Bodybuilding – Why is it so popular?


Building a body that you are proud of combined with the feelings of strength, improved fitness, increased self-esteem as well as countless more benefits, bodybuilding has become progressively more popular within the fitness scene.

What does Bodybuilding actually mean?

Definition – Bodybuilding is the use of progressive resistance exercise to control and develop one’s musculature. An individual who engages in this activity is referred to as a bodybuilder.

Okay so I will elaborate on that definition, ‘Progressive resistance’ refers to a stimuli such as a weight used to apply resistance against the muscles in the body that gradually gets harder – i.e. a number of repetitions of an exercise that progressively gets more difficult to complete. Many of us who ‘lift weights’ are essentially bodybuilding and can deem ourselves as bodybuilders – yes even us girls can say that! Now the difference between bodybuilders you see on social media, in fitness magazines and watch on the tele is that these people compete on stage to show their hard earned bodies off and participate essentially for a title and prize – much like any other sport.

Competing has become increasingly popular over the recent years and many outstanding weight loss transformation stories have occurred because these individuals have set themselves a goal of competing in a bodybuilding show. With the vast amount of people entering competitions, federation have started to add additional bodybuilding categories, such as Fitness Model, Physique, Bikini Fitness and many more.

You may be slightly confused between the different categories so I am to dismiss this confusion and hopefully paint you a clearly picture of the different bodybuilding categories there are:


Bodybuilding – Athletes train to develop all body parts and muscles to maximum size but in balance and harmony. There should be no “weak points” or underdeveloped muscles. Body fat should be extremely low. Split up into weight categories: Lightweight, middleweight, heavyweight etc. As well as Age: Masters, Over 50’s, Over 40’s, Junior, etc.

Physique – New in 2012, this category is aimed at men who do weight training, keep fit and eat a healthy balance diet, but who prefer to develop a less muscular, yet athletic and aesthetically pleasing physique. Athletes should display proper shape and symmetry, combined with some muscularity and good overall condition. Extreme muscularity is marked down. Men wear board shorts, not posing trunks.


Bodybuilding – Similar to men’s bodybuilding but tends to be less weight and age categories due to the unpopularity of this discipline.

Fitness – Fitness is a very lean and muscular look, however the judges don’t want muscle bulk, extreme definition or vascularity (veins) as you might see in bodybuilding. Judges look for: firmness, symmetry, proportion and overall appearance that includes complexion, poise and presentation. Fitness is the division where there’s a second round that includes a two minute routine, scored for strength, flexibility, and cardio or tempo of the routine. Because of the dance routine round in fitness, the judging is more complex and the athletes need more skills.

Physique – This is the latest IFBB official division, introduced with the beginning of 2013 for women who want to prepare heavier, bodybuilding-style body but not extremely dried, lean and muscular, yet athletic and aesthetically pleasing. Official judging criteria has defined Physique as: symmetry, shape, proportion, muscle tone, poise and beauty flow.

Figure – Small degree of muscularity with separation, but no visible striations, overall muscle tone with shapely lines, firmness; lean but not excessively ripped. Overall appearance including make-up, suit and skin tone is part of the package. Not: Muscular but still feminine; definitely not as much size as a bodybuilder.

Bikini Fitness – This category was introduced in 2011 and is aimed at women who keep their body in shape and eat healthy. Overall body lines, balance and proportions, body tone and healthy appearance are all taken into consideration.

Bikini – Aimed at women who weight train and eat a balanced diet but pose a softer look than physique/figure. Striations should not be visible. In addition to the usual overall appearance and presentation, official NPC rules call for “balance and shape” as the only defined judging criteria. This category is deemed 100% feminine.

Fitness model (Men and Women) –A few organizations, have fitness model divisions, which are very similar to the men’s physique or the women’s bikini in the NPC. The names of the divisions may vary (swimsuit model, fitness model, fit model or bikini model) and the criteria can vary between federations. Too much muscle size gets marked down within both the male as well as female disciplines. These physiques are a lot more like magazine cover models. For the men, it’s closer to a Men’s Fitness magazine cover look, and for the women, fitness model is an even a softer, less muscular look than in figure or fitness and closer to a Bikini Fitness look.


Drug tested – Natural Federations: UKDFBA (United Kingdom Drug Free Bodybuilding Association), NPA (Natural Physique Association), BNBF (British Natural Bodybuilding Federation), WNBF (World’s natural Bodybuilding Federation)

Non Drug tested Federation: UKBFF (United Kingdom Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation), Miami Pro, NABBA (National Amateur Bodybuilders Association), WBFF (World Beauty Fitness and Fashion), NPC (National Physique Committee), IFBB (International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness)

Thinking of competing? 

If you are thinking about competing in the future then do take your time to read through the category requirements and federation rules, each organisation pose slightly different conditions and it is important that you chose the right federation for you.

Written by: Hayley Madigan WNBF Pro Bikini Athlete

Hayley is undefeated in her competitive career so far and holds the UKDFBA 2015 Bikini Title, International INBF Bikini 2015 Title and the WNBF Bikini Tall and Bikini Overall 2015 Titles.

If you wish to contact Hayley for further advice then please do so via email ( or via Instagram @fitnessfanbikini