Saturday, 19 September 2015
MUSCLE: 10-15% (OFF)
Got muscle? Olympia bound Mindi O'Brien, Michelle Cummings, Kira Neuman (and her golden glootz) and Yasha - all winners in WPD Pro events in 2015.
This weekend is Olympia weekend, and for the first time the event - as I'm sure you know - is taking place without Women's Bodybuilding. Now you might not find yourself missing the Ms O quite as much as you would have if the Rising Phoenix hadn't been such a success, but you probably will - like me - miss it nonetheless. However, consolation is at hand in the stunning shapes of the thirty competitors who will be lining up in Las Vegas to hit their poses. The cream of the Women's Physique division.
Dani's gonna be there making her Olympia debut.
My advice would be to enjoy what show there is this year because new evidence suggests that not content with removing the big muscle women from their showpiece events, the IFBB are now turning their attention to the Physique and the Figure divisions with one aim in mind. Their mission, surprise surprise, is less muscle.
Hot and Hard 100 #10 Karina Nascimento was 4th at last year's Olympia.
In an interview with NPC News Online on the weekend of the 7th September, NPC & IFBB Pro League President Jim Manion announced the changes the IFBB is going to implement as of 2016 with the help of NPC/IFBB Head Judge Sandy Williamson.
It's the judging's fault, it's not the athletes, explained Head Judge(!) Williamson. We [judges] started to reward a little more size in both Figure and Women's Physique.
And this, apparently, is a bad thing.
Most of the athletes email me, Williamson continues, they email the national office, they don't want to see as much muscle. We know this as an organisation and we've done this before, we just need to tone back the muscle a little bit.
Gloria Faulls, one (of many) who is always emailing Sandy Williamson, the NPC and the IFBB complaining that they are ruining her life with their constant demand that she build more and muscle in order to succeed at their shows... apparently.
I wonder what they mean by "a little bit".
Wherever you are now, if you're at that top of the line, says Williamson, you just need to drop it back another 10-15%. Muscle bellies but nice lines, aesthetic lines.
Ceaanna Kerr, Dianne Brown, Ayanna Carroll & Jennifer Hernandez all competing in 2015. Dianne won her pro card just last year, Ceaanna won the Toronto Pro, Jennifer the Tampa Pro Masters, and Ayanna won in Orlando.
So, if I understand correctly - and I'm not saying I do because it seems to me that even Williamson is not very clear about what these changes mean and to whom - either all competitors, or only those competitors who are at the most muscular edge of their division, need to reduce (a whole new skill for a bodybuilder to learn) the amount of muscle on their frames by somewhere between 10 and 15% and achieve a look more pleasing to the eye. Well, more pleasing to the NPC/IFBB eye, anyway.
It's probably just me. I'm sure the women - the women who have been crying out to be given the opportunity to let 10-15% of the muscle they have worked so hard for waste away - know exactly what Williamson means. I'm sure, as well as being welcome news, that it's all crystal clear to them what the NPC/IFBB expect in 2016...
Jacklyn Sutton Abrams, 12th at last year's Ms Physique Olympia.
Seriously though, I imagine this is not great news for the more muscular Physique ladies and the ex-Bodybuilding competitors who have made the transition down to Physique. With Women's Bodybuilding now marginalised, they have no way to go but smaller still. It's better news, perhaps, to the more muscular Figure competitor though, who at least has a choice whether to add a bit more muscle (not too much, mind) and move up to Physique or to lose those striations and stay in Figure.
Joan Smith, Figure champ in Atlantic City despite (or perhaps because of) being what Sandy Williamson calls "at that top of the line" for muscle in her division. A potential future Physique competitor? Joan's choice is either to lose 10-15% of that gorgeous muscle, or bulk up (just a bit, not too much) and move up a division.
So what's prompted this?
Forget all the "they're just anti-female muscle" explanations. If the women at the Rising Phoenix were making as much money for the IFBB and the NPC and the vested interests inside and outside the organisation as they are making for themselves through their various businesses (online or more hush-hush activities aimed at fans or otherwise), then the Women's Bodybuilding division would be present at a lot more of those IFBB Pro League shows. But they are not. And as much as we might not like it, that is because the appeal if the hyper-muscular look is limited.
Go out and talk to any of those bikini women, says Jim Manion - the man who brought you the Bikini division in the first place. I'll guarantee they're taking somebody's protein powder... they're probably taking more than most men tennis players.
A bizarre little speech, but a revealing one nonetheless. If you accept (albeit unwillingly) "Bikini" is the look more women aspire to than any other, it's only logical to assume that bikini girls sell more protein shakes than women who compete in the other classes. And the companies who make those protein powders, while some do sponsor women in other divisions, including those elite hyper-muscular female bodybuilders, earn so much more out of sponsoring the less muscular women.
Why do the IFBB/NPC care how much money the supplement companies make?
In a word: SPONSORSHIP.
So, get rid of the big female muscle freaks and tone down Physique and Figure so the women in those divisions also have more appealing looks to the mainstream. More women will aspire to those looks, and more tubs of protein will get sold as a result.
It's what you might call "anti-Freakonomics".
Leah Johnson: dying to shed some muscle, obviously.
Now I wouldn't for a moment expect the IFBB/NPC to give a monkey's about what I think - I'm just another one of those guys that Frank Sepe describes as "sitting in their mother's basement on a computer" - but you have to feel sorry for the women.
But unfortunately, as long as professional female bodybuilders as well as Physique competitors with aspirations towards a more muscular look remain under the control of Manion and his organisation, they will continue to have to adapt or give up.
Gorgeous Erica Blockman will be at the Olympia for the first time. She competed in Figure before she moved to the WPD in 2013. Within a year she had her pro card.
Or perhaps there is another way. Back in 2013 when the Ms International was dumped FMS wondered whether this would be the push female bodybuilding needed to break away from the IFBB altogether and set up its own, independent federation just as female tennis players had done back in the 1970s (see A Silver Lining?). Well, it's turned out that has not been the case, but the creation of the Rising Phoenix in response to the end of the Ms Olympia shows that there may be a way forward.
Tycie Coppett has top 3 Arnold and Olympia finishes on her CV.
Now I have no idea exactly how any of this might work, you understand. I'm just some guy "sitting in his mother's basement". But I can't help feeling that if the IFBB/NPC keep on failing the women competing in their shows, it just swells the numbers of those who would potentially join some imaginary break-away women's federation.
One can only hope.
And finally, the kind of thing that I imagine gives Mr Manion nightmares, courtesy of his federation's Ms Physique Olympia 2014, La Malacarne herself. From Juliana's Instagram, posted this week during her final preparations to defend her title...
La Malacarne and the muscle.
Now that's what my eye calls "aesthetic lines".
Enjoy 10-15% MORE MUSCLE on FMS all week this week.
Watch the whole NPC News Online Manion/Williamson interview on YouTube.
The discussion turns to the women's divisions at about the 10-minute mark.