Bodybuilding Basics: Navigating the Federation Puzzle

Choosing a division or federation for your first physique competition doesn’t have to be confusing.

The popularity of physique sports continues to grow, largely as a result of the introduction of more attainable, less muscle-bound physiques reflected in the newer divisions of women’s bikini and men’s physique.

This increase in popularity highlights another issue for aspiring and first-time competitors – the choice between various divisions and federations. This article will help you choose the option that is right for you.

Drug Testing in Physique Sports

The numerous federations in North America include both tested (or “natural”) and untested federations. Within these federations, there is a spectrum of different divisions, ranging from bikini to bodybuilding. Some federations offer their own specific divisions, such as fitness-model.

There are a number of aspects to consider when choosing what’s right for you, from personal beliefs to personal preferences. You may choose a federation purely based on your morals, values, or beliefs on the use of banned substances. Tested federations expect natural athletes who are drug-free and ban the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Due to the cost of drug testing, many natural federations differ on their requirements and frequency of testing. This could mean anything from every sixty days for all athletes, to random testing throughout the season, or testing of show winners only.

Beyond your personal beliefs about PEDs, your decision may depend on the level of fairness in terms of competing with athletes who are at the same advantage. As a natural athlete you are welcome to compete in a non-tested federation, but may not be willing to compete against non-natural athletes who would have an unnatural advantage with use of PEDS, thermogenics (fat-burners), diuretics, and other drugs.

Declare A Division

You can make your decision the other way round, too, and choose a federation based on what divisions are offered. In the most renowned federation, the NPC/IFBB (non-tested – think Mr. Olympia and the Arnold), the divisions offered include women’s bikini, figure, fitness, and physique (no longer women’s bodybuilding) and men’s physique and bodybuilding (soon to include men’s classic physique as well).

“Many consider the IFBB to offer the highest level of competition in the sport, and it is the federation many famous fitness role models compete within.”

In other federations, such as the INBA and WBFF (tested) there are additional divisions such as sports model, bikini fitness model, and even transformation makeover. Your preference for federation may be based upon a number of factors such as your style of physique, apparel preference, time on stage, routine, and judging criteria.

Assess Your Long Term Goals

Consider your long-term competitive and professional goals when selecting a federation. You might choose a natural federation in order to brand yourself a certain way and obtain sponsorship, or you may want to compete in a non-tested federation to achieve a particular status in the sport. Many athletes, whether natural or not, may choose a non-tested federation simply to compete through the IFBB. Many consider the IFBB to offer the highest level of competition in the sport, and it is the federation many famous fitness role models compete within.

Choose a federation that's right for you.

A Research-Based Approach

Beyond these factors, there are other things to consider, including:

  • Frequency of shows
  • Location of shows
  • Cost of competing within each federation.

Different federations and shows also provide varying rewards and prizes for competitors and winners. This may be incentive to choose one federation over another.

With many variables to consider within each potential federation, proper research and understanding of each organization and what it has to offer is important for first-time competitors. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the nuances of each organization in order to choose the federation that is right for you and your fitness goals.

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Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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