Oksana Grishina successfully defended her Arnold title last weekend, to make her two-year consecutive win a threepeat, and it’s pretty obvious why she remains at the top of the heap. I also wouldn’t be surprised if her visits to Arnold Europe and Olympia this year (both of which she has won for the last two years in a row) also culminate in threepeats. Her athleticism, extraordinary physique, and stage presence are truly beyond compare. Check her incredible routine from last Friday:
Oh, to be a competitor in the world of bodybuilding. It is empowering, exhilarating, inspiring, stressful, challenging and at times heartbreaking. A fascinating psychology exists in this world which can best be described by listing some of the quirks competitors have.
Ripped versus “Fat”:
First of all, competitors develop a bizarre love-hate relationship with their bodies in which they marvel at their bodies when they are lean and muscular and in contest shape, but will curse their bodies when they are the slightest bit mushy or fluffy. Competitors live in a world in which the bar is set VERY high. Competitors will see themselves as fat when others see an amazing body and will say so. Competitors will always believe that the more ripped and lean they are, the better they are. While this is a necessary component of contest prep, it plays games with a person’s self-esteem because it is a constant battle to reach or remain at the pinnacle of leanness and muscularity.
Some competitors will overtrain in an effort to get their bodies dialed in, without considering the inevitable damage they are doing to their bodies. Yes, we are warriors, and yes, it can be a great thing to push through, but with too much training, the law of diminishing returns kicks in. I completely relate to the principle of training constantly for a big contest because I have done it many times. I have endured double training and double cardio sessions which at times had me in the gym for five hours at a time. I have sustained injuries in my foot, ankle, knee, shoulder and forearm and continued my training because a big event was looming around the corner. Was it smart to train through injuries? No, but at the time I couldn’t imagine slowing down or stopping just because of a silly injury. This is the very thing I now scold clients about. No contest is worth hurting yourself!
“A judge told me I suck!”
Another thing that competitors have a habit of doing is worrying about what judges say and taking criticism hard. Competitors need to remember that bodybuilding, to a considerable degree, is a subjective sport, and if you are going to allow a judge to rip you apart and kill your spirit, then you probably shouldn’t be competing at all. The word of one judge is exactly that. Now if you speak to a bunch of judges and people in the sport who know what the ideal for the division you compete in is, and they all tell you the same thing, then you can probably assume that what they are all telling you is constructive criticism which you can then use as a reference when you make adjustments to your training program. That way, you will address certain weaknesses without throwing in the towel.
Bodybuilding is a VERY expensive sport. When you tally up the cost of food, supplements, coaching, competition apparel, spray tanning, accessories, hair styling and makeup application, travel expenses, and entry fees, the financial load can be immense. Competitors will often go broke, scraping up whatever money they have to make the dream of competing happen. This is not a poor man’s sport! That is why I tell competitors to establish a budget and be judicious about which events they want to do and what they can afford to do. I also advise competitors to seek out sponsors to help out with the enormous costs of competing. It is not unusual to see competitors forgo other hobbies and vacations in an effort to gather enough funds to support their competing habit.
As a competitor who used to dream about food, I completely understand the fantasizing which occurs in competitors when on a contest prep meal plan. Contest prep meals are usually bland as a result of how clean they are, and some meal plans are so restrictive that one may eat only two food items throughout the day, such as chicken and asparagus. It’s only human nature to rebel against this type of meal plan after a while, because it is quite a chore to adhere to it every single day with no treats and no cheats. It is a normal occurrence for competitors to discuss what foods they plan to eat post-contest. What’s also interesting is that some competitors will become so rigid and so fearful of backlash from their coaches that they will only have a quasi-cheat meal post contest, then return to the same rigid eating plan they were on before. Other competitors may go off the deep end, eating everything in sight for days or weeks, only to deal with considerable rebound.
Those of us who compete are indeed a strange breed. We are disciplined, driven and focused. I am fine with our quirks and accept them as part of the sport.
I am always amused by women who will deny their genetics simply because they are enamored with a certain division. Some women are so stubborn that they will struggle in a division that they are clearly not suited for, getting pummeled with low placings, when all they would need to do is cross over to a different division. For example, I have met women who were clearly so muscular and thick that they were made for the more muscular divisions, but who stubbornly insisted on competing in the Bikini division because they liked the posing or the suit cuts better. I have also seen ladies competing in more muscular divisions who would place higher if they competed in a less muscular division. For this reason I honestly believe that the saying “The division chooses you” is very accurate. Pay attention to the lines of your body and what your natural tendency towards muscle gain is. Though there is a certain flavor or flair in each division, the worst thing you can do is to pick a division to compete in solely on the basis of the poses which define the division.
The first thing you need to do is look at your body type to determine where you fit in best. Generally speaking, if you have a tendency to put on and maintain an appreciable amount of muscle, you should explore the more muscular divisions. Another general rule is that symmetry, balance and proportion are important in all the divisions. If you are not sure which division you are best suited for, ask someone who truly knows what the judges are looking for in the different divisions. Let’s break down the divisions a bit more to help you determine where your genetic tendencies will ensure the best success onstage.
BODYBUILDING: This is the most muscular of the female divisions, displaying considerable mass, clear muscle separation, very low body fat and the striated, shredded and dry look which also characterizes male bodybuilders. Bodybuilders must perform routines which incorporate certain mandatory poses to display their muscle definition and size. Typically, most women just beginning to compete will work up to this division, but a few ladies already possess the size necessary to be competitive at the local level in Bodybuilding.
PHYSIQUE: This division displays less muscle density than bodybuilding, but muscle bellies are full and toned, waistlines are nipped in, and there is a natural grace which defines this division. Women who are too muscular to compete in Figure but not quite muscular enough for Bodybuilding are made for this division. Physique competitors also perform choreographed routines onstage which incorporate mandatory poses, but they must keep their hands open with “pretty hands” during their routine.
FITNESS: This division is perfect for women who have strong backgrounds in gymnastics and dance with fantastic flexibility and strength. You MUST have great stage presence and personality which emerges onstage, because this division relies on those elements. Judges will evaluate flexibility, strength, technique and difficulty. If you are a dynamo onstage and can carry the mood and energy of a fun theme and costume throughout an entire routine, this division is perfect for you. There is a swimsuit round as well, during which you will be compared against the other competitors. During this round, muscle tone and definition will be assessed.
FIGURE: Figure competitors have less muscle than the Bodybuilding or Physique divisions, but there is still a decent amount of curvy muscle, combined with a feminine appearance. There is some muscle separation but striations are a no-no. Rounded delts, defined quads, and a nice wide back coming into a nice, small waist taper are ideal for this division. Women who do not have the athleticism or the stage presence to perform acrobatic routines onstage but who have the degree of muscularity I just described would do well in this division.
BIKINI: If you have an athletic and fit body without muscle separation, you are most likely well suited for this division. Bikini competitors are never overly muscular and do not display the delt caps or quad sweeps that the other divisions do, and muscle separation is the kiss of death in this division. However, do not be fooled into thinking that you don’t need muscle to do well in this division. As this division has progressed, a greater degree of conditioning is being rewarded. The key here is to target a tight, lean, toned physique which is still very feminine.
Olympia is the granddaddy of bodybuilding events, compelling people from all over the world to descend upon Sin City for a weekend of glistening, supertanned muscles, scantily clad bodies, and enough free sports supplement samples to keep everyone amped up with bloated bellies as they walk through the Expo. The Olympia Expo is quite a sensory overload, a smorgasbord of sounds, sights, smells, and tastes! You also should watch out for flying objects since items such as t-shirts are thrown into crowds during hyped-up giveaways at the larger booths. You won’t find too many events in which such action-hero genetic freaks can easily and comfortably congregate. I feel very much at home in such company, and look forward to all the Olympia events every single year.
I love working a booth at the Expo even though it prevents me from seeing most of the competitions that take place in the main arena. I gladly suffer through the sore feet that result from standing and walking all day. Fans and followers will look for the booth I am working at in order to say hello and take a picture with me, and that always means a great deal to me, especially since I know that the crowded Expo hall can be very tricky to navigate when someone is looking for a specific booth or person. Every Olympia is also a great reunion in which I can see many of my fitness and bodybuilding friends from all over the world.
The Fitness division is softer than women’s bodybuilding, with a slightly higher body fat percentage and less muscle mass. The ideal for the fitness division is a small amount of muscle mass with separation between muscle groups but no striations, along with low body fat. These ladies are athletic in appearance, and show their athleticism, flexibility and strength onstage via routines which are set to music. The routines are performed in costumes which enhance their muscularity, while the comparison round requires the ladies to wear two-piece bikinis and high heeled shoes.
Listed below are the NPC guidelines for the Fitness division:
Fitness Competitor Rules and Regulations
Round One (1)
• Competitors will compete in a two-piece suit. The bottom of the suit must be v-shaped.
• No thongs are permitted.
• Competitors can compete in an off the rack suit.
• All swimsuits must be in good taste.
• Competitors must wear high heels.
• Competitors may wear jewelry.
Round Two (2)
• Is a maximum two (2) minute Routine.
The Contestants should have shape to their muscles but not size, definition or vascularity as in Bodybuilding physique. If these are present the Contestant will be scored down.
National Level Contests do not permit competitors to cross over into Bodybuilding, Figure or Bikini in the same event. All other competitions are permitted to have cross overs at the discretion of the promoter with appropriate approval.
For National Level Contests that are Professional Qualifiers:
• Up to and including 5’2
• Over 5’2’ up to and including 5’4 1/2
• Over 5’4 1/2
A promoter can choose to have fewer Height Classes for non-national level contests as follows:
• 1 Class may be used at regional competitions
For all contests with Two (2) Height Classes:
• Up to and including 5’3”
Check In – Fitness Division Competitors will be Checked-in and Measured the same as Figure and Bikini competitors.
• The contestants will be brought out on stage in one or more lines for quarter turns.
Two Piece Swimsuit – Round 1
• Competitors will be judged wearing a two-piece swimsuit and heels.
• Competitors will walk to the center of the stage alone and perform model turns, starting by facing the judges before moving into their model turns then proceed to the side of the stage.
• Judges will have the opportunity to compare competitors against each other.
Scoring – Round 1
Judges will score the degree of athleticism using the following criteria:
• Overall Physical Appearance including:
o Overall Presentation
Fitness — Round 2
• Each athlete will perform a maximum two minute routine.
Scoring – Round 2
Judges will use four (4) aspects to score this round using the following criteria:
• Strength — The amount and types of strength moves.
o The degree of difficulty of these moves.
o The ease and correctness of the moves.
• Flexibility — The number and types of flexibility moves.
o The degree of difficulty of these moves.
o The ease and correctness of the moves.
• Cardiovascular — The tempo of the routine.
• Overall Package — full general assessment including but not limited to Creativity, Stage Presence, Outfits, Hair and Make-up.
NOTE: At National Level Competitions the Routine must incorporate Five (5) Mandatory moves as follows:
• Three (3) Strength moves:
o One Arm Push-up
o Straddle Hold
o Leg Extension Hold
• Two (2) Flexibility moves:
o High Kick
o Side Split
Women’s bodybuilding increased in popularity over the years, but several other women’s divisions have been established which embrace different ideals in terms of the female physique. You can see from the image at the top of this post how different degrees of muscularity come into play within different divisions.
I will go into more detail about the other divisions in separate posts, but here is a brief synopsis:
Fitness: This division is characterized by an athletic, well-muscled but not overly muscular body. In this division, women perform routines in which they show their strength, agility and flexibility.
Figure: This division is similar to fitness, but there is no choreographed routine performed onstage. Athletic frames with appreciable shoulder and back development with slender hips are the ideal.
Bikini: This division, established in 2009, rewards a very lean but much softer look than what is seen in other divisions. Muscle striations are a big no-no in this division.
Women’s Physique: This is the newest division added to the NPC and IFBB, established in 2011. Competitors in this division are more muscular than figure or fitness competitors, but do not possess the same degree of muscularity or conditioning seen in women’s bodybuilding.
The NPC stands for the National Physique Committee, which is the number one amateur bodybuilding organization in the world. Most serious amateur competitors who have a goal to earn professional status will compete as amateurs within the NPC to attain prestigious IFBB Professional Status. The NPC was established in 1982 by Jim Manion and is the amateur arm of the IFBB. The IFBB, which stands for the International Federation of BodyBuilders, encompasses 160 nations and is the big granddaddy of professional bodybuilding leagues. Ever since Lee Haney became the first NPC Nationals champion to attain IFBB status, the majority of the greatest IFBB athletes reached this status via the NPC. Those of you who may have followed bodybuilding over the years may recognize names such as Shawn Ray, Flex Wheeler, Cory Everson, all of whom competed in the NPC before becoming part of the IFBB as professionals.
The best athletes in competitive bodybuilding flock to these organizations and elevate the sport with their tremendous physiques.