Nov 25 2015
by Dr. Brandy Segura
Women’s bodybuilding has never been more popular, with the numbers of athletes and the public awareness about the sport growing each year. It seems that just about everyone knows someone who already competes or plans to. Although the sport is gaining recognition there still seems to be misconceptions about women bodybuilders and unfortunately, there will always be those who disapprove. I will never forget hearing a parent respond with “I don’t like it, I don’t support it but it’s what she wants to do”, to the head judge asking “how did you like the show?” Like most things, there can be the tendency to not accept the things that we don’t understand or know much about. As the general public becomes more aware of what female bodybuilding entails and the response of the female body to training, the quicker we can rid the fear that all female bodybuilders are on steroids and will undergo a metamorphosis into a manly figure.
FEMALE BODYBUILDING WORKOUTS | HOW DO THEY DIFFER FROM THEIR MALE COUNTERPARTS?
This topic is without a doubt the one that is most often misunderstood. Yes, women train differently than men but as a competitor, trainer, and witness to other competitors training, let’s get one thing straight upfront: women competitors do not and should not train less intensely or with less effort than male bodybuilders. Gone are the days of the belief that women should only lift light weights with millions of reps. In truth, women should train like men and incorporate heavy weights that push you to failure. Whether you’re a man or a woman, the same type of stimulus is necessary to build muscle. However, given that women naturally have lower levels of testosterone and do not build as much muscle as easily as men do, some might say that women need to work even harder to gain a significant amount of muscle. With all things considered, females must put in the same time and intensity as their male counterparts but here are a few examples of how female bodybuilding training and workouts differ from men’s.
FEMALE BODYBUILDING TRAINING EMPHASIS
The training schedule and emphasis on certain muscle groups are very different between men and women and even varies between the different women’s bodybuilding divisions. While a female bikini competitor will commonly train her glute muscles 2-3 times a week, this type of frequency and training emphasis would be seen with different muscle groups for a male such as chest or back. Likewise, a female bodybuilder, physique, or figure competitor may instead place her shoulder or back training ahead of glutes in terms of frequency and importance.
Plyo’s, Plyo’s, Plyo’s: This type of jump training that is used to tighten and define the muscles is no foreign concept to female competitors and the closer a female bodybuilder is to a competition, the more frequent these types of workouts become. Not only are they taxing but they are also calorie-torching workouts. Often, female bodybuilders will incorporate these movements in between sets rather than rest. You can always spot a bikini and maybe even a figure competitor by the jump lunges she performs in between squats or leg extensions. On the other hand, I have yet to ever see a male bodybuilder performing pop squats by the squat rack but if I ever do I will be sure to video that and post it! Haha!
Advanced Techniques: While a man’s physique is judged with consideration given to muscle size and it’s definition and development, most of the female divisions (with the exception of female bodybuilding) are typically expected to maintain a certain degree of femininity and can even be marked down for over development and definition of the muscle. For this reason, women typically will not have to resort to some of the more advanced or even extreme techniques that may be used to promote maximal muscle growth such as one rep max training and blood flow occlusion training.
The Dreaded Cardio and Fat Loss: The same hormone that gives females their characteristic curves, estrogen, also causes women to hold onto fat more than a man who has a higher level of the more anabolic hormone testosterone. In general, men have higher metabolic rates than women, more muscle to burn fat and calories, and are slower to gain fat if exercise is reduced. For women, this unfortunately means that in order to get the same level of leanness, women will need to incorporate more fat-burning and calorie-torching workouts into their routine. Utilizing HIIT, giant sets, and active rests can be a great way to help burn that last stubborn fat while sparing the hard-earned muscle that women fight hard to gain.
FEMALE BODYBUILDING SUPPLEMENTS
I don’t think I’d go as far to say that women are from Venus and men are from Mars but there are definite differences in our bodies and this fact should be considered when shopping for supplements. Here are a few things females should consider:
For male bodybuilders there are products on the market that are considered “pro-hormones” that may lead to or promote an increase in body testosterone levels. In general, females should steer clear of these products to forgo any unwanted side effects. Always check the label and read the ingredients first.
A quality multivitamin should be #1 on your supplement list. Getting your daily recommended values for vitamins and minerals is extremely important for female bodybuilders whose bodies are being pushed to the limit, to maximize recovery, and to promote overall health when diets are often restrictive. Since females tend to lose bone mass earlier than men, getting enough calcium and vitamin D is also essential. In addition to the typical ingredients, formulas have been made that also include more iron and folic acid, important supplements for women of childbearing age. Consider: Prime Nutrition’s Female Series- Vibrance, a multivitamin formula specifically made with females in mind to support overall health and beauty from the inside out. Prime Nutrition’s Female Series-Cleanse, designed to aid digestion and immune function to maximize the use of vitamins and nutrients. Prime Nutrition’s Phytoform: Fruits & Greens Formula providing vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants for overall health and balanced nutrition.
There are many brands and ingredients in Fat burners on the market today but not all are suited for both men and women equally. In general, due to their smaller size women will require less amount of a product. This can become a tricky situation when the product is in capsule or pill form. For this reason, products that are specifically made for females and dosed accordingly are a great option. In addition, tolerance of certain active ingredients varies between men and women. Women tend to be more sensitive to strong stimulants such as synephrine but tolerate caffeine well. Female formulas that are stimulant free and use more natural ingredients to fat fight are a great starting point. Consider: Prime Nutrition’s Female Series- Redux: specifically formulated for females with the latest fat-burning ingredients that are free of harsh stimulants. Yohimbine HCL: a stimulant that reduces body fat. CLA: a fatty acid that supports lean muscle and use of body fat.
Both men and women can benefit from a pre-workout that provides energy and stamina supporting ingredients to make the most of your workout. Unfortunately, some formulas come with unnecessary calories, carbs and sugar that may be beneficial for a 200-250lb bodybuilder but is counterproductive for a 130lb female. Female pre-workout formulas typically cut these ingredients and can be a better option but there are products on the market for both men and women that don’t include these. Consider: Prime Nutrition’s PWO/Stim, a pre-workout formula free of calories and carbohydrates.
In general, products created for females are a great place to start and address the issues most important to female bodybuilders. However, don’t be afraid to try products that don’t come in pink bottles or with the words “For Her” because regardless of your sex, muscle is muscle and supplements that support muscle growth will do so in both men and women. As always, read the labels and ingredients, start with the minimal dose, and adjust according to your results.
If you want to know who the best of the best are in the world of women’s bodybuilding you only need to look one place: The Olympia.
There are four catagories wemon in the industry we're able to compete in are Ms. Olympia, Figure, Physique, and Bikini. Here’s who stood out on top this year and whom you should continue to watch:
IRIS KYLE | MS. OLYMPIA
As the record holder for the most Olympia titles, man or woman, Irish Kyle clenched her 10th Olympic win in 2014. Although she announced her retirement from the world of competitive bodybuilding her record is one that may never be broken. With her retirement, competitors will be vying for that top spot next year.
NICOLE WILKINS | FIGURE
Winner of the 2014 Figure division making it her fourth Olympic win, setting the record for the most wins for a Figure Olympia athlete. A former gymnast, she has been involved in health and fitness for most of her life. She won her IFBB pro card in 2007 in both Figure and Fitness and is a fan favorite.
JULIANA MALACARNE | PHYSIQUE
Edging out fan favorite Dana Linn Bailey was a huge testament to just how perfect the physique that Juliana brought to the Olympia stage was. Given her move in the ranks from 7th the previous year to now 1st, it should make for an interesting 2015 showdown.
DANA LINN BAILEY | PHYSIQUE
As the 2013 Physique Olympia winner, Dana was looking for a repeat win and lets be honest so were her throngs of die-hard fans. Dana’s fun and intense personality along with her award winning physique is an attention grabber and she looks to have a very bright future on and off the stage.
OKSANA GRISHINA | FITNESS
As a former gymnast and dancer Oksana has been a crowd favorite for years because of her crowd-pleasing and entertaining fitness routines. With multiple second place finishes, she finally earned her well-deserved Olympia title this year.
ASHLEY KALTWASSER | BIKINI
The first back-to-back winner of the Bikini division, Ashley made history at the 2014 Olympia. Ashley rose in the ranks quickly the previous year and proved this year that she indeed has staying power. In addition to her flawless bikini physique, she is also known for her humble and down-to-earth attitude.
JANET LAYUG | BIKINI
Snagging second place at her first ever Olympia, Janet has clearly made a mark for herself and will be a top contender in her competitions to come.