Blog Post by Jill Taylor – Activewear Online Owner/Director
When I first started training I subscribed to Muscle and Fitness Hers – which was pretty much the only decent female-centric magazine that actually had women in it that looked like they trained. Obviously now I have accumulated 13 odd years of knowledge regarding training, diet and the way the fitness industry works and I no longer subscribe to any fitness magazines, female-oriented or not. Although I have to admit that it’s only because my Muscular Development magazine subscription expired… I haven’t really missed it either.
Anyway… adorning the pages were fitness girls (no figure in the pro ranks back then) like Timea Majorova, Monica Brant, Adela Garcia and many others that have long since retired from the sport. I had my favourites (Monica – I wanted to be her so badly!), and when I trained I visualised my muscles working to grow and change and look like them. I daydreamed about it and I was hooked on the weight training buzz as soon as I started.
When there was finally a Pro Figure division in 2003, I was so rapt! I dreamed (like many girls I know in the fitness industry dream) of walking on that pro stage and looking amazing, feeling strong and being muscular. My hero, Monica, was changing over to that category and I couldn’t wait to see what the line up would be like. There was a bit of controversy though, no routines, and no muscularity round – just the symmetry round. Quarter turns only. Didn’t seem quite right to me but damn it, I wanted to be like Monica so Figure it was!
I did a quick fact check before putting this out there but Monica Brant, Fitness industry Legend, never placed first in any of her IFBB Pro Figure contests. The highest she placed was 2nd at the first figure international in 2003. I remember at the time looking at Jenny Lynn, who won, and not being able to figure out why. Obviously I was biased and Jenny Lynn is amazing – but Monica to me just had the better body with all those gorgeous muscles and the fantastic definition.
Over the years “pro figure” competition guidelines have repeatedly requested that the girls be softer and softer and smaller and smaller. I put together the photo above and even I didn’t really think it was THAT much of a change until I saw it myself. There’s a pretty clear difference in what I idolized and what “pro figure” had become. Just so we’re all clear here, I’m not bitching or ranting about this. I’m 100% just saying it how it is. I no longer look at the Pro Figure ranks and feel inspired to train harder.
In fact if I was really honest with myself, I’d say that I have spent the last 12 months with self doubt, fear and confusion dominating my workouts. My lifts hadn’t really increased, I was scared of training my arms in case they grew too big for figure. I wasn’t motivated to do any heavy squats or deadlifts (I used to love these!) – I didn’t feel powerful anymore, I didn’t feel good during or after my workouts. I changed my training to lighter weights with more supersets, tri-sets, high repetition with little rest and worried that I shouldn’t be training arms, chest or doing heavy leg sessions.
Before you judge me for being stupid in worrying this way, let me explain. Years ago I bought a Jenny Lynn DVD (The harder I work, the luckier I get). In it she trained all her body parts and even trained with Charles Glass – it doesn’t get much more inspiring to me than that! Then last year, I bought another DVD featuring Jenny Lynn and Trish Warren, “Driven Divas”, and after I popped in the DVD and saw the chapters (Shoulders, Back, Legs, Posing, Q & A) I honestly thought that there must have been a second DVD that had not been packed in my order. There wasn’t, and in the Q & A they mentioned how they didn’t need to train arms anymore as their arms were big enough already.
WTF? I LOVE training arms!
The reason why they do it is because having smaller arms makes your shoulders look bigger, thus accentuating your symmetry round for Figure and Fitness. I can’t explain why but this just feels so wrong to me! Muscularity is penalised in a sport that is (or used to be) primarily based on… having muscles.
So, in these last few weeks I have had a bit of a revelation – a “this is no longer my place” moment. I love training and to let a worry about what category I might fit into affect something that I love doing is getting me nowhere. I get inspired to train from watching and want the physique of women like Dana Linn Bailey, Anne-Marie Lasserre and my latest favourite Ayanna Carroll. This puts me smack in the middle of the new “Physique” category, and while it might not be a big thing to anyone out there, it’s a big deal for me to think of myself this way!
Oh I know that there are other federations out there where the judging criteria are different for figure but this category had the women I idolized for years and that’s a tough thing to let go of! And when that day finally comes where I compete I am certain it will never be in the category of IFBB Figure. NABBA Figure still looks like a great fit for me though. J
But I have to say – I am loving this revelation. I love training hard and heavy, and I love not having the mental worry of “getting too big” or missing out on my favourite arm workouts because it’ll throw off my symmetry. My workouts are adrenaline filled challenges with barbells and dumbbells and I look forward to them like I haven’t in ages! I can’t wait to see what the next few months of hard training does to my physique!
So what’s the point of this story? If you’re competing because you love training then you shouldn’t be worrying about what category you’re going to fit into just because it’s socially acceptable or popular. You shouldn’t be concerned with how it’s going to look to other people if you decide to step it up into a more muscular category. You shouldn’t be sitting back thinking that sportsmodel is the way to go because they get the most sponsorships or endorsements (the truth is that the majority of competitors never get one anyway! Sorry but it’s the truth). But also the other way too – if you want to be a bodybuilder but have the body of a sportsmodel and you want to compete then by all means go with sportsmodel to start with but don’t let a category definition put you off from doing something that you love.
Until next time – train hard and love life!
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