Bodybuilding for Women Overview



Bodybuilding for Women vs. Weight Training for Women

Bodybuilding is quite different from simple weight training for women. Body building is a competitive sport where women and girls compete against one another for a prize or title based on their physiques and muscularity.

In a competition, the participants perform a number of mandatory poses which are judged by a panel of judges. Interestingly, strength is not as important a factor in this sport as the shape, size, and symmetry of a woman's muscles.

Oftentimes, when we think of weight lifting, we may imagine the bodies of these athletes. However, a simple weight training program will not produce the muscle gain of these dedicated and disciplined athletes.

Short History of Bodybuilding for Women

The Beginning of the Sport

As you can guess, competitive male bodybuilding started long before competitive female bodybuilding. The men's competition started in the very late 19th century. Today, the most prestigious competition for men is the Mr. Olympia contest.

The "Girls" Come on the Scene

Bodybuilding for women noticeably came on the scene in the late 1970s. The first official female contest in the U.S. was the Women's National Physique Championship in 1978. The most prestigious title for women is Ms. Olympia, which started in 1980 as Miss Olympia. This is currently the top competition for professional female bodybuilders.

The National Physique Committee sponsors the top amateur level competition for women in the U.S. (Interestingly, contestants in this competition "must maintain a feminine look. Extreme hardness and extreme muscle size is not acceptable.") Besides these two, there are many other organizations and contests for women all over the world.

Mainstream Exposure and Acceptance

In the 1980s, women's bodybuilding started to get some mainstream exposure due to some "scandals" (a couple of female bodybuilders posed for Playboy magazine for which they were suspended from competition for a year). The movie Pumping Iron II: The Women and some small television coverage of the females' contests (usually months after the competition and used only as TV filler) provided additional coverage. The Ms. Olympia competition in 1991 was the first women's title to be televised live.

More Controversy

Since the start of recognized female bodybuilding contests, there has been a level of controversy and/or conflict required by the rules and judging panels of the governing organizations.

Mostly, the conflict has to do with how "feminine" the women bodybuilders are supposed to be while at the same time being very muscular. For example, in 2000, new guidelines were introduced by the IFBB (International Federation of Body Building and Fitness) stating that women would be judged on "healthy appearance, face, makeup, and skin tone." It also said that women would be judged on "symmetry, presentation, separations, and muscularity BUT NOT TO THE EXTREME!" (Caps and exclamation point were in the original.)

In 2004, IFBB introduced a "20% percent rule," requesting that "female athletes in Bodybuilding, Fitness and Figure decrease the amount of muscularity by a factor of 20%." This kind of double-standard and ever-changing rules can get confusing!

Criteria and Mandatory Poses

For more information about judging criteria and the mandatory poses used in most bodybuilding for women competitions, see page 2 of this Female Bodybuilding article.

Iron Dolls Female Bodybuilding

Preparing for a Competition?

Do you want to participate in a women's bodybuilding competition, but not sure how to start training?

If you answered "yes," then check out Iron Dolls: Female Bodybuilding Secrets Revealed!

It's written by 20-year female bodybuilding veteran, Karen Sessions, and is one of the only guides around specifically for bodybuilding women.


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