The natural muscular potential of women
What can you achieve as a female lifter? There seem to be only 2 camps. The general public thinks a woman that touches a loaded barbell will wake up the next day as the SheHulk.
People with a bit more understanding of exercise physiology realize that this is obviously nonsense. One look around you in the average gym makes it clear that getting seriously big is difficult even for men. The statistic that women have ~15 times less testosterone than men is often quoted to explain that as a woman, you can’t grow much muscle anyway. So the common recommendation in today’s fitness circles is that women should train like men and should expect not to see much muscle growth.
The natural muscular potential of women
There is truth to this, but the causality runs in the opposite direction. Before I explain this, let’s first look at how the natural muscular potential of women compares to that of men. Percentage wise, how much muscle can a woman build compared to a man? Does it scale with testosterone so that women can build only ~7% as much muscle as men? Is it about half?
It’s 100%. Women gain the same percentage of muscle mass as men during strength training. In fact, women gain as much size and sometimes more strength than men . The only difference is the starting point. Men start off with more muscle mass and more strength, but the relative increase in muscle size is the same between men and women.
Research on protein metabolism comes to the same conclusion. Women build just as much muscle protein after training and after meals as men. In fact, one study found that given the same level of muscle mass, women have a higher rate of muscle protein synthesis than men.
I worked with Hayley Hirshland (now Hayley Yamanaka) for over 2 years. During this time, she won her pro card in Fit Body and Figure (yes, 2 pro cards) and took first place in her first pro show, the WNBF Pro-Am Central USA Natural Championships.
Women vs. men in elite sports
If you think this is all just silly theory from labcoats studying beginners, consider this. Elite, natural female athletes have 85% as much muscle as elite male athletes. The studied sports included Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting. The 15% difference can easily be explained by 3 factors.
- Women have a genetically higher body fat percentage. Women have ~12% essential body fat to regulate their hormones compared to just ~3% fat in men. And you know, boobs.
- People have lower expectations of women, even most women themselves underestimate what they can achieve physically compared to men. In a famous study, simply telling people they were on steroids increased their strength gains by 321%. These were advanced trainees already benching and squatting over 300 pounds (137 kg) before taking the fake steroids. Moreover, the androgenic-anabolic steroid protocol in question was just 70 mg of Dianabol per week. Giving that same dosage of actual Dianabol to advanced trainees improves strength by only a few percent. So what do you think it does to women when you tell them they have 15 times less testosterone?
- There are more men in sports, so at the elite level, the selection to get to the top level is stronger. Elite male athletes are likely the best the male race has to offer. For women there may be more potential world record holders that will never know it because they don’t try.
Left: During our coaching, Lonnie Boe Pederson became Danish national champion in her 40s. I’m particularly confident Lonnie is drug-free, as she had to stop the coaching due to getting pregnant.
Right: Jess Pinkerton is a mom closing in on her 40s. Based on our coaching and having seen her bloodwork, she must have been quite ingenious if she was on drugs without me knowing it. It also makes no sense for my clients to lie to me about drug usage, as then I can’t help them as effectively. I accept performance enhancing drug using clients and it changes how I program their training and nutrition.
What about testosterone?
Within an individual, more testosterone means more muscle mass. There is little doubt about that. Between genders, however, the relation becomes much weaker. In their study of elite athletes, Healy et al. concluded that “The difference in lean body mass is sufficient to account for the observed differences in strength and aerobic performance seen between the sexes without the need to hypothesize that performance is in any way determined by the differences in testosterone levels.”
How can this be? Testosterone functions differently in men and women, as I explained in my BioSignature review. In animals we have a good understanding of why testosterone is not needed for muscle development in women. It seems growth factors like IGF-1 and growth hormone take over the anabolic role that testosterone has in men. Growth factors are more important for strength and muscle mass in women than in men. Since women have just as much IGF-1 as men and women produce ~3 times as much growth hormone as men, this explains in part why having less testosterone does not limit how much muscle they can build. To make matters more complex, the sex hormones and growth factors interact and all these hormones also interact with your genes.
In short, saying women have less potential to build muscle mass because they don’t have as much testosterone as men is shortsighted.
I’m confident my former client Nancy Keizer is drug-free. She looks like this simply because she wants to and is very casual about her physique.
The other sex hormone
Not only is testosterone not the great savior, estrogen is not the bad guy. Most people, even women, shun estrogen as the evil hormone that makes you bloated and does all sorts of negative things. Although it’s rarely described what exactly the negative effects of estrogen are, most people agree nonetheless that’s it’s bad for your body composition. This is complete nonsense. In my article on hormones and fat loss I explained the positive effects estrogen has on abdominal fat storage, but estrogen does many more awesome things.
These aren’t a few obscure and irrelevant findings I’m dragging up to support my point. Hundreds of studies have demonstrated the anabolic effects of estrogen. Estrogen is also crucial for your health, but that’s another topic. In short, estrogen’s bad reputation is based on nothing more than the poor intuition that if testosterone is anabolic, estrogen must be catabolic.
During our coaching period, Nina Ross earned her IFBB Pro Card, became Swedish National Champion and got 2nd at the European Championships. I’m damn confident she’s natural, as she actually got too big for Bikini and we had to actively work on reducing the size of her arms, back and quads. She also refused to eat the breakfast recipe I sent her in her meal plan because it contained artificial sweeteners.
Why women aren’t living up to their potential
Women have the same relative natural muscular potential as men. They even have several advantages over men. So why don’t we see more muscular women?
- Women are underrepresented in sports and in the gym. Even at the Olympic level there are fewer female participants. It is even true in science. There are over 50% fewer female participants in scientific studies than men.
- Even if women go to the gym, most of them spend their time on the treadmill or playing with pink dumbbells.
- We don’t have the same expectations of women. If a man benches a lot, that’s taken as a sign of social dominance. If a woman benches a lot, she’s seen as a freak, people get worried and men feel their pride sting and shrivel. I’ve heard from many of the women I train they’re approached in the gym ‘not too lift that heavy’ when they bench more than a plate.
- Many women use contraceptives that harm their strength training progression. Many birth control pills impair muscle growth by decreasing androgen activity, lowering growth factor levels and increasing cortisol levels. It is primarily the progestin content of the contraceptive that’s harmful, because this competes with testosterone for the androgen receptor.
Lastly, the women that do actually train seriously in spite of the stigma often train like men, which doesn’t align with their physiological strengths. Since women produce much more estrogen than men, this gives them several advantages over men in the gym. Women don’t fatigue as much as men and women recover faster after training. There are many more important gender differences in metabolism, anatomy, neurology and physiology: see this article a full review of why and how women should not train like men. (If I just offended any feminists, get real.)
More of Hayley’s superhero looks.
It’s time we stop treating women like second rate men. Women have just as much relative potential for muscle growth as men. It’s up to them if they want to fulfill that potential. If they do, they should realize they’re not men and train to their strengths.
Then get our free mini-course on muscle building, fat loss and strength.
About the author
Formerly a business consultant, I've traded my company car to follow my passion in strength training. I'm now an online physique coach, scientist and international public speaker with the mission to help serious trainees master their physique.
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Female Muscle and FMG Morphs
Breasts and BE Morphs
Top 5 Biggest Female Bodybuilders Of All Time
While female bodybuilding is often overshadowed by its male counterpart, the women in the sport are killing it anyway. The ignorance isn't deterring these women from becoming the best they can in the sport driven by testosterone. Here are 5 of the most jacked female bodybuilders of all time.
Most Muscular Female Bodybuilders
Here is the list of Top 5 Biggest and Muscular Female Bodybuilders Of All Time
1. Lenda Murray
A big name in the female bodybuilding community, Lenda Murray is a professional American bodybuilding athlete who dominated the bodybuilding events throughout the 90s. She went unbeaten from the year 1990 to 1995 and came second in the year 1996 & 1997 in the Ms. Olympia Bodybuilding Contest. After taking a gap of five years she again came back to dominate the stage and won the title of Ms. Olympia in the year 2002 and 2003. She had such an unparalleled physique on stage that her physique became the standard against which the female bodybuilders are judged even today. The broad shoulder tapering, with a perfect V shaped torso and perfect symmetrical body is really rare to find with female bodybuilders. She also had a perfectly balanced physique in terms of her lower body too. Retired in the year 2004, she was inducted in IFBB hall of fame in 2010.
2. Kim Chisevsky
She is an athlete whose current fit physique is a riposte to the predictable critics of female bodybuilding and their perennial incorrect jibe that “all those muscle will turn to fat once you stop training.” If you look at her current pictures, you wouldn't even believe that she was so huge and jacked up once in her career. Though now she looks like any other fit lady in her 50s, she was once so huge on the Ms. Olympia Stage that she looked unbeatable. She had a 16.5 inch of biceps, 28” quads and 46'' Chest on stage. She was unbeaten in Ms. Olympia from the year 1996 to 1999. Now a mother of two, she once had huge, shredded and perfectly proportioned physique.
3. Iris Kyle
The most successful professional bodybuilder ever, Iris Kyle has 10 overall Ms. Olympia titles with heavy weight wins along with 7 Ms. International wins. She is also nick-named female version of Ronnie Coleman due to her winning streak in Ms. Olympia. She won her Pro card at the age of 23 and competed in various bodybuilding events. People in fact compared her physique with Phil heath's as she also had the same 3D delts and perfectly carved out back muscles on stage. Had Ms. Olympia still been organized by IFBB, Kyle would surely have more count of titles in her tally. She retired from International bodybuilding events after winning the 2014 Ms. Olympia contest which was the last Ms. Olympia that ever happened.
4. Yaxeni Oriquen
Born in Venezuela, Yaxeni moved to United States to build a career in bodybuilding Industry. Though she started competing in the year 1989, her best physique came out later in 2000s when she went on to become Ms. Olympia in the year 2005. She also won the title of Ms. International 5 times. Now she owns a gym in Miami where she trains the clients herself, and she once had a huge jacked up physique on stage. Though she wasn't absolutely dry and ripped, she had a good symmetry and overall size that made her stand apart from her competitors.
5. Nataliya Kuznetsova
A world arm wrestling champion, Nataliya is a Russian Power lifter and bodybuilder who has openly accepted her usage of anabolic steroids. Her stats can easily give hiccups to any weightlifter out there. She squats 400 pounds, benches 375 pounds, has 20 inches of biceps and 30 inches of thighs. Her off-season weight is 114kgs. Though she majorly focuses on powerlifting and arm wrestling competitions, she has also participated in a few bodybuilding competitions.
Anuj Tyagi is a Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Sports Nutritionist and Therapeutic Exercise Specialist From American Council on Exercise (ACE) . He is the Founder of the website where he provides online Training. Though a Chartered Accountant by education, he has been closely associated with Fitness Industry since 2006. His motto is to transform people Naturally and he believes that the secret formula for Fitness is Consistency and commitment towards your Training and Nutrition. You can connect with him through Facebook and Youtube.
The 10 Most Attractive Female Bodybuilders of All-Time
Who says bodybuilding is only for men? And who says women who do bodybuilding aren’t attractive?
Bodybuilding is a sport often associated with men and while there are actually women who do bodybuilding, they are stereotyped as masculine and hence unattractive. But since women began bodybuilding, there are those who proved that a woman can be attractive and sexy, even with all those bulging muscles. For starters, Just ask Van Damme.
Here are the Top 10 most attractive female bodybuilders of All-Time:
Gladys Portugues was born as Gladys Portugues van Varenberg on September 30, 1957. As a student in Marymount Manhattan College, Portugues was inspired to pursue bodybuilding when she watched Rachel McLish win Ms. Olympia title on television. After leaving college, she went on to become a professional bodybuilder and fitness model. She would later follow McLish on Ms. Olympia, finishing in the Top 10 twice.
Known as the Tigress, Gladys Portugues was one of the most prominent women in fitness and bodybuilding in the 1980’s. She appeared in the cover of bodybuilding magazines such as ‘Strength Training for Beauty,’ ‘Flex,’ ‘Muscle & Fitness,’ and ‘Muscle Training.’ Likewise, she also graced the covers beauty and fashion magazines. In 1987, she married famous action star Jean Claude Van Damme. The couple divorced in 1992 but remarried in 1999. In 2015, she filed for divorce a second time but cancelled the filing after a week.
Jennifer Elaine Broomfield was born on September 5, 1983 in Massachusetts. Her father ran a coil-winding machinery company while her mother worked part-time for her dad while being also a full-time mommy to her and her three brothers and two sisters. Being in a big family, Jennifer had plenty of siblings to play and compete with.
Jennifer suffered major depression during her teens and it was at this point when she turned her focus to her body. According to her, she began to “beat her body like an animal” in the gym and in no time, her body started to change. Not only did she beat depression, she sculpted her body good enough to compete. She said the first time she stepped on stage for a competition, she felt a rush and that was the moment she knew bodybuilding was for her.
Jennifer Rish was born in Southern California in 1981. Her passion for fitness began at home as her parents were healthy eaters and exercised regularly in their own small home gym. At the age of four, Jennifer started taking gymnastics and dance classes. As she grew older, she was into kickboxing and weight training. Between the two though, it was weight training that fascinated her more. She would eventually leave kickboxing and pursue weight training.
Rish placed 4th in her first competition, the 2008 NPC Border States Classic XXIX Bodybuilding, Figure and Fitness Championships. That same year, she placed 7th in the 2008 NPC California State Bodybuilding and Figure championships. Aside from competing in bodybuilding at fitness events, Jennifer is also a fitness model and a registered nurse by profession.
Sarah Backman was more known for her time with the WWE and for being an arm wrestler but she used bodybuilding to achieve her looks and her frame. Born on December 8, 1991 in Stockholm, Sweden, Backman began arm wrestling at an early age. She would end up as one of the most decorated female arm wrestlers ever. Sarah was an 11-time winner of the Swedish Arm Wrestling Championship, eight-time European Arm Wrestling Champion and eight-time World Arm Wrestling Champion.
She also competed in Sweden’s version of MGM Television’s Gladiator series. Backman portrayed “Spirit” in the show called Gladiatorerna in the Swedish TV4. From 2013-2014, Sarah Backman pursued her ambition to be a professional wrestler and signed with the WWE’s developmental territory NXT with the ring name “Shara”. After asking for her release from the WWE, she married WWE star Bo Dallas or Taylor Rotunda in real life. As of the present, Sarah Backman works as a real estate broker.
Born on July 31, 1982 and raised in Ystad, Southern Sweden, Pauline Nordin suffered from eating disorder and body image issues at the age of 12. Afraid to gain weight, she began working out and at the age of 17, she chanced upon a fitness magazine featuring female bodybuilders. That’s when she realized she wanted to be a fitness athlete. She trained for three years before joining competition and came out of her first contest as Teenage National Champion for three straight years before moving up to the Senior Division where she was runner-up twice.
Nordin placed 7th in the 2006 Europa Super Show IFBB. That same year, she finished 8th in the California Pro Figure, 9th in the Pittsburgh Pro Figure and 10th in the San Francisco Pro Figure. The following year, Nordin placed 8th in the Colorado Pro/Am Classic Bodybuilding and Figure Contest. She is currently a fitness model, personal trainer and entrepreneur.
Wendy Lindquist began as a gymnast and dance but blossomed into a world class bodybuilder and fitness model. She also competes in strength athletics and is a competitor in Strongwoman events. Born on May 16,1979 in British Columbia, Wendy began training in bodybuilding in 2001. Her first taste of competition were regional meets and made her first national level appearance in 2003.
Listing down her accolades would fill an entire article so we’ll just list down here latest awards. Wendy was 13th in the CPA Powerlifting Nationals 63kg Open Unequipped. She was also 7th placer in that same competition in 2017.In 2016, she won 5th place in the North American Pole Dance Championships in the Doubles Division. Wendy also appeared in the 2016 movie “Those Arms Though”. Aside from active competition, Wendy is currently a fitness coach and personal trainer in British Columbia.
One of the most successful female bodybuilding competitors of all-time, Corinna “Cory” Everson won Ms. Olympia six years in a row from 1984-1989. She is the only competitor never to have lost a contest at Ms. Olympia. Everson was part of the inaugural batch inducted IFBB Hall of Fame in 1999. She is also the first woman to be presented the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2007 Arnold Classic.
Born on January 4, 1958 in Racine, Wisconsin, Everson attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she was a standout in badminton, gymnastics and track & field. After her graduation, she began to train seriously as a bodybuilder and she trained along with future husband Jeff Everson at Ernie’s Gym on Sherman Avenue in Madison. Cory and Jeff were married in 1982 and the couple would later adopt a Russian child. Cory is active with Nightlight Christian Adoptions, an organization that helps orphans from Russia and Belarus find foster families in the United States.
Nikki Fuller was born on January 23, 1968 in Dayton, Ohio. She and her family moved Gresham, Oregon when she was 10 years old. While attending Gresham High School, Nikki competed in track and field and would later help the school’s team win the water polo state championship prior to her graduation. After graduation, she realized she was uniquely strong so she decided to focus on bodybuilding.
Fuller made her debut at the 1988 Novice Oregon and won the contest. After her triumph at the 1990 National Physique Committee Nationals in 1990, she turned pro. Her professional career included 9th and 13th place in Ms. Olympia in 1992 and 1993 respectively. She also placed 7th, 6th and 10th in the Ms. International competitions in 1991, 1995 and 1997. After bodybuilding she landed roles in TV shows like Nikki and Ally McBeal. She also competed in professional wrestling for WOW (Women of Wrestling) under the name “Athena”.
Fitness has always been Oksana Grishina’s life. Oksana earned a degree as a specialist in Physical Training and Sports. While in college, she organized her own baller called “Antares” and worked as a choreographer for children at the Tchaikovsky School of Music and art in Kaliningrad. While working as a fitness and aerobics instructor in Kaliningrad, fellow trainers advised her to try bodybuilding because Oksana has a good physique. She obliged and in no time rose quickly in the competitive fitness ranks in Russia.
Born on March 25, 1978 in Kaliningrad, Russia, Oksana was first into gymnastics as a child and a teen before transitioning to fitness and bodybuilding. She was awarded “Best non-Olympic Sportswoman of the Year” in 2005 and 2006. The following year, she finally earned her spot at Ms. Olympia and finished in 7th place. Grishina is the second ever Russian to earn an IFBB Fitness Pro card. She has since lived in the United States to work as a personal trainer, fitness consultant and fitness model.
One of the leading fitness models today, Erica Cordie grew up in Sturgis, North Dakota. She was into snow ski but after she blew up her right knee at the age of 17, she turned to bodybuilding to help her her rehabilitate. She moved to Denver, Colorado in 2000 and after three years years of training, she first competed and won 1st place in the Mile High Heavyweight Natural Bodybuilding show. She would not last long though in active competition as she did not like extreme dieting and felt unhealthy.
Erica is now one of the top fitness models around. She is also a fitness expert and calendar girl. She also owns a doughnut shop and froyo shop. When she’s not working out or exercising, Erica loves to cosplay and her favorite is the superhero Wonder Woman. She also enjoys going to the bars to arm wrestle with the boys and she usually gets her way with them.
Muscle female super
Alexey looked at things through the eyes of a realist, and understood that he just had to be patient until graduation. That's how his father taught him. The graduation evening came. This year, schoolgirls again surprised the media by appearing in crazy outfits.Super Woman Workouts - Heba Ali - Muscle Madness
Taking some food, I went back to the room and sat down at the computer. By 7 o'clock in the morning, there was a stomp. Outside the door - the house began to wake up.
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How you showered me with compliments. She fed me ice cream and sweets. She led the hand and endured all my antics, from hourly delays to attempts to make you jealous by any means. How I took your palms and innocently sucked your fingers in front of everyone. And proudly lifted her nose and snapped at every little thing, trying to hurt you.