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Phil Heath and Kai Greene are truly excellent bodybuilders. But there are other fantastic competitors who are much smaller and shouldn't be judged in the same weight division..

Phil Heath and Kai Greene are truly excellent bodybuilders. But there are other fantastic competitors who are much smaller and shouldn’t be included in the same weight division.

Competitive bodybuilding went through a major growth spurt in the 1970s and 1980s after a period of very slow evolution starting in the 1940s.  The public had gotten a very narrow view of bodybuilding over the years.  Steve Reeves, one of the most beautiful human beings ever on the planet, certainly made an impression on people who otherwise knew nothing else about bodybuilding.  In the 1960s we saw a number of bodybuilders like Reg Park and Gordon Scott featured in Italian muscle movies.  But then Arnold Schwarzenegger came on the scene and, with the help of Joe Weider, became the most famous bodybuilder in the world – and eventually a major movie star, Governor of California and international celebrity.

There has never been another bodybuilder to challenge Steve Reeves in terms of overall physical development and fantastic aesthetic beauty.

There has never been another bodybuilder to challenge Steve Reeves in terms of overall physical development and fantastic aesthetic beauty.

Bodybuilding in the 1980s and into the 90s continued to grow and prosper.  But as we entered the new millennium a lot of problems began to surface.  For one, the steroid issue reared its ugly head with increasing energy.  People increasingly began to believe that the incredible physiques they saw in competitive bodybuilding were mostly or even entirely the result of competitors “juicing” in increasing amounts – ignoring the importance of genetics and increasingly effective training and diet methods.  This was exacerbated by the amazing  size of the top pro bodybuilders.  Many of them bore little resemblance at all to the champions of 20 or 30 years before.  With so many approaching 300 pounds and displaying an amazing degree of hard, thick and defined muscle mass, they hardly seemed like the same species any more.

The women also found themselves subject to the same sort of criticism – even though the champions were generally only a few pounds heavier than their recent predecessors.  It wasn’t so much how they looked but the idea that women should devote themselves to developing their muscles for aesthetic purposes.  What made this worse that this opposition was not just coming from outside the sport but from the sanctioning federations as well.

In response to all of this, the NPC and the IFBB decided to pretty much hunker down and pull up the drawbridge.  There seemed to be no interest in promoting and publicizing bodybuilding to a more mainstream public.  Neither federation has what is recognizable as full-time, professional public relations representation.  Bodybuilding is rare on TV nowadays – seen mostly if at all on the Internet.  No Mr. Olympia champion has been booked the Tonight Show since Ronnie Coleman many years ago.  Bodybuilders do not appear on Good Morning America as personal trainers giving fitness tips.  And there is no effort being made to counter the criticism of and attacks on bodybuilding that we see in print and coming from television pundits.

Comparison photos of the Pro Men's Finals at the Europa 2007

Bodybuilding should be about sculpting and perfecting the physique, not about pure size.

What is to be done about this?  Well, the first and most important change is this: pro bodybuilding, for for men and women, need to include weight divisions.  The amateurs use weight divisions but this is not true at the professional level.  Why is this?  Can you imagine if amateur boxers, once they turned pro, had to compete all in the same class?  The lightweights and middleweights having to fight against 230 pound heavyweights?  What about using no weight categories in Olympic wrestling?  In fact, there is no sport in which body size is a major factor in which the competitors are not separated by weight.

Except IFBB pro bodybuilding.

Until 1980, Lee Haney would not have been in the same class as Frank Zane and Mohamed Makkawy.

Until 1980, Lee Haney would not have been in the same class as Frank Zane and Mohamed Makkawy.

Why is the stage in a pro bodybuilding event so populated by mastodons nowadays?  Because there is only one weight class and you have to be some 250 pounds to have much of a chance at all.  And even at that you are one of the small guys.  So pro bodybuilding becomes all about bodybuilders as huge as Phil Heath and Kai Greene and great but smaller  physiques in the tradition of Shawn Ray. Frank Zane or Mohamed Makkawy are virtually pushed out of the picture.  This makes bodybuilding too much about body size and not enough about achieving aesthetic structural perfection.  It means that these giants come to represent the sport as far as the public is concerned and fans, who may prefer the more traditional look that dates all the way back to Steve Reeves and Larry Scott.

Until 1980, IFBB pro bodybuilding contests were staged in two weight divisions.  Frank Zane vs. Mike Mentzer was the last posedown for the overall Mr. Olympia title.  Zane actually won this posedown, but in subsequent years, as the pros got bigger and bigger, often approaching 300 pounds, smaller champions like Zane would hardly stand a chance.

To fix this situation, pro bodybuilding events for men need to feature at least two and maybe three weight divisions – as in the amateurs. This would result in champions of a variety of sizes that included smaller and more conventionally aesthetic competitors.  Fans of the sport would welcome this and these champions would be available to help promote and publicize the image of bodybuilding to a more general public.

Having a lightweight division in the Ms. Olympia gave smaller but highly aesthetic competitors a chance to win a title.

Lightweights on the left, heavyweight the right.  Two classes at the Olympia gave small competitors a chance to win titles.

This is just as true for the women. If many are unhappy about the men getting just too big, this is even more significant where women are concerned.  In fact, in the early 2000s, the Ms. Olympia and Ms. International did feature two weight divisions.  As a result we saw titles being won by smaller women like Dayana Cadeau, Cathy Lefrancois and Juliette Bergmann.  The heavyweight always won the overall, but that is to be expected.  The point is the sport had smaller and more aesthetic women to promote and these women had championship titles that could be publicized – something Joe Weider spent a career taking advantage of.

Darrem Charles is one of the most aesthetic of modern posers.

Darrem Charles is one of the most aesthetic of modern posers.

There is another change that could be made to help promote pro bodybuilding.  Too many of the men pros have posing routines that consist of just a few compulsory poses and a lot of most-muscular shots, not much that is different or interesting, little art involving movement and transitions.  A competitor like Darrem Charles is an exception.  So how can we encourage more creativity in presentation in the tradition of great posers like Ed Corney?  One way is to reestablish a best poser award – and give a substantial cash prize to the winner.  When you have smaller competitors on stage and an incentive for them to add some style to their presentation, the result is likely to be a lot more interesting and entertaining presentation.

Both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu admit they learned a lot about posing from Ed Corney.

Both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu admit they learned a lot about posing from Ed Corney.

The women should have a best poser award as well.  But we should go farther as far as female bodybuilding is concerned.  The women are already allowed to use some props or costumes.  This element of the competition should be expanded.  We’ve seen how imaginative the fitness women are in terms of props and costumes.  The women in bodybuilding and figure should be allowed to do the same.  With some restrictions.  Some version of a rule has to be worked out that the competitors can use props and costumes for, say, one minute of a two minute routine and then do the rest just wearing their posing costumes.

Cathy Lefrancois is a highly artistic poser - and a benefit when pro contests include a lightweight division.

Cathy Lefrancois is a highly artistic poser – and a beneficiary when pro contests include a lightweight division.

With pro women competing in weight divisions and being allowed to be more entertaining, both their fans and the pubic in general are likely to find them much more attractive and appealing.

By the way, there is also the matter of female bodybuilding being dropped in both the Olympia and the Arnold.  Given the many thousands of fans these women have around the world and the tremendous cultural impact they have had on our culture, the fact that the IFBB has so largely abandoned them is simply disgraceful. They are betraying the female members of the federation, reneging on the responsibilities and leaving money on the table.  This situation should obviously be corrected.

But given these changes in bodybuilding being achieved, there is also the matter of getting anybody to pay attention to what is going on.  Bodybuilding should be represented by professional public relations.  PR people who have the advantage of being helped and advised by experts in bodybuilding who know how to explain and defend the sport.  At present, if a media organization wants information regarding the federations, contests or individual bodybuilders and their bios there is nobody to contact.  If Jimmy Kimmel wants to do a segment on bodybuilding there is no official PR representative to contact.

Over the past twenty years or so, bodybuilders have gotten better and better but the sport itself has found itself proceeding along a blind alley.  Pro contest using only a single weight category means only the biggest male and female bodybuilders have a really good chance of becoming pro champions and a lot of really excellent competitive have been left with no chance of winning titles. One result is that the public has gotten the idea that bodybuilding is all about being huge and not creating the most perfect aesthetic sculpture of the body possible.

With the stage of full of true massive physiques the posing tends to be less creative and consist mostly of displays of big, hard muscularity.  We see very little of the more artistic displays pioneered by champions of the past like Ed Corney.  On solution is a best-poser award that comes with a cash prize.

The same opportunities exists with the female pros.  When the Ms. Olympia had a lightweight division, Dayana Cadeau who the class at bodyweight of 128 and 123 pounds – considerably smaller and more aesthetic than her weight of over 140 pounds when the contest was judged using only one weight division.

Of course, if a tree falls in the forest there is nobody there to hear it.  And if a champion wins a major title and there is no promotional or publicity effort made to let the world know about this victory there is no effect outside of the boundaries of already engaged fans.  Bodybuilding needs professional public relations.

These suggestions by no means exhaust all the possibilities.  If heard ideas such as revenue sharing for pro competitors.  There have been suggestions regarding the choosing and supervision of judges and changes in how contests are judged.  Unfortunately, as things stand today the IFBB does not seem very receptive to suggestions and certainly not to criticism.  So this is the final recommendation: the IFBB and other federations should be more open to change and evolution and not treat anyone suggesting new ideas as a potential enemy.

Sharks have to kees swimming or die.  Bodybuilding has to keep evolving or end up a minor sport of no significance that generates very little revenue.

Victory of the individual is great. But victory for the entire sport is what we need to work for.

Victory of the individual is great. But victory for the entire sport is what we need to work for.

Bill Dobbins Photography and Video
2012 Veteran Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90025
cel: (310) 721 8666






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Bodybuilding for women seems to have reached a crisis point in its development, at least at the pro level.  Female bodybuilding has been removed from the Ms. International competition and this seems to be a threat that extends to other IFBB pro events.  The International Federation of Bodybuilders seems to feel there is only an audience for the women who compete in bodybuilding-based beauty contest like fitness, figure or fit bikini.

So there is recognition of sport for the men, some kind of  beauty pageant for the women.  How amazing this is in an age of emphasis on equal opportunity and rights for women!  If bodybuilding had ever managed to become an Olympic sport it would now be in trouble with the IOC, which has very strong gender equality policies.  It is difficult to think of a similar example of gender discrimination anywhere else in organized athletics.

Why is this happening, will it continue – and what can be done to restore some sort of reasonable support for  bodybuilding for both women and men?

Of course, for somebody who was present at the beginning of bodybuilding for women in the late 1970s, it seems the sport has already been around for a very long time.  But in historic terms that is simply not the case.  Pumping Iron author Charles Gaines calls this phenomenon a “new archetype,” and points out that women who develop their muscles for primarily aesthetic purposes have never existed before in any time or place.  It is, what I call: “Something New Under The Sun.”

Ms. Olympia 1980 - In the beginning was definition.

Ms. Olympia 1980 – In the beginning was definition.

So looking back at the sweep of recorded history, this period of 30 to 40 years is just an eye blink.  And given the challenges women’s bodybuilding presents to our preconceptions regarding the female body, gender identification, sexuality and many other well-accepted elements of your culture, it is no wonder these women have encountered opposition.  It is actually amazing that the sport, and other areas of modern life in which female muscularity has become so prevalent, have not had to deal with more obstacles than has been the case.

Female bodybuilding was well accepted in the beginning because the first women involved were not that big or muscular.  (In fact, it is amazing to look back and see how relatively small the competitors were who were criticized for being too big!)  Most had been training seriously for very short periods of time and top bodybuilders today, women and men both, have generally been working out intensely for a decade or two.  It takes time to fully develop a physique. So the earliest competitors displayed comparatively small muscles and mostly displayed a lot of definition – achieved by hard dieting.  So they were not that far from the norm of female beauty and most could accept them as attractive – and sexually appealing. So many of these early FBBs were invited to be interviewed on TV shows, were featured on magazine covers and featured in advertisements. Bodybuilder Lisa Lyon was featured in Playboy.

Lisa Lyon was featured in Playboy and photographed for a book by Robert Mapplethorpe.

Lisa Lyon was featured in Playboy and photographed for a book by Robert Mapplethorpe.

But when anyone with sufficient genetics works out in the gym long enough and hard enough they get keep getting bigger.  So female bodybuilders gradually increased in size and muscularity over the 1980s.  (So have fitness and figure competitors, by the way.) And while everyone loves kittens, not everybody likes cats.  So the more developed the women became, the more criticism they became subject to.  Of course, several things mitigated against this.  There was the quality and beauty of many of the top champions.  It is hard to reject out of hand women like Rachel McLish, Cory Everson, Anja Langer, Lenda Murray, Sharon Bruneau and others.  This was not the case with a number of the other women, who looked less like “cover model” material.

But look at the difference in development between Rachel McLish and Lenda Murray in just 10 years and the degree of evolution in muscle size and muscularity that was going on is evident. Rachel didn’t look as muscular at that point as most figure competitors do today.

Joe Weider was quick to promote female bodybuilding from the beginning.

Joe Weider was quick to promote female bodybuilding from the beginning.

Publisher Joe Weider and Ms. Olympia Rachel McLish

Publisher Joe Weider and                                    Ms. Olympia Rachel McLish

Another factor was the magazine coverage given these women by Joe Weider.  Weider began featuring female bodybuilders in Flex and Muscle & Fitness very early on and created the Ms. Olympia to give them a world pro championship in which to compete starting in 1980. The other industry magazines generally followed his lead and advertisers began using them for ads and personal appearances.

This positive evolution of bodybuilding for women ran into more serious trouble in the 1990s.  This happened for a variety of reasons – which require an extensive article on their own to fully explain.  But making a long story short, IFBB President Ben Weider was determined that bodybuilding should become an Olympic sport, was convinced (not for any good reason, I believe) that the existence of the pro women was preventing the IOC from accepting the sport.  In addition, the individual in charge of pro bodybuilding for the IFBB had been promoting both the Mr. and Ms. Olympia, getting sponsors for and profiting from both.  When this changed and he became just the promoter of the Mr. Olympia, but still remained in charge of pro bodybuilding, suddenly sponsors and money for the women became difficult to find.

The success of FBB was often evaluated on the basis of how "attractive" the champions were seen to be.

Bev Francis, Lenda Murray, Iris Kyle.  FBB has been largely evaluated on the basis of how “attractive” the champions were seen to be.

As a result, sponsors, magazines and IFBB officials became convinced that pro bodybuilding for women was “dying,” and proceeded to act on this self-fulfilling prophecy by withdrawing promotional, financial and other support from the women.

Of course, we have seen the continuing explosion of the Internet in the past 15 years – and if you go online and search the terms bodybuilding for men and bodybuilding for women you will find thousands more references to the women then the men.  Go to the Olympia or the Arnold expos and see how much attention the top women bodybuilders get from the attendees and you can see the degree of devotion they inspire.

Muscle women are alive and well on the Web and their fans and supporters exist all over the world, even in countries in which bodybuilding for women doesn’t exist.  Mark Twain was quoted as saying, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”  The same could be said for women’s bodybuilding. The federations, magazines and sponsors seem unwilling to accept what a large and devoted fan base FBB has – or to financially take advantage of the existence of these supporters.

Of course, what is true for the pro is not the same for the amateurs.  The IFFB is the most significant sanctioning organization for amateur bodybuilding and its Pro Division is a small part of the overall organization, run by a relatively few officials and consisting of a few dozen competitors.  The IFBB international amateur contests (its affiliate in the US is the National Physique Committee) are doing well world wide.  Each year the IFBB World Women’s Amateur Championships attracts hundreds of women, in all categories from all over the world.  In fact, the most exciting women bodybuilders in the Pro Division nowadays often tend to be champions from this event.

Unlike the pros, amateur female bodybuilders compete in weight divisions.

Unlike the pros, amateur female bodybuilders compete in weight divisions.  So smaller competitors are not at a disadvantage.

If the IFBB Pro Division ceases to sanction bodybuilding for women in the future, national and international amateur contests will likely continue.  And somebody will likely step up and fill the vacuum in pro competition, taking advantage of the fact that so many thousands of competitors are still out there and have many hundreds of thousands of fans.  Somebody will see money being left on the table and will step up.

But until or before that happens, what can be done to insure the health of pro bodybuilding for women in the near future?  What changes in the rules, organization and policies will make this sport seem more attractive and economically viable to federations, officials and sponsors?

Women at the amateur level compete in weight divisions, giving smaller but highly developed women a fair chance to compete on a level playing field.  As it is now, there is (usually) only one weight category, meaning the smallest competitor has to stand side by side with the biggest.  What sport in which body size is significant is organized like this?  The lightweight boxing winner is not required to fight the heavyweight.  The smallest weightlifters or Olympic wrestlers don’t compete directly against the largest.

Many criticize bodybuilding for women because the champions are just too big, hard and muscular.  (Some say the same about the men.)  They want rule changes to insure the women are smaller and show less muscularity.  So the IFBB has created a category called physique in which the rules seem to be: look kind of like a bodybuilder but not so extreme, not so muscular and not so defined.  And do biceps poses with open hands.  How can a judge use a standard that simply calls for “not too much” without being specific about what that is or looks like?  How can a competitor know how to prepare?

Juliette Bergmann, Dayana Cadeau, Valentina Chepiga, Cathy LeFrancoois - lightweights rule!

Juliette Bergmann, Dayana Cadeau, Valentina Chepiga, Cathy Lefrancois – lightweights rule!

Of course, when pro bodybuilding has featured a lightweight division at contests like the Ms. Olympia and Ms. International, we saw the emergence of champions like Juliette Bergmann (who came out of retirement because of this), Dayana Cadeau, Valentina Chepiga and Cathy Lefrancois – all beautiful, muscular but considerably smaller than the biggest competitors.  The amateurs manage fine using weight divisions.  Why not just continue this into the pro division?

It seems to me that everything should be done to increase the entertainment value of the finals presentations.  Yes, it still needs to be bodybuilding and an emphasis should be placed on display of the physique.  But a wider use of props should be encouraged, more emphasis on creativity in the routine and less restriction on costumes.  For example, women bodybuilders are instructed to wear suit bottoms that provide a lot of coverage of the glutes. But given that the glutes are a highly developed, very muscular body part on pro FBBs, this restriction could be relaxed.  Displaying super-muscular and ripped female glutes to a bodybuilding audience does not have the erotic impact it would if you were dealing with – for example – strippers.

Costumes and props in bodybuilding posing could increase the entertainment value.Costumes and props in bodybuilding posing could increase the entertainment value.

So I recommend the posing in the finals be treated more like entertainment – routines, props, costumes, whatever it takes to add to the enjoyment the audience gets from the show.

At the 2014 Ms. Olympia I was concerned that the bodybuilding lineup was to limited and consisted so much of the same few women who seem always to be on stage.  Qualifying for the Ms. Olympia is very difficult.  In other categories, the IFBB gives out pro cards like candy.  With so many outstanding women bodybuilders around the world, a way should be found to get more of them on stage during major championships.

The glutes and hamstrings are a very impressive area on an in-shape female bodybuilder.  Like Debi Laszewski.

The glutes and hamstrings are a very impressive area on an in-shape female bodybuilder. Like Debi Laszewski.

How to achieve  this?  Perhaps by issuing invitations to excellent competitors.  The Ms. International has always operated as a invitational event.  The Ms. Olympia and other contests should follow suit.  Certainly, have qualifying events that insure successful competitors can find a place on a pro stage.  But include more competitors invited by the promoter and the IFBB.  Have a contest with far more qualified women in the lineup – and organized in two weight division to give smaller bodybuilders a way to compete against bodybuilders of relatively equal size.

Also, with so many fantastic FBBs all over the world, as seen in the IFBB World Women’s Amateur Championships, do what is necessary to recruit them to IFBB contests – or hold more pro shows in Europe

I’ve written elsewhere about how problematic the physique division is – and will likely remain so.  My solution – in short form – would be to drop physique in favor of lightweight bodybuilding.  But if not, simply substitute the rules of lightweight bodybuilding for those vague and impossible to follow standards of physique.  Call it “physique” if you like, but have it actually consist of female bodybuilders under a certain weight limit – and let them be the best bodybuilders they can be, not left 6trying to figure out what “not too much” means in real life terms.

Physique - ill defined rules.  Why not just lightweight bodybuilding?

Physique – ill defined rules. Why not just lightweight bodybuilding?

The IFBB seems perfectly happy to give media and photo passes to  pro bodybuilding contests to individuals and organizations that have no intention of covering or promoting these women.  It is very discouraging for the competitors and fans when they see official federation photographers packed up their equipment and leaving when the pro bodybuilding women take the stage.

Any magazines or websites that cover female bodybuilding should be sure to get media passes, at least to make it possible for them to cover that category.  Those covering the women should be given backstage access, rather than just those currently allowed backstage – who will never publish any behind the scenes photos.  This media should also be able to cover meetings and weigh-ins, since they are likely to actually use material they get there of help promote the women, the promoter and the federations.

A rising tide lifts all boats.  More coverage all the categories would grow the significance and importance – and the income – of any federation.  The fact is, neither the IFBB pros or the NPC have any professional public relations representatives.  As a result, it isn’t only the bodybuilders who don’t receive any publicity.  The same is true of all of the women, fitness and figure included, who should rightfully be the Supermodels of the 21st Century but who remain largely unknown to the mainstream public.

These Ms. Olympia competitors are great - but there should be more of them.

These Ms. Olympia competitors are great – but there should be more of them.

The popularity of various types of sports and entertainment tends to run in cycles.  Pro wrestling was at a low point when Vince McMahon began promoting the WWF.  In the 1960s, pro basketball had a relatively small following (Wilt Chamberlin never had great paydays) while ticket sales were larger for track and field.  Pro golf is booming but audience interest in tennis has tended to wain. Women’s gymnastics in the Olympics generates more interest than do the men.

There is drama in a bodybuilding posedown missing from endless quarter turns.

There is entertainment and drama in a bodybuilding posedown missing from endless quarter turns.

Most people think of athletics as involving activities like running, jumping, throwing and the like.  Many don’t consider bodybuilding a sport at all, but I think it is not only a sport but is actually a fundamental sport.  Something that is a basic part of human nature. The desire to build big muscles and show them off by flexing has always existed and is the subject of illustrations going back thousands of years.  But, of course, this has always been confined to the male body rather than the female.

The a few exceptions, such as myths involved women warriors or Amazons, women have never concentrated on building maximum strength and big muscles.  This is indeed a new archetype.  But it comes about at a time when many cultural ideas regarding women are being transformed.

We have seen in modern times how quickly many of your cherished preconceptions regarding women, their intellect, sexuality, abilities and bodies has changed.  For some reason the latter seems to be lagging behind.  People who celebrate the capacity of women to be judges, lawyers, politicians and other pursuits formerly reserved for the male seem also to frequently object to the female developing muscles for primarily aesthetic purposes. Muscular women in sport, sure.  Just take a look at the physiques of female Olympic sprinters.  Look at how big and muscular Serena Williams is. But aesthetic development of the body and showing this development off by posing on stage seems somehow suspect, too narcissistic, to be accepted.

Women athletes now routinely become stronger and more muscular in the weight room.
ince FBB, women athletes now routinely become stronger and more muscular working in the weight room.

There is also the steroid question.  Many opponents of hyper-muscular women look at their development and attribute most of this development to drugs.  It is certainly true that many athletes, male and female, in a variety of sports (including bodybuilding) make use of steroids and other anabolic substances.  But it is also a fact that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.  The range of genetics required to create a champion bodybuilder physique – such as number, types and distribution of muscle cells, length of muscle bellies, skeletal proportions, number and distribution of fat cells and psychological ability to maintain the discipline necessary for extended periods of time – are not going to be sufficiently changed and enhanced simply by introducing higher levels of certain hormones into the body.

No, the ability to create a championship level bodybuilding physique, for women or men, requires a combination of the right genetics, years of hard training, diet discipline and persistence over a period of many years.

So if bodybuilding for women dying? No – more likely just going through a period of growing pains.  The universe started with a Big Bang, when through a period of contraction and has been expanding every since at an accelerating rate.  Bodybuilding for women featuring Rachel McLish and Cory Everson started with its own big bang, is going through a period of contraction, but the fact that it represents the highest aspiration for females for extreme, aesthetic, muscular development means it should be looking at a future resurgence and glowing future.

The IFBB or some other federation may miss the boat and drop the ball when it comes to sanctioning bodybuilding contests for women.  But the women will continue to train and diet, their fans will continue to admire them and, sooner or later, somebody will step in and find a way to turn this phenomenon to their commercial advantage.

Book signing for Modern Amazons at the Taschen store in Beverly Hills

Modern-Amazons-cover002 copy

Signed and Dedicated by Bill Dobbins





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Women Who Represent “The Tip of The Spear” need to stick together

By Bill Dobbins
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Bodybuilding, Physique, Figure, Fitness and Bikini at the 2014 Ms. Olympia

There were no cells phones.  The Internet was just for academia and the government.  Fax machines were the exciting new innovation.  Arnold Schwarzenegger was still competing in bodybuilding and trying to establish a movie career.  And a few contests were being held that featured beautiful women in bikinis and high heels who had exercised and dieted to create physiques with a little bit of muscularity and definition.

It was 1977 and the idea of women developing their muscles for primarily aesthetic purposes has just being born.

he 1980 “Miss Olympia” prejudging – closed to public. Winner Rachel MicLish in white suit, dark hair.  

IFBB Historian for Women’s Bodybuilding Steve Wennerstrom was there writing articles about these women from the very start.  “But the birth of women’s bodybuilding did not happen by chance.” he writes.  “The primary architect was Henry McGhee – an employee of the Downtown Canton YMCA – who carried a strong belief that women should share the opportunity of displaying their physiques and the results of their weight training the way men had done for years. These contests bore no relation to a conventional beauty pageant – and when an Ohio woman named Gina LaSpina won his first event in 1977, it was clear by her lean muscular physique that the women of bodybuilding would be very different from any prior event where bikini-clad females had taken the stage in a judging format. “

Lenda Murray, Iris Kyle and Yaxeni Oriquen – FBBs are the ultimate expression of aesthetic female muscle.

By 1979 women’s events were taking place across the country offering titles such as Ms. Western America, ‘Best in the World’ and the 1st Women’s World Bodybuilding Championships. Meanwhile, contests at the local, state and regional levels also began to spring up nationwide.

Winners of these early events such as Lisa Lyon, Stacey Bentley, Kay Baxter, Laura Combes and Rachel McLish, Wennerstrom explains, gained rapid notoriety and were sought after for numerous appearances on television. Shows such as David Susskind, Phil Donahue, Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, 20/20, Good Morning America, and Real People all hurried to book what were then recognized as female bodybuilders as the sport exploded on the national scene. Mainstream magazines and newspapers as well as the bodybuilding and fitness industry publications of the time all included stories about these pioneering women and their new found fascination with developing muscle.

BB has always produced extremely attractive muscle-glamor women like Penny Price and Tonya Knight.

Both the National Physique Committee and the International Federation of Bodybuilders began officially recognized bodybuilding for women competitions in 1980.  The competitors at the Ms. Olympia did not wear high heels (which had been the case in earlier competitions) and they flexed and hit muscle poses (forbidden in many earlier events).  The fact that many still looked at bodybuilding for women as some kind of beauty pageant is clear when it is noted that the first Ms. Olympia was actually called the “Miss Olympia” at the time.

Even the biggest rand most muscular of those very early women bodybuilders would not seem to be that extreme by today’s standards.  However, at the time many of these who seem not  nearly as muscular as today’s pro figure competitors were disparaged and castigated as threats to the culture and to our “cherished ideals of womanhood.”  It could get pretty awful.  I see news footage from the 1960s about the anger and hatred people expressed toward the idea of integration.  I wonder how those individuals feel today about their past behavior.  I sometimes have the same thoughts about those who so vehemently opposed many of the pioneer female bodybuilders.  Are they sorry now?  Or have they managed to rationalize away any guilt or regrets?

Kay Baxter was slightly ahead of her time in terms of muscle, and suffered criticism as a result.

I have written elsewhere about the gradual development of the size and muscularity of women bodybuilders in the 1980s and 1990s and how the sport eventually  evolved into fitness and figure – and subsequently physique and fit bikini.  Many don’t fully recognize that all these categories really just represent variations of the same basic activity.  That is, all these women are athletes who do train using the principles of the progressive-resistance bodybuilding method and a diet system developed by generations of competition physique competitors with the intention of sculpting their muscles and changing their body composition.  The body itself doesn’t know whether your intention is to be a bodybuilder or to compete in some other category of muscle contests.  It has no idea if you are an athlete trying to improve your performance by becoming stronger and leaner, if you are a model or an actress trying to shape up and look better or if you are basically trying to improve how you look and feel by getting in better shape.

Of course, the federations are composed of individual promoters of competitions and events and their goal is to maximize success in terms of attracting competitors, selling tickets and increasing income.  They could see there were many women who liked developing and showing off their bodies but who lacked the genetics or desire to compete in the sport of female bodybuilding – which can be incredibly demanding and difficult.  The promoters realized they could create female muscle events with different standards than those of bodybuilding and attract more and a wider range of women competitors.  The more bodies on stage in any event the more money could be made and the more fans, friends and family would buy tickets.  The result is so many categories in amateur NPC events that you frequently see prejudging starting at 9am and going on to late afternoon, with (except for the bodybuilders) what seems like an endless parade of “quarter turn to the right” posing.

ompetitors in physique do modified FBB poses – like double biceps with open hands.

But just as there is no show business without the business, if promoters can’t make a profit there are not going to be competitions.  While watching so many competitors parade on and off stage d during a contest, it should be noted that the fact that there are so many women in so many parts of the world who want to train and diet to compete is a clear sign there has been a revolution.  In 1977 there were only a handful of women interested in muscle contests.  Now there are legions.  And having so many different categories and height and weight classes creates an opportunity for many, many women to get involved who would never be able to (or desire) to compete in actual bodybuilding.

But all these women have something common.  They train with weights, cycle their workouts, hit each body part with the appropriate exercises; they go on extreme diets to create impressive levels of muscular development, muscularity and definition.  That makes them all some kind of bodybuilder, whatever they call the competition.

Competitive bodybuilding satisfies the general definition of sport, in that it measures an extreme of physical activity and performance and is progressive in that competitors get better over time.  Categories like fitness, figure and fit bikini are specialized beauty contests in which participants are measured by aesthetic standards that are deliberately less than the physical extreme which can be achieved.

There is also bodybuilding as an exercise system, used to increase performance in sports (football, basketball, tennis, golf, whatever) and bodybuilding used to create a body that looks and feels better, that is strong, has better shape and leaner body composition.  Again, despite so many different potential goals, the basic system of training and diet is based on methods developed by generations of serious bodybuilders by trial and error over the decades.

igure competitors have different genetics and goals – but do the same exercises and diet as FBBs.

In fact, all of the women who compete in bodybuilding, fitness, figure, physique, fit bikini, body fitness or whatever the category have so much in common they constitute a Sisterhood of Muscle.  They face the same added difficulties women have in developing their bodies due to the nature of the female body and it’s biochemistry.  They often encounter the same obstacles from friends, family and people in general who resist the idea of women “going too far” in terms of muscle development and definition. They are also often surprised at the degree to which their muscles become the objects of fetish by (mostly) men, which can be off-putting to many.

Any of these women in any category are liable to find themselves facing opposition if their genetics and efforts create a degree of development that exceeds what is expected.  They are told they are “too big” or “too muscular” by judges.  Even if they are relatively small competitors in fit bikini.  So they find themselves having to do excessive cardio and starve away their shape in order to conform to standards that they don’t like, that the fans don’t necessarily like but which federation officials have decided are necessary to keep thins from “going too far.”

it bikini is a specialized beauty contest that involves women who do at least some training and diet.

Problems of being “too muscular” are not confined to various categories of competition.  The industry magazines seem to have collectively decided not to publish photos or promote women they have decided are “too much.”  Instead of publicizing the many absolutely gorgeous champions of all types, they more often run photos of interchangeable models in thongs – a strange strategy in an age of free porn, in which which that kind of mild sex appeal gets swamped by huge amounts of erotic content.  And in which celebrity is one of the few subjects likely to draw attention so images of largely unknown models are not likely to draw much attention.

Many models also run into problems when agents and casting people feel that any kind of muscularity – a little bit of biceps, triceps or deltoid definition – disqualifies you from mainstream molding jobs.  Look at the major fitness-oriented magazines and you’ll see the women featured are usually lean and fit but show little sign of having done any real work in the gym.  Various parts of the culture proceed at different speeds – so there is often a disconnect between how things are and how people think they are.  Publishers, art directors, agents and the like can often be out of touch with what people themselves like and expect.

iana Dennis – From the very beginning, muscle competition for women has emphasized the art of the female physique.

Nonetheless, accepted or not, every woman who does progressive resistance exercise and follows a bodybuilding-type diet shares a great deal in common – both in terms of the beneficial results and the likely opposition.  They are a Sisterhood of Muscle and as such should support each other across the board.  Keep in mind, most of the general public doesn’t really understand the fine distinctions between one category and other.  They see fitness or figure competitors and think they are looking at bodybuilders.  If you have muscle but are not a competitive bodybuilder, you say negative things about bodybuilders, be aware that much of the audience sees you as a bodybuilder and responds accordingly.

he federations have no professional public relations, so the general public hardly knows these supermodels exist.

One real problem nowadays is that neither the NPC nor the IFBB have full-time, professional public relations so the outside world has no real idea that the women of this Sisterhood exists.  They have been brainwashed to think that any degree of muscle they see on women is likely the result of anabolic drug use – knowing nothing about differences in genetic potential and the huge effectiveness of bodybuilding-type training and diet pursued by talented individual on an intense and consistent basis over time.  Or that muscles on women are simply unnatural.  So women who should be celebrated as the Supermodels of the 21st Century are largely ignored by the general public.  You see lots of fitness experts on the Today show, but not Ms. Olympia Fitness.

This situation reminds me of past developments in art history.  The the late 1800s, a group of artists in France began breaking with traditional styles and creating works in which they use paint to convey the”impressions” they got from the way light interacted with the world.  They were rejected by the art establishment.  The term used to describe them, not in a positive way, was “Impressionists.”  They later turned out to be some of the most popular painters in all of history, their works worth millions.  So much for the establishment and the ability of critics. Sometimes they just don’t get it.

Bodybuilders like Joanne Lee are clearly the extreme tip of the spear when it comes to aesthetic female muscle.

In this modern age we are witnessing a revolution in the ability of people to create stronger, leaner, more fit and healthier bodies.  The method for doing this was invented on a trial-and-error basis by several decades of competitive bodybuilders, and gradually refined until it is now the most effective and efficient system of physical training and developing ever devised.  Starting in the late 1970s, women started applying these methods with increasing seriousness and intensity.  Nowadays there are gyms all over the country and the world are full of competitive athletes, models, actors, professional people, housewives and just about everyone else “pumping iron” in one form or another to make themselves look and feel better.

But the “tip of the spear” – female bodybuilders and the most advanced female competitors in other categories – still encounter resistance to what they do and what they want to achieve.  To the point where the continued existence of pro bodybuilding for women seems to be increasingly threatened.  But other women in other categories are constantly facing pressure to be less than their best for mostly arbitrary reason.   All of these “fit and fabulous females” represent a Sisterhood of Muscle and need to stick together, to support each other and each other’s ambitions.  Benjamin Franklin said, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately”  Women with muscle need to have each other’s backs.   In unity there is strength.

Book signing for Modern Amazons at the Taschen store in Beverly Hills

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Signed and Dedicated by Bill Dobbins





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Change The Standards, Save The Sport

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Lightweights and heavyweights together at the Ms. Olympia

The Ms. Olympia in 2014 featured these categories: bodybuilding, physique, fitness, figure and bikini. All of the standards for these different types of competition have been long established (even if subjective and subject to interpretation and controversy) except for physique. Physique is new. And in my opinion presented the most disappointing lineup in the enter event.

Physique has been introduced as a “not so much” form of bodybuilding. This is not the first such attempt. Europe has had categories like “Body Fitness” for some time. This is not surprising given that since bodybuilding for women began officially in the late 1970s female competitors have faced constant and often vehement opposition.  Magazine articles were written declaring women to be “too big” who nowadays don’t look nearly as muscular as pro fitness competitors.  “Guidelines” were introduced to artificially limit the development of female bodybuilders that were obviously sexual discrimination since no such limits were placed on the men.

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Bodybuilder, Physique, Figure, Fitness and Bikini at the 2014 IFBB Ms. Olympia

There are a number of reasons that would motivate the IFBB to provide an alternative to bodybuilding for women.

  1. Bodybuilding at the pro level is very, very difficult. The amount and intensity of training and the extreme discipline of diet required are beyond the abilities of many who otherwise possess the necessary genetics. The degree of commitment is super extreme.
  2. The genetics required, particularly at the pro level, are so specific. When you take into account things like the muscle mass, muscle maturity and density involved, the skeletal proportions, the number and types of muscle cells, the shape and distribution of muscle mass, the requirement that all major body parts be developed, the number and distribution of fat cells and the ability to diet away fat to an appropriate degree over all parts of the body the number of (female or male) bodybuilders who qualify to compete at the highest pro levels remains very limited.
  3. Our conventional ideas of female beauty and “femininity” are so entrenched and ingrained that it is taking a long time for the culture to get used to the idea of women with aesthetically developed muscles and as the women continue to grow and develop what becomes acceptable is “not so much,” or some degree of muscle and muscularity that was state-of-the-art some years ago and is not now considered too extreme.

Amateur bodybuilding is held using weight divisions, as are most sports are in which body size is an important factor (boxing, wrestling, powerlifting). When you limit the size of the competitors involved and smaller women and men can go head to head on an equal basis, you vastly increase the number of athletes have some hope of success and you get a lot more individuals entering shows. But with pro competitors competing in a single class, the bigger bodybuilders have a decisive advantage, the overall size of the lineups tends to increase, the competition becomes more about mass than sculptural perfection and smaller amateur champions are largely prevented from having any success as pro.

Pro bodybuilding is just too difficult for all but a few.

In 2000 the IFBB introduced a lightweight class into the Ms. Olympia and the Ms. International.  Immediately, we started seeing champions like Juliette Bergmann (coming out of retirement), Dayana Cadeau and Kathy Lefrancois.  These winners were considerably smaller than bodybuilders like Iris Kyle and Yaxeni Oriquen, but pound for pound with just as much quality and more acceptable to many who were not fond of the biggest heavyweights. Having a lightweight division meant that smaller amateur women, such as those who earned pro cards in the lighter weight divisions, could have some hope of achieving success competing as pros.

Weight divisions also encourage the women not to pack on too much mass for their fames, but to stay smaller so as not to have to go up against bodybuilders who are naturally much bigger than they are. The women who compete as lightweights generally have a more acceptable look in terms of conventional beauty and aesthetics – although there are some really massive and muscular lightweights, to be sure.

Juliette Bergmann came out of retirement to win the Ms. Olympia Lightweight Title.

Currently, although the lightweight division hypothetically exists, you will not see in used in top pro shows like the Ms. Olympia.  (There is at present no longer a female bodybuilding category at all at the Arnold.)  Instead, the federations have introduced a category called “physique,” which is apparently intended to be “bodybuilding-light” but so far is nothing specific at all.

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hysique competitors do double-biceps poses open-handed and no lat spreads.

The problem with all non-bodybuilding competition standards is they tend to be overly subjective and arbitrary. They are not sports, but are really beauty contests – although the competitors are often highly accomplished athletes.

Fitness evolved from events held at expos where women representing exhibitors competed in bikinis and a “routine” was included to create a show that would fill up an hour of television.

Figure came after that, starting as fitness without the routine but allowing for somewhat bigger and taller women – not built like gymnasts – to present themselves as somewhat more muscular and defined fitness models.

The federations have continued to pressure the women in both fitness and figure to limit their muscle mass and muscularity even though the women themselves have found it difficult to suppress the natural level of development that comes from years of weight training and the audience has never expressed any great degree of desire to see much smaller women on stage. At the same time, they have been more tolerant of bigger and more muscular female bodybuilders – although it now looks as if this were a prelude to getting rid of the category all together.

A lightweight vs. a heavyweight – why not physique and bodybuilding instead?

From the IFBB website: The Women’s Physique category, which is aimed at women who prefer to develop a less muscular, yet athletic and aesthetically pleasing physique, unlike today’s current bodybuilders.

Aside from the fact that is not really a sentence, and terms “today’s” and “current” are redundant, what does this really mean?  It’s a category for women who are not or don’t want to be as muscular as bodybuilders.  Isn’t that what “fitness” is?  Or could be, if the officials did not keep pressuring the competitors to be smaller than they prefer or is natural for them.  And does this indicate that the IFBB doesn’t think the best female bodybuilders are “aesthetically pleasing?”

Here is more:

“The following are examples of common terms used in the bodybuilding industry. These words can be helpful to assess what should not be descriptive to the physiques being judged in women’s physique:

Ripped, shredded, peeled, striated, dry, diced, hard, vascular, grainy, massive, thick, dense, etc.

While all types of physiques will be considered when it comes to height, weight, structure, etc. Excessive muscularity should be scored down accordingly.

What does all this mean? There are no positive and specific standards here for judges to apply. Looking at many in the Ms. Olympia Physique lineup the result would seem to often seem to be flat, deflated, out-of shape bodies. I felt so bad for many of these competitors whom I’m sure could be quite impressive if they were permitted to actually train and diet to allow themselves to look their best. But these confusing, subjective and arbitrary standards don’t allow for that – and don’t give the judges any kind of clear-cut means of evaluating the bodies on stage.

Physique competition introduces some small changes in the compulsory poses.  Double-bicseps poses are done open-handed and there are no lat spreads.  Of course, all that does is give the judges less information by which to assess the physiques.  And supposedly the open-handed poses are more “feminine.”  Which simply reinforces the idea that this is an athletic beauty contest rather than a sport.


Lightweight Cathy Lefrancois could hardly be accused of being too big and bulky and hard.

Based on past history, what will likely happen with physique is that a number of events will be held and, over time, a consensus will develop as to what the judges are looking for. That is future champions will be chosen because they look like champions of the past. Traditions will develop on a trial-and-error basis.

But there is another way to go about this – to create a category that is not “bodybuilding but not too much,” one that has specific judging standards and is actually a sport rather than a specialized beauty contest.

And that is to take the standards of physique and substitute those of lightweight bodybuilding.

Bodybuilding with an upper weight limit of something like 138 lbs – adjusted over time depending on the results. With smaller competitors like this there will be no worries about excessive hardness, definition or muscularity. Dayana Cadeau won a Ms. Olympia Lightweight title at 128 and 121 lbs. – a lot smaller than she has been in competitions with no weight limits.

Physique Olympia posing 2014-138
he best pro physique competitors look just like lightweight bodybuilders, not like bigger women shrunken and depleted.

With physique using the standards of lightweight bodybuilding, a lot of women from the NPC or the IFBB World Amateur ranks would be motivated to turn pro and have a division in which they could compete. The Ms. Olympia Bodybuilding Competition in 2014 had mostly the same old faces. Physique-as-lightweight-bodybuilding would introduce a lot of new faces and physiques from all over the world. And as the physique competitors matured and gained size, they could move up to pro bodybuilding with no major changes to their training or preparation.

As it is, the International Federation of BODYBUILDERS is not doing justice to the women competitors and in fact can be accused of blatant gender discrimination. But modifying physique as I’ve proposed would avoid this kind of accusation, expand the ranks of competitors (benefiting the federation and the promoters) and create an additional group of female bodybuilders whose aesthetics are more acceptable in traditional terms – without forcing dedicated athletes to “not try so hard,” which is contrary to the nature of sport and to the aims and goals of serious, dedicated athletes.

Weight limits create a lineup of smaller more aesthetic competitors, just as in the case with the amateurs.  And gives those amateurs a place to compete as a pro

There is no need to do anything to make physique relevant and meaningful except to change the standards to that of lightweight bodybuilding.  Piece of cake.

Bill Dobbins with Lightweight Ms. Olympia Dayana Cadeau

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Signed and Dedicated by Bill Dobbins





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Bringing Historic Fit And Fabulous Photos
Out Of The Archives
And Onto The Internet

By Bill Dobbins


Laura_Crevalle-82A quality scan of Laura Creavalle done for a book.  Unfortunately, too many in my files don’t look this good.

“What exactly do you mean by scanning?” Somebody who has always admired by photos asked me this recently.  The question surprised me.  I had been promoting my Scanning Project for a couple of seeks, looking for contributions that would allow me to digitize my many thousands of images shot on film and stored in my archives in order to be able to share them on the Internet.  It never occurred to me what anyone would simply not understand what this process is and what it involves.

The just released Epson V 850 scanner

Of course, everyone who uses a digital camera understands what a digital photo is.  That is the JPEG or the TIF file you get when you shoot a picture with this kind of camera. Whether you use a smart phone phone, point-and-shoot camera, a DSLR like the Canon Rebel or a high-end and incredibly expensive Medium Format Hasselblad the process is the same: light from outside is focused to a point inside the camera to be recorded.  In the old days, the recording medium was some kind of light-sensitive film emulsion, which then went through a chemical process to fix the image.  In a digital camera, the recording medium is some kind of card that records the digital information to be subsequently processed by a computer program.

What a scanner does is to take a document, photo print, color transparency or BW neg and move a scanning head across it   to “photograph it” and record as digital information.  If you see a poster on the wall and take a picture with your cell phone camera, you are doing a version of the same thing.  You could download that image to a computer and use software like Photoshop to adjust and color correct it before publishing it online on Facebook, your website or other social services.  You could use Instagram and send the image out directly from your phone.

A scanner simply allows for a more sophisticated approach to digitizing  an image.  As with any other technology, there are inexpensive and simple scanners – for example, those you used to digitize a simple document – and a range of increasingly expensive machines that can cost tens of thousands of dollars and used by the top magazines, art book producers are ad agencies.

FilesI have a dozen file cabinets and additional boxes filed with color transparencies and BW negatives to be digitized.

What I have ben using to scan my photos since about 1999 is some kind of desktop flatbed scanner.  I started with a cheap and not very sophisticated scanner back around 1999 and have several more devices since then that were more sophisticated and of course increasingly expensive.  I have also had access to better software that allows for a lot of control over the result and my experience level has gotten higher so I’m now much better at this whole process.  The earliest desktop scanners really didn’t do the original photos justice.  If you look at the quality of the ear lies scans I put on my websites this is obvious.  But t the time it was the only game in town – at least the only affordable game in town.  Higher-resolution drum scanners were way too expensive for most individual uses and still are.  And they produce images that are too high-quality to make any meaningful difference to most people.  (Does it make much practical difference if your car goes zero to 60 in 3.8 seconds rather than a leisurely 5 seconds>)

But the best of current affordable desktop scanners have gotten to be very much better and work very much faster.  And when it comes to scanning photos that will be viewed on computer monitors and devices like tablets and phones they produce very bit of quality necessary.  It isn’t just the size of the scan per se or the number of scanned lines that makes for better scans.  There are also factors like sharpness,  dynamic range (the range of darkest to lightest recorded), color bit depth (how many bits are used to record each color and therefore how many different possible shades of color can be recorded) and a combination of the quality of the lens of the scanner itself combined with the ability of the software being used to help achieve the highest possible level of scanning quality.

So my first step in the Scanning Project is acquire a better scanner.  In this case, I’ve decided on the new Epson V850, which is very fast (no wasting a good part of a minute for warming-up), scans all the film formats in which I’ve shot, color and BW and has a special ability to create super-sharp images when that is a critical factor.  The scanner bundle comes with highly complex software that require a learning curve but gets the most out of the capacities of the hardware.

That is step one to of the project.  I also need hard drives to store all these large files.  In terms of digital asset management, you need three copies to be sure you have one – with one stored off-site.  That’s a lot of gigabytes of information and costs money.  Along the way, as this project gets more involved, there will be issues of computer maintenance and upgrades.  All in all, considerable expensive is involved.

  1. Lesa_Lewis-Iris-0221The incredible Lesa Lewis and many times Ms. Olympia Iris Kyle – one of the treasured images in my film archives.

Yes, nowadays there is cloud storage of data and images which has gotten much cheaper.  The bottle neck is upload and download times.  There are so many gigabytes involved in high quality scans that transferring files like this takes a very long time unless you have something like a T1 line.  Which just costs too much money.

Then there is the scanning itself.  I have file drawer after file drawer of both color slide and BW negatives.  Many, many thousands.  Lots of these were scanned in the past for my websites, but the quality of most is pretty poor.  Certainly showing much less of the quality of the original image than is possible.  This is going to be an on-going process and take a huge amount of time.  Years and years.  And at this point there is no income being generating by doing this.  Sure, some magazine at some point might decide to buy a photo or two and there are some download pages I could upload images to.  But for the most part these pictures will be available free through the Muscle Insider website and various social media.  This is not a money-making proposition – although it would be nice if I could figure a way to change this.

Legends from my Archives
Scanner Samples
aura Crevalle                                Nikki Fuller                             Sharon  Bruneau                Diana Dennis

So I’ve been asking fans of fit and fabulous female as well as the women themselves to contribute something toward supporting this process.   I would hope the women in the photos to be scanned would be first in line to get to see their own pictures.  Rachl McLish, the first Ms. Olympia bodybuilding champion, was among the first to make a donation.  I keep getting encouraging “likes” on Facebook and some eMails for many other the others, but it doesn’t seem to occur to them that there is enough benefit in the project to them that a contribution would be appropriate.  If nothing else, because a rising tide lifts all boats just an increase in interest in the pioneers of female muscle from the 1980s and 1990s should benefit all the women who are on the scene back then.  We honor and remember heroes from the past is a wide variety of sports.  Why not women’s bodybuilding, fitness and figure as well?

That’s a lot easier to do with quality photos of the individuals involved – which is what my Scanning Project is designed to provide.  And you can help.  Please click the clink and make a contribution.  Encourage others to do the same.  Even after I have physically acquired a new scanner the effort, expense and devoting of time will continue.  Bill Gates can afford to try and wipe out world Malaria out of his own pocket.  I have the content and am willing to do the work, but without Gates’ resources I need some financial help.  (Although it’s true that Bill and i have an average wealth of about 30 billion dollars.)

I believe my photos of these fit and fabulous females will be an important part of the historical record when later generations look back on how this whole phenomenon got started.  So I want to bring my photos on film that are locked away in file drawers into the digital age using my Scanner Project.  With “crowd funding” large projects can be financed without too much financial stress on any individual.   Just click the link and donate a few bucks.  Or a lot more if you want and can afford.  You’ll get to share in the beautiful photos that result.  Mostly for free.  Now is that a deal, or what?

Bring Great Photos From The Past Out of the Files
And Onto The Internet


Bill_Dobbins-Yvette_HawaiiBeaachThis was my first digital shoot, back in 1999.  I had a film camera with me, just in case.

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Signed and Dedicated by Bill Dobbins






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Bodybuilding for women is a shockingly novel development in our world. “Something new under the sun.” And a phenomenon that has deep implications to our view of the female body, sexuality, gender and a host of sociological, philosophical and health implications.

As women bodybuilders have continued to evolve and create more muscular bodies since they came onto the scene in the late 1970s, they have also continued to be the subject of controversy. Pumping Iron author Charles Gaines calls these women a “new archetype,” something never before seen in the whole history of human culture. So it stands to reason these women will encounter criticism and opposition. “The girls,” as the late Ben Weider, President of the International Federation of Bodybuilders, called them – are just getting “too big.”

But as the story of the Ugly Duckling has taught us, ducks are ducks and geese are geese and each needs to be looked at using different standards. Competition bodybuilding for women isn’t supposed to be like anything else, should not be evaluated by standards and aesthetics that don’t apply. Like it or don’t like it, it is what it is and is not something else, or something people would prefer it to be.

So with that in mind, what exactly is bodybuilding and what is it all about?

The word bodybuilding tends to be used with many different meanings. There is certainly the sport, where highly trained and developed athletes are evaluated on stage by judges according to long established but evolving standards. Bodybuilding is also an exercise system. Just as auto racing has long helped develop the technology of the cars we drive on the road. competition bodybuilders have created and invented a way of stimulating muscular development and the ability to diet away body fat that is the most effective and efficient ever devised.

Iris Kyle and Alina Popa – the two best female bodybuilders in the world 2014

Bodybuilding training is based on something people have known for thousands of years: When you exercise your muscles against resistance, progressively increasing that resistance ever time, the muscles get bigger and stronger. The ancient Chinese knew about this. It is obvious the Greeks of the Classic Period did as well. But it wasn’t until modern bodybuilders came along in the mid-20th century and began to discover the most effective ways of using progressive resistance training that we saw the emergence of the modern physique like those of Steve Reeves, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronnie Coleman – as well as Rachel McLish, Cory Everson and Lenda Murray.

Bodybuilding training is fundamentally the same whether you are planning on being a pro competitor, are an athlete trying to improve sports performance, an actor or model whose body is an important aspect of how they make a living or anyone else who want to develop a stronger, better looking and healthier body. Nowadays, virtually all athletes spend time in the weight room. Including Formula I race drivers. The only male action hero in the movies without a muscular body is Bruce Willis. Female movie stars are prolonging their careers as leading ladies into their 40s or 50s with the help of personal trainers. People can all this weight training or resistance training or whatever – but if it is done correctly it is bodybuilding, and if not done according to the principles of bodybuilding training involves a lot of wasted time and effort.

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Sponsors and advertisers in the fitness industry rely on the sexy attractiveness of fitness models.

 But a fundamental aspect of all sport and physical activity is genetics. Genetics is what determines how tall or short you are, you skin color, hair and eye type and everything else that concerns your physical make up. You can alter a great deal about your body, for better or worse, depending on what you subject it to. But (at least at this point) you genetic inheritance is an ultimate limiting factor. If you don’t believe in genetics, try getting taller.

There are those who think that women developing a lot of muscle is somehow not “natural.” Or not feminine. Or unattractive. Or just inappropriate. But it has become clear that there is a Bell Curve when it comes to muscle development, whether for men or women. A few are muscle geniuses and can build huge, strong muscles quickly and with much less effort than others. At the other end are individuals with very little muscle and for whom developing muscle is almost impossible. Most of the rest are somewhere along a curve between these two extremes.

DSC_0046Daniela Sell is a massive but beautiful weightlifter.  A very different body type than pro bodybuilders.

There are women who are muscle geniuses just as there are men. They have always existed in the human population. They were important during the majority of human history in which most people were peasant farmers and engaged in a lot of hard work on a daily basis. A strong, strapping farm wife was a great asset to the survival of the family. But this talent for muscle among women as only become obvious in modern times in which women have become competitive athletes in large numbers. And especially in the past several decades in which women have begun training for and competing in bodybuilding.

But bodybuilding as a sport has come under a lot of fire because of the steroid issue. Sport allows all sorts of technological aids to improve the performance of athletes. Special suits for swimming, hi-tech tennis rackets and golf clubs, specially engineered shoes and running tracks themselves. Athletes get sports massages and make use of mediations like cortisone. They can take free amino acids to increase protein availability, in spite of the fact that such things do not exist in nature. But they are forbidden to alter the hormone balance of the body by increasing the level of various male hormones.

Dayana_Cadeau-desert_0051When many look at bodybuilders like Dayana Cadeau they don’t see the genetics and much hard work, just “drugs.”

The public has been misinformed since the 60s that anabolic steroids are (1) more dangerous than they are and (2) more effective than they actually are. All this anti-steroid fervor is pretty much moot nowadays since it has been demonstrated it is quite easy for relatively small companies to design drugs that don’t show up in tests. That horse has left the barn, that ship has sailed. But people still believe that these advance physiques they see on stage in competitions for both men and women are largely or primarily the result of drug use. That is just not the case. Taking anabolic drugs, specialized supplements, protein powder and the like can certainly increase the body’s response to weight training. But they don’t change basic genetic inheritance.

Let’s take a look at some of the specialized genetics it takes to be a female or male bodybuilder. You need the right type, number and distribution of muscle cells. The appropriate skeletal structure and proportions. Ability to develop all the various muscle of the body with no glaring weak areas. Muscle shape and proportion. Length of muscle belly. A metabolism that turns food into mass more than energy. Number and distribution of fat cells. The ability to burn off fat evenly all over the body. Plus the psychology that allows for years of regular, continuous and intense training and diet – which very few people seem to be able to do.

Juliette Bergmann and Lenda Murray are two of the most genetically gifted of female bodybuilders.

Steroids have very little effect on most of this. They don’t change muscle shape or proportions. They don’t alter the length of muscle belly. They increase the rate of protein synthesis and speed up recovery from exercise. But anyone spending time in serious gyms or at lower level bodybuilding events knows very well that really talented bodybuilders are rare but individuals taking steroids aren’t. If the drugs worked that well the world would be full of Ms. or Mr. Olympia contenders. And that is not the case.

So it seems to me that the main opposition to modern bodybuilding for women is that people simply don’t want to accept the idea of really big muscles on women, no matter how aesthetic they make look. So there is a trend toward categories like fitness, figure and fit bikini. An emphasis on attractive women with athletic bodies but not nearly as developed as bodybuilders. However, these competitions are clearly high specialized beauty contests rather than sports. A lot of people, including some who are officials in the organizations in charge of these competitions, want to replace the sport of female bodybuilding with various kinds of beauty pageants.

This is so clearly a case of gender discrimination that it amazes me how rarely anybody points this out. Does anyone criticize Serena Williams for having a serve as powerful as many men? Does powerlifting try to keep women out who are stronger than 95% of untrained males? Are female boxers barred from the ring because they hit too hard? No – and this doesn’t happen because these women athletes are not primarily viewed as sex objects. And muscle women are.

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Bikini, fitness and figure are all versions of bodybuilding designed as specialized beauty contests.

There was a group of judges in bodybuilding for men in the past who were gay and their scoring was based on which competitors they wanted to have sex with or were actively trying to have sex with. They were gotten rid of, not because they were gay, but because they were not willing to judge as objectively as they could. But nowadays women competitors are all judges not he basis of sexual attractiveness, by both male and female judges. There are wonderful competitors in fitness, figure and bikini. Gorgeous women with fantastic, athletic bodies. But they are involved in a kind of beauty contest it is quite clear. Look at a bikini event. The women are asked to face away from the judges and stick out their rear ends. They don’t even pull their hair off the back to show back muscle. What you see is hair, legs and a very attractive ass.

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It is clear that this pose in pro bikini is not about the development of the back muscles.

But for too many people, women bodybuilders look too much – like bodybuilders. They way too extreme for all but a few to view them as sexual objects. As one magazine contributor wrote, they are so big they “don’t make my dick hard.” That pretty much sums up the whole issue. Whereas appreciative fans see these women as living sculptures, as examples of the extremes of aesthetic muscular development, as physical wonders who have revealed the capacity of some to develop muscle, muscular definition and sculptural beauty – others are only interested in whether or not they’d like to have sex with them.

In other words, whether they know it or not, most of those who oppose the modern, elite pro female bodybuilder are simply sexist linkers. Or they are themselves females whose own view of what the female body should look like is threatened by the existence of these different body morphology.

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Back poses – bodybuilding, physique, figure, fitness and pro bikini.

Certainly, it is amazing that in spite of the vast audience on the Internet for elite female muscle the magazine generally don’t feature them (even champion fitness and figure), sponsors ignore them and the Arnold Weekend has dropped FBBs from competition while retaining events like judo. Too many ignore the evidence of the existence of a vast fan base and pretend nobody is interested in elite female muscle. But in fact female bodybuilding is extreme in the way opera is extreme. Opera singers explore both the power and the beauty of the human voice. But  while people appreciate opera, most don’t attend operas or financially support them. Yet nobody suggests that opera should be replaced by shows featuring performers like Beyonce. Opera, pop and rock music, Broadway show tunes and rap are all separate and distinct musical forms. You can like or not like any or all of them, in any combination. It is a matter of taste and personal preference.

Bodybuilding is about the extremes of aesthetic development, like opera is for the voice.

It is the same with female muscle. You can prefer or not prefer bodybuilding, fitness, figure, bikini or physique – any or all of them, in any combination. You might like Amazing Amazons and other female athletes who don’t fit into any competition category. But if you try to limit female bodybuilding, tell the competitors they can’t get “too big” or “too muscular,” you are violating the very nature of the sports and engaged in gender discrimination. Like or don’t like what you want. Just don’t screw this up for the rest of us.

Bill and Lenda-145
ith Lenda Murray – It’s good to be the photographer.

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Signed and Dedicated by Bill Dobbins






By Bill Dobbins

We live in a time in which models are far more celebrated and famous than in the past. In the early days of the 20th century top fashion and photographic models were not household names. They did not make huge amounts of money.  The first time the public became aware of individual models to any great degree was the 1960s.  Women like Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy became celebrities and started making a much more money.  But it wasn’t until the 1980s that the term “supermodel” came into general use to describe a group of top models who became major cultural icons and millionaires.

Notable “supermodels” of the time included Iman, Cybill Shepherd, Patti Hansen, Penelope Tree, Grace Jones, Lauren Hutton, Janice Dickinson, Rene Russo, Claudia Shiffer, Kate Moss, Gia Carangi, Jerry Hall, Wilhelmina Cooper, Christie Brinkley – as as we move toward the 1990s the super famous supermodels Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Elle Macpherson and Linda Evangelista – who was quoted as saying, “We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day.”

“We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day.”

However, while there are certain still supermodels – like the women in Victoria’s Secret ads or the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition –  advertisers and magazines are increasingly turning to featuring major movie stars or music performers instead of models, since these women bring with them a huge and loyal fan base the models generally don’t have.

Until fairly recently, successful models had beauty and excellent bodies but they weren’t “freaks.”  An average women could look at them and not feel she was viewing some kind of alien, however beautiful.  But in recent decades supermodels became extremely tall (Kate Moss, an exception, is an only 5’7″), with long torsos, arms and legs.  Some appear to have tiny heads perched on the tops of impossibly elongated bodies.  It is easier for women to identify with an actress like Angelina Jolie or Scarlett Johansson, however gorgeous, because their proportions are not so extreme and exaggerated.

Monique Cruz

But our culture has changed radically since the 1990s in a number of ways.  And one of those is our awareness and emphasis on fitness as an aspect of beauty.  Even though we live in the middle of an epidemic of obesity, there is an increasing segment of the public that are highly aware of the need for and benefits of exercise and diet, there are more and more gyms out there servicing the needs of increasing numbers of men and women.  Women, in fact, make up the largest proportion of new gym members.  They have discovered they can have better bodies at age 40 than they did at 25.  That developing “hardbodies,” even to some degree, makes them look sexier and more feminine.  They have realized that what was once though of as inevitable aging is to a large degree simply the results of deterioration from misuse and poor lifestyle habits.   Female movies stars in their 40s and beyond are continuing to play romantic leads with the help of personal trainers and nutritionists.  Women athletes are to be able to compete successfully with increasing age by spending quality time in the gym pumping iron.

But there has been another cultural development that most people are not aware – the evolution of fit and fabulous women who have developed out of the revolution that is bodybuilding for women.  These women train and diet the way bodybuilders do, only they have different genetics and work toward different goals.  They compete in events like fitness, figure, physique and fit bikini – as well as body fitness outside the US.  Unlike elite female bodybuilders, who represent the Grand Opera of physical development, their bodies are what most women admire and would aspire to have.  And men find them extremely attractive.

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Jennifer Rankin

A major difference between these women and more traditional supermodels is that, whatever their genetic gifts, they have worked hard to create the bodies they are celebrated for.  They use basic bodybuilding exercise and diet principles to build, shape and define their muscle and reduce body fat.  They show great discipline not only in training and diet but in adopting lifestyle habits that allow them to maximize their results.  So although beauty is their ultimate goal, their efforts are also very healthy.  It is very rare that vanity and health come together in a package like this.  Looking good, in this case, is also very good for you.  The character Fernando, on Saturday Night Live (Billy Crystal), said “It is better to look good than to feel good.”  The fit and fabulous lifestyle allows you to combine both.

Any woman can join a gym, learn to do resistance exercise, study the principles of the bodybuilding diet and improve her body.  And whether she has great genetics for this kind of development or not, she will get results and they will continue over time if she keeps up her efforts.  A woman can’t become 6′ tall with super-long proportions.  But she can shape, define and sculpt her body to become more fit and fabulous than she might imagine.

Inga Neverauskaite - Red Rock Canyon
Inga Neverauskaite

This hardbody lifestyle has a number of other advantages.  It helps women become more physically competent, confident and independent.  It aids in avoiding lifestyle problems like poor diet, smoking and substance abuse.  It establishes a more highly disciplined daily routine that allows you to get more done.  And, as stated above, it means that your body can continue to get better as you age to a degree not even considered in the past.

mber LIttlejohn

Out culture needs to be aware of these new supermodels and to use them to help set goals and standards.  But in spite of their being so many thousands of fit and fabulous women around the world, the mainstream is not very aware of them.  Why?  In part because the federations that sanction the competitions do not publicize them.  Neither the IFBB nor the NPC has full time, professional pubic relations representatives.  You rarely see champion competitors, identified as such, on major TV shows.  Also, it should be remembered that, until female bodybuilding came along in the late 1970s, there had never been instances of women in history celebrated for developing their muscles for aesthetic purposes.  Pumping Iron author Charles Gaines called them “a new archetype.”  It is easy to forget what a revolution this whole development actually is.

Brenda Kelly: Still a fitness model at age 50.

So magazines – mainstream and those in the fitness world – will probably continue to overlook these women, at least in the near future.  Advertisers like Nike will continue to feature women athletes but ignore the thousands of fit and fabulous women now appearing all over the world.  And, unfortunately, the women who compete successfully in contests and win championships will largely find there is little success beyond this unless they work very hard promoting and publicizing themselves with great photos, websites and energetic social networking.

Someday, the culture will look back on this period and the degree to which fit and fabulous women were ignored by so many and reflect, “What on earth were they thinking?”  But as a famous scientist’s wife once said to him when his breakthrough research was ignored, “Well, it could hardly be a revolution if every one agreed with you at the beginning, would it?


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Signed and Dedicated by Bill Dobbins





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Where it came from, How it Works

 By Bill Dobbins

Ronnie_Kevin-Olympia-2360Bodybuilding as a sport – the Grand Opera of the human body.

People tend to think of bodybuilding as a bunch of hyper-muscular men (or women nowadays), wearing brief posing trunks, oiled-up and hitting posing on stage in a contest. What Arnold Schwarzenegger was doing in Pumping Iron. There is that aspect of bodybuilding, but what those athletes are engaged in is the sport of bodybuilding. The bodybuilding method, on the other hand, is the system of exercise and diet they use to create those extreme physiques. And this can be employed by anybody who chooses to do so for a wide variety of goals and purposes.

Competition is the grand opera of the human body.  But not every singer intends to perform at the Metropolitan Opera and not everyone who does bodybuilding training is focused on qualifying for the Mr. Olympia or Mr. Universe.

In reality, when you engage in diet and exercise your body doesn’t know why you are doing this or what intentions are in your mind. Like a computer, the body responds specifically to specific input.   The bodybuilding method has been shown to be the most effective and efficient means of transforming the body – building and shaping muscle, reducing body fat – ever devised. So whether you want to be Mr. or Ms. Olympia, to improve your athletic performance, shape up your body for modeling and just to look and feel better, no other system will give you the same degree and kind of results.

Humans have known for many thousands of years that heavy resistance exercise, such as lifting weights, allows your muscle to become bigger and stronger. Strength has been demonstrated in various cultures in all sorts of weight lifting events. Lifting heavy stones is an example of a weight lifting competition that has continued to exist into modern times.

Progressive-resistance training is a particular approach to this kind of strength training. You begin by lifting as much as you can. Over time, as you muscles get stronger an adapt to working against that amount of resistance, you increase the weight to force the muscles to continue to get stronger. The trick is to challenge the muscles with small increases at any time but not so much additional resistance that you over-stress the body and risk incurring injury.


Progressive resistance exercise is the stuff of history and myth. Milo of Crotona was a 6th century Greek wrestler who is supposed to have developed incredible strength using a version of this kind of workout. As a boy, he began picking up a calf every day. He continued this as both he and the calf grew until at one point he was able to pick up a full-grown bull.

The aim of progressive-resistance training is to challenge the body and nervous system to force the muscles to adapt and get stronger in order to cope with the increasing demand. Each time the body adapts, you stimulate it to continue this adaptation and you achieve a series of improvements over time.

Bodybuilding involves making the muscles bigger and stronger, but an importance aspect of this effort is changing how the physique looks. Famous strong men in history tended to be thick and blocky. Traditionally, athletes like football linemen or weightlifters do not have a lot of aesthetic quality, definition or muscularity. They tend to look big, thick and blocky. However, this is changing nowadays as a wide variety of athletes use bodybuilding training as part of their overall workout schedule in order create a balance of muscles and opposing muscle groups. As a result, their performance not only improves but many tend to have much better looking bodies.

The bodybuilding method allows you to work each individual muscle to the degree it requires, focusing on each in turn and creating a physique that is the result of muscular sculpture. The degree that this is possible depends of factors like genetics, intensity of effort, consistency and technique. But the more your genetic talent, the harder and longer you work and the more you know what you are doing the better results you can expect.

Milos Sarcev
Isolation exercises help bodybuilders turn their bodies into aesthetic sculptures.

You just have to look at any group of people see how much they can differ in genetic characteristics. Stand an NBA center next to a professional jockey and this is obvious. There are different genders, individuals who are taller, shorter, more husky or lean, with long or short arms and legs and with a variety of hair, eye and skin color. Different bodies have more or fewer muscle and fat cells, different types and distribution of muscle cells. Longer and shorter muscle-belly lengths. Because of both physiological and biochemical reasons some muscle cells respond better to exercise and diet than others.

Everybody can improve their bodies for the better with exercise and diets.  But no matter how hard and smart your efforts, genetics is a limiting factor – so you have to work with what nature has given you. And if you don’t believe in genetics, then get taller.

Modern bodybuilding essentially began in the 1920s and 1930s. There was a type of competition called Physical Culture. In those days, training in the gym wasn’t as segregated into various specific types as it is now. Athletes tended to engage in what we would now call “cross training” workouts and would compete doing various physical feats like hand-balancing or gymnastics and also be judged on their physiques. But over time it became apparent that those who engaged in serious weightlifting, as opposed to track athletes, gymnasts, boxers and others, had a distinct advantage. They changed the look of their bodies much more dramatically. So by 1939, contests evolved that we now know of as bodybuilding in which the weightlifters competing among themselves to display the most dramatic and well-developed physiques.

Mester Group-final
Today’s version of Physical Culture is the competition category of Men’s Physique.

From the 1930s right through the 1950s, bodybuilders continued to train more like weightlifters. The standard method was to work the whole body in one session, three times a week. Equipment was minimum so it was difficult to do certain movements.   The late Reg Park, Mr. Universe, once explained he didn’t have a bench for bench presses early on in his career, so he would lie back across a sand bag in order to allow him to drop his elbows down below his torso to do a press. When Arnold Schwarzenegger was back in Austria his gym had no standard incline bench. But there was a standing incline bench he would use by cleaning a barbell, leaning back against the incline, do his presses and then stand back up to put down the weight.

With this kind of workout and such limited equipment, early bodybuilders were able to develop a lot of impressive muscle, but could not achieve the degree of size and aesthetic quality we see using modern techniques and equipment.

As the bodybuilding got into the 60s, 70s and beyond, the training method became more refined and sophisticated. Over time we saw more quality, much better symmetry such as wide shoulders, narrow waists and flaring thigh; definition and muscularity increased dramatically as did the development of each and every muscle in the body, including some of the smaller areas not stimulated by workouts that lack enough isolation exercises.

Today we pretty much know what the “bodybuilding look” represents. Just look at the difference in how Sylvester Stallone looks in the first Rocky movie and the more ripped and defined physique he displays in sequels.   In fact, nowadays there is hardly a single action movie star without a very muscular physique – except maybe Bruce Willis. And after decades of speculation it has pretty much been determined exactly how this effect is achieved.

The bodybuilding effect comes from a combination of enough resistance and sufficient number of reps.   This works out to be:

*doing reps at 75% on one-rep maximum strength
*performing about 60 secs total of time-under-tension reps for each muscle or muscle group.

This accounts for why most successful bodybuilders do 3 to 4 set of 3 to 4 exercises for most muscle groups – 8 to 12 reps to failure for upper body movements, 12 to 16 reps to failure for the legs. Some do more or fewer exercises and sets or reps than others, but this formula represents the sweet spot and should be the starting point for any individual program.

It is important to understand that, when you exercise, you are not actually affecting the muscles directly. You are using activity to send information through the nervous system that will cause your body to respond by muscles become bigger and stronger.   This formula of set/reps/resistance is what has been discover to work by trial-and-effort and then verified by science.

By the way, if 1 minute total time–under-tension seems too little, think of what actually happens in a set. Your muscles are under tension from the resistance for only a short time as you perform each rep.  The total time spend doing reps is actually much less than you might think – unless you are doing some kind of specialized training that uses slower reps and more deliberate concentric (lowering) movements known as negatives.

Women have been competing in organized bodybuilding since the late 1970s.

Training only part of the body in each workout, with (usually) 4 to 5 workouts a week with rest days in between. This allowed for hitting each muscle or muscle group with more intensity and giving them additional time to rest and recuperate. There are many ways to organize the training, working out once or twice a day, grouping different body parts together, adding more or fewer rest days.

But almost all successful training splits nowadays involve not working two major body parts in the same workout, training fewer days per week, doing shorter but very intense workouts and resting between workouts to allow for recovery and growth.

Exercise stimulates growth but you grow when you rest, not when you workout. Too much training and too little rest simply don’t allow this process to work at optimum levels.

Weightlifting movements tend to be compound movements. That is, they work a lot of muscles or muscle groups at the same time. A bench press is a compound movement because it involves the pectorals, triceps and front delts. Squats use most of the lower body, including quadriceps, adductors, hip flexors and, if you go deep enough, the hamstrings and glutes.

Isolation exercises, on the other hand, target much smaller areas. Curls target the biceps, triceps pushdowns the triceps, leg extensions the quadriceps. Bodybuilders still do the major compound exercises that come from weightlifting, but they also do isolation movements to focus on smaller and more specific muscle areas.

Adding isolation exercises to a workout is a large part of what allowed bodybuilders to sculpt their physiques, rather than just build them. Need bigger, fuller delts? Hamstrings not impressive enough when you flex your legs? Should your triceps be bigger in comparison to the biceps? Then you adjust your workouts and attack your weaknesses. Add more movements for a problem area, try different exercises, schedule them early in your workout or split to hit these areas when you are more rested.

Modern gyms are full of many different kinds of exercise machines and cables that allow for a variety of exercises not available to earlier bodybuilders. All of these can be valuable in creating a complete and balance physique. But the basics of weight training remains free weights.

Mass is built primarily with free weights and compound exercises.

The human body did not evolve to exercise on a machine. Machines provide resistance, and this resistance can be difficult to overcome, but it isn’t heavy. Heavy is a condition in which the body is working to overcome gravity and needs to control and balance with weight using a lot of additional ancillary muscles. This stimulates a lot of additional activity from the nervous system and the muscles that doesn’t occur using a machine. No matter how much resistance you add to a leg press machine it is not the same as trying to control and balance a barbell across the back of your shoulders doing a heavy squat.

So while machines and cables contribute to developing a complete physique, the fundamental way to build and strength muscle is by training with free weights.

The competition bodybuilders of the modern era are bigger, harder and more ripped than those of decades ago. As late as the 1970s, the standard approach to bodybuilder was working out five or six days a week, twice a day – a degree of overtraining that over-fatigued the muscles and did not give them time to rest, recuperate and grow.

The modern approach is fewer, shorter and more intense workouts. To give the body more time to recuperate. Limit other activity such as cardio exercise to reduce systemic fatigue. This, it turns out, is a kind of stimulation the body and the nervous system are programmed by nature to respond to. It is how we were designed by nature to function. In that sense, nobody ever invented bodybuilding training. It was simply discovered, like a new mountain range or continent or a chemical element.

In most sports, being stronger and lean, having a better strength-to-weight ratio, with muscles developed in the appropriate balance and proportion leads to improve performance.   For a long time, coaches believed that muscles that were “picked up in the gym” hurt the performance of their athletes. Weight training was thought of as artificial. Look at the difference in the training programs of Rocky and Drago in Rocky IV and you see the difference in philosophies. But nowadays athletes in sports as varied as golf, baseball, swimming and even motor racing are all making improvements in their performance by the kind of progressive-resistance exercises based on the programs developed over the decades by competition bodybuilders.

There are certain lots of sports-specific exercises advocated by coaches and sports-trainers. Some of these are beneficial but others are others appear to be approaches that seem to be appropriate but for which no valid evidence exists. The problem is that no movement designed to mimic that of a sports activity actually does so exactly. And it is the specificity of sports performance that is an important part of what makes it effective. For example, throwing a baseball well is a highly developed skill. But a pitcher doesn’t learn to throw better or harder by practicing with a softball instead of a regulation baseball. Boxers who do a lot of sparring (as opposed to hitting a heavy bag) with 16-ounce gloves don’t improve their speed and timing for throwing punches wearing gloves that weight 20 ounces.

But the point of using bodybuilding is that it is general, not specific. It exercises the entire body in proportion that simply creates a better instrument, a stronger and more balanced physique that can then be trained to excel in any specific sport. All sports actually develop physical ability in an unbalanced way – certain muscles used much more than others, more upper or lower body involvement, one side of the body or another. Imbalance over time can lead to injury. For example, runners often experience hamstring problems because their quadriceps are way over developed compared to the back of the leg. But bodybuilding helps restore an overall balance and simply gives the athlete a better physical instrument to use in pursuit of improved sports performance.

Olympic track champion Carl Lewis trained with weights when competing – and still does.

How the body looks and functions, aspects like strength and speed and strength-to-weight ratio are a matter not just of muscular development but of overall body composition, a significant part of which is diet.

The goal of diet in bodybuilding is two-fold: to lose as much body fat as possible while retaining as much muscle mass as you can. You can have loads of muscle but unless you reduce the overlying layers of fat tissue you will never achieve a condition of being ripped, defined or hyper-muscular – characteristics we generally associate with an in-shape bodybuilder.

For conventional purposes, weight-loss diet mostly concerns cutting back on caloric intake and adding more activity. You go into a state of caloric deficit, maintain this over time and you’ll lose body fat. That’s why almost any diet you find in one of the thousands of diet books and programs available will most probably work. At least, for a length of time.

Competition bodybuilders have more extreme goals: ending up looking like a super-muscular, incredibly defined anatomy chart. To do this, they trick the body into an extreme but temporary state of very low body fat and dehydration. This requires a highly disciplined program that extends over a period of about 12 week. They are so good at this that even a failed bodybuilder diet would be deemed a success by any other standards.

Most people who do bodybuilding but have no intention of getting into serious competition can learn from this kind of program and can apply elements of it to their own situation, and whatever level they choose and end up seeing positive results. Like the system of bodybuilding weight training, the diet is pretty much guaranteed to work as long as you follow the general principles with discipline and consistency.

The basis of any fat-reducing diet is to take in fewer calories than you expend by a combination of metabolic processes and activity. When the body takes in less energy than it requires it burns stored body fat to make up the deficit. There are endless approaches to dieting strategy but bodybuilding reduces this to a few simple rules:

*Settle on an average daily caloric intake that will keep you in negative caloric balance.

*Eat enough protein to sustain lean body mass.

*Reduce fat intake but not to an extreme.

*Adjust your carbohydrate intake to conform to your caloric target.

*Stay in negative caloric balance by additional exercise.

Weight training builds muscle.  Diet defines it.

When you reduce caloric intake, especially when you continue on a strict diet for some 12 weeks, it makes sense to choose nutritionally beneficial foods to make all your calories count. Therefore, although some bodybuilders have occasional “cheat days,” their basic diet involves a relatively limited diet of “real food,” low fat protein sources, vegetables and some starches and a very limited intake of processed or fast food.

Because bodybuilders reduce their caloric intake, they generally rely on supplements to insure they are getting enough nutrition – including protein supplements which allow them the maximum amount of quality, useable protein with the minimum of calories.

Since the goal of the bodybuilding diet is to stay in negative caloric balance over time, one way of achieving this is by increasing exercise activity. Low resistance, high volume exercise is good for this because it burns up considerable calories without creating too much systemic fatigue that interferes with your ability to do intense gym workouts.

Cardio exercise is anything that elevates the heart rate and keeps it there for an extended period. This can include walking or running, bike riding, stationary bicycle, swimming or the use of various kinds of machines like steppers. The downside is intense cardio can create fatigue in the muscle involved and overall systemic fatigue – which slows down recovery from gym workouts.

In general, additional cardio activity is fine for individuals who are using the bodybuilding system but are not interested in the absolute degree of muscular development. Serious competition bodybuilders have to be more cautious since, in terms of building muscle, the absolutely best of level of added cardio is zero. CV exercise does nothing to enhance muscular development and it does create some degree of fatigue. So while a non-competition bodybuilder might choose to enhance diet with 45 minutes or an hour of cardio a day, this might not be a good idea for a Mr. Universe contender. When excessive cardio was briefly in fashion in the early 1980s there were several top pros who largely destroyed their physiques with doing way too much of it.

Cardio exercise is a beneficial aspect of dieting for both women and men.

The bodybuilding method of exercise and diet was not invented by medicine or science. It is the result of decade of trial-and-effort experimentation by competition bodybuilders. They have discovered the most efficient and effective method of building and shaping the muscles of the body, with maximum aesthetic symmetry, proportion and definition and to reduce body fat while protecting lean body mass as much as possible.

This method is used by competition bodybuilders to create physiques with the maxim level of development and muscularity allowed by individual genetics. But the same system can be employed by athletes trying to improve performance, actors and models and anybody else whose goal it is to create a fit, muscular and good looking body. Bodybuilding techniques are also the basis of most exercises used in rehab therapy.

If you are performing resistance exercises in a gym, no matter what you are a trainer might call it, if you are doing bodybuilding – or you are wasting a lot of time and effort with activity that is not as effective or efficient as it could be.

The problem is that the word bodybuilding has become too narrowly focused on the sport of bodybuilding, the top pros have become so huge that even some fans of the sport have been turned off and that the efficacy of the method has been obscured by controversies involved anabolic drugs.

But, in fact, bodybuilding has something for ever body and it is a key to maintaining a strong, lean and youthful body, well into mature life, in an age of too much food and too little exercise that has given rise to increasing levels of obesity and is slowly overwhelming our system of health delivery.

Zane_Dobbins_Ferrigno-Frank Zane, Mr. Olympia    Bill Dobbins      Lou Ferrigno, Mr. Universe.







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Where It Came From, Where It’s Going

 By Bill Dobbins

Strength training is an ancient human practice. Sometime in the past 15 thousand years people who formerly lived as hunter/gathers moved into villages, towns and later cities. As they accumulated land and property the need developed to defend what they had. So they created armies. Armies depend on soldiers with particular skills and abilities. One of these is strength. So we have records of weightlifting contests going back thousands of years.

A 5,000-year-old Chinese text tells of prospective soldiers having to pass lifting tests, reports USA Weightlifting. Ancient Greek sculptures also depict lifting feats. The weights were generally stones, but later gave way to dumbbells. The origin of the word dumbbells comes from the practice of removing clappers from bells, rendering them soundless during lifting.

weightlifting coins
Weghtlifting Coins

It is apparent that humans have understood the effects of progressive-resistance training for a very long time – the idea that working the muscles against gradually increasing amounts of weight makes them strong. From the Greeks we have the myth of Milo of Crotona, a 6th-century B.C. wrestler and strongman. As a boy, Milo is said to have developed his strength by picking up a young calf every day and continuing to do this over time as the calf grew into a large and powerful bull.

Of course, as those engaging in weightlifting got stronger their muscles also developed. Literature is full of references in history to men with powerful, muscular bodies. And starting with the ancient Greeks we have examples of paintings and sculpture celebrating not just strength but the aesthetics of athletic bodies. The reason for this seems to be the prevalence during that age of athletic contests like the Olympics.

greek statue warrior

Previous to this, however much strong bodies might have been admired, it was performance that matter most, the ability of a soldier to defeat his enemies. But with events like the Olympics there arose a class of professional athletes whose full time job was training for sports. These athletes frequently competed in the nude, so there was an obvious emphasis on the physique. We can see visual evidence of this interest looking at Greek statues from 500 BC onward. They moved from being very stylized, more in the manner of Egypt, to showing athletic men depicted as flexing, bending and posing in ways to show of their muscular bodies.

These were the earliest manifestations of bodybuilding, developing the muscles of the body for primarily aesthetic purposes.

davidMichelangelo’s David

After the decline of Ancient Rome, during the Dark and Middle Ages, this tradition of celebrating the athletic development of the athletic body with realistic or hyper-realistic artistic depictions was lost. It was rediscovered as a result of the humanism of the Renaissance and the best examples of this are probably the sculpture and paintings of Michelangelo. Many of the subjects of his art were heroically developed men. His statue of David has a very modern athletic look. His model is muscular but aesthetic, powerful but symmetrical, each muscle and muscle group developed and defined.

David is very much the image of a proto-bodybuilder.

Eugen Sandow

Strongmen were very much a facet of entertainment in the 19th century. Eugen Sandow was a strongman who focused on muscularity and muscle control. His muscle were highly defined for his time and he would do exhibition in which he posed and flexed. He was a prime example of the modern emphasis on muscles for their own sake, rather than for using strength to achieve some task or performance. With Sandow you can see the beginnings of modern bodybuilding, but you can also see the differences. He was not as big as bodybuilding competitors became, he didn’t have the sculptural qualities of wide lats and a narrow waist or full muscle volume that later bodybuilders developed.

Martin Mester – Actor, Model, Physique Competitor

The origin of modern bodybuilding contests began with physical culture competition in the 1920s and 1930s. Athletes would appear on stage to be judged on the basis of their physiques, some kind of athletic performance and sometimes interviews and personality. But over time the competitors that trained with weights and therefore had much more impressively developed muscles tend to gain a lot of advantage. As a result, starting in 1940 contests began that were more about bodybuilding – primarily based on muscle size, proportion, muscularity and the ability show off the physique with posing.

The primary reason for the difference between Sandow and today’s bodybuilding pros – or even between the competitors of earlier decades and contemporary champions – is knowledge. The bodybuilding method, a system of exercise and diet that produces these kinds of results, is a very modern invention, is constantly evolving and has even changed drastically in the past couple of decades. It is not enough to lift a calf like Milo or dumbbells like Sandow. The best results come for a system of sets and reps, specific exercises, split-system training, intensity techniques and the ability to diet away body fat while maintaining or even increasing muscle mass.

Ronnie Coleman, Mr. Olympia

The bodybuilders of the 1940s like John Grimek, Clancy Ross, Steve Stanko and George Eiferman did not use contemporary training or diet techniques. They didn’t do split-system training but worked the whole body in one session three times a week. They didn’t value being highly defined and wouldn’t have known how to achieve that if they had. But it was their efforts and those of the bodybuilders who came along after that created modern bodybuilding.

Always remember that the bodybuilding method we have today was not invented by scientists or medical professionals. It came about by trial-and-error experience and experimentation by the part of the actual bodybuilders themselves.

Consider that the human nervous system is like a computer and is what governs things like muscular development. Normal activity pretty much creates a normally developed body – given the inherent differences in genetics. Weightlifting has a specific affect on reprogramming the nervous system. It makes muscles bigger and stronger. But in computer terms it is a relatively unsophisticated program.

Bodybuilding, on the other hand, has evolved over time to be an extremely complex and effective type of input that reprograms the nervous system to product what we know of as the bodybuilding effect – the type of size, shape, proportion, definition, muscularity and symmetry we recognize in the best of modern bodybuilding champions.

Steve Reeves as “Hercules”

When I was a kid the most famous bodybuilder was Steve Reeves. Reeves came along in the 1940s and I’m told when he walked along the beach in Santa Monica crowds followed him in amazement as if he were a visitor from Mars. He was arguably the most beautiful man on the planet with the best physique and had no equal.

Reeves started making muscle movies in Italy and started a whole industry. In the 1960s, Cinecitta studios in Rome was full of hype-muscular actors: Gordon Scott, Reg Park, Ed Fury, Mickey Hargitay, Brad Harris and many others. These were the bodybuilders who inspired the next group to come along, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno.

Lou Ferrigno, The Incredible Hulk

There have been two bodybuilders in recent decades who brought the idea of bodybuilding to a high degree of cultural visibility more than any others.

Italian muscle movies were popular but were definitely B-grade films. But in the 1970s and 1980s Arnold Schwarzenegger came to the attention of the public as the star of the book and movie Pumping Iron and went from being Mr. Universe and Mr. Olympia to becoming, at one point, the most successful movie actor in the world and Governor of California.

Lou Ferrigno, a massive bodybuilder almost too big to succeed in the sport but who became Mr. Universe anyway, was cast as a lead to television’s Incredible Hulk went on to more acting roles in TV and movies and a well-known TV personality.

Chuck Norris worked hard on getting in shape to prolong his acting career.

Nowadays there is not a single action movie star I can think of without a good physique, with the exception of Bruce Willis. This started in the 1970s with Sylvester Stallone who trained and looked like a bodybuilder for his movie roles. Films like Rocky and Rambo were major successes that made a great deal of money. Jean-Claude Van Damme parlayed his muscular physique into becoming one of the most popular of international action stars.

There was also a big difference in the bodies we was among competitive athletes.   Actor and former football player Fred Dryer, star of the TV series Hunter, says that when he went to the NFL in the late 60s very few players worked out with weights. By the time he left in the 70s, everyone was hitting the gym. This has happened in all sports. Look at photos of Barry Bonds as a young man, before he started a lot of weight training and in later years after a lot of 300 lb. bench presses. There is a big difference. Tiger Woods has wide shoulders, a narrow waist and defined triceps you would never see in a golfer of past eras. He’s another athlete who works out intensely with weights. Olympic sprinters are so muscular they could step on stage and win many bodybuilding contests.

Given the example of these celebrities with impressive muscles, nowadays almost every young actor is hitting the gym and getting in shape. Male models have followed suit, not become big but very lean, defined and muscular. Everyone admires a six-pack. A revolution had taken place.

Arnold hands  out trophy to Ms. Figure International winner Jenny Lynn.

Beginning in the late 1970s, women began training for and competing in bodybuilding. The example of these women has radiated out to the point where female athletes train with weights as intensely as do the men and gyms all over are filled with women doing some kind of serious resistance training. You know there is a revolution going on when Arnold stars in Terminator II and the muscles every one talks about belong to Linda Hamilton, not Mr. Olympia.

Hyper-muscular women have become what Pumping Iron author Charles Gains has called a new archetype. They have totally changed our expectations regarding how strong and muscular women can be, how good it can look and how women can maintain their youthful looks and abilities as they age.

Nowadays, bodybuilding for women has evolved into the new competitive categories such as fitness, figure, physique and fit bikini.  Increasingly, as models work at being more fit it becomes difficult to tell fitness models from those working in the mainstream.  Women celebrities routinely work with personal trainers to keep themselves trip, shapely and youthful.

The revolution has had a profound effect on women as well as men.

Nowadays, bodybuilding is a sport and activity for women as well as men.

Of course, as I said above this revolution has been possible because of the technology we know of as the bodybuilding method. We now have the ability to reprogram the nervous system through exercise to uncover the limits of muscle development essentially determined by individual genetics.

Getting back to the race car analogy, who would have thought in the past that you could build a 2.4 liter, V-8 engine that would develop 900 bhp, durable enough to last through the stresses of two hours on a track at race speeds? And who would have expected to see a 5’11” man with 22 inch arms, a 60 inch chest, a 34 inch waist, weighing 275 pounds with the body fat of a famine victim?

Most cars are not like Formula I racers and most bodies are nothing like a Mr. Olympia contender. But in both cases the development of high-level technology has trickled down to other aspects of the culture and had significant consequences.

Or to use another analogy, bodybuilders are to the physique what grand opera is to the human voice.  Both involve the maximum aesthetic development of a human ability.

Darrem Charles, IFBB Pro Bodybuilder – and one of the best posers.

Bodybuilding is a sport in which individuals compete to exhibit the highest extremes of aesthetic muscular development and their ability to present their bodies on stage with skilled posing. But the bodybuilding method they use to achieve this has very significant consequence for the rest of the culture.

Those of us in the US, and increasingly in other countries, are in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Nowadays we eat too much of the wrong foods and get too little exercise. Some 30% of the population is dangerously overweight and children are growing up with the same problems. We have an aging population and see an increasing average lifespan. Along with the normal diseases that simply come increasingly with age, we are seeing more and more heart disease, diabetes and other conditions that are primarily the result of lifestyle.

There is an obvious interest in fitness and diet on the part of at least some percentage of the general population. We see thousands of diet books and programs. But strictly in terms of effectiveness, the bodybuilding method – not for the sport but as a lifestyle element – is the most effective and efficient system for regulating weight, muscle mass and overall body composition ever developed. If you stay on the program it is guaranteed to work, no matter your genetics. You may not turn into a WWE wrestler or an action movie hero, but you will become more muscular, stronger and leaner; you will both look and feel better. Your health will improve and you will slow down or even reverse (temporarily) the deterioration we associate with the aging process.

Mr. Olympia Lee Haney and Ms. Olympia Lenda Murray at the Arnold Weekend Expo

It is amazing that the modern, super-effective bodybuilding method has been created just as the point where lifestyle problems like too much food and too little exercise has made it necessary. A modern disease develops, and at the same time so does the cure. This revolution has been obscured for a variety of reasons. One is the tendency of our culture to see bodybuilding as somehow perverse or narcissistic. Another is the confusion between bodybuilding as an athletic competition and as a system of controlling body composition with diet and exercise. There is also the drug question, with the media constantly exaggerating both the effectiveness and the dangers of anabolic substances which makes people believe these impressive physiques art not primarily the result of a lot of hard, intelligent and disciplined effort.

But as time goes by, there is no doubt the bodybuilding method will become much more common knowledge and it’s adoption by athletes, sports medicine, physical therapy and the culture as a whole will verify its significance.

At that point, it will no longer be a revolution but just the way things are done.


Zane_Dobbins_Ferrigno-Frank Zane, Mr. Olympia    Bill Dobbins      Lou Ferrigno, Mr. Universe.





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 By Bill Dobbins

 Fit and Fabulous hardbody women have pioneered a new look,
are the Supermodels of the 21st Century

Before there was fitness and figure (and physique or fit bikini) there was bodybuilding for women – with the first contests being held in the late 1970s.

Although not everyone agrees with this, bodybuilding is a sport and has been recognized as such by a variety of international athletic organizations and governments. It is unique in being a sport of plastic form rather than involving dynamic performance like running, jumping, throwing or lifting. Sports of dynamic or plastic form (like skating) so not involve quantifiable measurement (100 meter dash). But like all sports, bodybuilding involves finding the extreme limits of human performance – in this case, the maximum aesthetic development of muscle. And also like all sports, it is progressive – that is, the champions of today are inevitably better than those of the past.

DSC_0115Susie Curry (burgundy suit) 4 Time Fitness Olympia Champion

Along with being a sport, the word bodybuilding also describes a system of exercise and diet that is the most effective and efficient every devised to shape, strengthen, develop and define the muscles of the human body. This system can be used by those interested in creating an extreme physique, such as for bodybuilding competition – but it is also useful in building and shaping muscle for a variety of other purposes. It also provides a method of creating the appropriate balance of opposing muscles and muscle groups so that no area of the muscle system unduly overpowers another.

You can use the bodybuilding method to achieve a variety of physical goals. Most athletes nowadays, from football players to golfers, use some form of bodybuilding as part of their training programs. Actors like Sylvester Stallone and Jean-Claude Van Damme created a lot of muscle and muscularity (developed muscle that is also highly defined) without any intention of entering a bodybuilding contest.   A lot of models and actors work out on a regular basis in gyms and employ personal trainers. Most of these are doing some kind of progressive-resistance training, the most effective form of which is a sets-and-reps scheme based on the best practices of bodybuilding.

There are also thousands of women who train and diet like bodybuilders with the goal of competing, not in the sport of bodybuilding, but in the contest categories designated as fitness, figure, physique and fit bikini (and other similar classes used in Europe and other geographical locations.

Prejudge-290The judges decide – but often against the development of natural levels of muscle.

We are all familiar with the concept of a beauty contest. These competitions can take somewhat different form and have different rules, but essentially the contestants are judged based on some standard of physical beauty. The standard can be the result of historic tradition or some arbitrary formulation. The only necessity is that any panel of judges share common view of what those standards are. Without consensus you have chaos.

Look at beauty contests from the early 20th century compared to contemporary ones and it is obvious how subject to fashion standards of beauty can be. Compare a beach bikini contest like Hawaiian Tropic to winners of the Miss America competition and you see they share certain standards but differ in others. All beauty contest standards are subjective and to a large degree arbitrary; there can be no fixed, objective criteria .

Jennifer Hendershott, 2005 Ms. Olympia Fitness Champion

Fitness competitions began to be held in the mid 1980s. Fitness contests came about when promoter Wally Boyco was looking for a way to make his fitness expos more entertaining. The attending exhibitors were invited to designate women who would represent them in a kind of fitness beauty contest. Eventually Boyco got the idea of putting these contests on television. Not cable, but syndicated TV – where the programs are sold to various indepen­dent stations around the country and then the world. Syndicated programs make a lot more money than do ones created for cable.  But in order to fill up an entire hour,  the Ms. Fitness contests – Boyco created and trademarked the name – the events needed to include some kind of fitness routine (often based on gymnastics) along with evaluating the competitors physiques and beauty.

Fitness contests were intended as beauty contests for women with athletic hardbodies. Although they involve some kind of athletic routine, this does not make them a sport. Holiday On Ice is an entertainment event, while skating in the Olympics is a sport. Gymnastic in a fitness contest is likewise a demonstration, not scored like an athletic competition.

Fitness and Figure require attention to hair and make-up, not just training and diet

Subsequently, fitness moved from syndicated TV to cable. Lou Zwick was a producer primarily working in cable TV and he decided to start his own brand of fitness contest. He named his Fitness America Pageants. Because of the money to be made in syndication, Boyco had not been concerned about how big an audience attended his events since they were primarily produced as TV shows. They were shot in segments, with breaks in between for the benefit of those who would see them on a TV screen rather than the audience in the theater. He needed just enough audience to make the event seem real. TV syndication income was the business model, not selling tickets.

But working in cable, Zwick needed a different approach. There is not as much money in cable and he couldn’t depend on income from cable advertising sales. So he opened up his contests to more than 100 competitors in each show, each paid an entry fee and they brought ticket-buying friends, family and friends to see them in the show.  He was very aware of marketing, to the point where it was suspected he was selecting winners, not entirely on the basis of judging scores, but with an eye to which winners could result in the best promotion for future events. So quite often the beauty part of the competition seemed to matter much more than the performance round.

Eventually, seeing the popularity of the fitness contests, the NPC and then the IFBB began sanctioning similar competitions on both the amateur and professional levels.

Jenny Lynn, Figure Olympia 2006-07               Monica Brant, Fitness Olympia 1998

The first ever Ms. Fitness National Championships was held in Las Vegas , Nevada, at the Tropicana Hotel on November 15-16, 1985, promoted by Wally Boyco, and was held in conjunction with the National Fitness Trade Show. The winner was Gea Johnson.

The first NPC National Fitness Championships was held in Chicago, Illinois, in the Fairmont Hotel’s Imperial Ballroom on August 25-26, 1995. The winner was Dale Tomita and 64 contestants took part. The top ten qualified for IFBB pro status.

The first Ms. Olympia Fitness contest was held in Atlanta, Georgia, On September 9, 1995, at the Atlanta Convention Center. The winner was Mia Finnegan.

fitness routines
The best fitness routines were done by those with considerable gymnastics training.

The first NPC Figure Championships was held on August 3-4, 2001 in New York City. The winner was Davana Medina. 57 contestants competed.

Fitness had allowed women to compete who did not have the genetics or desire to build bodybuilding muscle. And because the routine was so important the women in general tended to be relatively small and compact – with the genetics you associate with gymnasts.

Figure contests were created as fitness without the performance routine. This opened up competition to women without the skills to do high-level gymnastics or dance routines. It also gave a competitive chance to women who were taller and bigger, not limiting the field to those with the pixie-like bodies we tend to see in gymnastics. So where hundreds were signing up for fitness, the lack of the necessity of doing a routine meant that thousands would be motivated to enter figure. So the ranks of competitors swelled.

Since figure contests involved only rounds in which the body was judged and no performance was involved, these events were easier to stage and took less time. You could get a lot more women on and off the stage a lot more quickly . Figure was also somewhat more satisfying to the audience, since in a fitness event looking at a lineup on stage they had no idea how competitors might have been scored in the performance round and therefore could not easily predict winners and losers. With figure, there were no performance scores to factor in.

Figure competitors tend to have longer, taller proportions than those in fitness.

With a few variations, judging NPC amateur and IFBB pro fitness and figure contests involved the same sort of round system. During afternoon prejudging (separate from the evening finals) women would come out and do quarter turns for the judges. They wore heels and in one round two-piece suits and in the other one-piece suits.  Fitness also included everyone doing a routine during prejudging, and only the top finishers performing in the evening show.

In recent years, the one-piece suit round has been dropped. Which is a good idea. Nobody has ever explained to me why you would judge athletic bodies in a physique contest with their mid sections and abs covered up. One-piece suits disguise a lot of figure faults, making women in poorer shape look better on stage. One-piece suits also tend to make many of the women with really mus­cular bodies look blockier than they are.

But the reason this round was dropped probably has less to do with the fact that it is absurd and more as a result of the rapidly proliferating categories of competition: at this point frequently including male and female bodybuilding, fitness, figure, physique, men’s physique and bikini.   With so many competitors to get through during the contest, dropping one round makes a lot of sense.

This is kind of ironic because one reason the round system was originally developed was the fact that it used up a lot of time. Promoters wanted to be able to sell tickets to prejudging as well as to the finals and adding another round – however unnecessary or even misleading – extended the proceedings and made it more likely the audience would feel they’ve gotten their money’s worth.

It makes no sense to cover up the torso in a fitness or figure contest with a one-piece suit.

Amateur fitness and figure competitors are not divided into classes on the basis of weight, as are bodybuilders, but of height. With 100 or more competitors in an event, this allows the judges to score more on an apples-to-apples basis, since there is a lot of difference in body conformation between women who may differ considerably in height.

It also means that the number of women on stage at any one time is limited, given the judges a better chance at making meaningful decisions.

The IFBB pro figure competitions – like most of the men’s and women’s pro bodybuilding contests – don’t use height or weight divisions so smaller women in amateur figure have almost no chance of having any kind of a pro career. Whether it’s bodybuilding, fitness or figure, throwing all competitors on stage together, no matter their body size, would be like forcing amateur boxers, once they turn pro, to all have to fight each other regardless of size. This defeats the definition of meaningful competition.

Adela Garcia’s routines were enough to give her seven Ms. Olympia Fitness titles.

If women bodybuilders over the years have often been pressured not to get “too big” (and they certainly have) this has been almost universal in fitness and figure competition. The problem is, when you get a group of athletes who train diligently with weights over time, they are inevitably going to develop more muscle. And when they add strict dieting to the equation you are going to see increased muscularity (muscle plus definition.)

But the federations have, from the beginning, tried to discourage the women in fitness and figure from developing to a level that is actually normal and healthy. As a result, they have had to train and diet to lose muscle – and this has often resulted in an unhealthy degree of deprivation and way too much emphasis on aerobic exercise. Many a competitor who had a gorgeous, shapely, define and muscular physique month before a contest has shown up on stage with the body of a famine victim. This should hardly be the goal of working to win a contest in federations with physique and bodybuilders in their names.

I always considered big, beautiful, muscular Valerie Waugman an ideal figure competitor.  

Of course, as I have pointed out since the beginning of competition, how big is too big is all a continuous sliding scale. What is acceptable today is a level of muscle that was frowned on some five years or so in the past. The women keep developing but with yesterday’s too big becoming today’s aesthetic ideal.

Actually, the women competitors themselves don’t want to get unnaturally small. They don’t have to do what it takes to accomplish this. Getting unnaturally small involves too much deprivation, excessive levels of exercise, and sometimes the used of various kinds of diet pills to accelerate the process. So they like the bodies they managed to create, regret having to cause them to shrink and doing what it takes to make this happen.

The audience for these women like hardbody women. Many may prefer fitness and figure physiques to that of advanced bodybuilders, but that doesn’t mean they want to see women on stage who have trained and dieted away so much of their muscle. Especially since, for those sitting more than just a few rows back in a theater, this makes it difficult for them to see any real muscle at all. So limiting the development of the women should certainly not be done for their benefit.

So the only group that approves of these artificially limited body are the judges themselves, and other federation officials.

What sense does it make for the judges to impose standards on the competition that nobody else wants? Some explain this is to make these women more appealing to the “mainstream” – but since neither the NPC nor IFBB have full time public relations representatives very few in the so-called mainstream even know these women exist. So suppressing their level of natural, healthy development actually serves no real purpose at all.

DSC_0031How much muscle is appropriate to fitness and figure?

But while bodybuilding for women has given us some incredible champions, fitness and figure have produced lots of memorable champions as well. Until the magazines and sponsors started ignoring them a few years ago, many became very famous and developed large fan basis. They still have a following today, but this is evident mostly on the Internet. The magazines tend to feature interchangeable “fitness models” instead, women with largely no fan base at all.

I have photo archives full of a number of wonderful women from fitness and figure. But here are just a very few examples:

Alphie Newman was one of the first fitness stars. A re­markable athlete, Alphie sets 8 world powerlifting records as a teenager. She went on to become NPC Teenage Body­building Champion and then the first Ms. Galaxy (an event in which competitors were judged both on physique and beauty but by their time in an obstacle course as well) in 1993.

Alphie Newman – the first fitness star

Monica Brant was one of the first superstars in IFBB pro fitness. She won the Ms. Olympia Fitness championship in 1998, switched to figure a few years later and placed 2nd in the Ms. Olympia Figure competition in 2003. Monica was not a gymnast and the fitness routine was always a challenge for her so she hoped figure would be a better fit for her abilities.

As one of Monica’s avid fans, I always thought she should be a lightweight pro bodybuilder – if and when the IFBB chose to use weight divisions in pro shows for women. There were a few figure competitions in which I saw her compete where I was sure she could have been competi­tive with any of the smaller female competitors in the bodybuilding category.

But as the type of physique winning figure evolved more and more into a long, model-type body the judges started paying less attention to Monica, with her more compact proportions. Plus she builds beautiful muscle easily – which the judges often frowned up.

When any naturally muscular competitor tries to shrink down (from bodybuilding to physique to fitness or figure; or simply trying to get unnaturally small in any category) the results are usually not good. You get a lot of shape and quality, sometimes the look of a deflated balloon.

So Monica remained one of the most popular of all com­petitors but ended up 7th at the Olympia in 2007. With her future prospects in the IFBB looking dim she accept­ed an offer to compete for another federation and won the 2010 World Pro Figure Championship as sanctioned by the WBFF.

Monica Brant – Ms. Olympia Fitness 1998

Timea Majorova. When Slovakian fitness competitor Timea Majorova first showed up in New York for the IFBB Fitness in 1997 after winning the Amateur World Fitness Championships she caused a sensation. She was so beautiful and sexy on stage, with so much personality, and did such a highly sexy athletic routine that the whole industry took note. Unfortunately, after placing her 6th in the competition, IFBB officials advised her to “lose muscle” in order to be more competitive. And for the next year or so was very disappointed by the results.

As I said, when the judges tell a woman to lose muscle or definition it rarely leads to improvement in her placing. Timea did win a couple of pro events in subsequent years but eventually retired from competition to become one of the most success fitness models of all time. She hosts her own fitness event in Hungary and developing lines of products bearing her name. What is remarkable about her success is that most fitness and figure champions end up with very little recognition – certainly none outside the fitness industry – and tend to earn very little income from their efforts. This is true even though the whole world seems to be moving more in the direction of appreciating fit women. Models, actresses and female celebrities all work out and have personal trainers. The cute little girls on MTV love to show off their abs – and sometimes their biceps.

Timea Majorova: Winner World Fitness, Atlantic City Pro, Hungarian Europa Kupa 

Adela Garcia has been enormously successful in IFBB pro fitness competition, winning numerous Fitness Olympia and Fitness International titles. She is an object study in the benefits of perseverance. Adela competed as an NPC amateur from 1995 to 1999 before qualifying for her IFBB pro card. She competed in 10 pro fitness con­tests before finally winning a title.

She has since won (at this writing) 9 pro championships. Adela has shown an admirable consistency in both con­ditioning and the quality of her routines.

Adela Garcia, 7-Time Ms. Olympia Fitness

 Oksana Grishina is a rising star in fitness – winning Arnold’s Fitness International and placing second in the Olympia. Oksana is from Riga, Latvia, and began training for rhythmic gymnastics at age seven. The used her interest in weight training and her gymnastics ability to come IFBB European Fitness Champion in 2005 and World Champion in 2006. If all goes well, she will no doubt soon win the IFBB Ms. Olympia Fitness title.

Oksana-Grushinko - Studio
Oksana Grishina – Arnold Classic Fitness Champion, 2nd Ms. Olympia Fitness

As categories of female muscle competition have proliferated, women have been motivated to switch from one class of competition to another.  Usually to little avail.  Although the criteria for judging one category or another is somewhat arbitrary, there is a genetic reality underlying the whole thing.  As the fable of the Ugly Duckling teaches us, ducks are ducks and geese are geese and they each have their own intrinsic aesthetics which have to be observed.

Nonetheless, when fitness was first introduced there were a number of female bodybuilders who believed they were too small to compete (or simply didn’t want to continue working to stay that big) and that all they needed to do to compete successfully in this category was lose body size and practice a routine.  But if the woman was a good bodybuilder in the first place, this almost never worked.  Even when they tried to compete in figure, where the contestants were often bigger and no routine was involved, there were still very, very few who managed this.  Today you see the same thing with bodybuilders switching to physique, a category that is very vaguely defined.  Again, for the women who were successful bodybuilders their genetics is such that trying to lose weight and size also involves losing shape and proportion and very few are rewarded for their efforts.

Some switch because they think another category will be “easier.”  But it doesn’t work that way.  It is easiest to compete in the category you are best suited for genetically.  Many change because they are not placing well in contests.  But it’s better to look terrific and suited to the line-up even though you do not conform to a particular set of judging standards.  Many less-than-successful competitors are so impressive and attract such a strong fan base that they are more famous and make more money than those placing near the top.

And it wasn’t just bodybuilding to fitness.  Many fitness competitors switched to figure so they no longer had to work on difficult and potentially damaging athletic routines.  But fitness judging has always tended to favor smaller, gymnastic-type bodies, while the figure women often have taller, model-type physiques.  So good fitness competitors rarely did well in contests standing in a line-up of successful figure women.

An example of the futility of switch is Lena Johannesen, who was not big enough to win major pro competitions but was one of the most attractive and famous of women bodybuilders.  She switched first to fitness and then to figure.  With each change she lost more of her appeal and placed even worse.  She was better off scoring more poorly but looking incredible and getting a lot of positive attention and publicity.

There are plenty of examples in sports like tennis and golf of athletes who are not good enough to be major champions but get more than their share of attention and endorsements.  Winning is not the only criterion that counts, especially for the pros.

When it comes to switching categories you can’t fool much nature.  Genetics is tyrannical.  If you don’t believe in genetics, then get taller.

Lena Johannesen went from bodybuilding to fitness to figure – unfortunately.

Unfortunately, there is little opportunity for most fitness and figure competitors to capitalize on their contest success. There is little reward in winning titles. A very few might form a relationship with a sponsor or magazine, but not many. And since there is little magazine coverage for them within the industry and no recognition outside it, whatever success they achieved has to be gotten by their own efforts.

But a lot of them earn a good living doing personal training. Gyms around the country – partic­ularly places like NYC, Florida and Southern Califor­nia are – full of people working out under the direction of female physique competitors.  Some women have created products like supplements or clothing. They create websites to promote themselves, attract paying subscribers or to use to make money selling photos, products or down loads. They do a lot of social networking, show up at the Olympia or Arnold Expos or at the FIBO in Germany.

They are pretty much on their own in extending their careers and benefiting from their success.

Women’s competition has given rise to a wide range of working fitness models.

However, in my opinion the magazines and fitness advertisers are missing out on a great opportunity by not featuring and promoting these women more than they so. In an age of sedentary lifestyles and obesity, they represent a fit and healthy alternative. They look the way most women would like to look and the programs of exercise and diet they adopt help women in counteract the aging process and create a world in which 40 really is the new 25.

Iron Man Hardbodies, May 2007
Time Machine – Fitness America Champion Sherry Goggin is over 40, still gorgeous.

These women can help sell and promote fitness products, supplements, gym memberships, athletic clothing and magazine sales.   They are the Supermodels of the 21st century and any business not recognizing this is simply leaving money on the table.



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Signed and Dedicated by Bill Dobbins