Brief History of The Evolution of Fitness and Physique Contests


Within the last 20 years, bodybuilding and other physique contests have seen many changes. In the days of Arnold and Lou, there was really only extreme bodybuilding as the main option for legitimate physique contests around the world for muscular men and women to showcase their bodies. When I say legitimate, I use that word loosely because around that time there was no such thing as a “natural” drug-free contest. This only narrowed down the options even further leaving women to choose hardcore bodybuilding competitions as their only physique contest option. This also meant that these women most likely had to dive into some type of anabolic drug regimen in order to keep up with the other women who were competing at such high levels of muscle mass and vascularity.

As time progressed, competitions started arising at novice and amateur levels for local contests bringing in a few more women. However, other women were not competing because they just did not want to get too muscular even at any level, nor did they want to diet as hard as they needed in order to be competitive.

Coming into the 1990s, fitness competitions started to pop up but because they were geared toward a softer and leaner look along with a routine element added to each category. This opened the doors to gymnasts and dancers who were once considered over the hill in their sport by the age of 20! The body types of women in these sports were well suited to the physiques needed for a fitness contest, so the athletes only had to diet down a fraction of what the women in the bodybuilding contests needed to do.

Within the fitness contest category, there were still a number of women who were being left out. These women wanted to compete in the physique portion but did not want to partake in the routine part of the contest. This is when the “figure” category was born. The late 1990s was the beginning for figure competitions and soon to follow was the fitness model category which specializes in a smaller and less defined look to the athlete’s physiques. Figure competitions began with a routine as well since bodybuilding and fitness contests both had a routine element, so it was only fair to add a routine portion to figure shows.

With figure competition routines, inverted movements were not allowed and you had to incorporate open-handed bodybuilding poses as well as using high platform heels for the physique round. This came about due to the compliment these types of shoes give the legs and glutes (booty). While still being leery of specific routines, many federations decided to keep a figure contest with only the physique portion, similar to the fitness model category, but with a more serious physique portion which required more definition and muscle mass yet not as serious as true bodybuilding events required.

When you go to a physique contest today you will see the most popular classes with the most entrants being the fitness model and figure categories. So much so that some believe we need to save the “fitness” category. There are a few IFBB pros out there who are making a serious effort to recruit more fitness competitors and really spread the word that gymnastics are not a requirement in fitness, which will help open the doors for more women to come back over to the fitness arena.

So, the next time you go to one of these physique contests and are not sure which class it is since there are so many women’s categories now available as well as many women cross-competing in more than one class, you will better understand exactly who and what you are watching. Morning shows do not normally have any announcements but the night shows will tell you which category is on stage as you watch the contest. Morning shows are more of a family event meant for pre-judging so that by the time the night show rolls around, the decisions have been made and the trophies come out. In some cases, where there are larger numbers of entrants, they only allow the top 5 or top 10 individuals to come out during the night show.

I hope this article provided you with a brief history about the evolution of fitness contests and I really encourage you to attend a physique show so you can see how truly dedicated these athletes are to their craft!

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About Author

Linda Cusmano

Linda is a national level fitness and figure pro who dabbles in bodybuilding competitions, obstacle and strength challenges along with fitness model competitions. She is a triple certified elite personal trainer and the owner of Body Rush Personal Training. See my profile page for more information!

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