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Natural Bodybuilding Competitions:
A Guide for Beginners

Congratulations! If you’re here, then you’ve probably decided you want to start competing in bodybuilding. Bodybuilding can be a fantastic sport or hobby that will teach you discipline, goal setting, and confidence. But as a beginner, it can also be overwhelming to know where to start. But don’t worry, this guide will help point you in the right direction and get you ready to step on stage at a NANBF competition.

What is a natural bodybuilding competition?

You might be wondering what is a “natural” bodybuilding competition? A natural bodybuilding competition means that every competitor on stage has passed a polygraph screening to prove they have not used any banned performance-enhancing substances. These competitions are also known as drug-tested bodybuilding competitions.


The NANBF is proud to say we are a drug-tested bodybuilding federation. All of our athletes must pass a polygraph prior to stepping on stage and winners must submit to a urinalysis. Athletes are also subject to out of contest (on the spot) drug testing throughout the year.


If you are a natural athlete, you might find competing in non-drug-tested competitions frustrating as they don’t ensure a fair playing field. By competing with the NANBF, you can rest easy knowing your fellow competitors did not have an unfair advantage by using banned performance-enhancing substances.

Beginner bikini bodybuilding competito
beginner figure competitors

How to prep for a bodybuilding competition

There are a number of things you can do to prepare for your first bodybuilding competition. The first step is choosing which competition you’d like to do. Ideally you will want to pick one at least 12 weeks away, however it’s best to pick one far enough in the future to give you adequate time to prepare. The amount of time can vary greatly depending on how much muscle you already have and how much body fat you will need to lose.


Remember that bodybuilding competitions are not about how much weight you can lose or how lean you can get. Muscle size, symmetry, and shape are the key to winning. Bodybuilding is an art and it can be good to have an experienced professional help you. Check out this list of qualified coaches if you are interested in learning more.


If you are interested in competing but have a significant amount of weight to lose, you should consider our Transformation Challenge category. This category was specifically created for those interested in a self-improvement competition but might not be ready for bodybuilding.

Is there an age limit to compete in bodybuilding?

NANBF competitors must be age 13 or older, except for the Transformation Challenge where participants must be at least 18 years of age at the time of entry.


There is no age limit to compete. We offer Masters divisions for those age 40 and older. Some competitions even have Grand Masters divisions for competitors over 60 years old! It’s never too late to fall in love with bodybuilding.

How to pick a bodybuilding category

The NANBF offers 10 categories: Bikini, Figure, Women’s Physique, Women’s Bodybuilding, Men’s Physique, Classic Physique, Men’s Bodybuilding, Xtreme Fit, Mixed Pairs and the Transformation challenge. Which one you do will depend mostly on your muscle size and density. Those will less muscle will do well in Bikini and Men’s Physique, while those with a lot of natural muscle will do better in Bodybuilding.


It can be hard deciding which category to choose, so that’s why in 2020 the NANBF will allow crossovers. This means if you’re having trouble deciding between two categories, you will be allowed to compete in both.

bikini competitors

How to pose for a NANBF bodybuilding competition

There are mandatory poses for each category and it’s important to learn and practice them. Once you have decided on a category, check out the category guidelines to learn which poses are required. Watch videos of past competitions or reach out to an experienced coach for help. Remember that posing is not always the same between different federations. Always practice NANBF posing so you’re ready for show day.

What to wear to a bodybuilding competition

If you are competing, you will need a posing suit. Ladies, this is typically a two-piece suit. For men, this is either board shorts, posing shorts or posing trunks. Look at the specific requirements for each category. All suits must be in good taste (no thongs). Athletes will be warned about improper suits and are advised to contact show promoters if you are concerned your suit does not meet specifications.


When choosing a suit, pick a color that compliments your complexion. It should accentuate your physique, not distract from it. For women, suits may be enhanced with sequins, sparkles and rhinestones. There are many companies now that offer bodybuilding competition suits however if you have any questions, reach out to the show’s promoter.

Can you compete if you have tattoos?

Yes! You can still compete with tattoos. We have many competitors, including Pros, who have tattoos. The one thing to keep in mind is tattoos should not distract from your physique.

Can you compete if you have loose skin?

Yes! You can absolutely still compete with loose skin. Loose skin can be incredibly common, especially for mothers and those who have lost a significant amount of weight. As long as judges can see muscle size, symmetry and shape, some loose skin shouldn’t be an issue.

bodybuilding with tattoos

What to pack for a bodybuilding competition

Always remember to bring your competition suit. And if you’re competing in Bikini or Figure, your competition heels. Your hair and skin should also appear well groomed, so bring any supplies you need like makeup or hair gel. Remember that competitors will have a competition spray tan, so any face makeup should match this color. Bodybuilding tans are significantly darker than conventional spray tans. If you have any questions about what makeup to wear, consider hiring a professional makeup artist for competition day. Most competitions will have an official makeup artist to hire if you’d like to go that route.


You will also want something to wear over your suit to keep your muscles warm (remember to wear something you don’t mind getting tanner on) and a pair of flip flops to wear backstage. Also, if you are staying at the host hotel, ALWAYS remember to bring your own sheets and towels. Your hotel will charge you if you ruin their sheets from the tanner.


And don’t forget your NANBF membership card! It is required to compete at any NANBF competition. You can purchase a card on the website. Bring a copy (digital or physical) or your PayPal receipt to check-ins the night before.

How does a bodybuilding competition work?

NANBF competitions have two formats: prejudging and finals or a running format. You will want to check with the promotor to find out which format they will use. A running format means the finals for each category will happen immediately after prejudging rather than in the evening. It’s important to know the schedule and to be backstage in time for your class.

When your class is called, you will line up backstage for the comparison rounds. Pay attention to the head judge’s instructions as they will direct you into the mandatory poses.

What is a bodybuilding first call out?

If your class has a large number of competitors, judges call out the top five competitors to the center of the stage. This is called a first call out. These competitors are then judged and ranked for awards. The rest of the competitors will be called out in groups of five to six and judged for places 6th and lower.

How are bodybuilding competition scored?

The top five competitors in each class will be ranked by a panel of judges. These scores are then added up and the competitor with the lowest score wins first place. Judges will rank competitors based on the specific judging criteria for each category. Look at the category guidelines for details.

What are the NANBF bodybuilding hashtags?

After your competition, you might want to post your show day photos on social media. If you do, be sure to tag them with #nanbf for a chance to be featured.


Got a question not covered here or on the website? Email or the show promoter to get them answered.

What are the NANBF competition prizes?

Each competition will have its own unique price, typically a trophy or medal. Some offer custom belts or jackets. You can reach out to promoters for details. The NANBF does not award prize money, however the IPE Pro league does. If you are awarded an IPE Pro card, you will be able to compete as an IPE Pro for a cash award. See the competition guidelines on information on how to win a Pro card.

winning an IPE pro card
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