Open ultra-FIT, Oxygen or Men’s Health and looking back at you from the pages are fresh and healthy looking fitness models, complete with six-pack abs and toothpaste smiles. Have you ever cut one of their photos out and pasted it onto your fridge to motivate you to go to the gym?

Are you ready to set a fitness goal to get you into the best shape of your life? Why not enter the world of fitness model competitions (or train as if you were competing in one), where individuals showcase near perfect bodies, which result from grueling workouts and specific dieting.



“At the turn of the millennium, Fitness Model and Figure categories were added”

Fitness model competitions are a newer type of physique contest that’s merged with a beauty pageant for men and women. Physique contests started with male bodybuilding shows in the late 1800’s and with great strongmen such as the ‘father’ of modern bodybuilding, Eugene Sandow. Progressing to the 1960’s and the time of Arnold Schwarzenegger, bodybuilders’ physiques began getting noticeably bigger.

Steroids were used in the 60’s and 70’s, but use dramatically increased in the eighties when massive muscle bulk became the norm in competitions. In the mid 70’s, Bodybuilding branched off to two different kinds of shows, ‘natural’ (steroid-free) and the non-tested. Through every decade the nontested shows have continued to see the unnatural growth of muscle mass (editor’s note: steroids are class B illegal drugs with serious health side effects – do not use).

A bodybuilding show consists of a physique comparison, which includes mandatory poses (e.g. ‘front biceps’) and quarter turns that show the front, back and side views of the competitors in a lineup and of an individual posing routine. The muscular look required is of hardness, definition, striations, vascularity and mass. The late 70’s saw the emergence of female bodybuilding contests, which became more popular in the early 80’s.

Rachel McLish was the best-known female bodybuilder of the time. The world had never really seen women with muscles before and her feminine lines made the sport popular. By the mid-80’s, the muscle mass on female bodybuilders had, like on the men, also increased. This time also saw the start of the ‘Fitness’ category (not to be confused with the ‘Fitness Model’ category) for women that encouraged natural looking muscle.

A Fitness Contest consists of 2 rounds: a ‘routine round’ and a ‘physique/quarter turn round’. The routine round requires mandatory strength and flexibility moves, so women that didn’t have a gymnastics background had difficulty trying to place against women who had been in competitive gymnastics their whole lives. At the turn of the millennium, Fitness Model and Figure categories were added.

These didn’t require a routine so many ‘Fitness’ women switched to them. The muscular look required in the Figure category requires hard separated muscle, but without the large size seen in bodybuilding. The stage format in Figure is similar to Bodybuilding, however a feminine look is encouraged – hands are held open rather than with closed fists for the poses and high-heels are worn.

The muscular look required in the Fitness Model category is less hard and very natural. Fitness models don’t do any mandatory poses nor do they do a routine. A Fitness Model show usually has two or three rounds, but each organisation differs with their criteria. For example, in the UK the FAME show has a swimwear round and a theme round. For both of these rounds there is an individual walkout where competitors perform their own style of turns.

They get to ‘work it’ and show off their personality (this is particularly so in the theme round where they can wear outfits that as well as showing off their physiques also show off their personality). There is also a group comparison when all models perform a series of quarter turns. FAME and other organisations also have a Bikini Model category, which is similar to the Fitness Model category except the women’s physiques are much smoother.

The Fitness Model category is open to men as well as women. In this category physiques are generally similar to the original (natural) female and male bodybuilders. The type of body that Rachel McLish and Eugene Sandow had would be right at home in these contests. It seems everything has come full circle.


Fitness Model competitors are judged on their muscular symmetry. Is everything proportional – upper body to lower body, front to back, chest to hip ratio? Abs should be visible and there should be muscle definition and tone. Striations and vascularity should not be present or be minimal.

There is no specific percentage of body fat nor muscle size that is ideal for this category, rather its what best suits that individual’s frame. The competitors are also marked on their presentation, fluidity of walks, stage presence, charisma and confidence. Overall they must be attractive, with a look that is marketable in the fitness industry.

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“Taking charge of your body, setting goals and achieving them is a greatly rewarding experience”

In order to present the final package on stage, competitors must do more than just train and diet Countless hours of practicing their walks and quarter turns are necessary to properly display their physiques. Women need to select a swimsuit that has the proper colour, cut, pattern and fit that flatters and accentuates their body.

Swimsuits are usually custom designed complete with crystals —designed by special competition designers who understand what is necessary to show off a competitors’ physique on stage.

High heel shoes with clear bottoms are standard for women, whilst men usually go barefoot Copious amounts of fake tan must be applied or the bright stage lights will wash away muscle definition. Hair, makeup and impeccable grooming are the finishing touches necessary to be presentable.

Competition Terminology

Off-season: The time period of e year when there isn’t a competition on the horizon

Pre-Contest: The strict training/diet/prep period before a competition — usually 12 — 6 weeks Out: The count-down before the contest i.e., 1 week ‘out’ = 1 week ‘before’ the show

Cuts: Muscle Definition

Cutting Diet: Fat-loss diet to expose the muscle underneath

Striations: Visible Muscle fibres (like strands)

Vascularity: Visible ‘popping’ veins on a muscle

Muscle Separation: Clear distinctions between different muscle groups (i.e. the biceps to deltoids) and individual muscles (i.e. all 3 heads of the triceps)

Dry: Absence of water between the skin and muscle

Muscle Hardness: Density

Muscle Mass: Size

Ripped: The look when a competitor is very dry and each muscle has cuts, separation and hardness and/or striations and vascularity.


Many fitness models start in the world of Fitness Model competitions to gain exposure in the fitness industry. However, it’s not just aspiring fitness models that sign up. Many competitors are just regular people with full-time jobs, full-time mums and even grandparents who want to set a training goal to work towards.

Others are personal trainers who feel getting in peak shape and winning a contest could get them more clients. Whatever the reason, once they sign up and have that date circled on the calendar, it becomes a powerful motivator to get to the gym and train towards that goal. When show day arrives, entrants can showcase the best body they have ever owned and feel proud of all the hard work it took to get them there.


Fitness model contests are a big business in North America and worldwide but are just beginning to take-off in the UK. Here the Fitness Model Category is available with the organisation, FAME. International organisations that feature the Fitness Model type categories include: FAME, Fitness America Pageant (FAP), Fitness Universe, Model Universe, Fitness Atlantic, Muscle Mania and The World Body Building and Fitness Federation (WBFF).

Each organisation however has slightly different rules and criteria For competitors and spectators these shows are a presentation of what individuals can achieve through hard work and determination. Taking charge of your body, setting goals and achieving them is a greatly rewarding experience.

The preparation for a show is grueling and all encompassing. Could you push your body to the limit to undergo a body transformation and then show it off on stage? Then fitness model competitions are for you.

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Pollyanna Hale Health and Lifestyle coaches
Lost 13 Kg in Total
Mel, 32y Location: London, United Kingdom Working with Pollyanna changed everything. I lost 13kg, got toned and have more energy than ever! Get same results!


Chriz Zaremba Fitness Consultant
Lost 45 Kg in Total
Chris, 50y Location: London, United Kingdom Lost 45kg after the age of 50 and now competes and wins physique competitions and runs marathons Check our weight loss plans