What’s the Deal with Bikini Contests?

“Just stand there and look hot.” No, there’s much more to it than that. A competitor explains.

The sport of bodybuilding has been around for decades and built a great fan base all over the world. But it has been a fading sport among women, not only as competitors but also as fans. Most women would not describe their ideal body type as that of a female bodybuilder. Most women want to be lean, not bulky, and definitely not manly. They want to look amazing, especially in bikinis and other revealing clothes.

When women’s bodybuilding began falling out of favor, physique competition categories like Figure and Fitness were created to fill the gap. Figure is a few steps down in muscularity levels from bodybuilding, but many women still find that it requires more muscle building than they’re inclined to do. And Fitness has a performance component that appeals to former gymnasts and other athletes, but is out of the comfort zone of many aspiring competitors.

To accommodate even more women into the world of physique competitions, promoters created a new category designed to appeal to a wider audience. Thus “Bikini” competitions were formed. Bikini quickly became extremely popular, both with women seeking to compete and audiences. The International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB) recognized Bikini as a new competitive category on November 7, 2010.

Since Bikini is relatively new, it’s not surprising that many people are confused by its scoring system. Sometimes being a part of the audience and witnessing the competition can cause you to ask if there is really any criteria at all. You may wonder why certain athletes do better than others and what sets some apart in the judges’ minds, but just as with other types of physique competitions, Bikini has specific criteria that determines what the athletes need to do to win.

Bikini competitors are well conditioned and trained, have supertight bodies and impeccable diet regimens, but there is more to the scoring than symmetry, posing and presentation. Judges need to see more from these athletes than just their physiques.

So what are they looking for exactly? Bikini is scored not just on physique, stage presence and presentation, but on overall marketability as well. Here’s what’s involved.


The Physique:

Fit, Not Ripped

Let’s start off by discussing the physique criteria. What are the judges looking for in a bikini model’s body? According to the IFBB, Bikini competitors are scored on proportion, symmetry, balance, shape and skin tone. It is important for the competitor to embody the “total package.” She must be lean and firm, but not overly muscular. The muscles should be well defined with visibly distinctive muscle groups, but not overly separated with striations. If the model is too lean, muscular or hard, she will be deducted points

Ideally, a Bikini competitor wants to achieve an hourglass shape, with developed glutes and shoulders. This achieves the illusion of having a tiny waist and a long, lean torso. All in all, she should exhibit a statuesque figure with firm muscle tone and a curvy silhouette. Bikini competitors often compete onstage with 8.5–14% body fat.


The Presentation:

Owning The Stage

Another important criteria is posing and presentation. Here is where the game changes for Bikini competitors. In most physique competitions, the best body wins, but in Bikini there is so much variability and subjectivity, meaning that best overall stage presentation is more important in this competitive category than any other.

A Bikini competitor should command attention as soon as she walks onstage. She should continue to draw the eyes of the judges toward her throughout the assessment rounds. It is important for competitors to be aware that the judges are always observing them until they leave the stage. While lining up in comparison to waiting down-stage, the judges are continually scanning each athlete to assess their favorite.

Like other physique athletes, Bikini competitors have mandatory poses that each woman must perform. In the comparison rounds, the judges want to see her stand in a flattering stance that showcases her physique. In the mandatory front pose, she will have a wide stance with her weight shifted onto one leg, a hand on one hip, and the other hand placed to her side. A competitor also wants to stand in a way that makes her waist seem very tiny.

In her back pose, she will create the same position while accentuating the back and glutes. Even in the back pose, a competitor wants to find clever ways to draw the judges’ attention toward her. She can do this by looking back and shifting her hips as well as tossing her hair. What the judges are attracted to are the particular poses she chooses, her smile, her gaze, her suit, her accessories, her hair and makeup, as well as her tan.

Don’t overdo it, though. Be careful not to overembellish poses and facial expressions. Keep it classy, with just a touch of sex appeal. The judges allow accessories, but make sure they are not too distracting, as this takes away from the presentation of your physique.

Presentation includes hair, makeup, skin tone and quality of tan. If the judges score a model low in these areas, it will affect her overall placing. Her makeup must be flattering, and her hair needs to be voluminous but not too pageantlike, which is why many Bikini competitors choose more of a “Victoria’s Secret” model look. It is important that these elements complement the competitor’s natural qualities and add to the total package. Another criteria that judges score is skin quality, which must be smooth with a healthy glow, as well as tight and toned with no signs of cellulite.


Two-Pieces To

Make One Impression

Another important aspect of presentation is the bikini itself. The choice of a suit affects the total package you present. If the color, shape and cut of your bikini is not flattering, your score will suffer.

You can’t just slap on any old bikini, or think you can walk onstage in a thong. The back of the bottoms must cover at least one-third of the gluteal muscles. But they can be fun and colorful: You can sport vibrant, appealing colors that have crystal embellishments or other eye-catching elements. The right bikini for your personality and body can create a more glamorous and flattering look, and make a significant difference in your score.

Lastly, for a competitor to score high with the judges, she needs to have an overall look that is marketable. From the judges’ perspective, the questions they ask themselves as they look at each model are: Could she potentially help build a brand or product? Could she help increase sales of a magazine if she were on its cover? Does she have the “star” potential to become a big name in the professional Bikini world? Try to exude the confidence and personality of a woman who knows she’s going places!

Training for a show takes more than hard work and dedication; it takes lifestyle changes and commitment to the sport, as well as proper education and coaching. Make sure you set a reasonable timeline for a show, have a strong support system and a knowledgeable coach or trainer in your corner. If you approach this challenge as a lifestyle, you won’t be disappointed. And always remember, no matter what the outcome in a competition, your hard work will be worth it!


Creating A Bikini Body: A Guide To Training And Diet

Creating a perfectly sculpted Bikini physique requires a dedicated and smart training routine, along with a healthy, clean diet. Here’s an example week of training and dieting that I do to prepare for a Bikini competition.


30–45 minutes every morning

Weight Training

All exercises are 4 supersets of 12–15 reps

Day 1: Back and Abs

Lat pulldowns/plank rows
Seated rows/hanging leg raises
Kneeling one-arm dumbbell rows/assisted chinups
HIIT (high-intensity cardio training) 20–30 minutes

Day 2: Legs and Shoulders

Front to back lunges/rear-delt flyes
Sumo squats/lateral arm raises
Bulgarian split squats/Arnold presses
One-legged deadlifts/external shoulder rotations (elbows at 90)
HIIT 20–30 minutes

Day 3: Arms and Chest

Chest presses (flat bench)/pushups
Incline bench presses/incline flyes
Decline bench presses/clapping pushups
Pullovers/triceps pulldowns (with rope)
Biceps curls/skullcrushers
Preacher curls/bent-over curls
Dips/cable pulldowns
HIIT 20–30 minutes

Day 4: Abs and Quads

Seated Russian twists (weighted)/mountain climbers with gliders on toes (1 minute)
Weighted pulley crunches/heels-up cyclist squats
Crunches on Bosu ball/one-legged leg presses (pushing through toes)
Planks (front and side)/leg extensions (one leg per set)
HIIT 20–30 minutes

Day 5: Glutes and Back

Stiff-legged deadlifts/back hyperextensions
Glute-hip extensions (lay on floor, aka hip thrusters)/good mornings
Step-ups/lat pulldowns with hyperextension in low back as you pull
Kneeling donkey kicks using pulley
HIIT 20–30 minutes

Days 6 and 7

Practice posing; hot yoga and/or cardio

Daily Meal And Nutrition Program

Morning: 500–1,000 mg fish oil and a multivitamin/mineral taken with 500 ml room-temp water
Meal 1: 2 whole eggs and 2 whites, 1⁄4 cup nuts
Meal 2: Protein shake with: 1⁄2 avocado, 15 g of protein powder, 1⁄3 cup blueberries and 1 cup spinach and cinnamon to taste
Meal 3: 4 oz chicken, turkey, tilapia, sole or cod with 2 cups leafy green vegetables
Meal 4: 3 oz bison with 1⁄4 cup nuts
Meal 5: 4 oz chicken, turkey, tilapia, sole or cod with 2 cups green vegetables (your choice)
Meal 6: 4 egg whites (at least 30 minutes before bed) or protein shake


Take 500–1,000 mg of fish oil and multi-vitamin/mineral 12 hours after first dose
Drink 5–6 liters of water per day
Drink maximum of 2 cups of coffee per day (limit cream and milk)
Avoid alcohol
Avoid table salt, but some sea salt is OK, but use sparingly (using spices is OK)
Avoid sugar


To contact Amanda Kotel, email her at amandakotel@hotmail.com.

Photography by Liana Saadi

  • Naomi Vega

    WOW!! You look great!!!! Thank you so much! I have been looking for an article like this!!!!

  • Sheila

    12 to 15 reps but do you push as much weight as you can handle or lower weight?

    • Chantel

      Lift as heavy as you can while still maintaining proper form ;)

      • sheila


        • Chantel

          You’re welcome! Good luck on your prep and/or goals! :)

  • Marissa

    I’m confused on the cardio recommendations. It says 30-45 min every morning at the top, and then within each of the days it says HIIT 20-30 min – is that in addition to the 30-45 min, or included? Thanks!

    • chantel

      Yes, am is cardio only. Afternoon/evening is weights followed by another 20_30 min in the form of hiit. Different than the am style.

  • alanna

    do you have a carb up day? or do you avoid them your entire prep? i dont see any in your meal plan

    • Chantel

      There is not a “carb up day”. Amanda gets her energy and carbs from fruits, veggies, and healthy fats. This follows a lower carb approach yes, often times referred to as paleo or primal style, but the healthy fats make up for it. Hope that helps?! :)

  • Ebony Fitness

    This is absolutely awesome and simplified to perfection! Thanks so much.

  • Maria

    What if you can only lift weights 3 x a week? That’s all the time I have :(

  • Christina

    About How long will this take to see results if followed precisely?

  • Helen Hines

    I went to your website and saw your b4 photo in 2009. You really don’t look like you’ve changed much. I wouldve been much more impressed if there was a drastic change. You look like the type who was always thin never really had a problem with weight issues or being over weight. What you did was, you lost a lil bit of weight to fine tune your body. However, you do look great and have done a fine job in perfecting your look. Thanks for sharing your tips!

  • Alex

    Great article! Very helpful

  • Paula Ali

    Just decided to go for it, you broke it down so well

  • Guest

    NPC shows definitely pick large mature muscles over a typical sexy bikini body. I watched 150 bikini shows on youtube. I believe I had a fairly good understanding of what judges wanted in a bikini body. But of those shows its split down the middle. Half pick the clidedales (huge muscles chicks) as the winner and the other half pick the sexy lean body you want to fuck – bikini. Thats the package my wife brought. She did an amazing job of coming in lean but keeping her butt – not easy to do. Diet played a large role. Anyway… She placed 6th in 35+. All those that beat her outweighed her by 20 -30 lbs. And she placed 9th in novice (no age requirement) out of 40. So she was happy to beat 31 other 18 – 30 year olds. They gave her zero points for her face and body looking like she was 18. Instead they picked ladies that looked like my grandma, skin hanging off their bodies, but they had more mature mucsle under all the fake hair, eye lashes, and make up. Basically backstage in person all the women that beat her looked like they birthed her. On stage they looked more like pamala anderson. So they picked old and fake instead of 18 year old sex body. Personally astelically pleasing sexy bodies should (and does in half shows) win over pot belly pigs with 30 more pounds of muscle. But not these judges. She was happy to beat most of the young girls in novice though.

  • http://www.websitecodetutorials.com/ PicnicTutorials

    My wife competed recently in NPC show. The judges hands down favored large mature muscles, fake hair and lashes, to natural, pretty, sexy, lean, and curvy typical bikini body. Personally I think the judges have lost their way. Those much larger women looked good no doubt. But they should of been competing in physique class not bikini. Judges seem to be letting the class of muscle women bring to the bikini class creep up and up. Remember judges there are other classes designed to cater to larger mature muscles. Bikini should be reserved for the sexy every day type body that turns heads on the beach. That’s what the class was intended for.