Female bodybuilders: What Are They And How Do you Become One?

A Female bodybuilder is a profound supporter of the body positivity notion. They are the epitome of strength training and not for thin, and they couldn’t be more successful. Over the years, since the 1970s, the concept of women joining in on the competitive sport has spiked in popularity. More women have developed a keen interest in the idea and pushed back against the societal expectations of how a woman’s body should look.

Of course, there have been lash outs and critiques concerning this. Many female bodybuilders (whether they’re doing it to compete or just because) have had people gatekeep the way their bodies look. And it doesn’t end there.

Female bodybuilder competitions and sexism

The IFBB (International Federation of Bodybuilding & Fitness) changed their rules to conform to gender expectations. In 1992, the IFBB made the judges deduct points from competitors who were too muscular (defeating the game’s significance, don’t you think?). They made a rule that required competitors to reduce their muscle mass by 20% in another year. Yet, the male bodybuilding rules didn’t change the muscularity of men but instead conformed to the gender expectations of rippling muscles in men. But women are expected to be dainty and delicate.

Even while competing, a hyper-femininity is expected of female bodybuilders, from their posing styles on stage to their hair, nails, makeup, costume suits, and shoes. They will need to curate an appealing feminine image to be viewed favourably by the judge.

People have made their discrimination and sexism apparent, from dictating what they think a woman’s body should look like to outright bashing their femininity and calling them all sorts. Despite this, women have pushed on and created a space for themselves that was once predominantly male-dominated. Talk about girl power!

This article will take you through the ropes if you’ve ever been intrigued by female bodybuilders, either as a competition or a personal goal.

What is bodybuilding?

Bodybuilding is the act of building, strengthening and sculpting muscles of your body through detailed workouts and precise nutrition. While testosterone-filled muscle-pumping men overrun bodybuilding (you’re thinking about Arnold Schwarzenegger, aren’t you?. Don’t worry, everyone thinks of him, too), many women have taken an interest in it (surprising because of society’s crippling beauty standards).

 The history of female bodybuilding

As in the early 1970s and the period before that, bodybuilding got strictly acknowledged as a male-oriented sport. However, in November 1977, the first official female bodybuilding competition was held in Canton, Ohio, in the USA. The competition was organised by Henry McGhee, an employee of the Downtown Canton YMCA. He believed that women should share the opportunity to display their physique and weight training results the same way men had done for years.

1980 became the year that the popularity of female bodybuilding rose with events like the United States Championships, The American Championships and Ms Olympia got hosted. These events served as extra motivation to encourage more women to gain interest in the bodybuilding scene.

Who was the first professional female bodybuilder?

In 1980, Rachel Livia Elizondo McLish (Rachel McLish) won the first Ms Olympia contest, making her the first major female professional bodybuilder champion.

Rachel Mclish
Source: Volt

Popular female bodybuilders

The emergence of Rachel McLish promoted the image of female bodybuilding as a special sports category, pushing other prominent female bodybuilders into the limelight. Ernestine Shepherd, a black female bodybuilder—also famous for being the world’s oldest competitive female bodybuilder—is one bodybuilder that has etched her name in Guinness World Records. Ernestine is proof that bodybuilding isn’t unattainable for women, especially older women, as she started at 56.

Female bodybuilder Ernestine Shepherd
Source: Pinterest

Iris Kyle, another prominent black female bodybuilder, is regarded as the most successful female bodybuilder based on her numerous awards. Iris, so enraptured by the sport, won ten Ms Olympia awards and seven Ms International IFBB awards.

Joan Marie Laurer, also known as Chyna, is a female bodybuilder in the USA who became famous in 1997 when performing in the professional wrestling promotion of the WWF (World Wrestling Foundation).

Discovering that she was pretty physically strong at an early age, Nikki Fuller, another outstanding female bodybuilder, decided to channel her focus to bodybuilding. In 1992, Fuller emerged as one of the top ten Ms Olympia contestants.

Female bodybuilder Nikki Fuller
Source: Hardworkmotivation

What are the challenges a typical female bodybuilder faces?

While bodybuilding is a relatively demanding sport for anyone, it’s more rigorous for women. From a biological standpoint, given that women have less muscle mass and a higher proportion of body fat, dieting to get highly defined is quite tricky.

Bodybuilding was still perceived as a sport that women aren’t supposed to get engaged in from a societal standpoint. This is because it doesn’t fit into what a woman should look like. While there have been prominent conventionally attractive women in the scene, the involvement of women in the sport still received backlash. And this only made it worse for those whose looks didn’t fit into the conventional idea of beauty for women. And even in contests, judges often used perceived attractiveness in scoring female bodybuilders (thanks, IFMB).

Notwithstanding, women haven’t let these setbacks set their backs on the floor. They haven’t given up. Whether to compete or see how strong they can get, women have continued to train to become female bodybuilders, inspiring many (including you, I presume).

Nonetheless, you should know that if you already have issues with your body image, no amount of training or dieting will change how you view yourself. Your confidence in your body image is something you’ll have to work on. Also, having a group of people size you up and judge you solely on your physical attribute can take a toll on you. So it would be best if you tended to your mind and spirit as you work on your physical body. Light some scented candles, meditate and connect with the inner you.

How to become a female bodybuilder

Whether it’s so you can compete, or you’re intrigued and curious about what it takes to sculpt those impressive muscles for a woman, here’s a little blog to guide you.

Create a workout plan

Sculpting a body with high muscle definition requires a lot of knowledge on the subject, the right mindset and a workout plan that works. Most female bodybuilders hire a coach or a personal trainer for this bit. They also do a lot of reading and research and books like Train Like a Bodybuilder: Get Lean. Get Big. and Get Strong to make a good start.

What does a typical female bodybuilder’s exercise routine look like?

In a week:

  • 2-3 days for lifting for at least one hour per session
  • 2-3 days of intense cardio or HIIT workouts for 20-30 minutes per session
  • One active rest day (stretching, yoga, long walks, etc.)
  • All workouts start with dynamic stretches and end with static stretches for safety and flexibility.

Note Your form matters. When sculpting muscles that judges will critique, your form and precision are your best friends. You’ll need to fine-tune your movements to target the right muscles. Work out in front of a mirror or with someone with enough knowledge to correct your form.

Create the right diet plan

What you need to eat or cut off to lose fat and build muscle depends on your body type and how active you are. Of course, it’s possible to lose fat and simultaneously gain strength; this phenomenon is referred to as body recomposition.

However, many female bodybuilders find it easier to go through a bulk-and-cut phase. But, to become a female bodybuilder, that is, to grow, strengthen and sculpt your muscles, you need to eat lots of healthy fats, protein, and complex carbs.

Healthy fats are crucial to your diet because they leave you satiated for longer, thus, reducing your daily caloric intake. Examples of healthy fats include avocado, nuts, fatty fish (mackerel, salmon, sardines, fresh tuna, etc.), yoghurt, olives, etc.

Proteins are essential to your diet because you need them to help build those new muscles. Examples of proteins: Poultry (eggs, turkey, chicken, duck, etc.).Dairy products (milk, cheese, yoghurt, etc.). Lean meat (lamb, beef, pork, etc.). Legumes and beans (all beans, chickpeas, lentils, etc.). Fish and seafood (fish, prawn, shrimp, crab, etc.)

You’ll often need additional protein boosts such as protein bars or protein powders. Protein powders are versatile as you can use them in many meals, from adding them to your oats to cookie mix. You can also just plain up and drink them. Get yourself a Smartshake Shaker Bottle with Motivational Quotes to make drinking protein powder more fun.

Complex carbs are vital to your diet because you need them as fuels throughout your workout sessions. Since they are tough, your body doesn’t break them down quickly, so they won’t spike up your blood sugar. Examples of complex carbs: Potato, quinoa, fruits and vegetables, corn, wheat, oats, brown rice


So, even though becoming a female bodybuilder might seem daunting, it’s an achievable goal. It becomes relatively more straightforward when armed with the proper knowledge. Now, break glass ceilings and ignore what society says about what a woman can or can’t do.

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