastics feats on stage.
Men’s Physique competitors wear board shorts instead of scant posing trunks and are judged on a “beach-worthy” physique that emphasizes a tight torso taper and appealing silhouette above all. Bodybuilding is far more diverse than it appears on the surface.
More Bodybuilding Content
Still haven’t gotten your daily dose of muscle? No worries. Now that you know the bodybuilding poses check out these other articles about bodybuilding from BarBend.
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