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Useful Notes / Bodybuilding

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The sport where the words "muscle freak" come to mind whenever it is mentioned.

Simply put, bodybuilding is the sport of "building up" your body, and letting your muscles show themselves. The first part requires a weight-lifting regime to build up muscle mass, while the second part involves the reduction of body fat so that the muscles themselves can be clearly seen.

So far, so good. So, where does the "muscle freak" part come in? Part of the answer lies in chemicals such as steroids and hormones. Just as steroids are abused by professional wrestlers, they are also abused by some bodybuilders who want to get even bigger muscles. When hormones and chemicals come into the equation, it is not hard to see how one can look physically like a "freak". Female bodybuilders are worse off in the sense that women produce less testosterone than men. If not managed properly, they can end up looking like female East German athletes, who were very masculine looking as a result of systematic doping. Note 


The other part of the answer is extreme reduction of body fat. Whenever you see bodybuilders at competitions, muscle definition is very important to them. No use building all that muscle if fat is covering them. Hence, it is common for competitors to do cardio workouts the week before the competition to burn fat. It is also common for competitors to starve or even dehydrate themselves before going on-stage to refine that sculpted look. However, fat has its uses in the human body, and extreme low levels of body fat over extended periods of time can be damaging to health. Again, female bodybuilders are more affected by this as the female body needs a slightly higher level of body fat than the male body in order to function properly. Also, as breast tissue largely consists of fat, extreme fat reduction will affect breast size. To counter this, some female bodybuilders opt for breast implants.


Bodybuilding is a highly personalised sport. The same diets and workout schedules can have subtle differences on different individuals' results. Your Mileage May Vary.

Actors or wrestlers with a background in bodybuilding:

Female bodybuilders are less often seen in media. If depicted, expect them to be portrayed as "freaks". However, there are still some positive examples.

  • Cory EversonNote  appeared as Atalanta in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Her sister Cameo Kneuer Note  and her appeared in a Very Special Episode ("drugs/steroids are bad") of Renegade.
  • Many female gladiators in American Gladiators were former bodybuilders.
  • Raye Hollitt (Zap in American Gladiators) portrayed a bodybuilder who became one of John Ritter's girlfriends in Skin Deep.
  • In Raven Hawk, Rachel_McLish Note  played a Native American woman who is framed for the murder of her parents and forced to flee her reservation. Years later, she returns to exact revenge on the real killers. Rachel has also authored two books on weight training for women that made the New York Times bestseller list.
  • Unusually, former Finnish bodybuilder Ritva Tuulikki "Kike" Elomaa became a singer after a short bodybuilding career.note  In 2011, she's even elected as a MP.
  • Julie Bell used her bodybuilding experience in her art, and had also posed as a model for Boris Vallejo, her second husband.
  • Frank Miller initially used Lisa Lyon (a female bodybuilding pioneer) as a basis for Elektra's appearance. Lyon was also a photo model, and modelled for Robert Mapplethorpe in Lady: Lisa Lyon. Lyon was also the model used by Bob Wakelin in his cover art for Athena and Psycho Soldier.
  • Gladys Portugues note  is Jean-Claude Van Damme's third and also current wife (and the one he's been married to for the longest). She's also the mother of two of his children, Kristopher and Bianca.
  • Shay Massey is a team member and aspiring physique/figure competitor.
  • Becky Lynch dabbled in body building during her hiatus from wrestling, but abandoned it because she didn't like the lifestyle.
  • Alexa Bliss credits entering body building with helping her get over anorexia.

Tropes involved in this sport:

  • The Ace: Arnold Schwarzenegger was the living embodiment of this. In all of his Mr. Olympia competitions, he was only bested once, losing to reigning champ Sergio Olivia in 1969. He came back the next year to beat Oliva, becoming the youngest Mr. Olympia ever at 23 years old, a record no one has beaten as of yet. Arnold proceeded to win every Mr. Olympia from 1970-1975, when he beat longtime friend Franco Columbu and rival/contender Lou Ferrigno (after dropping significant weight for the film Stay Hungry) before retiring. Then, five years later, he decided to come out of retirement to compete one last time after training for Conan The Barbarian. This was kept a secret and none of the other competitors knew he would be competing. With only seven weeks of prep, Arnold proceeded to beat favored contender Frank Zane, and won the Olympia for a record-setting seventh time.
    • Phil Heath has become this as of the 2017 Mr. Olympia, where he tied Arnold for seven title wins, despite heavy competition from Kai Greene (from 2011-2014) and Mamdouh "Big Ramy" Elssbiay.
    • Misses Olympia are known for this as well. Cory Everson took part in the Miss O. six times, and won the title in each and every single one of them, back to back. Her first win in 1984 bears special mention as she beat two former Misses Olympia: Rachel, who was the first ever Miss O., and Carla Dunlap, the winner of the previous year.
    • After Kim Chizevsky won her first Miss O. in 1996 (beating Lenda Murray), she too went undefeated until her retirement in 1999. Notably, Murray was never able to unseat her, having failed to do so in 1997 and retiring after that.
    • For Murray herself, out of 11 competitions over 15 years, she was never placed below the second position. Also, her appearance-to-overall-title ratio is second only to Cory. note 
    • Adela Garcia was Miss Fitness Olympia 8 times, and won her last five titles back-to-back.note 
    • Davana Medina took part in Miss Figure Olympia 3 times, and won the title every single time back-to-back, including the 2003 inaugural edition. Also, while Nicole Wilkins has won the title 4 times, Medina is still the only winner so far with 3 wins back to back. note 
    • Ashley Kaltwasser took part in Miss Bikini Olympia 3 times, and won the title every single time back-to-back. In her first win in 2013, she also defeated Nathalia Melo, the winner of the previous year. Unfortunately, in 2016, she placed fourth.
  • Always Second Best: In IFBB professional bodybuilding, it is common for contestants to be faced with this trope when they compete in the Olympias. Hardly surprisingly, as the main way to even qualify for the Olympias is to be the overall champ of your category at the second-tier contests.
    • In male competition, there were only 3 winners from 1984 to 2005 (Lee Haney - 8 times, Dorian Yates - 6 times, Ronnie Coleman - 8 times). Needless to say, this left some talented competitors from that era (Flex Wheeler, Rich Gaspari, Kevin Levrone, to name but a few) behind.
    • Kai Greene is looked upon as this due to directly challenging Phil Heath four times and never managing to beat him, despite winning multiple Arnold Classic contests. From 2012-2014, Greene placed 2nd to Heath every single time at the Mr. Olympia.
    • Big Ramy seems to be stepping into Greene's spot, if the 2017 Olympia is any indicator (he lost to Heath by one point).
    • Defied by Rachel. In Misses Olympia 1981 and 1984, she finished second, behind Elomaa and Cory respectively. In 1982, she went on to win the title note , and retired after the loss to Cory.
    • Lenda Murray was second in both 1996 and 1997 (to Kim Chizevsky), after which she retired.
    • During Murray's comeback in the 2000s, Kyle was second to her in 2002 and 2003. Kyle then managed to clinch the title in 2004.
    • Despite being Miss Figure Olympia 4 times, Nicole Wilkins has had her fair share of second places. She was behind Erin Stern twice (2010 and 2012) note  and behind Latorya Watts in 2015.
    • Gina Aliotti was second to three different Miss Figure Olympia: Jenny Lynn in 2007, Jennifer Gates in 2008, and Nicole Wilkins in 2009.
    • Defied by Adela Garcia, who was never in second place out of the 13 Fitness Olympia competitions she took part in. note 
  • Amazonian Beauty: Many examples, including Cory and Rachel, as mentioned above. Unsurprisingly, Julie drew many Amazonian Beauties in her art, and was one herself when she was still an active bodybuilder.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The "ripped look" seen on-stage during competitions looks awesome, but the bodybuilder is actually very low on body fat and might even be dehydrated.
  • Bodybuilding Doesn't Pay: Particularly so for female bodybuilding. Female bodybuilding pioneers usually have second careers after their (relatively short) bodybuilding ones. Active pro athletes are often fitness trainers and/or spokespersons for various products. Adding to that, the cost of preparation for one contest can easily reach thousands of dollars.
    • To an almost horrific extent, male and female bodybuilders both are involved to a considerable degree in the sex worker business, selling themselves to subsidize their lift-all-day lifestyle.
  • Badass Grandpa: Raymond Moon, who was declared by Guinness to be the oldest competitive male bodybuilder in the world at the age of 79. That was before he had cancer, which he then proceed to beat. He even entered a competition at the age of 83, in 2013. Jim Arrington also competed at the age of 83 in 2015.
  • Beauty Contest: What bodybuilding competitions boil down to. In this case, the judging criteria is muscle size/definition, among others.
  • Body Horror: Through misuse/abuse of chemicals and hormones, female bodybuilders can gain very masculine-looking features, starting from a deepening voice and facial hair.
    • Don't look up botched synthol injections if you're squeamish.
  • Broken Base: Bev Francis triggered one for female bodybuilding as a contestant in Miss Olympia 1991. She weighed in at 160 pounds (She's 5'5, fyi). Previously, no other female contestant had ever been that muscular. She came in at second place, having lost by a single point and was leading after two rounds, only to be overtaken in the concluding rounds. The debate of "How much muscle on a woman is too much?” has raged on ever since.
    • On her part, Francis mused that the judges should have made it clear from their scoring on what was or was not "acceptable" when it came to muscle size on women.
    • Fans often do have different opinions of who should have been the Mr. or Miss Olympia of a particular year.
  • But Not Too White: Part of a routine for getting ready for fitness competitions involves lots and lots of tan - because tan makes muscles show up more.
  • Butter Face: This article argues that the trope is part of the reason why female bodybuilding went into decline.
    If the top ten of the Ms. Olympia sported a row of faces that looked like the bikini division, Ms. Olympia would probably be alive and well today. Note  By the same token, if the top ten of every bikini contest had bodybuilder faces, it would go away too.
  • Cool Old Lady: Female competitors who compete while in their 50s and above. Shirley Korito, a former American Gladiator, gamely returned to the stage in the 2016 NPC Southern USA Championships, competing in the "bikini" category. She was in her mid 50s (and has not competed in bodybuilding for more than 20 years), and one of only two women competing in the "above 50 (years of age)" category.
  • Dark Horse Victory: Juliette Bergmann's win in 2001. She was the oldest woman ever to obtain the title, last competed in the Miss O. more than a decade previously (and had never placed in the top 5 ever). In the few years that had weight classifications, she was the only lightweight champion who was also overall champion.
  • Dented Iron: Overtraining can cause this in some retired bodybuilders. As of Feb 2016, Ronnie Coleman couldn't even walk after numerous surgeries.
  • Determinator: A successful and healthy bodybuilder is this, without a doubt. Working out and following diets religiously, while resisting the temptation of hormones/chemicals to "help" requires a lot of discipline and determination.
  • Dork Age: The sport went into this once competitions lean towards "big muscles > all other factors". For women, the winners eventually became Brawn Hildas instead of Amazonian Beauties, while male winners became freakishly bigger.
    • Cory touched on the issue in an interview:
    So I have not followed the sport in the last couple of years. So I am ashamed to say that but that is honest. I didn't like the direction it was going in. I would never want to be competing against some of the girls that I had seen in the last couple years because I would have been not little enough to be a fitness girl and not big enough to be a bodybuilder. Who I was winning the Ms. Olympia doesn't even exist anymore. I don't think there would be a category. I would be closer to figure competition than I would be to bodybuilding and I would just not train as hard. It's different nowadays for sure. I don't think it's going in a direction the general public would like to see.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: The anoymous female bodybuilder in this article argues that female bodybuilders should be allowed to use chemicals to enhance their physiques like their male counterparts, ignoring the fact that chemical use has wrecked havoc on both male and female bodies.
  • Double Standard: Female bodybuilding is officially banned in Iran. In other places, there is the cultural discrimination against muscular women. Even within bodybuilding, there is greater acceptance of men using chemicals to enhance their physiques.
  • Dragon Lady: Nishiwaki Michiko was typecast as this while being an actress in several Hong Kong Films in the 1980s and 90s. She was also a martial artist and stuntwoman Note .
  • End of an Age: In an interview done when she was 50 (in 2008), Cory Everson talked about this when asked if there was a golden age for bodybuilding.
    Yes, I think there was. I think there was a golden age from the beginning all the way to...I don't know if I can even give it a date. To me, maybe it was just because I was in it at the time, but to me, that was the Golden Age. There was very little money in it, if any. Hardly. You did it because you loved it. I remember Lee Haney coming to my house and picking me up when my car wouldn't start. Everybody helped each other.
    • Frank Zane winning his third title in 1979 is considered the last time aesthetic and proportional physique triumphed sheer mass. The 80s ushered the "mass monster" era that lasts until today.
    • For female bodybuilding, 2015 saw the cancellation of the Ms Olympia competition, while the Ms International had already been cancelled since 2014.
  • The ’80s: To many, this was the Golden Age of female bodybuilding.
  • He’s Back: Kevin Levrone retired from competitive bodybuilding in 2003 with 23 pro show wins and a cemented status as a legend in the sport. In 2016, he announced he would be coming out of retirement to compete in 2016 Mr. Olympia by special invite. Despite not placing in the top 10 for the first time in his career and a noticeable lack of mass and definition compared to his earlier days (specifically in his legs), Levrone's return was met with almost universal praise and excitement.
    • Flex Wheeler faced a similar situation when he returned to competition in the 2017 Mr. Olympia after also retiring in 2003, although he competed in the Classic Physique division instead of the Men's Bodybuilding Open.
  • History Repeats: An African-American bodybuilder wins her eighth Miss O. title, who was born in Michigan and won 2 heavyweight titles in the years with weight classification. Are we talking about Lenda Murray in 2003 or Iris Kyle in 2012? Also, if weight classifications are counted, both ladies had a 13 year gap between their first and last title.
    • An American bodybuilder wins her last Miss O. at the age of 31. Cory or Chizevsky?
    • A former Miss O. placed second in her last competition. Rachel in 1984 or Murray in 2004?
  • I Was Young and Needed the Money: Kai Greene did some fetish videos when he was younger. Some say that this is the reason he remains Always Second Best to Phil Heath despite being arguably the most popular male bodybuilder today.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Rachel invoked the trope in an interview when she remembers the 1984 Miss Olympia.
    I always believe a person needs to know when to get off stage. I felt maybe it was a little premature. But the last time I competed was 1984 and I came in second and I should have come in last really. Because Cory was huge. I looked like the poor little stepchild up there.
    • Interestingly, Cory herself opted for this after winning her last title in 1989.
    • Davana Medina did not participate in Miss Figure Olympia 2006 due to medical issues, and never returned in subsequent years.
  • Long-Runners: From Cory onwards, it became the norm rather than the exception for Misses Olympia to reign for years.
    • To illustrate: Before Cory, 3 women had won the title in the 4 previous years. From Cory onwards (including herself), the next 3 Misses Olympia held the title for 16 years between them.
    • For Mr Olympia, the first Mr Olympia to win only one title in his career was Chris Dickerson in 1982. Every winner before him had won at least twice, and the contest began in 1965.note 
    • Adela Garcia was Ms. Fitness Olympia 8 times (2004, 2006-7, 2009-13) out of 13 competitions (2000-2007, 2009-2013).
  • Misaimed Fandom: Many supporters of "big muscles on women" after seeing Bev Francis in Miss Olympia 1991 seemed to have failed to take into account that not many women could ever be as muscular as she was. Previously, she had been a top-level shot putter/powerlifter. All she needed to do as a bodybuilder was to maintain her muscle mass and shed body fat to achieve that "ripped" look (which she did). The misconception that any woman can get as big as Francis through hard work alone contributed to the rise of the Dork Age mentioned above.
  • Name's the Same: Before 1976, "Mr Universe" could either mean the IFBB competition, or the NABBA note  one. In 1976, IFBB changed the name of its competition to "World Amateur Bodybuilding Championships".
    • In Korea, "Ms Korea" can either refer to the winner of the conventional beauty contest, or the bodybuilding competition.
  • Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught: Chemical/ hormone use by bodybuilders is this, coupled with Open Secret. Exactly who has been doing it is a subject of fierce debate, although a bodybuilder is considered "getting caught" by observers once (s)he displays many symptoms of such usage.
    • In this video, Rachel described steroid use in female bodybuilding as "the elephant in the living room".
  • Not What It Looks Like: Most people assume that bodybuilders look as "ripped" as they are on-stage all the time. The fact is that their appearances while on-stage during competitions are (usually) temporary. When not preparing for competitions ("off-season"), they look chubbier.
  • Old Master: Ronnie Coleman, who was 41 when he won his last Mr Olympia in 2005. Franco Columbu was 40 when he won his last Mr Olympia in 1981. note 
    • For Miss Olympia, Lenda Murray. When she won in 2002, she had not won the Miss Olympia title for 6 years (and had not competed for 4). Also, when she won her last Miss O. the following year, she was 41, the second oldest (and the oldest American) Miss O. ever. note  For reference, Elomaa was 26 when she won in 1981, Rachel was 27 when she won in 1982, and Cory/ Chizevsky was 31 when she won in 1989 /1999.
    • In fact, there hasn't been an Miss O. under the age of 30 since Chizevsky won in 1997 at the age of 29. note 
  • Passing the Torch: The Miss O. 1984 competition, where Rachel was placed second behind Cory before retiring. 20 years later, Murray placed second behind Kyle before retiring. Bonus points for Murray being 12 years older than Kyle.
  • Promoted Fanboy: Murray was a big inspiration for Kyle picking up bodybuilding. From 2002 to 2004, Kyle got to compete against her idol in the Miss O.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: For female bodybuilders off-season, when they allow some fat to accumulate, they can become more conventionally attractive (or at least less unattractive) as the fat and normal levels of fluid soften their facial features, making them look more feminine. This also happens when they retire from active competition.
  • Short-Lived Big Impact: Lisa Lyon entered and won only one bodybuilding competition in her career (in 1979). She was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame in 2000 for "being a one-woman media-relations activist on behalf of the sport and elevating bodybuilding to the level of fine art".
  • Spiritual Successor: For female bodybuilding, the "fitness", "figure" Note  and "bikini" competitions, which heavily deemphasize muscle mass. Note  The Fitness Olympia was first introduced in 1995, the Figure Olympia in 2003, and the Bikini Olympia in 2010.
    • Similarly, physique competitions for men. Physique competitions for women were also organised. In 2014, depending on the category, there were a total of 5 Misses Olympia Note .
  • Stage Name: The legal names of two former Miss Olympia (Cory Everson and Rachel_McLish) became this after they divorced their spouses.
  • Statuesque Stunner: Surprisngly averted by many Miss O. winners. Cory, Kim Chizevsky Note  and Oriquen-Garcia are 5'8, qualifying them as this. But, Kyle was 5'7 and Murray was 5'5.
    • Probably the tallest female bodybuilder to ever compete in modern times was Shirley Korito (née Eson; you may know her as "Sky" from American Gladiators). She's 6'3''.
  • Stout Strength: What most bodybuilders are off-season, when they have more body fat.
  • 10-Minute Retirement: Lenda Murray, Miss Olympia 1990-1995. She retired after placing second in 1996 and 1997, but came back to win the title twice in 2002 and 2003.
  • Tough Act to Follow: For Elomaa and Carla Dunlap, after winning the Miss Olympia title in 1981 and 1983 respectively, their bodybuilding careers reached their peak. Elomaa retired after the 1983 Miss O., placing fifth that year. For Dunlap, the highest she placed after 1983 was 4th (in both 1984 and 1985).
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Bev Francis. See Broken Base above.
  • Up to Eleven: The muscle mass of winners has increased dramatically as the years go by. Just compare contest photos of Arnold and Cory with Ronnie Coleman Note  and Iris Kyle Note .
    • Compare this video of Lenda Murray when she won her first Miss O. in 1990 to her in 2002.
  • Vocal Dissonance: For viewers expecting a deep voice, this interview with Lenda Murray might surprise them.
    • Same for Kim Chizevsky. Here are her interviews for her wins in 1996 and 1998.
  • Unusual Euphemism: In IFBB competitions, judges only rank the top 15 contestants. Thus, "(joint) 16th" means "unranked" or "last".

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