Let’s cut to the chase and get straight to the point, shall we? Female bodybuilding is not the same as male bodybuilding!
If you’re a woman interested in becoming a female bodybuilder – or if you’re just curious about female muscle growth – you need tips, tricks, and bodybuilding workouts specifically aimed at women.
Because what works for men, might not work for us women. Luckily for you, we got you covered girl!
This full guide to female bodybuilding will teach you all the ins and outs so you too can start growing that lean muscle mass.
And that’s not all! We also included some tried-and-tested workouts that work especially well for female bodybuilders. Find out more below!
- A short history of female bodybuilding
- Ups and downs of famous female bodybuilders
- How to build muscle as a female
When we think of female bodybuilding we think of the women on stage at the Rising Phoenix World Championships (or if you’ve been living under a rock for a few years, the old Ms. Olympia competitions), but it took a long time for women to actually get to that point.
Before getting to those top tips and tricks for female bodybuilders wanting to pack muscle, let’s have a look at where it all started…
From freak to physique
Back in the day (we’re talking ancient Egyptians and Greeks), lifting weights was already popular among men; but not in the way we know it now…
You see, back then lifting weights and showcasing massive muscle mass wasn’t done for personal gain or for someone to try and achieve their prime physique.
Lifting weights was done for the entertainment of the public. Buff guys weren’t admired and respected for their impressive muscles; they were ogled at with unbelieve as they appeared on circus freak shows for viewers to behold…
Luckily for the strongman, times changed and so did the idea of weightlifting. People started appreciating muscle and aspiring a well-defined physique: muscle growth turned mainstream!
In 1901 this admiration of the physique first found an official podium: “The Great Show” became the first ever bodybuilding competition. Bodybuilding officially grew into a renowned sport!
From male to female
Up till this point though, bodybuilding was just for men, and a female bodybuilder was simply unheard of, unless maybe as part of circus strongwoman acts or those freak shows we mentioned earlier.
Up until the 1970s, women would only appear during bodybuilding competitions as an extra sideshow. Just it wasn’t as female bodybuilders: it was for women’s beauty contests and bikini shows…
However, during the 20th century the number of female bodybuilders increased and finally in 1980 the creators of Joe Weider’s Olympia Fitness & Performance Weekend (a.k.a. Mr. Olympia) decided to open the stage for women as well!
That year, the IFBB officially staged the first Ms. Olympia competition, introducing female bodybuilding to the general public. It set the stage for many more female competitions to come.
In those first years of female bodybuilders legendary icons like Rachel McLish (the first Ms. Olympia), Stacey Bentley, Cory Everson and Lynn Conkwright flexed their female muscles on stage and left the crowds in awe…
Female bodybuilding was here to stay!
So how did they do it? How to build muscle as a female? We’ll explain it further down below and give you some great female bodybuilding workouts and top tips on how you too can pack female muscles.
But first, let’s have a closer look at some of the ups and downs of bodybuilding for women as the sport evolved…
Being a woman in this man’s world is difficult; being a female bodybuilder in this male-dominated sport is even more difficult!
It is safe to say that women have had a hard time trying to get the respect they deserve, and we are still faced with prejudices and complaints of “not being feminine enough”.
Over the years, the female athletes and the sport as a whole have seen many ups and downs to get us to where we are now. Let’s have a quick look at some of them;
Pumping Iron II: The Women
One iconic moment in the sport is the Pumping Iron II movie (the female version of the bodybuilding classic Pumping Iron with Arnold Schwarzenegger). It was an important step in bringing women’s bodybuilding to the public.
But, it also showed a problem…
The movie’s main stars are Rachel McLish and Bev Francis, and their clash in the movie embodies the clash in opinions regarding the feminine physique. Just have a look at the trailer for Pumping Iron 2:
It showed two ideas of what the goal of women bodybuilders should be:
Rachel was – by most people – considered beautiful and “still feminine”, while Bev Francis (actually a powerlifter) was incredibly muscular and by many seen as “too masculine”.
It’s this split in bodybuilding for women that has always caused problems, as many keep on bashing bodybuilders for being too masculine and too muscular…
The “20 percent rule”
The biggest blow for muscular female bods was given back in December 2004. At that time, the IFBB Professional Division asked female athletes in an official statement for “a 20% decrease in the amount of muscularity” for – as they described it – “aesthetics and health reasons”.
In reality, everybody knew it was all about the fact that the organization thought women were too masculine and that they didn’t show enough femininity.
Many people thought women went too far in their search for size and muscle mass; especially the ones (ab)using steroids and hormones, creating masculinisation features like “man face”.
On the other hand, there were loads of people who did think these muscular women looked as hot as hell…
And that’s the problem, in the end it all comes down to taste. Some call it too masculine, others call it the ultimate female physique; there is no right or wrong here.
Truth is though that it’s this discussion that eventually killed a lot of the popularity of female bodybuilding, leading to the cancelling the Ms. Olympia competition in 2015.
In the end, too many people responded to women’s bodybuilding like this…
Women’s bodybuilding goes too far sometimes. This is actually gross 😭😭 pic.twitter.com/e5LANxjy5m
— Teaghan Brophy (@teaggers) September 20, 2014
But we didn’t give up!
Luckily, the story doesn’t end there…
We might not have a Ms. Olympia anymore, but we do have the Rising Phoenix Women’s Bodybuilding World Championship to take its place, and despite all the bad rep we get we just keep going strong.
Just look at these women showing off their muscles:
You see, bodybuilding for women never actually went away; people were just trying to force their views of what we should look like on us, trying to push us away.
But don’t they get that we’re too strong to just push aside?! Like we said before: female bodybuilding is here to stay!
So, that brings us to how to actually do it:
- How can YOU as a woman get ripped?
- What female bodybuilding workouts should you start doing?
- How to build muscle as a female?
Let’s find out…
Ok, so enough chitchat, time to get to the point, how to actually build those female muscles?
What workouts to do, what diet to follow, what else to pay attention to?
This and more we’ll answer below in this crash-course into female bodybuilding; you might want to take notes!
- Set realistic expectations and goals
- Diet – Get more calories than you use to build muscle
- Pay attention to macros
- Prepare a workout plan
- Use supplements to power up your effort
Whatever you do, make sure you got your expectations and goals straight.
As we said in the beginning, female bodybuilding works different from male bodybuilding, so if you’ve been reading up on general body building stuff you might have a wrong idea of what to expect…
You see, the female body produces way less testosterone than the male body, which means you won’t be packing muscle as easily as guys do.
Aside from that, many women try to combine muscle gain with fat loss, and they end up doing it all wrong.
They decide to go on a strict diet, to then find themselves not gaining any muscle mass, regardless of how much they train. Or they do the opposite and start eating everything in sight to try and bulk up, resulting in more fat than muscle gain.
Either way, you’re not going to achieve your goals and you will be left disappointed because your expectations were wrong…
Instead, set realistic goals for yourself by understanding how your body works:
- You produce less testosterone than men, so your female muscle growth won’t go as quickly
- To maximize lean muscle gains you will be putting on some fat as well. It’s natural! Don’t overeat, don’t undereat: eat what you need.
So how to know what to eat? By creating a diet plan for yourself that makes sure you get more calories than you use to build muscle (but not too many so you won’t get fat). Here’s how…
That’s right: get more calories than your body uses to build muscle. That’s the key to achieving your body building goals!
But how do you actually find out how many calories that is?
The best place to start is by keeping track of what you eat and how many calories everything you eat contains.
Check the packaging on everything or look stuff up on calorie checkers like this one here. You can then keep track of it by just writing it down somewhere or using a food log app (like MyFitnessPal for example).
Once you’ve done this for a few days you can then check your average calorie intake per day. Once you know this, you can start changing your diet to facilitate muscle growth.
Try bumping up your calorie intake by a few hundred initially, and then as you continue slowly increase the amount of calories you consume by about 50-100 every 2-3 weeks.
Like this you don’t give your body a massive shock by suddenly adding loads of calories (or doing the opposite and lowering your calories, but when muscle is what you want you shouldn’t do that in the first place!).
If you know a bit about bodybuilding you know about macronutrients, and how freaking important it is to pay attention to them!
As a bodybuilder, your world revolves around the three main macros, each containing its own benefits to your body (and its growth):
As a general rule of thumb, a well-balanced diet for a female bodybuilder contains 30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% carbs.
For more information on how to exactly gain these macronutrients (and where to get them from), you can check out our ultimate guide to a bodybuilding diet for women:
Preparing a diet plan isn’t enough; it needs to be combined with a well-crafted workout plan.
And whatever you do, both your diet plan and your workout plan for female bodybuilding have to match up with your personal expectations and goals (you see how it all ties together?)
But as always, it’s easier said than done.
How does one go about to create the ideal workout plan?
A first step is to look at where you are right now and how your body has changed over the past weeks/months/years (however long you’ve been working out really).
Which muscle groups do you struggle with to grow? And which muscle groups seem to grow effortlessly?
Once you know what works and what doesn’t already, you can adapt your workout plan and make it fit your body and needs.
You want to target those muscle groups that you find difficult to train at least twice a week, while others can probably suffice with once a week.
Another tip is to make sure you don’t do too much cardio workouts. Even though cardio is great for cardiovascular health and general wellbeing of your body (keeping you fit and healthy), and we still advise you to add it to your workout plan, it won’t help you pack muscle as much.
And while it doesn’t build muscle, it does use up valuable energy that you could’ve spend on growing your muscle mass…
So, if you want to build that powerful body be sure to focus on weight training and strength exercises over cardio.
Finally, your eventual workout plan should include workouts for each muscle group. We all know the saying “never skip leg day”…
Eventually, your workout plan for female bodybuilding could look something like this:
- Day 1 – Chest and arm exercises
- Day 2 – Shoulder and back exercises
- Day 3 – High-intensity workouts
- Day 4 – Leg day
- Day 5 – Cardio
- Day 6 & 7 – Rest
For examples of more specific exercises to do during these days check out our massive workout plans for women guide:
We’re not talking injections and steroids and stuff; although if you do prefer those then no judgment here, but maybe you want to read up on these steroid side effects in females >>
Anyway, we’re talking (natural) supplements to boost your strength and energy levels. Think of stuff like creatine or whey protein, available at your local fitness stores and sure to help you gain the boost you need!
Aside from these mainstream supplements you can try powerful yet 100% natural and legal steroid alternatives like CrazyBulk.
These bodybuilding supplements are designed to help you power through your exercises, assist recovery, and promote lean muscle gains. Check out CrazyBulks female bodybuilding range below:
Female bodybuilding has come a long way since its early days of strongwomen at freak shows…
Today, millions of women across the globe are looking at ways to increase their muscle growth and achieve their dream physique.
Hell, it has even been scientifically proven that bodybuilding can have a positive psychological effect on women as well! So what’s holding you back?!
Start female bodybuilding today by following our tips above and reach your goals!