We often watch televised competitions of beauty pageants such as Miss USA or Miss Universe, but there are plenty of other women out there who are going head-to-head for a different sort of title. Bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts dedicate their entire lives to sculpting and shaping their bodies. They bulk up to create muscular frames that make them look like walking statues, far from the average person who hits the gym for a little Zumba or cardio.
Men are often highlighted and high-fived for their dedication when people feature them in stories about their bulging muscles, but we can’t neglect to talk about the women whose physiques give those dudes a run for their money. The fellas aren’t the only ones who are taking the bodybuilding world by storm, as women, for decades, have shown that they, too, are formidable contenders. We’ve gathered 15 photos and profiles of some of the world’s most notable female bodybuilders, strong women who can out-bench press their male counterparts. Their bulked up bodies are proof that anything men can do, women can do, too (and maybe better!). We wouldn’t recommend messing with any of these women because they have the capability to squash you like a bug.
15. Dana Linn Bailey Uses Fitness To Show Girls That Women Can Also Be Muscular
Former college soccer player Dana Linn Bailey started lifting with her then boyfriend while she was at West Chester University. Her first figure competition was in 2006, and she stayed in the game for four more years. Dana Linn then went on to teach physical education at a middle school until 2014, and during that time, she began competing in physique contests. She and her husband own a gym where Dana Linn is able to lift and work out as much as she wants to, which is obvious when you look at photos of her incredible body.
Dana Linn also likes to travel the world where she speaks at camps and seminars, empowering women and girls. “I like to be in front of people and show them and show girls that you can be strong, you can be muscular, and you can be beautiful!!! You can be whatever you envision yourself to be! In the last couple years, I have learned a lot about myself, and I have learned what it truly means to be comfortable in your own skin. I have learned what confidence truly looks like and feels like… AND and there is nothing greater than that feeling!”
14. Irene Andersen Stars In A Documentary About Discrimination In Bodybuilding
Born in Denmark and currently living in Sweden, this mother of three has a body that will stop you in your tracks. Just a few days ago, Irene Andersen placed third at the IFBB Puerto Rico Pro competition where she earned $1,000. Her nearly 19,000 Instagram followers like to keep up with her life on the road and in the gym. Irene had a dream of being the most popular bodybuilder in the world, but her hopes have been slighted considering that many competitions have axed out female contestants. She stars in “Too Big For The World,” a film about her bodybuilding career and the roadblocks she faces because she’s a woman. She also wanted to examine why society has a fear of seeing muscular women and the discrimination these ladies face on their climb up the ladder to stardom.
13. Yaxeni Oriquen Could Be Your Personal Trainer If You Play Your Cards Right
This wife and mother doesn’t let domestic life stop her from being one of the top female bodybuilding professionals in the world. Born and raised in Venezuela, Yaxeni Oriquen worked both as a model and as a theater actress. Her love for bodybuilding started in 1989, and after winning four competitions, five years later, she moved to the U.S. to further her career. She’s the only Venezuelan to win the Ms. Olympia title and holds three dozen others in various competitions. When she’s not flexing on stage, Yaxeni works as a fitness instructor and personal trainer in Miami Beach, Florida. Can you imagine having her as your fitness coach? Both men and women looking to gain muscle can use someone like Yaxeni in their corner. They better be committed because Yaxeni doesn’t look like she plays any games in the gym.
12. Brigita Brezovac May Be Retired, But Her Career Is Far From Over
As a teen in Slovenia, Brigita Brezovac was just like other youngins her age until she met her boyfriend when she was 14 years old. He had a small amateur gym at his house, and after she saw magazines featuring famous bodybuilders, she became interested in gaining muscle. She came in fourth in 2001 at the Miss Bodybuilding competition, but due to an injury, she had to move to Miss Fitness. In 2004, she went to the World Championship but was disqualified because her muscles were too stacked. She has the physique to keep competing, but in 2013, Brigita officially retired from bodybuilding. Her accomplishments are nothing to sneeze at either, and the IFBB Pro Women’s Bodybuilding Ranking List recognized that when they picked her as the fifth best female bodybuilder in 2013. Brigita is also a well-rounded renaissance woman who is a black belt in karate, a boxer, a masseuse, and a personal trainer who speaks four languages fluently.
11. The Russian Powerlifter Who Isn’t Shy When Talking About Her Steroid Use
This Russian powerhouse is Nataliya Kuznetsova who is an arm lifting, bench press, deadlift, and bodybuilding champ. Some say she’s the most muscular woman in the world with legs that could crush a watermelon. As a child, Nataliya only weighed 90 pounds and hit the gym to gain some weight. She started focusing on powerlifting when she was only 14 years old, and now, ten years later, you can see how her hard work is paying off. She eats a very strict diet and has been openly vocal about her use of estrogen blockers and steroids. The sports she competes in don’t do drug tests, so she’s able to experiment in ways that other athletes and bodybuilders can’t. Married and living in Moscow with her husband, Nataliya hasn’t graced as many stages as others on this list, but at 25 years old, she has a long career ahead of her.
10. Heather Foster Placed In The Top Ten For Ms. Olympia
Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Heather Foster grew up in New York after her family moved there when she was a toddler. As a child, she enjoyed playing sports over dolls, even joining her high school’s basketball and track teams. Heather’s bodybuilding career began when she was a student at the City College of New York. Her friend suggested she enter a competition, and while at first, she said no, she later entered the contest. She placed second in her class and moved on to Nationals. With eighteen years and over two dozen competitions under her belt, Heather also placed 6th at Ms. Olympia in 2010. At 50 years old, Heather has no plans of slowing down but hopes to start a family.
“In the future, I see myself settling down with my best friend (I know you’re out there somewhere!), having children, and being proactive in the sport of bodybuilding,” she wrote on her website. “I will continue to help other athletes with their music arrangements, choreography, mandatory’s [sic], injuries, etc., it’s what I enjoy doing. I want to be instrumental in helping women’s bodybuilding regain the respect it so rightfully deserves.”
9. Cathy LeFrancois’s Career Is In Honor Of Her Late Friend’s Memory
At 5’3″, Cathy LeFrancois packs a lot of body for having such a short stature. The 46-year-old is hailed as being one of the most famous bodybuilders to come from Canada. In 2013, she ranked the 10th best female bodybuilder in the IFBB Pro Women’s Bodybuilding Ranking List. As a child, Cathy did speed skating, alpine skiing, tennis, and badminton, but it wasn’t until she was 14 that her life moved in a different direction. She saw that a male classmate had muscular arms with protruding veins and was curious as to how he got them. He told her it was from weight training with dumbbells. Cathy always had her friend Steve in her corner to motivate her, but he lost his life to a drunk driver. Since his death, Cathy has dedicated her career to honor his memory. She’s been competing professionally since 1995 and owns a gym in El Monte, California.
8. Dayana Cadeau Has Transformed From One Stacked Body to Another
Look at those legs! Cathy LeFrancois may be doing Canada proud with her bustling career, but no one has put Canadians on the map in women’s bodybuilding like Dayana Cadeau has. The Haitian-born 51-year-old is the only Canadian to win Ms. Olympia lightweight, and while she’s never won an overall title, she’s placed in dozens of competitions that prove she’s one of the best contenders out there. By looking at her photo you’d think that she stood above the rest physically, but she’s only 5’3″. Nowadays Dana’s body has changed since she’s been using waist trainers (and it seems that she may have had some *ahem* augmentation done). She may have a full hourglass shape that mirrors that of Jessica Rabbit’s, but that doesn’t mean she’s not still in the gym hitting those weights hard.
7. Su Farrell Is The Champion Powerlifter You Don’t Want To Challenge
Self-proclaimed tomboy Su Farrell is a U.K. hardbody who says she’s always had an athletic build. It wasn’t until 2010 that Su relocated to London in order to seriously pursue her passion for fitness. She’s competed in powerlifting and bodybuilding, but she’s opted to stay in classes that allowed her to keep the thinner waist on her frame that complimented her narrow hips. Su boasts being a pro figure athlete and world champion powerlifter, so you may want to skip challenging her to a friendly arm-wrestling match. She currently lives in Vegas, and when she isn’t striking that serious muscular pose under those bright lights, she works as City Athletic Club’s Director of Operations.
“I hope that the things I have accomplished in my life help others to realize their true potential,” Su wrote on her personal website. “If I have inspired even one person to get out there and pursue their dreams, I will be happy.”
6. Kim Chizevsky Retired From Bodybuilding Because People Told Her To Be More Feminine
Her nickname was “Thunder Thighs” for a reason! Raised in Illinois, Kim Chizevsky spent her childhood playing basketball and volleyball and doing some cheerleading. In high school, she did the same plus track and field, making her a sports star among her peers. When she worked as an aerobics instructor in the late 1980s, she was dating Chad Nicholls, who helped turn her attention to bodybuilding. It took Kim a few years to earn her pro card, but she won her 1993 pro debut at Ms. International. After she won Ms. Olympia in 1999, Kim retired from bodybuilding due to what she saw as discrimination in competitions. She claimed that women were told to be more feminine and less muscular, and you don’t tell that to a lady with a body like hers. Later on in her career, Kim paid less attention to bulking up on muscle and trimmed down to compete in fitness, but she never saw the same success as when she was hailed as a female beefcake.
5. Tina Chandler Went From Gymnastics To Bodybuilding
This flexible IFBB pro bodybuilder spent her childhood studying gymnastics, which is reflected during her competitive routines. Personal trainer and massage therapist Tina Chandler was born in Louisiana but grew up in Texas, making her a southern girl through and through. When her gymnastics career was coming to a close, Tina wanted to stay in shape but didn’t know how. She looked to Muscle and Fitness magazine to give her some tips and soon found herself strength training in a weight room. The changes she saw in her body excited her, and the rest is bodybuilding history.
“When you set a goal for yourself, make sure you check in on your every thought along the way,” Tina wrote on Instagram. “Don’t let doubt or insecurity cause you to slow your progress even for a moment. Your mind, body, and spirit must all be working toward the same goal. Set your sights on what you want, and don’t stop until you get it!”
4. Alina Popa Started Lifting Weights When She Was Just A Teen
Talk about going overboard with the self-tanner! This Romanian Ms. Olympia runner-up started pumping up at the gym when she was just 19 years old. When she went to the gym to work on keeping fit, she stumbled upon a woman who was preparing for competition. Intrigued by the female bodybuilder, Alina Popa saw an opportunity to get into a new field of fitness.
“I kept on training for the next two years until one day, I entered another gym in another town, where I was a student, and the trainer there saw my potential and suggested to me I should train to compete,” Alina said. “I’ll never forget how honored I felt… and how happy. So I guess I would have liked to compete, but I didn’t manage till I got someone to support me and help me.”
3. Yolanda Hughes Went From Bodybuilding To Pole Dancing
As a teen, Yolanda Hughes had dreams of becoming an Olympian gymnastics star. She had much success as a high school and college sports star but never had her eyes on bodybuilding until WWF wrestler Hillbilly Jim recruited her for a competition. Even though she only had four weeks to train, she placed second. Yolanda would later marry and move to Germany with her husband where she introduced aerobic fitness to their small community. Her bodybuilding career was from 1984 until 1999, when she officially retired from competing. Now, Yolanda and her husband enjoy life in Washington, and after taking up pole dancing, she opened her own studio called Fitness Exotica. There she offers training in fitness, pole dancing, and even stripping. That’s a far cry from her two first place wins at Ms. International for bodybuilding.
2. Iris Kyle Is The Most Successful Bodybuilder Ever
This, friends, is Iris Kyle. With 10 overall Ms. Olympia wins and 7 Ms. International wins, along with many others, Iris is hailed as the most successful professional bodybuilder ever. Nope, not just in the female category; she tops the guys as well. From 2006 to 2014, Iris was the first place winner of Ms. Olympia, meaning she won that title nine years in a row! In one of the more embarrassing moments of her career, in 2008, Iris was featured on the TV show “Wipeout” where the host repeatedly referred to her as a “he.” If that wasn’t bad enough, while Iris was trying to navigate the show’s clunky obstacle course, she hurt herself and broke several ribs. She later revealed that the show asked her to come back for another episode, but she shut them down. Now, she co-owns a gym in Huntington Beach, California and works as a real estate agent in Katy, Texas, where she lives with her bodybuilding boyfriend.
1. Twins Sheila and Sherry Bleck Are Double Trouble When They Compete
Born and raised in Oregon, Sheila Bleck and her twin sister, Sherry, come from humble beginnings. Unlike many young girls her age, Sheila wanted to get into weightlifting because she was a huge Sylvester Stallone fan and especially loved him in Rocky. At 12 years old, the twins had their mother buy them a weight bench, and three years later, Sheila joined a powerlifting team. She jumped into competing right after graduating high school and finally earned her IFBB pro card in 2008. Sister Sherry became a fighter with the USA Amateur Boxing Association and did pretty well considering she won all ten of her fights. Sherry also participated in three bodybuilding competitions where she took second place in one and, in the others, won two overall titles. Meanwhile, Sheila has a number of wins under her belt as well and continues to show off her impressive posing skills in bodybuilding competitions.