Q: I know you’ve been involved in the sport of competitive bodybuilding on many levels for many years. What do you think of the new bikini division that the NPC instituted this year? Is it an insult to serious bodybuilders?
A: I’ve been involved with bodybuilding for 27 years now. I fell in love with the sport immediately and didn’t limit myself to just competing. After scarcely two years of competing, I started judging and working at contests in various capacities. I started helping people prepare for shows with training and nutrition programs, as well as posing instruction. Twelve years ago I took the next big step and started promoting my own show, the NPC Texas Shredder Classic, and let me tell you, that’s a huge undertaking. Still, I’m a fan of the sport, and I attend shows just to watch. So, yes, I’ve been intimately involved in bodybuilding for many years, and I’ve seen it from many different perspectives.
To answer your first question, I think the addition of the bikini division is a good thing for physique competition. I think it will get a lot more women involved in the sport who would otherwise never have stepped onstage.
When I first started competing in the early ’80s, a lot of women were competing in bodybuilding on the local and state levels. Rachel McLish and Kike Elomaa were the world’s best female bodybuilders at that time. Women training in gyms and fitness centers could see their physiques as impressive and beautiful yet attainable. That’s why so many women joined the ranks of competitive bodybuilding on a quest to emulate those bodybuilding superstars. As competitive women’s bodybuilding quickly evolved and bodybuilding drugs found their way into the sport, the average woman found the female bodybuilding physique either too muscular or unattainable. Participation in women’s bodybuilding diminished rather quickly.
Sometime in the early 1990s fitness competition was added in an effort to get more women to compete in physique contests. The desired physique was toned and lean but not overly muscular. The competitors wore heels in the physique rounds to add to the femininity of the look, and the fitness routines were elegant, graceful and very entertaining. That attracted many women who enjoyed lifting and staying lean but were not interested in having a supermuscular body. Unfortunately, the routines evolved quickly, and after several years the fitness division was so competitive that if a woman didn’t have a strong dance or gymnastics background, it was extremely difficult to place in the finals.
In 2001 the NPC held the first national-level figure competition, which afforded women who didn’t have the dance or gymnastics skills but did have the physique the opportunity to compete. Figure competition has become wildly popular. At most of the contests that I’ve attended over the past few years as many (or more) figure competitors have entered as bodybuilders.
With the addition of the bikini division women who didn’t see themselves as muscular enough to compete in figure are now entering shows. I’ve had more than my share of female clients who wanted to build a “figure” body but just weren’t genetically predisposed to adding the amount of muscle required to be competitive, no matter how hard they worked. It was very rewarding for me to see some of those very same women place in the bikini division this year. Now that they have an avenue in which they can be competitive, they’re much more motivated. Their training and dieting efforts have stepped up to a whole new level.
In my opinion the addition of the figure division is one of the best things that has happened to physique competitions, and I see bikini as an extension of that thread, if you will. As a promoter I can tell you that our audiences are much bigger since I added figure to the Texas Shredder Classic. The more people you get to attend a contest, the more people are exposed to the possibilities of the bodybuilding lifestyle.
Is the bikini division an insult to serious bodybuilders? I say no. Why should we be insulted because someone who’s less muscular is given the opportunity to go out onstage and be applauded for the effort? I’ve heard grumblings from some bodybuilders and figure competitors that the bikini competitors don’t have to train and diet hard the way we do—I heard the same thing when figure was instituted. My response is that some bodybuilders are so genetically gifted and/or pharmaceutically enhanced that they can be competitive without training or dieting hard. (As an aside, a gentleman from England beat me twice in international competitions. What was astonishing was that his teammates told me that he has to diet only two to four weeks for a show.)
I’m always training to be the best I can be. There’s no point worrying about what anyone else has to do to prepare for a show. That has no effect on me whatsoever. Some figure and bikini competitors train as hard as I do, diet harder and do more cardio in preparation for their shows. I know because a number of my training partners have done extremely well in figure and bikini competitions. As training partners those women do my bodybuilding workouts. Although in most cases they don’t use as much weight as I do, they execute the same hardcore exercises, sets and reps and work out every bit as hard as I do. Not only that, but they survive on about half the calories and do more cardio than I have to do. Those women have my respect. Are there women who can walk off the street and enter a bikini contest? Of course, but from what I’ve seen so far, they won’t have a chance of winning.
The only thing that irritates me about the addition of the bikini division is that it pushes the open men’s division even later at the night show. With the addition of the bikini division, I might have to wait a bit longer to do my routine, but I get to look at them while I’m sitting backstage, and that’s not so bad.
So I think the bikini division is great. I hope it inspires another group of women to live the bodybuilding lifestyle. As a man I like it that more gorgeous women in bikinis and high heels will be at the shows and more fit women in the world in general. As a promoter I can expose more people to the benefits of training and nutrition. Quite frankly, it also gives me a chance to make more money as a promoter. Given the time and energy I put into my show, I deserve it.
Don’t hate them because they’re beautiful.
Side note: One of my former training partners, Rita Ross, who was a very successful figure competitor, would routinely leg-press 720 pounds for sets of 20 to 30 reps—I’d use 810 to 900 pounds just to stay ahead. Then she’d use the same amount of weight that I used for the same number of sets and reps on leg extensions, leg curls and standing calf raises. Sometimes she would one-up me on those exercises and talk trash. It was very motivating. At the time Rita was 5’3” and 120 to 122 pounds. She hasn’t competed in several years but would probably do even better if she came back as a bikini competitor.
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