What are the judges looking for?

In the world of physique competition, there seems to be a great amount of mystique about judges. Competitors often talk about judges as though they’re part of some top secret underground club . . . the kind of group who dresses in robes and attends rendezvous at secret locations in the middle of the night to sacrifice baby kittens and protein powder to appease the ancient gods of muscle. Ridiculous.  We quit doing that when the economy tanked and the price of protein powder went up.

The reality is that a lot of people don’t understand the judging process because they haven’t taken the time to do their research and really learn the ins and outs of judging.  Unfortunately, this often results in competitors who are disgruntled and will attribute their placing to ‘politics’ or a number of other factors.  The only one who always agrees with the judges is the first place winner.  This blog, along with next week’s, will hopefully answer a few of the questions that competitors often have about the judging process.


First things first:  Who are the judges?  Judges are people who have an exceptional love for the sport and have been trained to assess physiques in a competition setting.  By virtue of this, most judges are competitors or have competed in the past, though this is not a requirement to be a judge.  Before you say “How can you possibly judge if you don’t compete?” I’d like to mention that when I watch American Idol I can tell you who sounds incredible and I can tell you who needs to go home even though I don’t ever sing (even to myself . . . even in the shower).  I’ve seen people who have no desire to compete who have a phenomenal talent for judging and I’ve seen amazing competitors who can’t judge a lineup to save their life.

To become a judge, a person must attend an NPC judging clinic.  In the Northwest, these are held a couple times throughout the year and are free to anyone who is a current NPC member.  This means that the information and criteria that judges use is available to all NPC members.  There are no secrets when it comes to judging!

The next step toward becoming a qualified judge is to test judge a number of shows to display competency.  Test judge scores are compared to the final class results.  Test judges must score a minimum of 85% accuracy on a consistent basis to qualify to become a judge.  This ensures that the judge understands the criteria and has a good eye to assess it, keeping the panel consistent.

Judging is essentially a volunteer job.  A judge’s stipend is equal to the current cost of the NPC card.  As of right now, that’s $100 . . . not really a lot of money for a full day’s work, especially when you factor in travel costs, etc.  This is not something that people do to get rich.  As mentioned earlier, judging is done out of love for the sport.

“What are the judges looking for?”

Okay, time for me to rant a little bit:  When someone’s placing isn’t what they think it should be they tend to ask a common question:  “What are the judges looking for?”  There are several variations of this question I’ve encountered including “Do the judges even know what they’re looking for?” but the common denominator is that all versions subtly (or sometimes not so subtly) imply that the judges don’t really know what they are doing and can’t make up their mind about what they want to see on stage.  I’m going share a little secret about judging that not too many people know.  Are you ready?


Yeah, I just “e-yelled” because I want to make sure everyone heard it.  Judges aren’t looking for something different at every show.  A judge is always looking for the physique which is, in their opinion, the best of the group on stage.  That never changes, no matter what the show or class.

Competitors are often confused by or unhappy with their score sheet because not all of the judges on the panel scored them the same.  This is because even though we have guidelines for judges, the scoring process is still based on personal opinion.  The final score is the averaged opinion of a qualified judging panel.  There will almost always be variances in the scores.  If that wasn’t the case, we could save everyone a lot of time, money and work by just having 1 judge who decides where everyone places.  Make sense?

Let’s add some perspective to the judging process:  Judges do not place someone based on how they look.  Placings are based on how someone looks in relation to the other competitors in their class at the moment that they’re on stage.  This seems like a no brainer but a lot of times people forget this.  I frequently hear complaints about poor judging because “so and so won their class last week at another show but only got 4th this week”.  How someone placed at a previous show is in no way indicative of how they will place in future shows.  This week will bring a new lineup of competitors to be compared to.  Changes in conditioning can occur within a matter of minutes at this stage of the game.

A judge can only assess what they are looking at on stage at a particular moment.  Who you are or where you placed in the past makes no difference.  All a judge is looking for is the best physique standing on stage in front of them at that particular time.  I’ve seen seasoned competitors step on stage at their very best and still place last and I’ve seen some take the stage at their worst and still win.  In the end, it all depends on how you look compared to who you’re standing with.


Okay, time for a quick, brutally blunt blurb about “politics”.  This is a topic I hear mentioned at every show I’ve ever attended, judged, promoted or competed at so I figured I’d touch on this subject briefly.  I’m not going to spend too much time talking about politics in the sport because so far as physique competition in the Northwest goes, it’s non-existent.  I know people sometimes like to believe that the only reason “so and so” won a class was due to politics and the reason someone else placed low in their class was much the same.  I’ve got news for you:  We’re not that organized.

Judges do not sit around conspiring to hand someone a first place trophy that they didn’t deserve. We don’t meet up before shows to discuss who is on the roster.  We do not discuss placings while we’re judging.  We do not make changes to placings or scores after a class is complete.  We do not let a judge who has close personal ties to a competitor on stage judge that class (we’ll discuss alternate judges more next week).  If a judge did happen to let personal bias sway their scoring either against or in favor of a competitor it would be irrelevant to the final score anyway as the high and low score are both discarded.

We take great pride in providing a professional and fair environment for all competitors.  Nothing discredits someone’s hard work faster than assuming the only reason they got where they are was due to “politics”.  Every person on stage worked hard to be there but in the end, there can only be one winner.  Don’t take that moment away from them by attributing their achievement to politics.  Sometimes, success is just the result of a lot of hard work.  ;-)

Check back next week when we discuss some of the basics of the judging criteria along with the actual scoring process.