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Women Bodybuilding: Then and Now
Everyone has either heard of or is familiar with the sport of competitive bodybuilding. The female component, which is known as women bodybuilding, began in the late 1970s as women began to participate in competitions. Now, more than three decades later, women bodybuilding is a large part of the sport and has begun to garner the respect that it has strived for since it’s inception.
Although physique contests for women can actually be documented in the 1960s, they were little more than bikini contests. The first true women bodybuilding competition is regarded as the one held in Canton, Ohio in 1978. Promoted by Henry McGhee, the first United States Women’s National Physique Championship was the first competition where the entrants were judged solely on their muscularity as opposed to how well they looked in swimsuits.
By 1979, more women bodybuilding competitions were being held. The sport, however, did not possess a sanctioning body until 1980. Known as the National Physique Committee, this organization hosted the first women’s nationals and became the top amateur level competition for women bodybuilding in the United States. Additionally, 1980 marked the first Ms. Olympia competition, which is the most honored competition for women bodybuilding professionals.
As the sport continued to grow and increase in overall popularity, competitors found themselves needing to train harder and improve their overall muscular physique. By the 1980s, women bodybuilding was no longer a bikini contest or seeing who could pose in the highest heels. Now, it was becoming a popular sport with championship titles and increasing fan attendance.
With films that have been produced in honor of women bodybuilding competitions, coverage on major television networks and despite some controversies along the way, women bodybuilding has more than proven it’s ability to remain in the ranks of this popular sport. As further proof, the IFBB established a Hall of Fame in 1999, which would honor bodybuilding’s top athletes. To date, 14 women bodybuilding competitors have been inducted. Among them, Carla Dunlap, Cory Everson and Rachel McLish, Bev Francis, Lisa Lyon and Abbye Stockton, Kay Baxter, Diana Dennis, Kike Elomaa, Laura Combes, Lynn Conkwright, Ellen Van Maris, Stacy Bentley and Claudia Wilbourn.
In late 2004, the IFBB introduced a new rule that required women bodybuilding participants decrease their amount of muscularity by 20%, which is now referred to simply as the ‘20% rule.’ The rule applies to those whose physique requires the decrease. In 2005, another rule was introduced that would abolish the weight class system beginning with the 2005 Ms. Olympia.
In addition to women bodybuilding, there are two additional categories that are closely related and often held as part of the same event. The fitness competition includes a swimsuit round, along with a round that has the entrants judged on their performance in aerobics, dance or gymnastics. The second category is a figure competition, which is a newer format, and has the participants being judged exclusively on their symmetry and muscle tone. This category focuses less on muscle size than does women bodybuilding.
Although women bodybuilding has continued to grow in popularity, the prize money remains significantly less than is awarded to male bodybuilders.
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