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How To Be A Stand Out On [a bodybuilding] Stage (where to start) [SHOW NOTES]

In this episode I’m going to talk about the steps you can take to create your own unique package on stage. I'm going to share some stories from head judging a recent pro/am bodybuilding show and the key takeaways from the show. I'm going to talk about the competitors who came up to the judging panel after the show and the kind of feedback they received. Plus I’ll touch on a few of the divisions and give some overall recommendations on things to do to be more competitive. I’ll then reflect on the overall direction I’m seeing the divisions going, where I see the industry going, and what you can do to be competitive in a changing environment.


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What is going on! Welcome back to The “Everything Else” in Bodybuilding. We are talking about all “other” things in fitness and bodybuilding and covering all divisions and federations. It’s the whole theme of the show of course. And I just so happened to have head judged a pro/am show in New York recently for the WNBF federation so I am going to share some of the key takeaways from the show from the head judge perspective, the kind of feedback competitors received post show, and some industry gossip as well.

Just a quick recap of some of the principles I’ve covered so far have to do with the credibility of coaches in story #2 and then in story #3 I did a deep dive into the different types of pro cards, what they mean, do you make money, and so on.

Anyone listening that is a competitor wants to win. If you say otherwise you are full of crap. The issue I see in the sport is learning the things you need to do to become a winner isn’t easy. Picking credible prep coaches and posing coaches is a good start. Picking the right federation for you to work towards your pro card and being competitive as a pro is another good start. But what about you and the things you can do yourself to make you more competitive? Relying on outside influence to tell you what to do is only going to get you so far. You have to actually do some stuff on your own too..

So today I want to share my recent head judge experience and talk about the common theme I noticed with the feedback the competitors received after the show. Let me first explain that if you are listening and aren’t familiar with how a bodybuilding show is scored, there is a panel of judges with score sheets that sit at a table below and center of the stage. The head judge has the microphone and sits in the very center. The head judge leads each of the classes of competitors through a series of required poses, dictates how long the poses are held, and will strategically move competitors around the stage to better compare the physiques.

Based on the criteria established for the category on stage, the head judge will move the competitors that best meet that criteria towards the center to assist the panel of judges with narrowing down to a top 5 ranking. Each panel judge scores separately and the judging sheets are passed over to someone who tallies up the scores to determine the winners. In the WNBF the highest and lowest scores are thrown out to remove any outliers.

So my role as a head judge requires me to have a fast, critical eye the minute every competitor walks out on stage. I tell the competitors what poses to hit, dictate how long they hold them, and based on my judgment, I strategically move the competitors around the stage.

In the WNBF we start by scoring the symmetry of each athlete no matter what division. So from bikini to bodybuilding, we are scoring your symmetry, or overall balance, of your physique first. So I will move the competitors with the best symmetry closer together in the middle of the stage for better viewing so the rest of the judging panel can score them. I then move on to things more specific to the category like with bodybuilding we are looking for muscularity and conditioning and not so much your persona or character on stage. With bikini and men’s physique we are also judging your body composition relative to the category, but your stage presence and overall presentation matters too. So the second part of judging is meant for scoring these additional criteria. With bodybuilding it means you will be taken through a series of muscularity poses. On the opposite spectrum, with bikini, you have an additional walking component during prejudging that is used to evaluate your body composition and stage presentation. Each division is different and looking for different things.

As you can see, although bodybuilding is a subjective sport, there is criteria in place that the judges use as a guide to find the best match on stage. And I can speak from experience judging for a dramatically different federation, the WBFF, where they are looking for the most beautiful people in the world with unbelievable stage presence. There are scoring guidelines provided for each division there as well. But knowing the specifics on what the judges are looking for is critical because if you show up to a WBFF show and shuffle along the stage bashfully you are going to get blown off the stage. And if you are on a WNBF stage or even an NPC stage and you haven’t figured out how to make your body look symmetrical you aren’t going to be called towards the center of the stage.

NPC judges very fast by the way. I was at a Bev Francis show a couple months ago in New Jersey and I remember one class on stage was taken through the 4 mandatory poses ONE time and then walked off stage. 4 poses. DONE. Granted the amount of people in the class was small, and as a judge myself I could quickly rank the competitors, but the key point here is at these shows There is no “everyone gets a trophy” and “everyone works hard so give them their stage time” mentality. It’s serious business. There are too many classes and too many competitors at these shows to dilly dally. You walk out, hit your poses with the group, and no matter if it’s 2 minutes or 10 minutes, when the judges are done, they are done, and you walk off stage.

So what this means is you as a competitor might spend months preparing for a show only to end up with less than 5 minutes to show off your hard work. It’s critical that you know what the federation is looking for, what the judges are scoring, and you spend just as much time nailing this part of your show prep as you do your nutrition and training if you want to be a stand out on stage.

You might be thinking, Michele, that’s great and all but what if I don’t know how to get better when I thought I brought my best package to the stage?

Let me ask you this….how long did it take to learn how to get better at exercise and meal prep? You didn’t just walk into a gym and know how to deadlift, did you? You might have had some limitations with mobility or some imbalances with muscles that you needed to bring up before you even grabbed the barbell. You didn’t just walk in one day and walk out with the same knowledge as Charles Poliquin, Charles Glass, Dr. Layne Norton, or even one of the smartest people I know in the fitness industry, Dr. Mike T. Nelson.

You first learned your limitations and took the time to improve them. You were patient with your lifting because you had no choice. You didn’t start with a 600lb leg press because you physically couldn’t push 600lbs. You met your body where it was at and with consistency and time you improved it. And you know what…..truth bomb right here…..for most of you, you did this on your OWN. Someone might’ve shown you the right form you need for the exercise, but then it was YOU that did the work to improve. Day in and day out. Week in and week out. With consistency.

Just like with your training, your prep work for the stage component of the competition needs to be a little every day. It doesn’t need to be fancy pants stuff either. Or take up hours of time. You don’t need to go to classes. You simply need a little structure like you have with your workouts.

I was talking with Ian Mercer about posing at the staff dinner after the show I just judged. If you don’t know Ian, he is the posing coach that taught Kai Greene how to pose. And Kai, in my opinion, is the best poser in bodybuilding. Fun fact, Kai Green competed in the WNBF before he competed in the NPC/IFBB. He actually won the World Championships. Anyways, Ian had Kai pose all. The. time. And Ian didn’t just work with him on the specific poses required in the judging round. Ian worked with Kai on movement in and out of the poses as well. If you watch Kai Greene pose, you will never see him make an unflattering shape. And it goes without saying that Kai makes moving a body with a ton of muscle look effortless. That took a lot of effort to make things look effortless.

Which leads me to the judges feedback from the show. The most common feedback from the show I head judged, from not just me, but the other judges, had to do with …posing and the odd shapes people were making on stage with their physiques. It’s such a common theme that stinks because it’s avoidable. Some of the classes there were clear cut winners, but there were many classes where it was a close call. I was talking with the other judges after the show and we were all commenting on how a lot of the posing was really awkward and did absolutely no justice to people’s physiques. The poses themselves weren’t exactly wrong, if you read the criteria, technically the poses were within the guidelines, but the way they were displaying the pose did no justice to their body. I told quite a few people to start playing with the angles of their body and try to focus on creating more flattering shapes. You don’t need to go to a workshop to hear the same thing that I just told you as a judge. Everyone listening today, just like with your lifting, you can do this yourself a little every day.

Think of posing as creating SHAPES.

I made the same mistakes early in my career. I remember trying so hard to pose that I squeezed everything for dear life in my back pose. I pinched my shoulder blades thinking flexing was going to help show more definition and I squeezed my glutes as tight as possible. You can probably visualize how awful this look was. I had no idea until I got the stage pictures back how bad the poses looked. That’s when a light bulb went off and I changed my mindset to seeing posing as creating shapes and flattering angles. And to chill the f out on stage. Eyeballs do not need to be popping out of your head when you pose. The more relaxed you are the better you will look.

I don’t think people realize that posing is meant to create a shape with your body. The description of the pose you might read on the federation’s website, gives you a guideline on how to stand and position your body, but it’s up to you to make it look good on you. If the judges are looking for symmetry, you need to take that into account when you are hitting your poses. You might need to change your leg position, your hip position, or your shoulder position to create a better shape on you. The guidelines are provided for you, but if you understand what the goal of the pose is, you can play with things like your leg, hip, and shoulder positions to see what creates a better shape with your body’s structure.

And you know what? You can do this on your own!

Speaking to those right here who are listening and have done shows or preparing for one. What’s the biggest thing you are struggling with? Comment on this podcast episode and tell me what you are currently doing to create the best shapes with your body in your posing …What are you doing about it? Workshops? Posing coach? Something else? Let me know in the comments.

Meanwhile I am going to help you get things into orbit. I’m going to give examples from three divisions on things you can do on your own to help you make better shapes with your body so you can become a stand out on stage. There is plenty you can do on your own to help you get on a faster path to success.

First example: men’s physique. The judges are looking for a v-taper, tight waist, overall healthy athletic look, and great stage presence. A lot of times the guys have figured out how to make the v taper, but there are quite a few common issues with the rest of the pose. For example, the foot placement. Often the feet aren’t even factored into the pose at all. Even though your legs are not technically scored, you still want to create flattering shape for your overall presentation. Like, try to step your feet apart, play with angles, your foot position, spin your foot out, it will change the entire look of the pose. Stagger your feet to try and make your waist look smaller. Play with your posing as much as possible and watch how each adjustment you make changes the shape of your body.

Next example…Women’s figure and even men’s bodybuilding too. Common issues are with the lats. The big wind up like a helicopter to open your lats in your front and back poses is not only not necessary, it incorrectly conditions your body to lead your poses with your hands. Your lats don’t need your hands to open them. If you are sitting down while listening to this and your back is flat against a seat, your lats are pretty much open. When you reach for the steering wheel in the car, you don’t do five arm circles beforehand….for your hands to make it up to the wheel. Nope, it’s with ONE motion, you pick your hands up and grab the steering wheel. Posing should be no different. Open the lats and that’s it.

And, now, bikini. The back pose is not a vagina pose. There is no need to bend over in this pose. The judges and the audience are below you so this pose can quickly become distasteful. Work on spine mobility to lift your torso up, shoot your hips back, and stick the pose. Plus, remember that the judges are looking for symmetry so you should concentrate on creating an hourglass shape in ALL of your poses. If you bend over, you flatten your glutes and narrow your upper body which then makes you look tiny up top and big on bottom….not the best look for symmetry. In your front pose, work on things to accentuate a smaller waistline.

Ok I know I said three divisions but I”m on a roll and want to mention the new classic physique division because it’s the fastest growing men’s division. What makes classic physique so appealing is the aesthetics of the physiques. It’s not just about the muscle, it’s the presentation and the total package. The posing is an absolute art in this division. I watched the current reigning 3x Men’s Physique Olympia champion, Chris Bumstead’s, show day YouTube video and he took the time to have a professional apply makeup on his face to not only match his tan but add contouring and color to best accentuate his features. From the audience he looked healthy and put together. One of the competitors that was briefly compared to him on stage had the usual spray tan applied to his face and no blending or consideration for how his face looked. As he began to sweat the tan became blotchy which only made Chris look better. Not to mention the posing presentations of all the top competitors in this division blew the doors off any performance that night. So much time went into their performances. They didn’t just show up and hit a few poses to house music. Their presentations were a choreographed posing dance that was entertaining and clearly took a lot of time and effort to put together. Everything counts when preparing for a show. What you need to focus on the most will depend on the division. Regardless, where your focus goes, energy flows. A small amount of effort daily will go a long way.

One last thing I want to cover today is the direction I’m seeing the divisions in all the federations going and how this affects your ability to stand out on stage. Right now we are in a changing environment where physiques are getting more muscular and the standards for conditioning are getting higher. If you watched the most recent IFBB Olympia contests and compare the physiques to the Olympians from around 2008–2012 there is a huge difference. The muscle size and the leanness of the competitors is beyond anything we have seen before. There is an IFBB Figure Olympian, Erin Stern, who stopped competing as a figure athlete and completely transformed her body into a bikini competitor. She changed her training, shaved off a lot of muscle, learned new posing skills, and with quite a bit of effort she not only became a bikini pro, but she won a major contest and got an invite to compete in the Olympia contest. Understanding the look of your category is critical. Erin knew she no longer had the size that was required to be competitive in figure competitions so she took a hard look at herself and made the switch to a division where she could be more competitive. She didn’t win her first pro show. Despite being a figure Olympia champion, it took quite a bit of time to make the transformation on not just her physique, but her stage presence. In fact, I saw comments she made about having to make tweaks with her posing to become more competitive.

So as you can see even a former Olympian had to work to create better shapes with her body to best match the criteria of the new division she was competing in. So if you are bodybuilding, your focus is on size, symmetry, and nailing your mandatory poses in your sleep. If you are a bikini competitor, you need to focus on symmetry, style, and learn how to walk confidently in high heels. Wellness competitors you don’t need symmetry but you need to pose to create flattering shapes and to nail your stage presentation. Similar for men’s physique, you don’t need symmetry necessarily but you need to create your best v taper, best angles, and spend time on your overall presentation. Figure girls, you are a combination of both. You need to nail your mandatories AND work on presentation. Classic Physique, you need your physique on point, but you also need to know your best angles and shapes to make the posing more of an art.

Most people underestimate how much preparation beyond just nutrition and training is needed. And that’s the whole point of this episode. I want you to spend more time on these other things. Even a little movement or mobility work every day. Play with angles, shapes. I’d rather you do 5 minutes a day of movement outside of your comfort zone than to practice a few poses 1 or 2x a month and hope for the best on show day. Plan your week ahead of time and schedule blocks of time right in your phone that you will dedicate to presentation. It’s the consistency that will have a greater payoff. And that’s the point of this whole episode.

Guys if you enjoyed this episode I would love it if you guys would go to iTunes or Spotify and leave a little review and rate it. That would be awesome. I’m going to keep dropping these strategies like this. There will be times I do one strategy over a few episodes or other times like this where I kinda go into a little bit more detail on one strategy. Very excited for this. Hey guys, next episode I am going to give you guys something, it’s free, a special class I wrote something I spent quite a bit of time writing and creating. So anyways the will be in the next episode I’ll tell you where to go.

And I’ll see you on the next episode.


What are things you need to know before competing in a bodybuilding competition?

“Everything Else” in Bodybuilding is dedicated to taking out the guesswork in the industry and exposing all these strategies.

Learn 5 things I think you should know before your next show by downloading your free ebook called 5 tips every competitor needs to know before your next competition at It’s all the no nonsense information you need whether you are male or female, bodybuilder, physique, figure bikini or wellness competitor. It’s free so just go download my 5 tips every competitor needs to know before your next show at

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