40 years of Female Muscle – femuscleblog
The Ms. Olympia was revived after a five year cancellation. It was announced that 2014 would be the last Ms. Olympia. At the time female muscle fans became disappointed and many feared this was the end of female bodybuilding. However, there is a growing renaissance related to the image of the muscular female physique. The […]

The Ms. Olympia was revived after a five year cancellation. It was announced that 2014 would be the last Ms. Olympia. At the time female muscle fans became disappointed and many feared this was the end of female bodybuilding. However, there is a growing renaissance related to the image of the muscular female physique. The Wings of Strength Rising Phoenix became a successor and saved the sport. Although contests during this 2015 to 2020 period were limited for open class female bodybuilding, gradually interest revived. The irony is that people only miss something when it is taken away or gone. The return of the Ms. Olympia is a cause of celebration for women in sports and the new aesthetic that has been created. There are many women who became prominent figures. Rachel Mclish, Carla Dunlap, Cory Everson, Lenda Murray, Kim Chizevsky, and Iris kyle to name a few. When the contest started the developers probably would have never imaged what it would become and how the physiques would radically change. The Ms. Olympia was not the creation of the Weider brothers. Rather it was thought of by George Snyder. The first Ms. Olympia could be held in 1980. At the time Snyder has rights to the name and contest. He was a businessman and heavily invested in the fitness industry. A former business partner of Arnold Schwarzenegger, he has a vision about the idea of presenting an athletic female body on stage. Thus the Ms. Olympia was born.

The aesthetics and contests George Snyder developed were different compared to competitors of today. His ideal was a muscular female physique that was not large nor vascular. Snyder even objected to women doing certain poses. Flexing of biceps he did not care to see in female competitor. During the 1990s he seemed to favor fitness competitions more establishing the Ms. Galaxy. The image of hyper-muscular woman was something he actually condemned. Some of his statements could even be called a double standard or subtle sexism. He expressed in a 1993 The Orlando Sentinel article he never understood why a woman would want to bulk up like a man. One of the original developers of the Ms. Olympia was not really that progressive in his thinking. Clearly, women have the same drive and ambition to radically change their physique. Early female bodybuilding contests were closer to beauty pageants. The only difference was that women were clearly training with weights. Female bodybuilding as it is known started in 1977. The Best in the World Contest was notable in the fact the competitors produced stronger looking physiques. Rachel Mclish and Snyder promoted the Ms. Olympia contest. Both the 1980 and 1981 contest competitors were hand picked. This was a rather regimented control that Synder had over the sport. Starting in 1982 when the IFBB obtained the rights, this meant women would have to win other contests to qualify to compete by invitation. This brought an end to the George Snyder era of administration.

The female bodybuilders of the 1980s broke many barriers without them realizing it.
The physique that was common between the late 1990s to early 2000s.
The image that was common of the Ms. Olympia champion of the 2010s.

The fascinating part about this history is that Ben Weider is credited for developing the contest for women, while George Synder is not. There are individuals that have been written out of history and only with revision the full story can be told. The next two decades would see a dramatic change in the contest and the physiques on stage.

The early years saw Rachel Mclish, Ritva Eloma, and Carla Dunlap become winners of the Ms. Olympia. Rachel was the first to win, later she was defeated by Ritva Eloma. Eloma won the 1981 Ms. Olympia, with Rachel regaining her crown in 1982. Her career on stage was short only competing for three years. The women’s bodies were presenting a much more muscular figure. Carla Dunlap took the more muscular appearance further winning the Ms. Olympia in 1983. The women were getting better with their diet and training. From the beginning, there were questions about what was suitable judging criteria. A large portion of people objected to the idea that women even participate.

This was in the first time in history women developing their physiques for aesthetic purposes. Muscular women did exist prior to such athletic endeavors , however women were doing it to the maximum, producing an image of womanhood not seen or thought possible. Reactions ranged from shock to approval. Sports Illustrated voiced disapproval with the article “Here She is Miss What ? .” The physically developed female would generate much discussion about sex politics, gender, and feminine identity.

There are eras in which athletes dominate. This seems to be the cycle that happens with the Ms. Olympia. The first era was that of Corinna Everson from 1984 to 1989. Looking back her muscular structure resembles that of physique competitors. Everson won six times and remained undefeated. So far, no other except Chizesky has been an undefeated reigning Ms. Olympia has remained undefeated. After this came the Lenda Murray era which was between 1990 to 1995. Kim Chizesky dominated between 1996 to 1999. She could have won more, instead she switched to fitness. The reason could have been because more investment was going to that division. Julitte Bergman became the Ms. Olympia successor in 2002 ( lightweight and overall). Lenda Murray then won the 2002 and 2003 Ms. Olympia. Iris Kyle era began in 2004, only losing to Yaxeni Oriquen Garcia in 2005. Beyond that she continued to command the stage. As the Ms. Olympia returns, new faces are emerging. The bodies built in the 1990s onward became bigger, more symmetrical, and fuller compared to the harbingers of the late 1970s.

The physiques went through an incredible evolution. This could not have been imagined a century earlier. The Ms. Olympia demonstrated women could not only be bodybuilders; they could be amazing athletes. Iris Kyle is the most successful bodybuilder to ever be on stage. There was backlash that came from the impressive physique that emerged on stage. The 1992 Ms. Olympia instituted changes. The femininity requirements were nothing more than an example of blatant sexism. Masculinity requirements were not mandatory for males competing. It seems that even the bodybuilding subculture was not comfortable with women with muscles. The guidelines were that competitors not get “too big.” The problem with judging is that it is subjective. The argument that women were too much was expressed back in the 1980s. If women never changed their physiques, the sport would have become stagnant. Evolution shows that there is some form of progress.

A major turning points occurred in 1991 and 1999. Bev Francis presented one the most developed physiques that a female bodybuilder had on the Ms. Olympia stage. Ben Weider was set on not letting Bev win, because he thought it was not the proper image for the sport. Lenda Murray won, however later on she would adopt a physique similar to Bev Francis. Her body has become the standard, which Lenda and Iris would improve upon. Bev Francis according to some fans, should have won that contest. The corporate gatekeepers, that being the Weider corporation denied an excellent athlete. The 1999 Ms. Olympia was going to be cancelled, but after protest it was rescheduled. Low advanced ticket sales and the withdraw of a major promoter caused resulted in this decision. Thanks to the assistance of Kenny Kassel and Bob Bonham it became part of the Women’s Extravaganza and Flex Magazine it was saved.

This marks a period in which female bodybuilding began to struggle. The athletes were as incredible as ever, yet like most women’s sports it was not given equal funding or coverage. Observers began to claim that the sport was going into a slow decline. More changes were to follow. Around the year 2000, Ms. Olympia was no longer held as a separate contest. It became part of Olympia Weekend and held in Las Vegas. A heavyweight and lightweight class was introduced. This may explain why Juliette Bergman, Andrulla Blanchette, and Dayana Cadeau were able to capture Ms. Olympia wins.

The lightweight category was a good way to give smaller women a more fair chance to compete. Valentia Chepiga won the heavyweight class in the year 2000. That was the only time there was an overall contest was not held . The fact the Ms. Olympia was regulated to not being a separate contest just showed how the managers of the sport were making it fail. Combined with confusing judging criteria and lack of clarification added to the frustration.

The Jim Manion memo represented problems with the sport. Women were being judged on skin tone, healthy appearance, their face, and make-up. It should be recognized that this is a sport , not a beauty pageant. Then there was the idea that the women got “too extreme.” Depending on who is asked that concept is relative. Some say the earlier athletes were better, because they were not as muscular. Fans of the more muscular image say that is what a real female bodybuilder looks like. The reality would later become that different looks could fall under one roof. Fitness was introduced to in many respects to phase out the hyper muscular woman seen on professional bodybuilding stages. The only thing it did was get more women involved in fitness. Then other divisions came about. Today their is bikini, figure, fitness, wellness, and physique. The new generation of athletes use these other divisions to jump into open class bodybuilding. Seeing there was at one time only one bodybuilding division there was less debate for what multiple looks could be presented. Another change used the framework of the Manion memo enacting the 20% rule in 2005. Athletes had to reduce their muscularity to 20%. This did not just apply to bodybuilding, figure as well as figure had to comply. Women were subjected to multiple double standards and sex discrimination. Unequal pay and hostility from the industry made it harder for women in the sport. The only positive development out of this was a growing devoted niche of fans, that were ignored by the large corporate structure. Ultimately, the Manion memo had a negative impact on the sport.

There are athletes that should have won some of the Ms. Olympia contests. The problem is that all athletes that reach that stage are so great making a decision is no simple task. Bev Francis did not win in 1991, but should have. There is a large list of competitors that should have won as well. Laura Creavalle, Lesa Lewis, Kay Baxter, and Denise Rutowski are just a few that should have gotten proper recognition.

Kay Baxter pioneered a more muscular body before Bev Francis entered the sport. She was active beginning in the late 1970s and had a look that was not seen on competitors at the time. Laura Creavalle was another athlete that should have taken at least one Ms. Olympia title. Her size and symmetry was impressive, so much so that Lenda Murray considered her a formidable rival. The case of Denise Rutowski divided fans. There is a faction that think that she should have won the 1993 Ms. Olympia. She would shortly retire from the sport after that. Maybe if she continued Denise Rutowski could have won the following years. Lesa Lewis when she competed was one of the biggest female bodybuilders. The “mass monster” era is often cited as size overtaking definition, symmetry, and conditioning. Lesa Lewis was big, but was able to balance the other elements. Her body was closer to Kim Chizesky’s physique. The problem is there are so many great athletes on a stage and selecting a winner becomes more complex. The sport is subjective and there continues to be considerable debate on what is the best physique.

There were athletes on the Ms. Olympia stage that deserve a runner up in this conversation. Brenda Ragnot, Debbie Muggli, Sharon Bruneau and Yolanda Hughes presented fantastic physiques while competing. Fans may not have the expertise of a judge, but they know what they like. Depending on who you ask fans have a long list of Ms. Olympia competitors. The women listed here took female muscular development to a visually pleasing level. Although not recognized during competition, fans look back with a delightful nostalgia.

The Weider brothers had immense control over the Ms. Olympia and its image. Their concern was mostly about profit, rather than ensuring advancing the sport. Joe Weider was more open minded compared to Ben Weider when it came to the aesthetic paradigm presented on stage. Ben Weider favored a more sleeker look with some muscular development , while women were starting to get bigger physiques. The corporate gatekeeping and refusal to promote the athletes was harming female bodybuilding. The irony was that when the Weider corporation got the rights to the Ms. Olympia it did provide a useful platform to promote the image of the muscular woman. The issue of unequal pay for athletes has been a longtime issue. Even when attendance was at its peak in the 1980s, a Ms. Olympia champion would still make less than her male counterpart. The trend still happens to present and is common inmost sports. The argument was that female bodybuilding is not profitable and cannot be marketed. That claim was false seeing as athletes were able to market themselves. This came with the assistance of the internet and websites.

Athletes circumvented the corporate structure by using pay sites to engage with fans. It became a reliable source of funding when the industry did not support them. It only got more expansive with the rise of social media. The fanbase grew between the years of 2005 to 2014.Female bodybuilders were appearing on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Myspace. This explains the growth in the dedicated fan base. The Weider corporation was unwilling to tap into this fan base. During the Ms. Olympia’s absence, this fan base would maintain the sports financial health. Taking note of this change, although slowly the Ms. Olympia was revived in 2020. The Weider brothers do deserve some credit for making it possible for women to compete, but they did not challenge the sex bias in the industry. The error was assuming no one would like muscular women. What the company wanted to do was mainstream a subcultural sport. Bodybuilding may never be as popular as football or basketball. However, if a niche fan base can be built the future is bright. Female bodybuilding will continue to grow and it may be undergoing a renaissance.

When competitors went on stage in 2014, they did not know this was going to be the last Ms. Olympia. Iris Kyle had become one of the greatest bodybuilders the sport had ever seen. After winning, she announced her retirement. When 2015 started it was the first year without the contest. The Wings of Strength Rising Phoenix attempted to fill the void. It still was not the same. The Ms. Olympia had a charm an prestige that was irreplaceable. Hardcore female bodybuilding fans lamented. Critics called this a sign that female bodybuilding was dead. The one thing about the sport is that it can survive under unfavorable circumstances.

The early pioneers posing in the 1980s.
The athletes that advanced the aesthetics.
The modern female bodybuilder physique that has been the standard.

The reality was that the image of the muscular female was becoming more prevalent. Women who competed in other sports were showing powerful looking bodies than in previous generations. Physique from many regards was morphing into a lightweight or middleweight form of bodybuilding. The rise of more classes made it easier for women to turn professional. A new generation has entered physique and advance to the open bodybuilding class. The Ms. Olympia athletes are the best the sport has produced, even though not fully recognized. The decision to remove the contest was a terrible mistake.

The Ms. Olympia has been revived and hopefully will continue without incident. The contest has been set for December 17, 2020 . While the international public health crisis has caused scheduling issues, there is hope for the future. If the corporate handlers of the contest make wise investments and thoughtful choices the Ms .Olympia will thrive. Learning from past errors can ensure success. The question about how much muscle is or is not appropriate should not be an issue. There are multiple classes that vary in muscular development. There is no reason why women cannot have a class where they display bigger physiques .Women should not have to limit themselves to adhere to gender role expectations. This sports was not created to make people who do not like muscular women feel comfortable in the fist place. The Ms. Olympia once more will be a platform for the best female bodybuilders in the world.


For many women, getting motivated to weight train is easier than ever; after all, there are a wide range of health- and physique-related reasons to pick up the iron. Unfortunately, as women, we just don’t have the level of anabolic hormones in our body that men do, so building bourrinage is, and probably always will be, more challenging. This does not mean, however, that it’s ! It’s just going to take a strategic approach.

Here to share some of their best tried-and-true muscle-building tips are the fit beauties from NLA. Listen, learn, and grow !

The ' eat no more than absolutely necessary ' approach won’t suffice if you want to add bourrinage. In fact, figure pro and NLA-sponsored athlete Jessie Hilgenberg says eating enough is one of her top priorities, which is one reason why she leapt at the opportunity to show us what’s in her fridge.

' It’s all about eating to fioul your zones musculaires, ' she says. ' A lot of us can’t get over that hurdle of gaining muscle, because we simply aren’t eating enough to support and maintain growth. '

She likes using the IIFYM ( if it fits your macros ) approach, as it allows her to figure out the best formula that fits her body. ' It breaks it down into how much protein, carbs, and fat you should be eating for your activity level, ' Hilgenberg explains, ' and often, it’s more than you think ! '

There’s nothing wrong with full-body workouts. Many women are able to build appreciable bourrinage by training every major force group a few times a week, especially when they first start. But if your total-body approach isn’t taking or has plateaued, it might be time to try a body-part split.

This is what finally worked for NLA athlete and bikini competitor Theresa Miller, which is why she advises hitting each main force group alone for maximum intensity. ' It’s important to come up with a good weekly training schedule that best suits you and your body type and goals, ' she says. ' I like to devote specific days to focus on certain bourrinage groups such as shoulders, back, and legs. '

There are many ways you can organize your split. For example :

2-4 workouts a week : Push/pull ( squats and pressing motions one day, pulling motions the next ) 2-4 workouts a week : Upper body; lower body3 workouts a week : Legs; push; pull4 workouts a week : Chest and triceps; back and biceps; legs; shoulders and abs

Here’s the catch : These workouts should still be hard ! Embrace the challenge, and find out what #legday is all about. It could be just the thing to take your results to the next level.

When you increase kcal and protein, it can be tempting to up your cardio as well. After all, you don’t want to gain the wrong type of weight, right ? Jessie Hilgenberg says that esprit trap might be just the thing that’s holding you back. ' You don’t need to spend hours doing cardio—especially when you’re looking to add bourrinage, ' she says.

It can help to think of it this way : Every calorie you burn on the treadmill is one that your body won’t use to build muscle. If you’re looking for a challenge to replace all that cardio, Hilgenberg advises hopping into the squat rack and pushing new limits rather than continuing to submit to your old ones.

For NLA athlete and bikini pro Amy Updike, results came when she started really adding weight to the bar. ' I try to lift the heaviest weight I can while still maintaining proper form and reaching the range of 8-12 reps per set, ' she explains. ' Heavier weight for me means the force has to grow in order to lift it. '

Don’t expect to get a lot stronger overnight, though. Slowly add weight to the bar, giving your body a chance to rise to the challenge. While you may not add weight to every lift in each workout you do, you should see a gradual upward trend. If it’s been six months and you are still using the same weights, consider this a clear sign that you need a change of approach.

When you’re doing endless reps with tiny light weights, you can get away with sloppy form. That changes once you commit to lifting heavier. Form needs to become a top priority !

' Don’t get sloppy, ' advises Miller. ' Always do slow, controlled movements when hitting each rep. This will help you feel the movement and the burn in the right places.

One great thing about that 8-12 rep range is that it is low enough to help you gain some strength, but high enough that you’ll feel that fondamental mind-muscle connection—the feeling that helps you ensure you’re sérieux the right bourrinage fibers and getting the most from each exercise you do.

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