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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Bodybuilding v. Physique

Female bodybuilding has long been an issue of contention within the bodybuilding community.  Public opinion has varied throughout the years, but in general, it's kind of a niche market.  Female bodybuilding peaked in popularity in the late 80's, and since then, division after division has been introduced in an effort to get us to tone it down and try something else.  So far, none of these new additions have worked.  At all.  Female bodybuilders are bigger, harder, and more determined than ever--but that shit doesn't put asses in the seats now does it?  The recent introduction of the Physique division is the latest attempt to shoehorn muscle girls into something smaller and more "appropriate."  Here's a breakdown of the two divisions and the drama that surrounds them.


The language surrounding the Physique division, from the National Physique Commission (the governing body of professional-track amateur competition), the International Federation of Bodybuilding (the governing body of professional competition), and forum discussions on various bodybuilding sites, indicates that Physique is intended to replace female Bodybuilding (FBB) within a few years, with hopes that most women will transition to Physique as fewer and fewer shows offer Bodybuilding.  Physique is also meant as a "classic bodybuilding" division, hearkening back to the early days of FBB--on that note, there is a men's Physique division as well with a similar premise, but it involves boardshorts so I refuse to acknowledge it ;)  

Physique's scoring guidelines vary significantly from those for Bodybuilding.  In Physique, "Competitors should display a toned, athletic physique showcasing femininity, muscle tone, beauty/flow of physique.  The following are examples of common terms used in the bodybuilding industry. These words can be helpful to assess what should not be descriptive to the physiques being judged in women’s physique: Ripped, shredded, peeled, striated, dry, diced, hard, vascular, grainy, massive, thick, dense, etc." The NPC also clarifies that "While all types of physiques will be considered when it comes to height, weight, structure, etc. Excessive muscularity should be scored down accordingly." So as you can see, bigger is NOT better.

In bodybuilding on the other hand: "Judges will score competitors according to the NPC “total package” which is a balance of size, symmetry and muscularity."  Conditioning plays a significant role here, and obviously a bigger, leaner "total package" beats a smaller or fatter one.  Bodybuilding is pretty straight-forward in this sense.  Here, all of those "no-no's" described above are highly desirable.  In theory, crossing over from one division to another is not meant to be feasible without sacrificing placings in one or both divisions.  In my view, promoters are hoping that if bigger gals consistently place poorly, those women will alter their approach in the future in order to remain competitive--resulting in smaller competitors over time.  But this is only valid if women compete simply to win--in reality, a lot of us compete just for fun and want to get big even if it means we'll lose (there are a lot of crazy-enormous chicks out there who don't compete at all).  Since there's absolutely no money in FBB, relative to men's divisions or say, a regular job, winning shows is really more about personal accomplishment, dedication, and love of the process anyway.    

Now let me also explain why I am electing to compete in the new Physique division.  It's a combination of factors:  For starters, the Nevada State, like many smaller regional shows, no longer offers female Bodybuilding.  Promoters say this is due to lack of interest, but I think it's because promoters are trying to mainstream bodybuilding shows to make them more profitable.  Secondly, if I'm being honest with myself, I'm really not "too big" for Physique, so this would be a good initial segue as I progress, in addition to giving me an opportunity to more effectively capitalize on my success thus far.  Regional and national shows seem to be pretty hit or miss with Physique, and the winners at last year's USA's and NPC Nationals were completely different animals (both turned pro though, along with a handful of other women).  The field at last year's Nevada State was quite varied also.  As you can see above, the guidelines are much more subjective for Physique than for Bodybuilding, so there are significant inconsistencies in scoring and judging criteria from show to show.  So I could be competitive at the national level where size pays off, but I might not even qualify because I'm at a regional show where it may or may not.  Either way, I'm anxious to compete again and looking forward to some stage time, so Physique it is!

But let me be clear:  I have no plans of altering my diet or training or otherwise adjusting the package I bring just to fit Physique guidelines.  I may not be "too big" for Physique yet, but I will be.  I am a bodybuilder at heart and the best possible outcome at the Nevada State would be for me to bring my biggest, hardest package to date and come in dead last because I'm too "ripped," too "shredded," too "massive," and too "thick" :)  We'll find out in 18 weeks!

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