A Beginner’s Guide to Bodybuilding for Women

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Fake tans. Biceps. The most glittery bikinis you’ve ever seen—sure, this is the culmination of bodybuilding training, if you chose to compete. But it’s also much less glamorous: dieting and meal-prepping, counting macros, waking up early to do cardio, spending hours in the weight room, and peeling calluses off your hands.

Sound like a lot to handle? The bodybuilding lifestyle isn’t for the faint of heart.

“This does not come without its fair share of sacrifice,” says Linzi Martinez, a certified trainer and nutritional therapist “However, if this is your passion, it’s worth every second. It requires you to harness your willpower and mental strength, and you’ll reap the empowering gains across all areas of your life.” (Not to mention, lifting weights can radically change your body.)

Curious? Here, the full guide to bodybuilding for women.

What Is Bodybuilding, Anyway?

ICYDK, bodybuilding is actually a sport. It comes with a very specific lifestyle that involves detailed workout training and precise nutrition in order to strengthen, sculpt, and develop the muscles of the body (aka hypertrophy training).

While some people practice bodybuilding just to look and feel strong, for many, training and dieting culminates in a bodybuilding competition where you’re judged on your physique and muscular development—in either the bikini, figure, women’s physique, bodybuilding, or fitness categories. (More on that below.)

Before you read on, know this: Participating in a sport where you’re judged almost solely on your appearance can be rough on the psyche. “It’s important to attend to your spirit and mind in addition to your physical body,” says Ana Snyder (@littlebuffblondie), a certified trainer, fitness model, and competitive bodybuilder based in New York City. “If you already struggle with body image issues, attaining what the outside world (or judges) views as the perfect aesthetic does not guarantee that you will see a different person in the mirror.” (That’s why this other fit Instagrammer stopped doing bikini competitions and started powerlifting.)

If you’re looking for a way to goal-orient your strength training, a physique competition is a great option; however, keep in mind that even though the judges are scoring your abs, the health and performance gains you’re making are even more important. (Read more here: Why Weight Loss Won’t Make You Happy)

That said, you can totally take advantage of bodybuilding workouts and the training style even if you have no intentions of competing and just want to get strong as hell.

What Female Bodybuilding Workout Plans Are Like

How do you build impressive muscles? With strength training, of course.

“Typical bodybuilding training is not easy,” says Snyder. “It usually involves training twice a day—approximately one hour of lifting and anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours of cardio per day.”

Most female bodybuilders structure their workouts by dividing up their strength training days by body part, often called a “split.” For example, a common 5-day split could look like this:

Day 1: Chest

Day 2: Back

Day 3: Shoulders

Day 4: Legs

Day 5: Arms

Days 6 & 7: Rest

However, everyone’s training will look a little different depending on your body type and goals. “Most people structure their lifting by focusing on one body part per day, but I do three days of legs and three days of upper body,” says Snyder.

Many athletes prefer to hit each muscle group twice a week. To do that, you could structure your training to alternate a “push” day, a “pull” day, and a leg workout day:

Day 1: Push (chest, shoulders, triceps)

Day 2: Pull (back, biceps)

Day 3: Legs

Day 4: Push (chest, shoulders, triceps)

Day 5: Pull (back, biceps)

Day 6: Legs

Day 7: Rest

Typically, you’ll do a warm-up, then three to five of exercises for the designated body part, performing three to four sets of 8-12 reps of each.

It’s smart to start with compound exercises (ones that require the use of more than one joint like squats, bench press, deadlift, etc.) and then move onto isolation exercises (which only require the use of one joint like bicep curls, leg extensions, etc.), says Martinez. (More here: How to Correctly Order Exercises At the Gym)

Compound exercises typically get all the glory because they allow you to hoist bigger weights and also count as functional training, but isolation moves are actually pretty important for bodybuilding workouts: “Because these exercises focus on one muscle at a time, they’re effective in increasing the size of muscle fibers, a major goal of all bodybuilders,” says Martinez. Not to mention, if you’re new to strength training, these more straightforward exercises will help keep you moving safely and injury-free.

When you’re doing 8-12 reps of each exercise, you should only be working at about 60-70 percent of your 1RM (one repetition maximum), says Martinez.

“Lifting closer to 100 percent of your 1RM is more efficient in building strength and power, but bodybuilders more often focus on the size of muscles,” she explains. “To induce hypertrophy—AKA increase in muscle size—it’s better to lift for longer periods of time. That’s why bodybuilders often lift less weight for more reps.” (Related: What’s the Difference Between Muscular Strength and Endurance?)

You can also use supersets in your training, which simply means doing two exercises targetting the same muscle group back to back, often with little or no rest in between. Tempo is important, too: You want to lift very slow and controlled along the whole range of motion, says Martinez. “All these techniques are all efficient in causing muscle fatigue and causing micro-tears in the muscle fibers. When the body repairs these micro-tears during rest, the muscle fibers grow back thicker, resulting in hypertrophy, or an increase in muscle size.”

And, yes, you have to do cardio: “Cardio is crazy important!” says Snyder. “This will help uncover the beautiful muscular shape you’re creating.” (Related: You Don’t Have to Do Cardio to Lose Weight—But There’s a Catch)

Snyder recommends shooting for 20 minutes of cardio three times a week. If you’re more advanced, you can also incorporate HIIT workouts, says Martinez.

What Female Bodybuilding Diets Are Like

“I cannot stress how important your diet is to support your building goals,” says Martinez. Yes, you’ll need protein (to help build all that new muscle) but healthy fats are also a must (they’ll keep you satiated longer, helping you keep your daily caloric intake low) and complex carbs will be crucial for fueling your workouts.

That’s why many female bodybuilders follow an IIFYM or macro-counting diet. “This form of dieting allows you much more freedom in your food choices, as long as you stick to eating a certain amount of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins,” says Snyder.

That’s just the beginning. Here’s a full guide to bodybuilding diet and nutrition, including some more details on how most bodybuilding athletes “bulk” and “cut” to prepare for a competition. (And, yes, you can follow a vegan bodybuilding diet and lifestyle too.)

Before You Sign Up for a Bodybuilding Competition…

There are a ton of bodybuilding organizations out there—the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB), National Physique Committee (NPC), and World Natural Bodybuilding Federation (WNBF), just to name a few—and they’re all a little different. Before you decide to sign up for a competition, do some research on which competition and genre of bodybuilding for women might be right for you. They all require you to wear a swim-style suit and pose in front of judges to be scored.

Bikini: This is the most popular female bodybuilding division. It emphasizes balanced physiques with a moderate amount of muscle. You wear a two-piece bikini and pose in front of judges to be scored.

Figure: Muscle-wise, the figure category is a step up from the bikini category. You’re judged on muscular balance and symmetry.

Women’s physique: The women’s physique division packs on even more muscle, taking on more of an athletic look.

Bodybuilding: This is the most muscular category of women’s bodybuilding. (Think: Arnold Schwarzenegger, but female.)

Fitness: The fitness category is judged on physique and appearance too, but it also includes a fitness routine performed to music and includes elements of dance, strength moves, and gymnastics.

How to Start Bodybuilding for Women

Hire a coach: “One thing you definitely should invest in is a coach,” says Snyder. Don’t just go for anyone who looks impressive on Instagram, though: “It’s important to do a lot of research so that you find a coach who can guide you with a good training and nutrition plan. You’re putting them in charge of your health.”

Track everything: “Make sure you log your training so you can strategically increase your weights over time,” says Martinez. It’s also super helpful to log your food so you can keep track of your macros and calories. (Some of these weight loss apps can help you track all that in one place.)

Don’t ignore machines: “For beginner weight-lifters, it can be beneficial to use machines as these keep the body in the proper place throughout the exercise,” says Martinez. If you’re new to bodybuilding but have a good strength base, go ahead and play with the free weights. “These typically engage more muscles that help stabilize the body throughout an exercise’s range of motion,” says Martinez.

Give yourself plenty of time: If you plan to compete, give yourself plenty of time to build muscle and prep beforehand. “Everyone is different, but new competitors are typically ready to compete after a 12-week intensive period,” says Snyder. “If you’re more consistent in your diet and training even in your off-season, you will not have to take as long to prep.”

Be patient: “There is a method to bodybuilding. It’s progressive in nature and needs an individually tailored plan,” says Snyder. “When implemented properly, it will keep you safe, be effective, and efficient. But increasing the size and strength of your muscles takes time, takes effort and consistency.” Strong biceps and glutes don’t grow overnight.

Keep upping the ante: “Like with any other training program, your body will adapt, so it’s crucial to test yourself regularly to make sure that you are adjusting the weights, reps, and/or the amount of rest in between sets properly as you get stronger to maintain or even increase the intensity of the workouts,” says Martinez. (This is a beautiful little thing called progressive overload training.)

Can I Start Bodybuilding in My 30s?

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We don’t see many muscular women in popular culture – and the display of much heavier and obviously stronger female bodies can be overwhelming or shocking.

Professional tennis playing sisters Serena and Venus Williams, who are currently in Australia for the summer tennis season, are good examples of female athletes who have received a lot of negative attention for their “thicker” arms and heavier-set, muscular bodies.

Other examples include retired world champion bodybuilder Bev Francis and South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya. They have all been criticised for having bodies that can’t possibly belong to real women.

Why are we so afraid of strong, muscular women?

After all, there’s nothing unnatural about a strong and muscular woman. What’s unnatural is preventing and discouraging women from reaching their full physical potential in the name of femininity.

Our fear of women with muscle

Caster Semenya at the 2012 London Olympics. EPA/Michael Kappeler

Muscle is associated with male bodies and therefore with masculinity.

Muscularity isn’t linked to displays of womanhood or ideas about femaleness. Therefore, a muscular woman doesn’t conform to acceptable codes of femininity.

A muscular woman challenges what it means to be a “real” woman or a “real” man. It challenges the assumption that all men are big, strong and powerful and that all women are smaller, weaker and dependent. A muscular woman can be wildly perplexing.

Muscular women are often accused of taking steroids, being deviant, sexually confused or deliberately trying to offend others. They’re frequently told they’re unattractive, man-haters, selfish mothers or transvestites. They’re charged as having either too much testosterone or too little femininity.

On the other hand, we associate muscle with male-dominated sports such as bodybuilding. Bodybuilding is culturally coded as almost exclusively male. Men compete and are judged solely on their muscularity. Their muscular bodies are compared on symmetry, muscular form, size, development and overall presentation.

Bodysculpting: muscle for women?

Unlike male bodybuilding, women who compete in body sculpting are required to minimise their muscularity. Body sculpting or body figure competition is a sport that only women can compete in. It’s also a sport where the contradiction of muscle and femininity is most obvious.

Muscle and a bikini. Scott Butner

Many women train long and gruelling hours to become strong and muscular – only to be told on competition day that they’re not feminine enough. In contrast to men’s bodybuilding, femininity is part of the women’s judging criteria.

Competitors are told to emphasise femininity, symmetry, proportion, tone, definition and to minimise physique and muscle mass.

They’re also expected to display graceful gestures, soft movements and have an hourglass figure. They have to wear make-up, heels, revealing and sparkling bikinis. Judges have even been found selecting women who are big-busted, pretty and slim and whose muscles aren’t visible unless flexed.

Femininity is linked to a female body that is slender, neat and sexually attractive. Because the muscular female form is so challenging, sports such as body sculpting use femininity as a buffer to counter the fact that women also have muscle. (We don’t judge male bodybuilders on their masculinity, their “maleness”.)

Is there a problem here?

When female athletes train and use their bodies as men do, women become muscular and strong too. Femininity prevents us from accepting muscle on women.

The problem isn’t muscle. The problem is femininity itself. Ideas about womanhood make muscular women appear unnatural. Femininity normalises a female body that is round, soft, small and heterosexually appealing.

Because femininity can’t be located within the body, most women have to display it on their bodies. This performance is achieved by minimising muscularity, clothing choice, make-up, hair-styles, attending to grooming and nails.

Venus and Serena Williams off the court. AAP Image/David Crosling

Femininity dictates what women can do with their bodies and there are grave social consequences for not conforming.

The result? Women operate within a restricted space.

Being thin, weak or helpless doesn’t allow full physical capacity. Indeed, women train their bodies to be inefficient. They become disconnected from their bodies, losing power and strength. This results in a distrust of their bodies, capabilities and an overall sense of insecurity. This affects how women experience relationships, how they carry themselves and relate to others.

It’s time to change our thinking

While we’re seeing a cultural shift from an emphasis on thinness to a more toned and athletic female body, many girls and women are still preoccupied with diet and weight loss – and there’s still a fear of women being muscular and bulky.

Let’s start thinking differently about women with muscle.

Women who care for their bodies through physical exercise become healthy, strong and capable. Ideas such as “real women are thin and weak”, are a bit like smoking: eventually, people will catch on that it just isn’t good for you.

Is There Feminine Muscularity?

In Western culture, women’s ideal body shape is very thin and unsurprisingly, many women exercise primarily to lose weight. In this context, muscularity is often associated with masculinity and thus, feared by many women who prefer firm and tight, but not bulky bodies. On the other hand, there are a number of physical activities that openly encourage women to build stronger, visibly muscular bodies. For example, in CrossFit boxes “There is no such thing as ‘firming’ and ‘toning’ there is only stronger and weaker” (cited in Knapp, 2015, p. 48). In a different context, women bodybuilders desire to display fully developed muscular bodies. Many feminist researchers have argued that these muscular women challenge common conceptions about femininity. In an earlier blog (Feminine Physique, November 26, 2014) I discussed the findings from this research.

Women’s bodybuilding is no longer only for women who wish to build an extreme amount of muscle mass. There are several different formats that differ based on the level of desired muscularity. Tajrobehkar (2016) defines bodybuilding in generic terms as sculpting one’s body through rigorous diet and training to gain significant amounts of muscle mass. The exact amount of muscle mass then depends on the type of bodybuilding one desires to participate in. The names for the various categories differ based on the organizing bodybuilding association, but for example in Canada, women can participate in Bikini fitness, Fitness, Figure, Physique, and Bodybuilding categories under the auspices of the Canadian Bodybuilding Federation (CBBF) that is a member of the International Federation of Bodybuilding (IFBB). In this categorization, Bodybuilding requires the most and Bikini the least muscle mass.

In light of these recent developments, can women now build their bodies beyond firmness? What do these muscular women think of their bodies? Has the shape of the ideal feminine body changed? Some researchers have asked women with various levels of visible muscularity about their bodies and about the comments they receive from others around them.

Source: James Yeo/Flickr

In their study Grogan, Evans, Wright and Hunter (2004) interviewed seven women who had competed in the Physique category in the UK. All the interviewees were white and were 22-43 years old. Like all bodybuilding categories, success in the Physique category is based solely on the body aesthetics: how the body looks rather than its ability to perform a specific task (e.g., Aspridies, O’Halloran, & Liamputtong, 2014).

The Physique category is judged based on femininity, symmetry, muscle tone, poise, and beauty/flow of the physique. The judges look for visible muscle separation and some striation, but not excessive muscularity. The competitors display their physique through performing individual routines (of poses) choreographed to music. Typically, they have 8-10% of body fat.

The researchers described the looks of female Physique competitors as “built up to look large and powerful and strong, and (to the untrained eye) to look similar to the bodies of male body builders” (p. 50). The study participants, obviously, were visibly muscular and thus, their bodies were a definite departure from the toned ideal feminine body. The authors noted, however, that none of the bodybuilders mentioned being large or highly muscled as part of their ideal that they defined as athletic, toned, and healthy. The Physique competitors further emphasized that this athletic shape had to be feminine: a good/nice shape with a visible waist, breasts, and less muscular than a male bodybuilder. Muscles and femininity were not incompatible, the participants insisted, but ‘a muscular woman’ did not ‘get huge’ and retained her feminine shape.

The trained body also increased the women’s self-confidence and their feelings of being sexually attractive. Their feminine body shape, however, was different enough from the ‘normal’ women’s body to attract comments and stares from strangers. The comments from what the bodybuilders called ‘the general public’ were generally positive: Women admired the slender waists and men the powerful looks of the Physique competitors. If there were any negative comments, the bodybuilders ignored them arguing that only opinions of the bodybuilding community mattered and ‘anyone else’ is ‘irrelevant.’

The researchers concluded that, in general, the physique category bodybuilders felt good about their muscular bodies that they tightly controlled through diet and training. While they had to negotiate the mainstream feminine body ideal, they had created their own ideal that was appropriate in the bodybuilding community and was measured against the standards of this community. This ideal, nevertheless, embodied some of the same characteristics (e.g., athletic, not huge, narrow waist, thin) as the feminine looks preferred by the ‘general public.’ The Physique competitors were, however, able to develop an alternative body ideal even if it was limited to the bodybuilding community where they felt accepted and appreciated as feminine muscular women.

Source: Loan/Flickr

Aspridis, O’Halloran, and Liamputtong (2014) interviewed 11 Australian competitors in another women’s bodybuilding category, the Figure class, that requires less muscle definition than the Physique. The Figure category can be described as a blend of bodybuilding and fitness. Instead of an individualized routine of poses, the contestants present quarter turns in front of the judges who assess the competitor’s symmetry, presentation, and aesthetic qualities such as skin tone. The so-called X-shape is important: well developed upper back with well-shaped legs. Similar to the Physique category, visible muscle separation is expected, but as a difference from the Physique category, no muscle striation should be visible. The leanness of the contestant is similar to the Physique category: 8-12% of body fat.

The Figure participants in this study were a similar age range (18-43 years) to the Physique competitors interviewed by Grogan, Evans Wright and Hunter (2004). Like the Physique competitors, the Figure class contestants felt that hard training and strict diet allowed them to gain control of their lives and thus, increased confidence. Physical strength provided feelings of achievement, mental strength, and personal growth that they had not imagined possible before. These women were more confident to take on other pursuits in their lives (going back to school, have a new career) as a result of their changed body shapes. Despite these benefits, the women also reported feeling depressed after a competition, not because of muscle loss, but because of weight gain. Therefore, thinness was an important factor for the Figure class competitors’ ideal body shape.

Unlike the Physique competitors who preferred to focus on positive comments by strangers, the majority of the Figure competitors reported a certain stigma attached to their sport. Some ‘onlookers’ indicated that bodybuilding, particularly its strict dieting practices, was unhealthy and had negative psychological (mood swings) and social impacts (withdrawal from social life). Their comments focused more on excessive thinness than overt amounts of muscle mass. As one participant reported:

“I’ve lost a lot of friends over it because they don’t understand. They say, look at you, you’re skinny, you don’t need a diet, but they do not understand how important the diet is” (p. 27).

The researchers emphasized, nevertheless, that “Although women in this Figure class were not overtly criticized for increased muscularity…the muscular definition exhibited by women in this Figure class was enough for them to be rejected and negatively labelled” (p. 28). The Figure class competitors themselves believed that the positives of competing outweighed any costs of stigmatization or social withdrawal.

If women in the Physique and the Figure categories felt stigmatized because of their body shapes, how do the competitors in the Bikini category, that requires the least amount muscle definition, feel about their bodies?

Source: love blog 2014 Schedder Classic Photos NPC Texas/Flickr

Instead of the emphasis on the ‘X-shape’ in the Figure category, abdominals and gluteals are important aspects of the lean and firm physique of a Bikini competitor. Proportion, symmetry, balance, shape, and skin tone are judged as they are displayed during front and back poses, walk, and presentation. This category allows the highest level of fat percentage: typically 10-14% of body fat.

Tajrobehkar (2016), a Bikini contestant herself, added that femininity is a mandatory component of Bikini competition. In her study, she interviewed nine Canadian women bodybuilders, six of whom competed in the Bikini category. Similar to the studies cited above, the participants were all white. Unlike the other researchers, Tajrobehkar argued that the Bikini competitions “reproduce and reinforce” traditional femininity, because the contestants are judged based on such femininity criteria as their outfits, shoes, hair, makeup, and facial beauty. In addition, “the competitors with larger breasts are judged more favorably” (p. 295). During their ‘walk’ the contestants are to make ‘suggestive gestures’ and are thus, Tajrobehkar continued, “to display themselves in an overtly sexual manner” (p. 295). Thus, exaggerated heterosexual femininity is the norm in Bikini competitions. We must remember that Tajrobehkar is a Bikini class bodybuilder herself and thus, has first-hand experience of the competitions. What did her fellow Bikini contestants think of the body shape required in these competitions?

The interviewed participants, like the Figure and Physique competitors, felt very positive about muscular women’s bodies. As one participant exclaimed: “I think muscle is great. Muscle in general is fantastic. I think women should have muscle to give them shape” (p. 298).

They immediately explained, though, that muscle needs to add to the femininity of a woman. As another interviewee explained: “You don’t want to come out there not looking all pretty and cute…You have to somehow manage that sexiness, that curvature, that makes a woman beautiful” (p. 298). The Bikini contestants, thus, viewed muscle as positive as long as it added to the sex appeal that was the selling point of the competitions. Indeed, femininity and beauty are openly included as judging components (the bikini walk does not involve any overt demonstration of muscularity) and, the participants acknowledged, the Bikini competitions focus more on feminine beauty than physical fitness. While some of the more muscular interviewees found this category undermining the sport of bodybuilding, others felt that it was “a more fun, sassy approach” (p. 300) to bodybuilding that allowed the women to gain confidence from the display of sexiness in front of an (mostly male) audience. As one participant explained:

“I think that the way you carry yourself on stage, the little twerks you do make you look confident, like you’re comfortable in your own skin. And I think that’s probably a good quality to have” (p. 300).

Based on these findings, women bodybuilders in the Physique, Figure, and Bikini categories felt positive about their newly built body shapes. They all celebrated their muscular, but also very thin bodies. Some were willing to deviate from the societal norms of the acceptable, toned feminine body more than others. It is not surprising that the Physique bodybuilders with visibly ‘separated’ and ‘striated’ muscle mass departed from the ideal the most radically. It must be noted, however, that their muscle mass is not as heavy as in the women’s Bodybuilding category that is also the only category where women pose in bare feet instead of wearing high heel shoes.

The Physique level competitors were also the ones who actively ignored any negative comments from the ‘general public’ to rely on the judgement of their own bodybuilding community. Tajrobehkar (2016) observed that the bodybuilding sub-culture where women were revered for their muscle development provided a safe haven for changing ideas of women’s muscular bodied. This sub-culture, nevertheless, is a much smaller realm than ‘the broader culture’ that continues to exert its own norms of acceptable femininity. The bodybuilding women live in both cultures and thus, continually negotiate their muscular development accordingly.

The bodybuilding culture, influenced by the broader cultural norms, has expanded its list of women’s bodybuilding categories. The Bikini and Figure classes that are the closest to the toned and thin feminine ideal have gained popularity whereas the International Federation of Bodybuilding (IFBB) has cancelled its amateur women’s Bodybuilding category that now exists only as professional competition. One of the participants in Tajrobehkar’s study noted this trend: “All there is now is a male muscle model and a Bikini girl. And those are the biggest categories…where is the sport? We lost the sport” (p. 299). This competitor felt that women’s bodybuilding has begun to resemble a beauty contest (with a sexy walk) rather than a sport based on building muscular definition. The IFBB is openly following this trend as it states that high-intensity weight training and hard lean muscles are not necessary for the Bikini category that, instead, requires an attractive appearance similar to models.

Seen in this light, women’s bodybuilding has not managed to change the toned and thin feminine body ideal to any significant degree. On the contrary, the sport has evolved to include categories with less and less muscle definition. Baghurst, Parish, and Denny (2014) add that Physique, Fitness, and Bikini categories are now popular whereas Bodybuilding is in decline. While muscle definition that enhances the looks of the shapely, feminine body is desirable, our culture does not seem quite ready for visibly muscular women’s bodies.

Since my article on the natural muscular potential of women went viral with over ten thousand shares on Facebook alone, my inbox has been flooded with the question “How should women train and diet?” Here’s the answer.

But first, to put many of the differences between men and women in context, it helps to understand the evolution of gender differences. Throughout evolution, a classical division of labor between men and women has existed. While this may bring to mind a stereotype of women as inactive, just-stay-at-home mothers with no physical prowess, this is completely unjustified. The activities of hunter-gatherer women would in our modern times be seen as heavy manual labor. To quote a review on this topic:

“…walking sometimes for hours to find, retrieve, and carry home items such as food, water, and wood. Women would also help to carry butchered game back to camp. These foraging efforts often demanded digging, climbing, bending, and stretching and frequently involved carrying heavy loads back to camp. In addition, these hunter-gatherer women often had to carry their children for long distances. The average forager-mother carried her child until he or she was about 4 years, covering upwards of 3,000 miles with the child in her arms or on her back during this interval of time. Other routine female responsibilities included shelter construction and butchering.”

The more endurance type tasks women did for millions of years resulted in significant differences in what the genders are best adapted to. Here’s how you use these differences to your advantage.

1. Women do better on a higher fat diet

Women burn more fat, less carbohydrate and less protein than men at the same exercise intensity. Since they rely less on carbohydrate as fuel, they also don’t store as much glycogen during carb refeeds.

Both differences in the nervous system and the hormonal system, including estrogen, are responsible for women’s lesser reliance on glycogen. For example, the fight-or-flight hormone adrenalin burns more fat in women than men. A more obvious explanation is that women normally have a considerably higher fat percentage than men of the same weight, not only on their body but also within their muscles, so it makes sense to use this as the primary energy source.

Basically, women have a glycogen and protein sparing metabolism. This means women don’t need as much carbohydrate or protein in their diet as men to fuel their exercise sessions.

The lesser need for carbohydrates frees up calories to consume as fat. Fats have very positive effects on the hormonal and cardiovascular health of women. In general, the more fat women eat, the more estrogen and testosterone they produce. Testosterone and estrogen are both anabolic hormones, in spite of the broscience you often hear about estrogen.

Low fat diets may even reduce breast size, in part likely due to the low sex hormone production, since estradiol and IGF-1 levels are significantly correlated with breast size in women that aren’t on the pill for birth control.

A high fat diet may also be easier to adhere to for women than men. Dietary fat is 15% more satiating in women than in men.

Women also have less to fear from potential negative effects of a low carb, high fat diet (which are already rare, but I’ll save that for another article). Fats don’t decrease insulin sensitivity as much in women as in men. Estrogen plays a large role here. It helps to keep inflammation in check, burn fat and preserve insulin sensitivity. Lower inflammation means polyunsaturated fats in particular are less susceptible to being oxidized, so they can exert their anabolic effects. Women in general have much better metabolic health than men and have a healthier body fat distribution.

By the way, if you’re worried about breast cancer, the relation between fat intake and breast cancer risk is found in poor epidemiological studies of inactive, overweight women eating processed junk fats, like processed red meats. Even then the relation is weak and controversial. Fats like olive oil actually seem to protect you from cancer. If you’re lean, you don’t smoke, don’t go binge drinking too often, eat a healthy diet and you exercise, research has found time and again and again and again that you have nothing to fear from a high fat diet.

Back on topic, several studies have found that women with polycystic ovary syndrome lose more fat and less muscle on a low carb diet compared to a low fat diet, even when protein and energy intake are tightly controlled. Several studies by Jeff Volek et al. have found similar results in overweight and healthy women, but these studies were confounded by more protein in the low carb diets. Soon-to-be-published research found that women with more fat in their diet burn more calories during exercise, have higher bench press strength and are leaner. In my experience with my female clients, the benefits of fats vs. carbs depend on the woman’s carb tolerance. However, I can say with confidence that the popular very high carb, almost zero fat diets are not optimal for most women.

Women also don’t need as much protein as men for several reasons.

  • Women oxidize less protein during exercise than men.
  • Women also burn less protein while fasted or after meals than men.
  • Due to their higher essential fat mass, women generally have less lean body mass than men of the same weight.

A meta-analysis found that the protein requirement of women is almost exactly 10% lower than that of men.

From an evolutionary point of view, women may have better adapted to lower protein intakes than men.

2. Women do better with higher reps

Untrained men and women have the same fiber type distribution. This changes with training: in strength training women, muscle fibers are converted to type I fibers or don’t convert at all, whereas in men they generally change to type IIa fibers. Women also have proportionally larger type I fibers than men.

The result is that women are more resistant to fatigue than men, even when women and men with the same strength level are compared. I test the muscle-fiber type profiles of all my clients and women can generally do more reps at a given intensity than men. (If you don’t know the difference between the different muscle fibers, read my guide to muscle-specific hypertrophy training.)

Because women have more slow-twitch muscles, they should train their type I fibers more than men to grow to their full potential. This can be done by performing more reps per set.

3. Women can handle more volume

Having larger and more type I fibers allows women to handle more volume than men. That’s not the only reason. In my article on the muscular potential of women, you’ve seen how having more of the female sex hormone estrogen gives women an advantage over men. Estrogen is an anti-catabolic hormone that aids in muscle repair, reduces protein break-down during exercise and protects you against muscle damage. This allows women to train with a higher training volume without becoming overtrained. We don’t have any direct research on this (gender interaction in the dose-response curve of training volume), so we have to compare different studies.

If you’ve read my article on the effect of range of motion (ROM) on muscle growth on Bret Contreras’s blog, you should now understand the discrepant findings from the research team of Massey et al. They found that training the bench press with a greater ROM did not result in statistically significantly more strength gains in men. When they replicated the study in women, the results became significant. Women can tolerate the higher training stress of full ROM training better than men, so it was easier to demonstrate the superiority of training with a full ROM.

The same trend appears in other research. Paulsen et al. and Rønnestad et al. didn’t find more strength or size gains in the upper body when performing 3 compared to 1 set in men. New, still unpublished research from Vikmoen et al. from the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences has replicated this research in women. This time the 3 set group gained significantly more strength than the 1 set group. The women training with more volume also gained 62% more muscle mass on their arms, but this difference failed to reach statistical significance.

Another line of research supporting that women can handle more training volume is the research where women respond better to training than men. This is found in research with heavy negatives. Heavy lengthening muscle contractions cause a great deal of muscle damage. Women can tolerate this training stress better than men.

4. Women should do less explosive training

The superior work capacity of women disappears when training with weights close to their maximum strength (1RM). While women’s muscles have great endurance, the female nervous system is not as efficient as that of men. Men are more explosive than women: they can generate force quicker. The area in the brain that controls movement (the motor cortex) is in fact literally larger in men, even after correcting for height. During explosive exercise at very high training intensities, like powerlifting, men can perform more reps than women.

A more efficient motor cortex is the reason why men tend to do better in explosive sports. However, the difference becomes very small after serious training. Sports scientist Renato Manno and his team have compared the strength and explosiveness of 840 elite male and female athletes across 31 sports in research that hasn’t been published in English yet. They found that relative to bodyweight, women were just as strong as men and only a few percent less explosive. This makes sense given that women have the same relative natural muscular potential as men. Sociocultural differences probably explain why we don’t see more women in high level athletics.

Men are only more powerful during explosive, dynamic contractions, not during heavy negatives or isometric contractions, even at a high intensity. So it’s not true that women should never train heavy. However, women should train to their strengths. Explosive exercise does not allow women to exercise with as much volume as men. Women also recover less well after explosive exercise like sprints. In contrast to women’s generally greater recovery capacity, high volume sprint training can take over 72 hours to recover from in women. This results in worse training adaptations for explosive exercise in women. For example, women don’t build as much muscle protein after high intensity sprints as men. This is striking, because after regular strength training women build just as much muscle protein as men.

5. Women respond better to steady state cardio than HIIT

Since women don’t react as well to high intensity interval training, steady state cardio works better for them. And not just physically: mood improvements from aerobic exercise tend to be greater in women than in men.

Other than the above, I’ve already discussed cardio for women compared to men in detail during my roundtable discussion with the Martinez brothers (point 4), so I won’t go into that again here.

6. Women do better with a slower lifting tempo

Since women are less explosive than men, women can perform more reps with a more controlled, less explosive lifting tempo. Forcing women to use a fast, fixed tempo does not take advantage of their higher endurance.

7. Women tolerate metabolic stress better

Another reason women have better endurance than men is that women suffer less from metabolic stress than men, again even when women and men of the same strength level are compared. Women have lower arterial blood pressure during exercise, so they can get more blood and oxygen to their muscles than men. Less metabolic byproducts like lactate, which causes ‘the burn’, accumulate in the blood, so the muscles are capable of functioning for a longer time under stress than in men.

Women’s superior fatigue resistance disappears during blood flow occlusion training (KAATSU, as the Japanese inventors originally called it). And unlike in men, women’s muscle growth seems to be blocked by post-exercise blood flow occlusion. So KAATSU training should be used more strategically in women than in men.

8. Women don’t need as much rest between sets

The following graphic from Hunter (2014) summarizes the reasons why women don’t fatigue as much as men. With all of this in mind, it shouldn’t be a surprise that women recover faster after a set than men. In my scientific review with Brad Schoenfeld on the best rest interval for muscle growth we also discussed this. Women don’t need as much rest as men to complete the same relative training volume.

9. Women can train with a greater training frequency

Women not only recover faster after a set. They also recover faster after a training session. This again shouldn’t be a surprise by now, since women have better nutrient delivery to their muscles, they don’t suffer as much muscle damage and they repair their muscles faster.


Most women are intuitively aware of their strengths in the gym, but they are often told to train like men. As a result, they don’t fulfill their athletic potential. Strong male trainees often instinctively do high intensity training and avoid sets with more than 12 reps. Women are naturally much more inclined to do steady-state cardio, lift with a more controlled tempo, perform higher reps, take shorter rest periods and do more total work (the serious women at least). These are good instincts. Through millions of years of evolution, women have become better adapted to training that is closer to the endurance spectrum than men. Use it to your advantage.

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Every single day, millions of people go to the gym with the intention of becoming body beautiful. Only a few achieve their goals and the very best of the best, become professional bodybuilders. Hours and hours spent in the gym result in perfectly chiseled bodies and awe-inspiring physiques.

We’ve compiled a list of 20 hot and sexy female bodybuilders who we think are some of the best. Do you agree with our list? Is there anyone we’ve missed off? Let us know in the comments below.

Table of Contents

Pauline Nordin

As well as a fitness competitor, fitness model and fitness trainer, Pauline is also a journalist and was the trainer for the TV show “The Biggest Loser”. A champion from the junior ranks, Pauline has continued her success and is regarded as one of the most inspirational women in the sport.

Amanda Latona

You don’t get a nickname “The Booty Queen” unless you can back it up. A 10-time IFBB champion, Amanda is the founder of BootyQueen apparel and a promoter for the NPC national qualifier show, the Kucloclassic. Cover model, recording artist, entrepreneur, Amanda has it all.

Juliana Malacarne

A true living legend, this Brazilian bombshell is a 4 times Miss Physique Olympia winner who won every Miss Olympia from 2014, before deciding not to compete in 2018. Her gorgeous smile and classy look set her apart from other women in the field and makes her one of the most recognizable faces on the scene.

Sarah Ainsley Harrison

Born and raised in Canada, although a dual citizen of the UK, 27 year old Sarah is a 4 times bikini champion and level 4 accredited personal trainer and exercise therapist. She was also crowned Miss Canada and winner of the Best Body award. Not content with conquering the fitness world Sarah has also featured in films and is a model.

Alessandra Pinheiro

You won’t believe it but the beautiful Alessandra is 42 years old. Another Brazilian bodybuilder and fitness model, Alessandra competes in the IFBB pro league and has won the Arnold classic competition twice and the Karina Nascimento classic once. With a bachelor’s degree in physical education, Alessandra has brains as well as beauty.

Larissa Reis

Another Brazilian, Larissa earned her pro card in 2007 and was the first female Brazilian to win a professional figure show in the US. Larissa credits her parents for teaching her about hard work and attitude, which she says helped her get to the top.

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#tbt pic from my last show of my career as a pro figure at Arnold classic australia 🇦🇺 2015 . After 10 years non stop Figure competition I’m so grateful for all of the support I’ve had since then. With everything that changes throughout life, where you came from never does. #FollowYourDreams

A post shared by Larissa Reis (@larissareis007) on Apr 19, 2018 at 3:34pm PDT

Alicia Gowans

An Australian EBFF Fitness Diva Pro, personal trainer, and entrepreneur, Alicia won her pro card in 2014. A 2x WBFF world and USA champion, Alicia helps others to realize their fitness dreams as a Precision nutrition coach and also works as a prep coach, coaching others online.

Amy Quine

UK born Amy Leigh-Quine is a WBBF fitness athlete and personal coach, not to mention actress and model. After being rejected for a career in modeling Amy set her sights on other types of modeling and quickly found fitness. Winner of the UKBFF Kent classic, Amy now focuses on building her own brand and training online others as a coach.

Ariel Khadr

3 x IFBB pro fitness champion, Ariel has been competing in shows since the age of 16. Winning numerous titles Ariel became the youngest IFBB fitness pro when she won the NPC Team Universe Fitness Nationals championships. After which Ariel took a 6-year hiatus to focus on her college degree. 26 year old Ariel is currently rehabbing from injury and coaches others that want to follow in her footsteps.

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#MotivationMonday ✨ @baileyimage 😍📸

A post shared by Ariel Khadr IFBB Fitness Pro (@itsarielkhadr) on Jan 7, 2019 at 6:07pm PST

Aspen Rae

IFBB Figure Pro, Aspen is a figure competitor from San Jose, California. Initially, a long distance runner Aspen became interested in trying something new and began lifting weights. With the help of her coach she soon began to realize her dream of competing in fitness shows as a bikini competitor, before switching to figure in 2016, which she felt allowed her to work on her body without having to worry about gaining too much size.

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My body the week before I earned my IFBB pro card. It was the hardest, and most conditioned I had ever been. I am excited to put in some work this off season, so that by the next time I get ready for stage I can have a new favorite physique. 📷: @seannelsonphoto

A post shared by ASPEN RÆ (@myaspenrae) on Sep 20, 2018 at 8:41am PDT

Emeri Connery

Originally from Coolvile, Ohio, Emeri is a bikini athlete and personal trainer. She was inspired to start competing after her brother had competed in his own shows. Emmeri has been competing since 2014 and won 2 Mountaineer classics in 2017. Viewed as a rising star in the industry, Emeri works hard and has improved dramatically in the 3 years since her debut.

Oksana Grishina

Born in Russia, the former gymnast grew up in both Russia and Latvia where she also pursued classical ballet. Oksana moved to the US in 2007 and hasn’t looked back since. Crowned Miss Olympia from 2014-2017 and with a string of other titles to her name, Oksana is regarded as one of the greatest ever.

Emma Paveley

Emma is a Uk based IFBB Pro competitor. In addition to being a 2 x IFBB Fitness champion, Emma is also a 2x Olympian. Emma has a background in gymnastics and also enjoys training in Crossfit to maintain well-rounded fitness. Emma recently appeared on the UK show NinjaWarrior.

Marzia Prince

Marzia is an award-winning personal trainer and IFBB Bikini Pro. She started lifting at 23 years old and became a bikini fitness competitor in her 30’s. At 32 years old she won the 2007 Miss Bikini Universe competition. She was one of the first IFBB bikini pros and earned the 3rd IFBB bikini pro card at 35 years old.

Lisa-Marie Graham

Lisa-Marie is a London based Sports Therapist, Personal Trainer, Bikini competitor, and UKBFF British, Nationals and English GP Champion. She also placed 2nd at the Arnold classic in Africa. 33 year old Lisa-Marie got into competing after starting out as a musical theatre actress and starting to lift weights while living in Australia. After training with a friend she fell in love with lifting and started training seriously.

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Flash back to last weekend! @showgirlfitness @ukbff_official @sv_bikini

A post shared by Lisa-Marie Graham (@lisamariegraham) on Oct 19, 2018 at 9:30am PDT

Mavi Gioia

41 year old Italian, Mavi, is an IFBB Pro and was the overall winner of the Excalibur Bodybuilding and Figure Championships in 2008. Winner of the 2006 Wabba European fitness championships and Wabba national body fitness championships, Mavi is no stranger to the podium.

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Don’t be a Queen waiting on a King . Be a queen busy with her kingdom until her king arrives . 👸🏼 ❤️🤴#solucky #mood #proudofme #womanpower #heartfirst #love

A post shared by Mavi 🏋🏽‍♀️ (@mavigioia) on Dec 11, 2018 at 3:40pm PST

Monica Martin

Fitness model and IFBB Pro bodybuilder Monica originally comes from Brazil. She started bodybuilding as a teenager and was the first girl from Brazil to become an IFBB Pro bodybuilder. She now lives in the US. A champion in many different countries, Monica is highly regarded as an idol to many female bodybuilders.

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Those days when you look at yourself in the mirror and realize that all you wanted to be is YOU ❤️ 💫👸👍 #monicamartin #lovingmyself #sexyfbb #physiquemodel #fitnessmodel #hardworkpaysoff #fbb #strongwomen #staygolden #lifeisgood #diva #goddess #monumento #hardbody #happy #thankful #selfie #unicorn

A post shared by Monica Martin (@monicamartinpro) on Dec 14, 2018 at 12:48pm PST

Heidi Vuorela

Coming from Sweden and a mother or 2, Heidi competes in the women’s physique division and is also a personal trainer. She works with both men and women that want help in transforming their lives and uses her own practical experience to make her a better, more well-rounded coach. A winner in her native Sweden, Heidi is dedicated to her craft.

Kristal Marshall

Kristal Marshall has many strings to her bow, a former beauty queen and WWE Diva, Kristal has also worked as a model. After gaining her pro license Kristal went on to place 2nd in the NPC Arnold Amateur Championships and win the NPC USA Bodybuilding and Figure Championships in 2009. She also placed 4th in the IFBB New York Pro Bodybuilding and Bikini Championships in 2010.

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Hi, my name is Kristal, I’m 34, and I’m best know for periodically, and emotionally chopping off my hair.🖕🏾🤷🏾‍♀️🙄 #tb #emotionalcutter

A post shared by Kristal August (Marshall) (@bajanbombshell83) on Jul 28, 2018 at 12:24pm PDT

Kizzy Vaines

Coming from South Yorkshire in the UK, Kizzy was a dancer up until the age of 22, when she decided to change focus and pursue a career in bodybuilding. She became interested due to her husband and has competed all over the world. A 3x Olympian and 2x IFBB champion Kizzy is also a hair stylist.

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Lean and looking mean! #fitness #bikini #bodybuilding #lean #triceps #delts #teamdnalean

A post shared by Kizzy Vaines (@ifbbkizzy) on Feb 23, 2015 at 12:45am PST

Top Indian Female Bodybuilders and Fitness Models

Kiran’s Advice: “I would like to advise all the women and youngsters to ‘never say never.’ I follow this mantra and believe that everybody else should too. If we want, we can achieve anything we like, always believe in yourself.”

Karuna Waghmare – Mumbai

Following nearly two decades of fitness training, Karuna Waghmare (41) is one of the most experienced Indian female bodybuilders.

With sponsorship from Salman Khan, Karuna has organised bodybuilding and fitness training camps for aspiring Indian female bodybuilders over the past several years.

Karuna came sixth in the Female Physique Fitness category at the 2015 Amateur Olympia, becoming the first Indian woman to receive a medal at the event. She went on to win the overall 2015 Miss India title.

The fitness consultant is currently recovering from an operation on a broken arm and is unable to compete. However, she is planning to return, telling DESIblitz: “I am preparing myself for 2018. My focus now is coming back in 2018.”

Karuna’s Advice: “Women should work out, and know that weight training will not make you muscular or manly. Don’t just see others and follow them blindly. If you want to lose fat, do more weight training. Only doing cardio will not give you hundred percent fat loss.

“Always focus on your goal and work out accordingly. Be sure to take good care of your health first. Stay calm, take care of your health, and work hard towards your goal.”

Shweta Metha – Fatehabad, Haryana

After working as a software engineer in Bangalore for several years, Shweta is now a full-time bodybuilder and fitness model.

Shweta shot to fame after performing a sensational stunt for her MTV Roadies Rising Warrior audition. She completed several squats with the cricketer, Harbhajan Singh, sitting on her shoulders.

28-year-old Shweta was a runner-up in the Women’s Fitness Model category in the 2015 Jerai Classic. But at the 2016 edition, Shweta won the Women’s Physique category, and also won the overall competition.

Indian Female Bodybuilders

With names such as Mamota Devi, Shweta Rathore, and Sarita Devi all adding to the Indian female bodybuilders in the DESIblitz list, it is a positive time for women in the sport.

There are young, up and coming Indian women too, such as Bhumika Sharma. So, if you are serious about your bodybuilding ambitions, take the advice of these professionals.

Speaking exclusively to DESIblitz, Haryana’s ‘Iron Lady’, Yashmeen Chauhan, says: “I love to teach and train my clients.”

If you’re interested in receiving training from the Indian female bodybuilder herself, you can find out more here. Or you can follow Yashmeen on Instagram.

Remember, anything is possible if you put your mind, body and complete effort into it. If motivation is what you need, then the DESIblitz top Indian female bodybuilders are all available on social media.

The influential Ankita Singh and Sonali Swami are both available on Instagram. And so is Kiran Dembla who posts regular live videos.

Meanwhile, Deepika Chowdhury and Karuna Waghmare can both be found on Facebook. Why not even follow all of them, and maximise your potential to achieve your goals.

Alternatively, you can find out about the Indian bodybuilder who became Mr World or read the exclusive DESIblitz interview with Sangram Chougule.

Do You Have What It Takes To Be a Great Bodybuilder?

Thinking of becoming a bodybuilder? For most this can be a daunting experience. Bodybuilding is not just about lifting weights to develop huge biceps. It takes discipline, dedication and determination, along with a strict nutrition plan to reach success. It also requires patience. You can’t expect to see results right away, and you shouldn’t give up just because you think you aren’t getting anywhere. The mental and physical benefits of bodybuilding will be worth the time and effort. So if you’ve got the drive and passion for becoming a great bodybuilder, there’s no reason you shouldn’t give it a go! Follow these bodybuilding tips to get you started.

How to Become a Bodybuilder

Educate Yourself

Before you commit to a lifestyle of bodybuilding, it’s important to have a good understanding of what goes into the process. There are different types of strength training exercises you can do to achieve certain bodybuilding goals. Weightlifting is a tried and true form of strength training that works to strengthen your muscles dramatically and quickly. Calisthenics on the other hand relies solely on your own body weight for resistance, and doesn’t require the use of any exercise equipment. Common exercises include sit ups, lunges, pushups or crunches, which you can do conveniently at any time in any place. However, as you are limited to your body weight, it may take longer to build muscle mass.

Try to find out as much information about strength training as you can before planning a fitness routine. Do research on the important muscle groups and learn the right exercise techniques by

talking to experienced bodybuilders. This extra knowledge will help you determine what type of exercise is right for you and come up with clear, realistic goals for your body.

Plan and Develop Your Fitness Routine

Your strength training routine will largely depend on where your body is at and what your specific bodybuilding goals are. For instance, if you’re a bit overweight, you will need to focus on getting your body fat percentage down before you can begin building your muscles. Doing regular cardio exercises is a great place to start with this.

If you’re ready to begin building muscle, it’s generally a good idea to start with compound exercises. Compound exercises, such as pull ups, dips, rows or squats, focus on training all areas of your body as opposed to a single muscle group. Later on in your strength training routine you can choose to target specific muscle groups through isolation exercises like bicep curls, leg extensions, or triceps extensions.

If you’re going to do weight training, you will obviously need easy access to a range of weightlifting equipment to build your physique, like free weights and weight machines. Join a gym closest to you, or invest in your own home gym equipment for even more convenience. When you start, you will need to figure out the maximum weight you can lift. Choosing the accurate weight for your training level will help you avoid injury and build the right type of muscle.

Set a Meal Plan

A well-designed nutrition plan is crucial if you want to become a great bodybuilder. Without good nutrition, you are unlikely to see much progress in your muscle size and strength. A diet rich in protein can help you to build muscle more quickly. The general rule is to consume about 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. You can find loads of protein in foods such as fish, beans, egg whites, and lean cuts of meat.

It’s also important for a bodybuilder to consume plenty of complex carbohydrates, like whole grain bread, oatmeal, whole grain pasta, brown rice or sweet potatoes. It’s best to consume these on your workout days to ensure you sustain your energy and minimize any unwanted fat. Healthy fats are also an essential component of a good bodybuilding diet regime as it helps to boost testosterone. Healthy fats can be found in avocados, olive oil, eggs and nuts. Finally, make sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, as these contain important vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and fiber that are good for your health and digestion.

To ensure you stay on track with your diet, keep a detailed food diary. Don’t forget to also take photos of your bodybuilding progress along the way so that you can see what you need to work on.

Alex Cordier is a freelance writer, who has been published across various sites on topics including home, travel, health and lifestyle. She is most passionate about living a healthy lifestyle. You can check out more of her articles here.

For more news and updates, follow Generation Iron on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Photo sources:

Photo 1 – Pxhere – CC0 Public Domain

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Photo 4 – – CC0 Creative Commons

How to Train Like a Bodybuilder

Have you ever picked up a magazine from the newsstand and wondered “How can I get the muscular, ripped look of a fitness cover model?” or “Could I ever add enough muscle to my body to the point where I could actually flex on stage?”

Sponsor: The podcast version of this article is brought to you by Stitcher. With free Stitcher SmartRadio, you can listen to this and thousands of other podcasts on your mobile phone. Use promo code Getfit and get a chance to win a cash prize.

It may not be the look for everybody, but training like a bodybuilder can transform your body in amazing ways. As an ex-bodybuilder, I have firsthand experience of how to achieve that look. So if you’ve ever been curious about how a bodybuilder trains, then this episode is for you!

Why Bodybuilder Training Is Different

In the episode How to Build Muscle, you learn that when you require your muscles to produce a force, such as lifting a weight, the tension from the weight stretches the muscle fibers and causes tiny tears in them. When the cells in your muscle fibers sense this trauma, they begin to rally the muscle-building troops from your body to repair the tears.

These muscle-building troops include hormones, growth factors, and white blood cells. Working together, all these components not only repair the muscle fibers, but they also increase the size of those fibers and the strength of the nerves that activate them, so that next time you lift a weight, you are better able to do so. As those fibers increase in size, so do your muscles.

As you can probably guess, the goal is bodybuilding is to simply tear as many muscle fibers as possible by putting the muscle into a situation in which it is repeatedly stressed from as many different angles as possible with a variety of different forces. When adequate recovery is allowed for the fibers to rebuild…voila! A bodybuilder grows new muscle.

So what are some techniques that can be used for maximum muscle growth? Here are your 5 Quick and Dirty Tips to train like a bodybuilder:

Tip #1: Isolate Body Parts

By isolating body parts, you can stress a specific set of muscle fibers over and over again, resulting in maximum muscle “damage,” and subsequent repair, recovery and growth. So rather than doing a full body workout a few times a week, a bodybuilding-style routine would involve you isolating specific muscle groups just one to two times per week. This is called a “body part split.”

For example, a six-day bodybuilding “body part split” routine would be:

Monday: Chest, Shoulders, and Abs

Tuesday: Biceps and Triceps

Wednesday: Legs

Thursday: Off

Friday: Chest, Shoulder,s and Abs

Saturday: Biceps and Triceps

Sunday: Legs

Tip #2: Do Several Exercises For Each Body Part

Rather than simply performing one exercise for each body part, as you might do during a traditional weight training circuit, when you’re training like a bodybuilder, you need to stress a specific muscle group from a variety of angles, which means that you may end up performing anywhere from 2-5 different exercises for a single body part during a workout.

For example, on an “arms” day for the biceps muscle group, you might do:

Standing dumbbell biceps curls

Standing cable curls

Single arm concentration curls

And for the triceps muscle group, you might do:

Cable pushdowns

Overhead dumbbell extensions


Tip #3: Do a High Number of Sets

While simply one or two sets can be sufficient for building strength, building muscle like a bodybuilder usually requires working a muscle to complete exhaustion. This can often involve three or more sets, and some bodybuilders will perform up to 20 sets for a single exercise!

An example of a multi-set portion of a bodybuilding workout might involve a “stripping” workout. And no, it’s not what you think. There are no poles involved here. As you’ll see in the episode How to Get Better Results From Weightlifting, stripping is a style of weightlifting that involves starting with a heavy weight, and then stripping the weight down as you progress through multiple sets. Keep reading for an example of stripping (again, not the seedy kind).

Tip #4: Vary Your Repetitions

As you just learned, your multiple sets do not need to each have the same number of repetitions. For optimal muscle growth, it is ideal to expose a muscle to a variety of loads.

For example, during a chest workout, you might do 2-3 warm-up sets of bench press, and then 1 heavy set of 4 reps, a lighter set of 6 reps, a lighter set of 8 reps, a lighter set of 10 reps, and your lightest set of 12 reps. For a more advanced chest routine, you might even “ladder” back down to 4 reps. This type of repetition variance allows the muscle to be exposed to a variety of loads in a single workout.

Tip #5: Train Hard, Recover Long

There is a significant amount of muscle damage that occurs in a bodybuilding style routine, so it’s important not to work the same muscles on consecutive days. In most cases, a muscle needs at least 72 hours (and sometimes up to a week!) in order to properly recover for optimum growth.

Generally, if a muscle is still sore, you shouldn’t come back and work it again in a workout. At the same time, you should be doing all you can to recover as quickly as possible, which will help minimize the soreness and allow you to get faster results. For more on how to do that, check out my episode How to Recover After a Workout.

If you enjoyed this episode, you may also want to check out 10 Tips to Build Muscle Fast. And remember – the ultimate goal of bodybuilder-style training is to gain muscle size, and not necessarily muscle strength, so this type of routine may not be ideal if you’re looking for strength (or power, or speed!). But if your single goal is to build muscle and get the magazine cover look, then training like a bodybuilder is just the thing for you.

If you have more questions about how to train like a bodybuilder, then join the conversation at!

Body Builder, Man Lifting Weights and Woman with Dumbbells images from


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Please support female bodybuilding and I guarantee my personal satisfaction. Sincerely, Lori Braun

If you have fantasies about huge 17 inch ripped biceps wrapped around your head and 26 inch python quads wrapped around your body crushing you, and being overpowered by the most extreme dominant athletes in the world, it is all here for you in Pulp Muscle. Also included are beautiful photographs of these women.

I have been wrestling since I was 16 years old and lifting weights since I was 17. I wrote these stories about myself and my bodybuilding and wrestling friends. A few of the stories were written by my friends from the hardcore gyms I frequented over the years.

I started armwrestling in grade school and that has been a favorite activity of mine for years. Armwrestling is a common theme throughout these stories. The bodybuilders and wrestlers in Pulp Muscle are huge, massive, and powerful extremely dominant women.

Pulp Muscle also contains many muscle audio stories that you can listen to and download. Click on Free Previews and you will get to hear a FREE full length audio story.

Download these erotic and sensual stories and you will experience every different type of wrestling scenario, including incredible, and vert powerful headlocks,scissorholds, bearhugs, armbars, as well as many domination stories where powerful women make you submit and beg for mercy.

“Most of the 40 stories here are absolutely true. Read them online, print them, enjoy them. Sit back, relax, get ready for a rock hard treat. You are on your way to muscle heaven.”
Lori Victoria Braun

Cheerleader Anna Watson: Dark Side of Female Muscle Worship Fantasies

Photos of muscly Georgian cheerleader Anna Watson have shone the light on a sub-culture that repulses some and gives enormous pleasure to others – female bodybuilders.

The site of bronzed and oiled-up woman flexing muscles that would dwarf many men’s is seen as repellent for many people, male or female.

There are frequent competitions where woman from all over the world flex for the chance to be crowned Ms International or Ms Olympia – both international bodybuilding competitions held annually by the International Federation of Bodybuilders.

Juliette Bergmann (bikeglam) IFBB Tampa Pro Bodybuilding Weekly Championships (Body muscle magazine)

Woman’s bodybuilding began to achieve some mainstream exposure in the 1980s and even saw one of its competitors, Anita Gandol, appear on the front cover of Playboy in 1984.

The idea that some men may find this woman sexually attractive may not be the most unusual concept, especially when you consider some of the darker and grotesque sexual fetishes.

The clinical terms are sthenolagnia (sexual arousal from muscles) and cratolagnia (sexual arousal from the demonstration of strength). But there are certain people who not only find these ripped women sexually attractive, but submerge themselves in a whole other sub-culture, one that goes way beyond the timid world of female bodybuilding.

Female Muscle Growth (FMG) goes outside the usual attraction of female bodybuilders and extends into a sexual fetish involving fantasy woman with obscene and unnaturally sized muscles.

There are many websites dedicated to Female Muscle Growth, with many containing comic drawings, computer images and videos and photographs of female bodybuilders. One of the more popular aspects of the FMG culture is the Female Muscle Growth Stories.

The Female Muscle Growth story is the literal form of FMG. Each story usually consists of a detailed process and reasons behind a woman’s transformation into a muscle-bound Amazon. The stories mostly follow the same story order: There’s a female protagonist who is being bullied or abused and decides to have a life-changing experience. (“Jessica positively hated being Parker’s secretary. He was a cruel, boorish, self-centred cutthroat b*****d.” (Massive Potential by Scoundrel).

This is followed by a catalyst, where the transformation is the result of a magical or scientific nature (“Jenna knew of the crystal from an old tale that her grandfather once spoke of. The crystal’s powers would give the holder great power and strength.” (The Crystal, Anon)

The stories then go on to vivid and sometimes extremely lengthy descriptions of the muscle growth, which can vary in the level of size they grow to. (“As she reached7 feet in height all of her clothing had been destroyed by her outrageous musculature. She flexed her arms repeatedly, each time they grew larger and larger. Her thighs were already larger than Timothy’s’ chest.” (Hillary Grows Muscle, Anon).

Once the female character has gone through her transformation, she then decides what to do with her new superior strength, be it going on a destructive rampage or, extract revenge or gain some sexual gratification. “She owned him completely. He would do whatever she told him to do, and would do it gladly. He feared her, worshipped her, was incredibly attracted to her.” (Private Match, Mick Sloane). All stories found via

Far removed from the mainstream – you will not be able to find these works of fiction in any local library or bookstore.

Anna Watson: Photo Diary of a Muscle-Bound Cheerleader

Photo: Zohar Lazar

If it’s true that love is war, then it’s not surprising that some men need a little hand-to-hand combat to get their rocks off. One-on-one wrestling matches with female bodybuilders have become an increasingly popular fetish. They are like real wrestling matches but cost up to $500 an hour and end with the man physically spent, in more ways than one. The men say they enjoy the thrill of being dominated by women who can pin them with their thighs, while the women use the proceeds to pay for their steroids and posing suits.

The nation’s premier portal into such sessions is the Jersey-based, which hosts profile pages for female bodybuilders and books 300 wrestling sessions a week. The site’s founder is Lori Victoria Braun, a petite, toned blonde in her mid-thirties with a Flatbush accent. In the early nineties, she was a trainer at Pumping Iron, an Upper East Side gym, and ran ads in magazines to get new clients. “Guys would call and ask, ‘What do you look like?’ I’d describe myself and they’d say, ‘How big are your biceps? What can you bench-press?’ ” Their voices were so eager and breathy that she soon realized they were getting a charge out of it.

Sensing she was onto something, she started recording erotic stories about muscular women for a pay-per-minute phone line (“My name is Julia. I work out in a hard-core gym, and I’m very competitive. It’s kind of funny how whenever I need a spot, all the men come up behind me … ”). In 1994, she launched the site.

Most matches take place in hotel rooms, and many men book the same women repeatedly. Requests fall into four categories—submissive wrestling, for men who want to be pinned; pure wrestling, which involves more back-and-forth; body worship, in which the man rubs oil on the woman and admires her body; and the least common, combative wrestling, in which the man tries to win.

“They love headlocks,” says Braun. “Being crushed by biceps, and the body scissor, where the woman squeezes her legs around their waist.” Of course, the women prefer body worship, because it involves the least work. Usually they wear posing suits, but “if the guy gives them more money, they’ll take off their shirt.”

“I never thought that it meant anything. Honest to God, my librarian fantasy is as strong as my wrestling fantasy.”

Matt, a divorced 50-year-old lawyer, books a session once a month, usually through a dungeon that has a special room for this purpose. He first realized he was attracted to strong women when he was a junior in college and watched his roommate arm-wrestle a girl. (“It put a seed in the back of my head.”) Years later, he married, but he didn’t play the fantasy out with his wife. One day, in a Times Square sex shop, he found wrestling tapes. “A light went on,” he says.

In the late eighties, he had his first session, through an ad in Muscle Magazine International, with “an African-American athlete from California. It was like a first kiss,” he recalls. Since then, he estimates, he’s done about 100 sessions. Does it bother him that he’s spent close to $30,000 on a fetish? “I put a bunch of kids through college. And I don’t have any other extravagances.”

The thrill of the wrestling, he says, comes from constantly shifting power: “I wonder, Am I really giving it my all, or am I just letting her beat me? I start to measure: If I do 82 percent, I’ll get my ass kicked. If I do 91 percent, I can stay in. It’s unclear whether I really want to lose. And then I realize, either in fantasy or reality, that she can take me, and that’s the buzz.”

He likes to wear sweatpants, with nothing underneath. The dénouement occurs when, he says, “I perceive myself to be in some inescapable hold, and then I take care of things myself.” Does she watch? “I’m usually in a headlock, and there’s no eye contact.” Sometimes he waits till he gets home. “A really good session is good for a lot of memories.”

Michelle, 31, a five-ten bodybuilder who weighs 167 pounds, wrestled men for money for four years: “One guy wanted me to wear my posing suit and sit on his face with my glutes. Another lived out of the city. I’d meet him in a hotel, wrap my quads around his head, and squeeze until he passed out.”

Another client, a wealthy Romanian, enjoyed it so much he had her call another wrestler, then ran down to a Citibank to get more money. “He wound up blowing $1,500,” Michelle says. “At the end, he said, ‘I love America!’ ”

She’s asked a few clients about the reasons for their fetishes. One told her his mother used to bring men home and have sex with them in the next room, separated by a curtain. He would watch her high-heeled feet under the curtain and became obsessed with women’s feet. Others say their sisters beat them up when they were little.

Matt has spent some time looking into the roots of his own fetish in therapy, but not too much: “My ex-wife was a lifeguard. I never thought that meant anything, but maybe it did. I laugh about it because, honest to God, my librarian fantasy is as strong as my wrestling fantasy.”

He insists his everyday sex life is a normal one, but sometimes in personal ads he’ll drop a hint: “I might put, ‘Let’s arm-wrestle after a cappuccino.’ It would be great if I got a response like, ‘I’m five-one, but let’s give it a shot,’ but I have no interest in selecting my mate on this basis.”

With female wrestling on the WWE and entire magazines devoted to women’s physiques, his only regret is that he doesn’t have to work hard to fulfill his fantasy. “It’s so available,” he says. “I hate to say it, but it’s almost too easy now.”

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