Many consider bodybuilding to be a man's sport. Possibly the most legendary bodybuilder of all time, Arnold Schwarzenegger brought the sport into the mainstream over the course of his career, but no female has every truly been able to bring the same amount of attention to their side of the ticket. What's more, many consider the IFBB's (International Federation of Body Builders) guidelines to be leaning the female competitors into a more "feminine" figure as opposed to the hulking muscles you're about to see below.
These women, though, pay no mind to what people might think a woman is supposed to look like. They are bigger and stronger than 90% of the men on the planet, with their only true rivals being male bodybuilders and professional weightlifters. Many of these women aspire to be the size of the male competitors, and some even get close (relative to their size). Even if they don't weigh as much, these women have bigger biceps than my head and can probably lift two of me. Sure, there are probably/definitely a large amount of steroids involved, but it's still impressive to behold. They certainly aren't pinup models, but that's the price you pay for herculean strength.
15 Colette Guimond
Colette Guimond is a French Canadian professional IFBB (International Federation of Body Builders) female bodybuilder. She started training at the age of 26 and began competing in amateur competitions after only two years of training. She won the Montreal Championship in 1989, but wasn’t able to break into the professional competitions. Her career was unfortunately put on hold due to an accident in 1997. For this reason Guimond was only able compete in three professional competitions over the course of her career, and she may have reached greater heights had she been able to stay healthy. She received her pro card in 2005 after taking first place in the Canadian Women’s Bodybuilding Nationals Heavyweight division. Guimond now resides in New Port Richey, Florida.
14 Brigita Bresovac
Brigita Bresovac is a professional bodybuilder from Slovenia. She knew that what she wanted to do at the age of 14, when she saw posters of classic female bodybuilders on the wall of her boyfriend’s home gym. In 2001 at the age of 22, she competed in her first amateur bodybuilding competition and came in fourth. In her next competition in 2004, she entered the fitness category but was eventually disqualified due to her muscular build. She went on to compete in the bodybuilding section and win. Her first Ms. Olympia was in 2010, where she placed tenth, but returned the next year and came in third. Though she never won the title of Ms. Olympia, she won multiple other competitions and finished within the top six competitors at every subsequent Ms. Olympia she competed in. Before her retirement in 2013, Brigita was named the fifth best female bodybuilder by the IFBB Pro League.
13 Rene Campbell
British bodybuilder Rene Campbell had one of the fastest and most extreme transformation of anyone on this list. Once a size 8, Rene started competing only four years after her training began. It would even be fair to call her a “natural,” if not a bit ironic. She can bench over 330 pounds with ease, and is adding to her maxes as her muscles grow. This beefed-up mother of two is so fixated on bodybuilding that her goal is to weigh 280 pounds one day. That’s over one hundred pounds more than her current weight, but Rene takes bodybuilding extremely seriously. She consumes 4,200 calories a day to maintain her figure, and reportedly even carries a scale around to weigh her meals when she eats out. It’s all a bit compulsive, but if Campbell wants to challenge the men someday then she’ll need to keep working. At the age of 36, she has a few more prime years to pack on the pounds before the effect of a life of steroids and heavy weight catches up to her.
12 Yolanda Hughes
Yolanda Hughes was competing at a high level since high school, where she competed in local and state track meets, taking home titles in multiple categories. She also competed in gymnastics, where her original goal was to become an Olympian in the sport. She competed in her first amateur bodybuilding competition while in college, but was still focusing on her main sports of track and gymnastics. When her scholarship ran out, Hughes decided to focus on bodybuilding as her full-time career, and eventually turned pro in 1992. She met her husband, Thomas Heying, and moved with him to his home country of Germany, where she adapted to the local community and eventually opened her own gym in the area. She won her first Ms. International title in 1997, and went on to win an additional title the next year.
11 Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia
Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia is one of the most decorated professional bodybuilders in the sport. Hailing from Venezuela, Oriquen started her professional bodybuilding career in the late 1980s. She earned her pro card in 1993 after winning the Central American Championships and moved to the United States. This began over ten years of professional bodybuilding, and Oriquen is still training and competing today. Her most notable victories are her five Ms. International titles and one Ms. Olympia title. She was named the second best female bodybuilder in the most recent IFBB pro rankings. At the age of 50, it's not clear when Oriquen is going to hang it up. She's clearly still passionate about the sport, and trains other bodybuilders in the craft at her gym in South Beach, Florida.
10 Iris Kyle
Iris Kyle is an American bodybuilder, who is widely recognized as one of the best bodybuilders in history. She is the most decorated bodybuilder with 10 Ms. Olympia titles, 7 Ms. International titles, and countless other professional decorations. She was inspired to get into the sport when she moved to Orange County, California, and saw all of the fit bodies walking around. She got into the gym and the rest is history. Kyle is one of the legends of the sport and ranked first on the IFBB Pro rankings. Kyle retired from bodybuilding after her tenth Ms. Olympia title in 2014, but announced that she would soon return to competing. At the age of 41, Kyle could still have a few more bodybuilding titles in her future. Either way, though, there is little doubt that anyone will challenge her throne anytime soon.
9 Kim Chizevsky-Nicholls
Kim Chizvesky-Nicholls is a professional bodybuilder from Charleston, Illinois who was active from 1992 to 1999. She got into the sport as a personal trainer, but soon met her boyfriend and future husband, Chad Nicholls, who helped her develop her bodybuilding physique. She earned her pro card in 1992, and competed in her first pro competition in 1993. She won first place in Ms. International that year, and placed fifth in her first Ms. Olympia. Chizvesky-Nicholls won her next Ms. International in 1996 and added her first Ms. Olympia to her resume. This was the first time in history a professional female bodybuilder won these two titles in the same year. Her record was flawless after 1996, and Chizvesky-Nicholls retired in 1999 after four consecutive wins. Her decision to retire was mostly based on the IFBB guidelines pushing for more femininity and less masculinity in female bodybuilding figure. She briefly competed in fitness competitions after the birth of her son in 2001, but never reached the same level of success. In 2008, Chizevsky was inducted into the IFBB hall of fame.
8 Sally McNeil
While Sally McNeil may not be known for her professional accomplishments in the world of female bodybuilding, she certainly took bodybuilding to an extreme. She was beginning to generate some buzz, but Valentine’s Day in 1995 changed everything. That was the day that Sally shot her husband, Ray McNeil in the stomach and in the face, killing him. Sally had two children from a previous marriage that were home when it happened. Sally contended that Ray, a fellow bodybuilder and ex-marine, was beating her and threatening her life. She says that she feared Ray would kill her, and acted out of the safety of herself and her children. Another part of the equation were the steroids that the couple were taking, that could have contributed to her actions in this situation. The jury didn’t see her argument as convincing, and thus she was sentenced accordingly. Sally is still in jail, as her sentence was reinstated in 2004.
7 Lisa Giesbrecht
Lisa Giesbrecht is a bit of an outlier compared to the rest of the women on this list. Instead of beginning training at an early age, this mother of two picked up bodybuilding in her thirties. She was always fit, but since she started taking it seriously she has had a complete body transformation. There are videos online of her curling 100 lbs like it’s a toothpick, so these aren’t just show muscles we’re talking about. Giebecht is a true testament to what can occur when a fit person decides to take things to the next level. While she’s likely past her prime in terms of ability to put up weight, Giesbrecht is still competing and hopes to take a championship in her still-young career.
6 Natalia Turkhina
Natalia Turkhina, unlike many on this list, is not an IFBB professional bodybuilder. She’s competed in amateur events, but focuses much of her effort on powerlifting instead of just bodybuilding. At 25, though, there is still a large window in front of her should she decide to pursue a change in scenery. Right now she coaches other bodybuilders and trains for professional powerlifting competitions. She is the current European bench press and deadlift champion, and holds the world record for the bench (375 lbs) and the armlift. Turkhina has been open about her steroid use, which includes almost everything you could think of. She’s decided that some of the drugs aren’t for her, and competes in the league of powerlifting that does not require drug testing.
5 Debi Laszewski
Debi Laszewski had a tumultuous path to her professional bodybuilding dream, which was almost lost at multiple times in her career. She started training at the age of 20, and by 24 she had won her first amateur competition. In 2000, though, she was disheartened by the judges placing her seventh, and her dedication declined as a result. She eventually stopped competing and focused on personal training with no plans to return to the sport. In 2005, with the addition of the light heavyweight class, Laszewski returned to bodybuilding and went pro a year later. Since 2009, Debi has placed in the top four of every competition she’s entered, including two second place finishes in Ms. International and one second place finish in Ms. Olympia. She’s still training and competing at the age of 47. She is currently ranked third on the IFBB pro women’s ranking.
4 Virginia Sanchez
Virginia Sanchez is a professional bodybuilder and personal trainer from Madrid, Spain. She started training for competitions at the young age of 17, and competed in her first amateur competition when she was only 19. She's now in her 40s but looks bigger and stronger than ever. Her biceps are pushing 17 inches and her quads are a whopping 27 inches. It's hard to imagine how hulking she'd be in person, but that's before you consider the fact that all of this muscle is packed on a 5 foot 3 inch frame. The saying "big things come in small packages" has never been more appropriate than when discussing the physical physique of Virginia Sanchez.
3 Kristy Hawkins
Kristy Hawkins shows that you don’t need to ditch your brains or your pretty face to become a professional bodybuilder, as she has both. Her natural beauty combined with hulking muscles is something to behold, and when you consider the fact that Harkins is also has a masters in Chemical Engineering you begin to believe that there’s truly nothing she can’t do. Hawkins’ bodybuilding efforts came as a result of wanting to lose weight. She was actually heavyset when she started, and even had eating disorders before she started training seriously. Working out began as a way for her to burn calories but it turned into a passion and a profession. She turned pro in 2007 and competed in four professional competitions in her career. Hawkins actually quit bodybuilding and transitioned into professional powerlifting. She still maintains her traditional bodybuilding physique. She is naturally strong, able to lift over 400 pounds, so powerlifting suited her abilities much better.
2 Joanna Clare Thomas
Joanna Clare Thomas is a British professional bodybuilder and younger sister of fellow bodybuilder Nicola Shaw. Massive muscles is a family game for these ladies, and Thomas expressed interest in the sport at a very young age. She started training, and went on to be the youngest female in history to get her IFBB pro card at the age of 21. She was competing in and winning competitions in her teens, and it appeared the sky was the limit for Thomas. He professional career, however, did not pan out the way she thought it would. After Thomas went pro, she took some time to work on her body before continuing to compete. When she came back, she won a competition and entered her first Ms. Olympia. She placed tenth, and again took a brief hiatus to focus on her figure. The same thing happened when she came back, and Thomas retired from bodybuilding in 2007. In 2010, she announced that she was considering a return to the sport, but has yet to compete professionally again. If you want to learn more about her life, you can see her in the British documentary, Supersize She.
1 Alina Popa
Alina Popa is a Romanian professional bodybuilder. She started her physical transformation at the age of 12, when she began competing in track events in order to lose weight. At 19 she was inspired to begin weightlifting when she saw another woman at the gym preparing for a competition. She was weightlifting for two years recreationally before her trainer suggested she start competing. Popa competed in the heavyweight division and eventually earned her IFBB pro card in 2008. She’s competed in multiple Ms. Olympia and Ms. International events since her professional debut, placing as high as second. She took a break in 2015 due to injury, but returned to competitions in 2015, placing third in the IFBB Wings of Strength Rising Phoenix World Championship. Popa has been known to be one of the strongest women alive, with the ability to squat 400 pounds.
Sources: IrisKyle.com, IFBB Rankings, nydailynews, dailymail