Biceps, Butts, and Bikinis

When I got a phone call on Wednesday this past week to judge the Musclemania bodybuilding, bikini, and physique competition on Saturday, I thought it was a prank call. Apart from having great legs, why would anyone ask a runner to judge a physique competition? I’ve never gotten a spray tan, after all.

It took me a few days to decide whether or not I was going to do it, because I didn’t really feel like taking a few hours out of my Saturday to judge overly-bronzed bodies on stage.

I decided to do it… and it was so worth it. I met a lot of great people, including the other judges, one of whom looked like he should have been one of the competitors himself.


It’s not easy to be judged while posing on stage half naked, and it’s not easy to do the judging. I only had seconds to score the competitors on different criteria, like symmetry, condition, and appearance. And to judge each as an individual, without comparison to the others, was even more difficult. Our brains naturally make comparisons. We know beautiful only because we know ugly; we know strong only because we know weak.

Although I had fun and met great people, that kind of competition doesn’t appeal to the athlete in me. Why spend all that time training to pose on a stage and win or lose based purely on what you look like? Why not train to develop a skill instead? There are other types of athletes who look even better than the men and women I saw on that stage, and they look that way by training skill. Gymnasts could rival any one of these physique competitors, but they do it by achieving tremendous skill. What they can accomplish is extremely impressive and extremely difficult.

Some of the bodybuilding and physique competitors from the Musclemania Fitness California Championships 


The 2016 U.S. Olympic Men’s Gymnastics Team


And then, of course, there’s Usain Bolt and other world-class sprinters, who train to develop speed and power. I once stood right next to Carl Lewis, winner of 9 Olympic gold medals. It was like standing next to a sculpture. Sprinters, like all athletes, train movement, not muscle. Bodybuilders and physique competitors train the opposite way—muscle, not movement.


I have written many times in my articles and books that what muscles look like isn’t as important as what they can do. Just ask the world’s best distance runners with the skinny legs and arms, who can run unbelievable speeds for long periods of time (the men’s and women’s marathon world records are 4:41 and 5:10 per mile pace, respectively).

Judging last night’s competition opened my eyes to a new area of the fitness industry. But I still believe that people should train for function rather than form. If you do that, your muscles will not only be able to perform well, they will look great, too. Form follows function, after all.   

[tweetthis remove_url=”true”]Train for function rather than form. If you do that, your muscles will not only be able to perform well, they will look great, too.[/tweetthis]

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