Glamazon women with fake tans, glittery or jeweled bikinis, massive biceps, and a full blowout – we’ve all seen female bodybuilders hit the stage and thought, wow, right?
It’s slightly less glamorous behind the scenes, with hours of hard work to reach the stage: 5am cardio, dieting and meal prepping, counting macros, 90-minute sessions of strength training and hands peeling from callouses like sunburn.
Sounds like a lot? Yeah. Women bodybuilders are incredible.
Whether you have aspirations of strutting your stuff on stage in a bikini or you’re looking to hit the weight room for personal gains, the world of female bodybuilders is no joke. But if you’re a bit curious and fancy joining the ranks of professional bodybuilders, then this guide on how to start bodybuilding for females is here to help!
What is a female bodybuilder?
Bodybuilding is a professional sport, requiring as much dedication and training as any other sporting activity. Female bodybuilders are athletes that have a very specific lifestyle that involves a detailed training schedule and a specific diet to provide precise nutrition. This is called hypertrophy training and is all about strengthening, sculpting, and developing muscles.
Some bodybuilders just work out and train to look and feel strong. However, for many, the purpose of this diet and training is to compete at bodybuilding competitions where you’re judged in different categories based on physique and muscular development. It’s essential to be aware that participating in a sport where you’re judged predominantly on your appearance can be intense.
Therefore, as a female bodybuilder, it’s important to train your mind in addition to your body when prepping to compete. If you’ve struggled with body image in the past, think about whether participating in bodybuilding competitions would be good for you.
Remember that whilst a competition can be a great goal to work towards, there won’t be any trophies or prizes for gains to your health and performance! You can absolutely undertake bodybuilding workouts and follow a lifestyle program like female bodybuilders do to get strong AF without the intention of competing.
What does a typical female bodybuilding workout plan like?
What’s the best way to make gains and build muscle? Strength training. Women bodybuilders spend hours working on their muscle definition from all angles.
A typical training regime of a female bodybuilder is no joke. It usually involves working out twice a day, with approximately an hour of lifting and weights plus anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours of cardio.
Most female bodybuilders structure their training by body part, aka a ‘split’ to get the most out of their strength training. A typical 5-day split could look something like this:
Day 1: Chest
Day 2: Back
Day 3: Shoulders
Day 4: Legs (never forget leg day!)
Day 5: Arms
Day 6 & 7: Rest
Every female bodybuilder’s training will be different depending on their goal, body type and ability. Some bodybuilders may instead train across six days, alternating a day of legs with upper body training.
Alternatively, you might want to work out each muscle group twice a week. So, you could split your training to alternate ‘push’ days, ‘pull’ days and then leg day. Which might look something like this:
Day 1: Pull (back, biceps)
Day 2: Push (chest, shoulders, triceps)
Day 3: Legs
Day 4: Pull (back, biceps)
Day 5: Push (chest, shoulders, triceps)
Day 6: Legs
Day 7: Rest
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How to start bodybuilding for females
Whether working out at home or in the gym, start with a warmup and then do 3-5 different exercises for each designated body part. You’ll typically do 3-4 sets of 7-12 reps of each. It’s a good idea to kick off with compound exercises, which require multiple joints like squats, deadlifts, and bench presses, before then moving onto isolation exercises that only use one joint, like leg extensions and bicep curls.
Compound exercises are great at allowing you to lift bigger weights and tick the box of functional training, but don’t forget about isolation exercises! They’re essential for female bodybuilders as they focus solely on a single muscle at a time, increasing the size of muscle fibers – which is a huge goal of bodybuilders. Plus, if you’re a newbie to the world of bodybuilding, they’re more straightforward exercises to execute and will help you keep going safely and with less risk of injury.
Almost equally as important as your strength training is… cardio. This often gets overlooked. Cardio can be key for fat burning to reveal all your hard earned lean muscle! We recommend aiming for 20 minutes of cardio 3 times a week. If you’re already pretty fit, you could swap out one of these cardio sessions for a HIIT workout.
Working out as a female bodybuilder: weight vs reps
We all have a 1RM, which is the maximum weight that we can handle for each rep. When you’re doing 8-12 reps of each exercise, you only want to be at 60-70% of your 1RM. Although lifting closer to 100% of your 1RM is more efficient for building strength, female bodybuilders are focused on hypertrophy (increased muscle size).
Therefore, it’s more effective to lift lighter weights for longer.
The tempo of your training is also crucial. You want to be totally in control, which means lifting slowly and keeping consistent motions through the full extension. By lifting slowly, you cause muscle fatigue and create micro-tears in your muscle fibers. This sounds like a bad thing, but this is precisely what you want.
Your body will then repair these micro-tears during rest periods, and the muscle fibers will grow back thicker and result in hypertrophy.
You can also use supersets, which is when you do two exercises that target the same muscle group back-to-back with no, or minor, rest in-between.
What do female bodybuilders eat?
In bodybuilding, exercise is only one side of the coin whilst diet is the other side! It’s vital for supporting your goals and muscle gains. Many female bodybuilders will follow an IIFYM (If it fits your macros) or macro-counting diet, which contains three food groups: proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbs.
To build new muscle, you’ll need protein; healthy fats will keep you satisfied and fuller for longer (and keep your daily calorie intake low). Plus, complex carbs will fuel your workouts.
An IIFYM or macro-counting diet will give you much more freedom in your food choices; you can even follow a vegan diet whilst training to be a female bodybuilder. You just need to keep within the necessary amounts for each food group (your macros).
This is just a brief introduction to those following a female bodybuilding diet. There’s so much to know about how bodybuilders ‘bulk’ and ‘cut’ when they’re preparing for competitions that could have a guide of its own.
While we do have a cutting and bulking guide available, these are primarily male-focused, however, some elements will still apply.
What should you know before signing up for a female bodybuilding competition?
What does the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB), National Physique Committee (NPC) and World Natural Bodybuilding Federation (WNBF) all have in common?
Well, ‘bodybuilding’ in the names might have given it away. But they’re just some of the bodybuilding organizations out there with female bodybuilding competitions.
They’re all a little different, so before you decide to sign up, do some research on what competition and genre of female bodybuilding are right for you. Almost all competitions will require you to wear a swimsuit and pose in front of the judging panel to be scored.
There are five common categories of female bodybuilding:
This is probably the most popular category; you wear a bikini and pose in front of the judges to be scored. It focuses on balanced physiques with a moderate amount of muscle.
A step up from the bikini category, you’re judged on muscular balance and symmetry.
Even more of a step up with more focus on muscle, you’re judged on your athletic appearance.
Alright, this is the most muscular category of women’s bodybuilding, and it’s for those serious about building muscle. Imagine a stage full of female Arnold Schwarzeneggers – beefy.
The fitness category is also judged on your physique and muscular appearance, but it also includes a fitness routine that incorporates elements of dance, gymnastics and strength moves performed to music.
Female bodybuilding for beginners: your first steps to start training
Ok, so you’re pumped up and ready to jump in, and you’re wondering ‘how to start bodybuilding for females’? Here are our six top tips for getting started:
- Hire a coach who can guide you with a good training and nutrition plan! Do some proper research and don’t just choose someone from Instagram who looks impressive. This is your health so make sure they know what they’re talking about.
- Make sure you track everything. From logging your training so that you can strategically increase your weights to keeping track of your food so you can watch your macros and calories. There are some great apps available that will track this all-in-one place for you.
- Use machines. If you’re just getting started in the world of female bodybuilding, then it can be so valuable to begin on the strength-training machines as they keep the body in the correct form throughout the exercise. This minimizes injury. If you’re new to bodybuilding but have a good strength base and form, feel free to play with the free weights.
- Give yourself enough time if you plan to compete. Everyone is different, but typically it takes newbie bodybuilders an intensive 12-week program to prep for competition. If you’re already training and consistent with your diet, it might not take you as long to prep.
- Be patient with yourself and the journey. Bodybuilding is very structured, organized, and progressive, and everyone needs a tailored-to-them plan. This keeps you safe and allows you to be as effective and efficient in your gains as possible. However, remember that gains take time, effort, and consistency to build.
- Keep pushing the limits. Just like any program, your body will adapt, and you’ll need to keep testing yourself and adjusting the weight/reps/intensity or even rest periods so that you can be sure you’re making effective gains.
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