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Fitness and Figure are two distinct forms of competition. In a Fitness contest, the competitors show off their physiques (still not as big as bodybuilders) and perform a demanding aerobic routine. In a Figure contest, the emphasis is on the physique and there is not a routine round. Curves are compulsory, and facial beauty is prized. However, the physique guidelines are similar, and many women cross over from one to the other. The division emerged on the scene when the numbers for Fitness competitions started to dwindle. Typically these competitions are held as part of the same events as bodybuilding contests.
The first women's Fitness competition was produced by Wally Boyko in 1985 at the National Fitness trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada and included a swimsuit round, an athletic routine, and an evening gown segment. Louis Zwick, then the producer of American Muscle, a bodybuilding show on ESPN, did a segment on the pageant. The number of contests was proliferating, and Zwick himself launched Fitness America (now Fitness Universe) in 1989. The International Federation of BodyBuilding & Fitness soon followed suit and held their own sanctioned Fitness Olympia in 1995.
The first women's Figure competition was the National Physique Committee Figure Nationals held in 2001 at BMCC's Performing Arts Center, Tribeca New York. It was a qualifier and precursor to the 2003 IFBB Figure Olympia held in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Fitness Universe organization launched their own Figure division in 2005.
A typical Fitness competition consists of a swimsuit round and a routine round. In the swimsuit round, the competitors wear two-piece swimsuits and high-heeled shoes, presenting their physiques with a series of quarter- or half-turns toward the judges and audience. Physique guidelines for fitness competitions typically suggest a small amount of muscular mass; clear separations between muscle groups (but, no visible striations); and, leanness. The swimsuit must cover at least fifty percent of the gluteus maximus muscle; no thongs or G-strings are allowed. The routine round requires a physically active stage performance; most competitors attempt aerobic, dance, and/or gymnastic routines.
Fitness contests sanctioned by the International Federation of BodyBuilding & Fitness (IFBB) are the Fitness Olympia and the Fitness International. Fitness contests sanctioned by Wally Boyko Productions are the National Fitness Sanctioning Body (NFSB) Ms. Fitness USA and the International Fitness Sanctioning Body (IFSB) Ms. Fitness World. Fitness contests sanctioned by the Fitness Universe organization are the Fitness America Pageant and the Fitness Universe Pageant.
Figure competition is a newer sub-category of Fitness contests. Figure shows exclude the routine round common to Fitness shows. The competitors are judged solely on muscular symmetry and tone; as in Fitness shows, muscle size is downplayed. Figure competitions appeal most to women who want to compete in a body competition, but wish to avoid Fitness shows' additional athletic and creative demands (the routine round), or bodybuilding's demands for heavy muscle mass.
A typical figure competition includes two rounds, though this varies by organization. In the symmetry round, the competitors appear on stage in high-heeled shoes and a one-piece swimsuit in a side-by-side line that faces the judges. They execute a series of quarter-turns to the right, allowing the judges to view and compare them from all sides for symmetry, presentation, and other aesthetic qualities such as skin tone, hair, make-up, and stylishness of clothing. In the next round (the group comparisons), competitors return in high heels and a two-piece bathing suit, executing a series of quarter-turns. At this stage, they are judged more critically against the others for conditioning, leanness, and how "feminine" and "athletic" (as opposed to brawny) their muscularity is. Included in either of these rounds, or perhaps just the evening show, the competitors come out individually on stage for a model walk where they are judged on presentation, gracefulness, confidence, poise, and professionalism.
Figure contests sanctioned by the International Federation of BodyBuilding & Fitness (IFBB) are the Figure Olympia and the Figure International. Figure contests sanctioned by the Fitness Universe organization is the Figure Universe Pageant.