Here's what you need to know...
- Female bodybuilding needs to be redefined for the modern woman. If your goal is to build muscle, you are a bodybuilder, even if you don't compete.
- Early female bodybuilders, like Rachel McLish, had enviable physiques. Sadly, drugs ruined the image of bodybuilding for many women, and scared a generation of them out of the squat rack.
- Bodybuilding is building the body. Literally. Women need to stop pussyfooting around with nonsense words like "toning."
- Serious female lifters are tired of getting asked what they're training for. They're training to build muscle, look and feel great, and challenge themselves.
In The Beginning...
Rachel McLish was one of the first female bodybuilders of the modern era. She won the first Ms. Olympia. She became a star. And then she got out of it before female bodybuilders began to look like male bodybuilders.
But before ever stepping on stage, McLish was simply a woman who weight trained. She built her body before there was a real opportunity to compete. She moved heavy weights around without worrying about a panel of judges. And she trained hard without knowing who she'd be inspiring decades later.
Sure, there are categories female lifters can now compete in that don't require androgenization. Natural looking women can build muscle, lean down, get a tan, and strike their poses in physique, figure, fitness, or bikini competitions.
But is there a place for females who simply want to build their bodies?
Bodybuilders Without a Stage
Is there a name for women who want to move heavy weights around to look their best – for themselves – and not a panel of judges? Yes. And you can call these ladies bodybuilders.
Women who build their bodies and train hard at the gym are sick and tired of getting asked what they're training for, as if the only reason they'd lift weights is to get ready for a competition. It's a back-handed compliment and sometimes even a slap in the face to serious female lifters.
Why? Because they'd be training hard with or without a competition. They compete because they can, because that option is always within reach, not because signing up for a show is the only thing keeping them from sitting at home getting fat.
Who We Are and What We Do
We are bodybuilders, and our muscles are our greatest fashion statement. We work out. We eat well. We fuel our bodies. We don't punish ourselves with food or crash diet. We don't get hung up on meal math. Cardio is optional, tanning isn't required, and judges don't matter. We'd be training with or without their score sheets.
We are bodybuilders. And we're redefining what it means to be one. We're taking it back from those who've turned female bodybuilding into a freak show. We're reclaiming it from the juiced-to-the-gills pros and the judges who rewarded their over-the-top androgenized look by handing out trophies to the most extreme physiques.
Why does female bodybuilding need to be redefined? Because the stereotype sucks.
We're not women trying to look like men. We're women who want to express strength, resilience, dedication, and beauty through built, but natural physiques. The perception of female bodybuilding has been tarnished by pro bodybuilders who forfeited the look of a healthy female figure in order to go pro, become victims of fetishism, and garner attention by making muscle look grotesque instead of gorgeous.
We don't want any part of that freak show. A hard female body can be accomplished with sweat, solid nutrition, good supplementation, and the right mindset.
And we're tired of dispelling the myths. We are tired of having to reassure other women that weight training is not going to make them massive like competitive female bodybuilders.
Think, for a moment, how much better off we'd be as a society if women wanted to make their bodies healthier with weight training. And think of all the women who've been resistant to it because they're afraid of looking manly. Yes, it's a silly fear, but that image – that association between steroidal women and the word bodybuilding – still needs to be retired. It's outdated and not enough women know it.
Incidentally, female bodybuilding itself, the competition category, is on its way out of the industry. You read that right: The women's bodybuilding category is slowly disappearing from bodybuilding competitions.
It's a shame, and it would no doubt still be going strong had judges not decided to reward women for drug abuse and the resulting disfigured bodies. We should not hate these female pros; we should feel sorry for them.
What Women Lifters Now Know
We know that the natural female figure doesn't look manly with heavy weight training and a robust diet. That farce should have died when Rachel McLish took the stage. We just want obvious muscle, and we shudder when you use the word "toned" with us.
You don't have to pussyfoot around the word muscle. We know we can try our hardest for hypertrophy, aim to get as "big" as possible, and end up achieving a look that's both powerful and sexy.
Bodybuilding is literally the pursuit of a built body. It's achieving a noticeable look of power. It's hypertrophy. It's aesthetic, but it comes with the added benefits of strength, confidence, and definition. We know pretty muscles aren't weak muscles. And building them is not for the weak minded.
We also know making your body look phenomenal doesn't require an audience. When you're driven to train hard for the purpose of molding your body with muscle, you can call yourself a bodybuilder without ever gracing the stage.
Bucking the Catabolism Trend
Some women believe working out for aesthetic purposes requires tons of cardio, calorie restriction, and reaching an all-time low on the scale. Many think it requires following an extremely regimented diet, never taking a day off from the gym, and perhaps even dropping a few grand on a coach. These are common misconceptions.
First of all, you don't have to have a coach to be a bodybuilder. Furthermore, if you believe an aesthetically-pleasing body is one that looks malnourished, you need to fix your mind. You're not a bodybuilder if you believe that, because by definition you're not building your body. You'd be tearing it down.
Achieving your best look has nothing to do with whittling yourself away. No female who dedicates her time to the art of bodybuilding would sacrifice what she's accomplished under the iron.
If you're a bodybuilder, the scale is irrelevant to your goals. You know growing muscle creates a body that's efficient – one that doesn't need constant regulation of scale weight, macronutrients, calories, or time on the treadmill. You know it produces a metabolism that's revved up. So cardio and neurotic counting never need to be at the top of your to-do list. They're options, not essentials.
Bodybuilding is All-Inclusive
Don't have a six pack? Don't worry. Being ripped isn't a prerequisite for identifying as a bodybuilder. You also don't have to stop rock climbing, dancing, running, doing yoga or baking and eating goodies. Bodybuilding is inclusive. It just means that your main goal is growing muscle and achieving the look that comes with it.
Because of this goal, you'll never go to the gym to compensate for a big meal, undo any holiday splurges, or punish yourself for missed workouts. It means the gym isn't a prison cell. It's your oasis. It's your place for growth.
Female bodybuilders know that a firmer and more compact body is the byproduct of weight training. Yet, ironically, focusing on hypertrophy releases them from the pressure of being smaller. It banishes the idea that exercise has to tear them down.
Other upshots besides fat loss include pleasurable yet challenging workouts, better health and vitality, increased insulin sensitivity, big meals that actually speed up physique goals instead of derailing them, and continual efforts that don't feel like martyrdom.
When your main goal is building muscle, consistency takes care of itself. Your challenge is to grow muscle through repeated efforts; and, unlike the goal of becoming supermodel thin, it's a challenge that's absolutely within reach.
Building muscle and having good workouts is positive reinforcement to continue building muscle and having good workouts. Bodybuilding is the act of impactful workouts – the ones you want to keep coming back to instead of the punishment you want to avoid.
Your Body. Your Muscle. Your Flavor.
Rachel McLish once said that the thing about bodybuilding is that it showcases our genetics. Let this point sink in because it'll set you free.
It means that there's no need for us to worry about what other people look like, or strive for a look that's not within our genetic potential. It means there's no reason to compare yourself to someone else who has different genetics. And we all have different genetics.
Can't achieve the same build as another woman? Awesome. Because she can't achieve the same build as you. She has a different anatomical structure, and both of you at your very best will look dramatically different yet equally beautiful depending on who you ask and what you're wearing.
So don't worry about what other people's bodies look like. You have a unique set of genetics and your bodybuilding lifestyle will determine the way those genetics are expressed.
You might have the potential to build a bubble butt. You might not. Work hard anyway. Squat. Hip thrust. Deadlift. See what your genetic potential has in store for your glutes. A muscular butt is a gorgeous butt no matter what shape it turns out to be, and that shape is going to be determined by a variety of factors including your bone structure and hip width.
Build your body and become your own flavor of beauty. Because nobody else can achieve that look but you.
What Future Female Bodybuilders Need to Know
- Compete. Or don't. It's up to you. It's perfectly fine to use a competition for accountability and extrinsic motivation. Just don't think that you must sign up for one in order to pursue a firm body. Build your body because there's a whole lot of other cool things that come along with having muscle. Then if you decide to compete you'll have a foundation. That opportunity will be there no matter how old you are or how much you've let your fitness slide in the past.
- Don't think that bodybuilding is any more shallow than what people do on a daily basis. It's not. Most females (and males) want to look a certain way. People use their looks to tell the world who they are. Their appearance communicates many things from socioeconomic status to professionalism, values, vanity, and hygiene. Working out for aesthetic purposes is another tool in that toolbox; it just comes with far more benefits than mani-pedis and designer purses. Besides, if you're going to tell the world something about yourself through the way you look, what's wrong with telling the world you're strong and disciplined?
- Come as you are. Bodybuilding might sound pretentious, elitist, and exclusive. This is false. We're all pretty down to earth and there's no need to be self-conscious. We won't judge. Newbies are more than welcome, as long as they don't ask us questions while we're in the middle of a set.
- Balls, bands, TRX straps, and bodyweight exercises won't cut it if you want to transform your body and build a significant amount of muscle. There's nothing wrong with little workout tools and techniques, but think of these as accessories to your main lifts. They can't do for your body what real weights, dumbbells, barbells, cables, and other machines can. So if you're working with a trainer who refuses to show you how to move actual weight around, go elsewhere.
What We're Really Training For
Female bodybuilders might work out with aesthetic goals in mind, but that doesn't mean they're not pursuing other things and continually challenging themselves. Our lives don't revolve around looks, but we do take pleasure in being able to achieve the shapes and lines that only muscle can create. Muscle is just one of our barometers for progress. It tells us that what we're doing is working.
But aside from earning a killer physique, we train for many things. We train to build confidence in our careers and in the bedroom. We train for bone health, insulin sensitivity, and longevity. We train for increased energy, because the work we put into it is an investment that always pays off.
We train for mental clarity. We train because the goal of fat loss is soul-sucking, cliché, and mostly unenjoyable. We train because we'd rather look like Wonder Woman than Barbie. We train because building muscle increases our bodies' production of the hormones that burn fat, even when fat loss isn't our main goal.
We train to be the type of woman nobody wants to mess with. We train to build grit. We train for habitual excellence. We train for ourselves.
We train because we are bodybuilders.