10 Bodybuilding Poses — What They Are and How to Do Them

Bodybuilding shows are won and lost in the posing rounds. Here are 10 poses you should know.

Bodybuilders train essentially year-round, bulking up and then dieting down, to step on stage and present a large, ripped, symmetrical body. A key part of placing well in the judges’ eyes is presenting your physique in a way that shows it off from every angle. 

Enter: posing.

Posing is a vital part of a bodybuilding show. Competitors are tasked with completing eight mandatory poses (depending on the division) and then performing a posing routine. Mandatory poses allow the judges to see all angles of the body, and a posing routine lets the bodybuilder present their physical artwork the way it was intended. Still not following? Here’s a breakdown of the eight mandatory poses (plus two others) and more info on posing. 

Bodybuilding Poses

Front Double Biceps

This pose has the bodybuilder stand with their legs shoulder-width apart and then raise their arms to flex the biceps. This lets the judges assess the entire front musculature from top to bottom. This is a great pose to judge what’s called the X-frame, which is defined as broad shoulders and sweeping quads, which create a visible “X” shape.  Posers need to keep their elbows high and drive their lats out and forward. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Front Lat Spread

The front lat spread highlights the lat and shoulder width and shoulder width. Start with legs shoulder-width apart and toes out to a 30-40 degree angle while contracting the thighs. Place both hands as fists on the hips while your palms face down, and your thumbs hook behind your waist.

If the poser performs this correctly, the arms should form a 90-degree angle where the bicep and forearm meet. Keeping the shoulders down and fists in place, pull the shoulder blades apart to reveal your lat spread while inflating your chest upward and contracted. When performing this pose, competitors need to note that the abs are not contracted but rather sucked in to make the waist appear tight.

Side Chest

This pose presents the physique from the side. Here, judges look for complete hamstring and quad development from a side angle and a full and complete chest and thick arms. Bodybuilders will first perform the pose on the right side. They’ll plant their right foot, with both knees slightly bent, and bring both legs together, squeezing their hamstring and quads.

The pose must be done on the ball of the front foot to accentuate the cal muscle. Then, grasp the left wrist with your right hand, and push downward while keeping the bicep in a contracted 90-degree angle. Inflate the chest with air as much as you can and contract the muscle. Hold the contraction to reveal striations. 

Back Double Biceps

As the saying goes, shows are won from the back. The back is made up of many muscles, and this pose is meant to show the competitor’s back size and symmetry in tandem with his or her arms, shoulders, hamstrings, and calves.

Performing the back-double biceps pose requires the competitor to flex their biceps with their arms out to their sides and the back’s entire muscularity. The competitor should not pinch their shoulder blades together but rather keep them open so that the lats can flare out wide.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The competitor should lean their torso back slightly toward the judges and always keep the elbows slightly higher than the shoulders to accentuate a V-taper. Additionally, one foot is placed backward on the ball of the foot to contract a calf. Hamstrings and glutes should also be contracted to display separation and definition within those muscle groups.

Rear Lat Spread

The rear lat spread has the competitor perform the front lat spread, but with his or her back facing the judges. Here, judges are looking mainly at back width and thickness,

Side Triceps

Like the side chest, this pose focuses on the triceps muscles and how the chest and shoulder tie into one another. Because competitors aren’t blocking their waists with their arms, as they do in the side chest pose, they’ll have to be sure to keep their abs flexed and controlled. The same leg position in the side chest applies here. Keep the legs close together, and be sure to flex every muscle. Pro tip: Use your back leg to push the hamstring of your front leg out to appear larger.

Abdominals and Thighs

Although it is called the abdominal and thighs pose, this pose also emphasizes lat width and the contestant’s V-taper. To start, place one leg out slightly in front while flexing the thigh and calve. Next, place both arms overhead in a fully bent position behind the head and neck while keeping the shoulders downward. Then, flare the lats and exhale to fully crunch down on the abs while making an effort to contract the entire torso, including the front abs (rectus abdominis), intercostals, serratus anterior, and obliques.

Some classic physique competitors perform a vacuum pose (see below) first while performing this pose to show their ability to do so and then go into the traditional abdominal and thighs pose. 

Most Muscular Pose

The most muscular pose is only in the Men’s Open division and can be performed in many ways. The athlete faces the judges, legs slightly staggered, and then brings both around up, out, and in to show off their complete arms, chest, and traps, along with the quads.

Picture someone trying to hug a tree — it kind of looks like that. Alternative versions have been performed where competitors flex all of the muscles with their hands on the hips or hands held together in front of them without the trapezius being elevated.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Vacuum Pose

The vacuum pose (which is mandatory in Classic Physique only) requires the competitor to expand their rib cage while removing the air from their lungs and using the ab muscles to suck inward as much as possible. If executed properly, a complete hollowing out of the abdomen below the ribs will occur.

The effect accentuates a V-taper and demonstrates excellent muscle control. Most Men’s Open bodybuilding competitors can’t or won’t do this pose since they’re too large. That’s why the Classic Physique division, which values a small waist and classic lines from the Golden-era of bodybuilding, uses the vacuum pose to separate itself from the Men’s Open division.

Moon Pose

This pose is banned in the IFBB Pro League and NPC for being too vulgar, but it’s too good not to include it on this list. Made famous by bodybuilder Tom Platz, he would turn his back to the judges, lockout his knees, and essentially touch his toes. When performed by a very defined competitor, it highlights all the separation and striations of the back of the legs. Bottoms up. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Mandatory Poses VS. Posing Routines

Bodybuilders — at least in the Men’s Open division — must complete the eight mandatory poses so judges can compare and contrast the athletes. It’s during the mandatory poses that the judges decided who looks best. After (or in some shows before) the mandatory poses, competitors have around two minutes to perform a posing routine. Typically, these include variations of the mandatory poses. However, the posing routine allows the competitor more creative freedom in how they present their physique. 

Divisions and How Bodybuilding is Judged

When this article was written, there are 10 divisions in the Olympia — Men’s Open, Men’s 212, Classic Physique, Men’s Physique, Women’s Bodybuilding, Women’s Physique, Figure, Fitness, Bikini, and Wheelchair Bodybuilding. Each division presents a different set of posing rules and standards

More Bodybuilding Content

Still haven’t gotten your daily dose of muscle? No worries. Now that you know the bodybuilding poses check out these other articles about bodybuilding from BarBend.

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