Opinion: IFBB Women’s Physique Division – Under Construction

The first IFBB Women’s Physique competition is in the books and it left many scratching their heads. Shocking that a show would have some controversy (note sarcasm). Every show has some unhappy fans and someone upset at the outcome, it’s been that way for decades so why would it change now? It hasn’t and it won’t. Eleven IFBB Women’s Physique Pros took the stage in Mesa, Arizona and only a couple of people saw the inaugural winner coming, one of which is women’s bodybuilding historian Steve Wennerstrom. If anyone knows how to size up a women’s physique competition it’s Steve as he’s been covering competitions for decades. Did he know something others didn’t by predicting Karina Nascimento as the winner before the show? It’s a little thing called experience.

In today’s online world many people mistaken a bit of a fan base as being the odds-on favorite to win a show. Sorry folks but having more “likes” on facebook and more views on Youtube than another competitor doesn’t make you the winner of a physique competition. Competitors should without question build their own brand and create a fan base however the fans need to remember the judging takes place on stage and not facebook or a forum. Let me preface this by saying I was NOT at the Phoenix Pro show and having covered hundreds of shows and photographed thousands of physiques over the years, I know photos are not an accurate depiction of a show. If you’re judging a competition by photos then you’ve never sat at a judged table or directly behind it. It looks very different than photos and even different then a few rows back. As I wrote in my Desert Muscle preview, I didn’t think we’d see “the ideal” in this show and more than likely most women would be too ripped and too muscular for this new division. What happened? The women were told by IFBB Pro athlete rep Bob Cicherillo that they need to tone it down as they were looking too big and too ripped for the division. What does that mean? He shared they (the judges) don’t want to see excessive muscularity and don’t want to see striations. Bob shared in his wrap up video that people need understand that this is not women’s bodybuilding and it’s not Figure.

So what is it?

It’s something in between.

Am I a fan of the division? Well, I’m all for giving women an opportunity to compete so from that standpoint, yes. While the division is new and will certainly evolve, I don’t see what it will do except confuse fans and participants along the way. It appears that Figure competitors with more muscle will likely fair well in this division. Bodybuilders bringing it down a notch apparently are still too big. So what does that leave? Confusion. Despite what the criteria may be on paper we haven’t seen an ideal in the NPC or Pro ranks to point to. What should the women’s physique competitor look like? At the inaugural IFBB show the judges felt Karina Nascimento fit the criteria the best. Does that make her the standard? On that day, at that show it did. Does that mean she is “the look” for the division. It points to what type of look the judges will reward however it doesn’t make her the Women’s Physique ideal.

Everyone has a different view on what they think the WPD should look like. Some think the first NPC Pro card winner of the division,  Dana Linn Bailey is the look. Others have thrown out names like Larissa Reiss and Juliana Malacarne. I personally think the ideal could be past Figure Olympia champion Jenn Gates as she looked at last year’s Figure International. She was obviously too hard and too muscular for the current Figure division. She has the looks, the muscle and the shape/structure. Will we see Jenn compete in the division? I asked her and she said, “I love my life and there is no diet in it! It would be hard to give up my social life!” She went on to share that she has no desire to compete again and is enjoying her home life away from the stage. So  don’t count on seeing Gates on stage again.

So where does that leave this new division? It’s best described as Under Construction. Will it eventually be worked out and a clear distinction of what is going to be rewarded? Ya, it likely will.  Will we see people up in arms over what is rewarded along the way? That you can bet all your chips on. There are several more shows with women’s physique in it and the winners will likely vary along the way given who competes on that day. I’m personally conflicted over the division as it’s trying to appease a very small section of an already niche industry. Women who are told they are too muscular for Figure enter and then are knocked down because they are “too hard” and then women from bodybuilding enter and are told they are “too muscular”. It’s understandable that fans and participants are confused over the new division. The best advice I can offer is to give it time and see how it works out. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea but then again what is?

What are your thoughts on the new division? Share them in the comments below and all opinions are welcome.



photo by dan ray.


Disclaimer: Reader discretion advised, please consult your physician before beginning any exercise or diet program.