Women Run Faster After Taking Newly Developed Supplement

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds Combo of minerals and other nutrients might boost performance

According to a study conducted by Ohio State University women saw an increase in running speed with a nutritional supplement. This experiment involved women who took this new nutritional supplement  and another group of women who took a placebo. This was a great way to devise the experiment rather than telling the placebo group that they were not taking anything special. Such findings indicate that there is a possibility that women’s athletic performance can be greatly improved, if tailored to their biological and physiological structure. The major problem is that exercise physiology studies or experiments mostly use men. Women are not the same as men, which is why if they are to get the best training and nutrition programs, experiments must used female subjects. Women are now serious athletic competitors and they need supplements to meet their competition and performance objectives. The results were published in the Journal of The International Society of Sports Nutrition . Such studies are going to change women’s athletic performance by fixing deficiencies in nutrition. While training is essential, diet and nutrition have proven to make a difference in athletic performance.

        The minerals that were given to women included forms of iron, zinc, copper and  carnitine. The supplement also phosphatidylserine, which was derived from both fatty acids and amino acids. Carnitine was also derived from amino acids. phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid responsible for the health of human cells. The omega 3 fatty acids that are in it called EPA and DHA. The role it fills is to maintain healthy cell membranes. Phosphatidylserine can be produced in the body, but can also be found in particular foods. This phospholipid contributes to cellular function and also provides help to other tasks. Phosphatidylserine  is responsible for bone matrix formation, heart beat coordination, hormone secretion by the adrenal glads, and testicular function in men. The phospholipid also may play a role in maintaining neuron health and cognition.  Carnitine can be found in most cells of the human body. It is involved in energy production. It must transport fatty acids to the mitochandria, while removing waste compounds formed out of the organelles. There are carnitine supplements, yet the evidence that it can improve athletic performance is inconclusive. It seems that it is better when combined with other minerals as the study demonstrates. Carnitine has a variety of compounds which consist of L-carnitine, acetyl-L-carnitine, and propionyl-L-carnitine.

Professor Robert Disilvestro the lead author and of the study stated : “I decided to start with minerals that are commonly low — or thought to be low in many diets — and brought in some of the supporting cast.” This reasoning appears to be correct in the formation of more efficient supplements. This also has implications beyond athletic performance. The reason many people may not be in great health is that they are not getting the proper nutritional requirements. Knowing this, some individuals could be doing the proper amount of exercise, yet are having deficiencies in diet.

Understanding phospholipids and other amino acid derivatives can be more beneficial to women seeking to improve their performance.  Robert Disilvestro discusses that there are some nutrition problems women have as serious athletes. This supplement also holds an economic opportunity. Disilverstro is seeking to develop this supplement for commercial use and was supported by Gatorade Sports Science Institute. They are not involved in commercialization efforts, but is possible they will be. This is an example of applied science. What applied science does is take the research and knowledge discovered then uses it for practical purposes. Relevant to this experiment the supplement will at some point be used for athletic performance.

          There are problems that the female athlete faces in terms of nutrition. Young women according to Disilverso have micro-deficiencies in nutrients. This will effect cell function during exercise. This means women’s full potential in terms of performance is being reduced due to the lack of such nutrients for the cell. The cells are the building blocks of the human body, so if they do not function properly this could result in major health issues. Young women in particular face these nutrient based deficiencies.


A nutrient is by definition a substance required for growth and the maintenance of life. Fatty acids and amino acids would be classified as micro-nutrients. The essential nutrients of the body are carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, protein, water,  and minerals. This can be acquired through the consumption of food or supplements. Another problem is that women tend to consume less meat than men, even when doing high amounts of physical activity. Meat can be an important source of protein and women need that just like any other athlete. Food is fuel for the human body. If women eat less they are not getting enough fuel. Consumption should be adjusted relative to considerations of endocrinology. Women would metabolize food into fat stores due to higher production of estrogen and progesterone. However, building muscle has the ability to burn fat. Eating enough of the right foods and having the correct amount of physical activity can make a difference in athletic performance.

There is also the consideration of how mensuration can have a role in mineral loss. This effects women differently ranging from severe cases to moderate levels of mineral loss. Mineral loss during mensuration can be countered with the consumption of vitamins A, C, E, and B. Vitamin A is essential to diet due to the fact it promotes growth of skeletal tissue. Bone health is essential for any person, especially an athlete doing an immense amount of physical activity. Once these issues are addressed women can have improvements in their run times. Designing supplements and training programs to women’s physiology and biology will make them more efficient athletes.

          The experiment’s conclusions revealed fascinating discoveries. The subjects did three mile runs and saw their run average drop from 26.5 minutes to 25.6 minutes. That calculates to a difference of 0.9 minutes. Stationary bikes were also utilized in the study. The distance covered was from 6.5 miles to 6 at the start of this study. There was also a step test that was done. the results from that part of the experiment showed women increased from about 44 to 40. These changes were not present in the placebo group, indicating this supplement could be effective. The first experiment only used 28 women and the following one used 36. A lower does of nutrients was used  and resulted in a 41 second average decrease in run times. The women used in these experiments were described as recreational athletes between the ages of 18 to 30 years old. They either done some form of aerobic exercise a least three hours a week for a minimum of six months. The reason for not using moderately in shape  women was that according to Professor  DiSilvestro “we wanted people who could already run three miles without it being a terrible burden.” The problem with this is precision. If this supplement is truly effective, the best way to see so is to test it on non-athletic women. The athletically trained women would gain from this, but they have already reach a fitness level in which it does not appear to be a dramatic change.

A more precise experiment would be to train women of lower physical fitness levels. This would take longer, but if their performance is significantly higher than their starting point it can be assumed that the supplement is highly effective.  The same process should be used. The subjects first ran three miles, biked, and the ended with the step test. The reason the stationary bike was used was to see if such a supplement could be used for more than just running. This could only be done if women in the study reach a high point of physical activity.

Men who are vegetarians may struggle with a nutrient deficiency. Protein is one of those nutrients that is harder for the vegetarian to get.Other methods of getting dietary requirements would have to used instead of consuming meat for the vegetarian  Although nutrient deficiencies are less common in men, they are not completely imperious to it. Supplements may not be a substitute for eating food with them in it, but can help people who have such issues in deficiencies. There also is another factor that may skew the data. This experiment was only done for 30 days and that may be too early to say that it very effective. At minimum a month would have been better. There is also the possible problem of side effects. So far, there appear to be none. Professor     DiSilvestro only added minimal amounts of nutrients when it was produced in capsule form. If measured correctly and the right dose is given this new supplement can be safe. The supplement will need further testing for safety and effectiveness. There are many supplements that claim to improve performance. These pronouncements are not always scientifically confirmed. This new supplement seems to be effective, yet must be able to produce the same results in accordance with the scientific method. These first experiments may only give approximations, rather than precise measures of effectiveness.


Women Run Faster After Taking Newly Developed Supplement

Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One Racing, And The Question of Women’s Physical Capability.

Motor sports continue to be mostly male dominated. There remains a culture that does not accept women race car drivers and doubts their capabilities. Some claims are either just unfounded when detractors voice their opinions on why women should not participate. Bernie Ecclestone CEO of Formula 1 stated that women were not strong enough for formula one racing. Although he did say women may have a future in the business aspects, he doubts that would be taken seriously as athletes. Ecclestone stated in 2016 :“I don’t know whether a woman would physically be able to drive an F1 car quickly, and they wouldn’t be taken seriously.” His belief or rather disbelief is that women are not capable of handling the F 1 races. This has little basis in scientific foundation. Although there are sex differences related to sexual dimorphism, there are women who certainly would have enough strength to handle g forces. One would have to examine what are the physical demands for a driver and see if women could meet them. There are already women who have been race car drivers, so Ecclestone’s assessment does not seem accurate. What determines the success of the race car driver is their physical conditioning and the quality of their vehicle.

            There is a level of fitness required to drive a Formula 1 car. Having a high level of fitness reduces the level of fatigue going through laps. Cars have the ability to create up to 3.5 g of force. Drivers have to do aerobic  and strength training to handle g-forces so they can last entire sustain the force for entire races. Cardiovascular training is done ahead of the racing season and slowly reduce it as time goes by. Running, swimming and cycling are also incorporated in to training regimens.

Women have been athletes and test drivers in Formula 1 racing. Maria Teresa De Filippis was the first woman ever to race in 1958. Although other women have followed, racing and cars are still seen as a male only pursuit.

 Strength training can be very helpful, but too much muscular hypertrophy could cause complications. What drivers experience on their bodies is the force concentrated is the neck and chest muscles. The weight of the helmet and g-force can put extra strain on the neck. G-forces can make both the head and helmet weigh five times more than normal. The wonderful attribute about gym equipment it can help target specific muscle groups like the chest or neck muscles. Drivers also form “rigs” that also assist in such targeting. Although there is power assisted steering, strong arm muscles and a powerful core helps. This allows more stable control over the vehicle. This may be the most difficult part for women. Building upper body strength is more difficult for women compared to men.

F1 car

Women do not have the same structured shoulders as men. Male shoulder length tends to be broader meaning there is more muscle that can be housed on the upper body. The upper body advantage give men more of an edge, but this does not mean women cannot build strength.  Women can build strength and muscle on a weight training regimen. This does not only depend on sex or endocrinology . Genetics, somatotype, and diet are also essential. The difference is in physical fitness capacity. Men have higher physical fitness capacity due to endocrinology and body size. There are obviously women who are more than strong enough to handle a Formula 1 car. Women weightlifters, crossfit competitors, bodybuilders, tack and field athletes are notorious for their strength. They train for different tasks, so this automatically does not mean they would make the best race car drivers.

There is also the question of concentration, reaction time, and hand eye coordination. Race car driving is radically different from driving a regular car. Motor sport athletes will sometimes use batak reaction board to train for races to improve elements of reaction time.There does exist a difference in male and female reaction time. According to some studies men respond faster to visual and audio stimuli. Reflexes described in this context refers to how fast a person can react to stimulus. This could be a factor when a racer is driving and hitting the break of the car. The muscle fiber type that would be most useful would probably be type II. However, there is an amount of endurance required to handle such races.

Muscles of the core are pivotal to race care drivers. Arm strength and muscles of the upper body are required for steering. 

There also needs to be a focus on leg strength as well. A driver must generate at least an estimated 80 kilograms to hit the breaks for stops. Having strong legs is good, but more muscle mass does not equate to automatic efficiency. A racer could use the brake up to 1,500 times in a race. This is the section of the body were women are closer to men in terms of strength. The difference is in the structure of the pelvis. This would not effect women in the care as much, because they are not running. The pedal of an F1 is entirely different from a regular car. It requires more force for gaining speed. This means the driver would have to be able to hold a minimum of 90 kg (198 lbs) on a leg press machine. Driving does involve the legs extensively.

leg-pressThe driving of an F1 car involves both the upper and lower body. Contrary to popular belief, there is a level of fitness required to handle cars like these. Strength and cardiovascular fitness can be out to the test under the strains of a race. The circulatory system must be in optimal condition for the sake of endurance. There are no breaks or rest periods during the race. During competition body temperature and blood pressure can increase. Races could be up to two hours long. The heart beat per minute can increase during the race. The average person has a resting heart beat of 70 bpm (beats per minute ). For a race car driver it can be up to 50 bmp or higher when in racing competition. Due to increased heat, dehydration could be a possible threat to an F1 driver. Even when motor athletes drive in moderate climates, they still can perspire up to three liters.

Having the biggest muscles may not be helpful in a race. Large mass could just more effect from g-force.  Tia Norfleet and Danica Patrick are not at the same strength levels as Kira Neuman or Mah-Ann Mendoza. Yet the bodybuilders would not be the best race car drivers. 

The driver’s blood pressure can increase up to at least 50 percent. This also proves to be a complication for women. The average woman’s heart beats faster compared to men. Women’s hearts and lungs are also smaller compared to men. The heart is structured as a four chamber pump which has two blood receiving chambers. These are the left and right atria. The left and right ventricles with beats from the heart force blood into the arteries. The cardiovascular condition can be changed through training. Trained athletes have slower heart rates compared to non-athletes. The female athlete’s heart still beats faster compared to the male athlete or regular exerciser .


This explains why aerobic training can be important to the motor sport athlete. What controls the heart rate in the human body is cells known as sino-atrial node. What these cells do is act like a natural pacemaker. Depending on the information from nerves the cells will either lower or increase the heart rate. Women respond in a similar fashion except for they are programmed for a higher heart rate. Endurance and strength are needed. Women can handle F1 cars if trained physically for the rigor. There are biological and anatomical considerations that should be noted in training.

          Diet is also essential to athletes. Food provides energy for the body and sustains it for exercise. Race car drivers follow a specific diet. Drivers have protein and carbohydrates in their diets. Chicken or fish can sometimes be consumed for pre-race meal. Vegetables are also part of a drivers diet. Rice and pasta, which are carbohydrates are also consumed to give an athlete a boost of vital energy. The consumption of water is necessary to avoid dehydration.Diets and nutrition for female athletes has to be adjusted for metabolic differences. Women have higher body fat percentages based on hormones. Knowing this it means that women consume huge amounts of food, their activity level would have to be enough to burn necessary fat. Eating less actually can be counter productive in the process. This can cause metabolic slowdown resulting in weight gain. The body needs the right amount of calories and physical activity to manage weight.

 Women have to be careful to eat the right amount of calories to meet metabolic demands. A female race car driver can benefit from a specific diet that can help with races. Exercise and diet can make a woman’s body strong enough for F1 cars.

        G-force will be a physical property that the body must confront in F1 races. G-force is the amount of pressure produced from gravitation on an accelerating object relative to free fall. Seeing as there are so few F1 women drivers it is uncertain if g-force causes extra strain on the female body. Fighter pilots and aerobatic pilots experience g-force. There are women who are fighter pilots that experience g-force at higher levels. The majority of g-force experienced by a fighter pilot aligns mostly with the spine. The F 1 driver has  the g-force focused mostly at right angles to the spine. This comes down to the question of g-force tolerance. There may not be a specific body type that is best for g-force tolerance. The force an effect the neck , ribs, and hips. Some drivers report that they feel as if they are being squeezed. It is possible that a larger person with more body fat could tolerate higher g-forces. The circulation limits blood flow, but the issue would be other physical strains.

Ecclestone’s comments and claims start to collapse when examined from a scientific perspective. Based off the g-force that women fighter pilots experience, there should be no reason that women would have difficulty with a Formula 1 car. Breathing control must be accounted for. While air planes have a technological solution for this, cars do not. Going above 3 gs makes it impossible to breathe as normal. Turning corners makes it more difficult. Forces can be more than a person’s weight, but for short periods of time. When analyzing the degrees of g-force it seems possible that women could be F1 racers. A fighter jet can put a pilot under the strain of 9 to 12 gs. A Formula 1 car only can produce up to 5 gs. Saying that men will be better drivers simply because they are stronger is incorrect. There are women who are actually stronger than F 1 racers. Mark Webber  during his racing career weighed 69 kg. If compared to bodybuilder Colette Nelson during her career,  it seems that she would be stronger based on her 79 kg weight (off season). Force equals mass times acceleration, so based off of weight it would appear she would able to generate more power.

Webber stands at 182 cm, while Colette stands at 165 cm. It is uncertain what Webber bench pressed or lifted during his career, but it is certain that Colette could do more. Now this would not make Colette the best race car driver,but it would be in her capability if she adjusted her training for such a pursuit.  Other factors such as reflexes or driving skill are also part of being a motor athlete. Anyone can drive a car, yet there is a level of skill that the race car drive must have to be on the track. Also there must be a consideration of g-force and how to cope with it during races. This may be the most difficult physical strain on the body. Experienced racers say that after a while the body can adjust, but it is more difficult getting acclimated to when starting.

      The reason there are not more F1 female drivers is not entirely based on biology. There are social barriers. Cars are still viewed as a male only passion. Seeing as it is mechanical and engineering based there is a bias that women are not capable of such aptitude. Motor sport and race car driving as seen as quintessentially male. F1 is seen as one of the most prestigious races in the motor sport world. Many men aspire to become start racers, but it is more difficult for a woman. Prejudice and financial constraints continue to burden women’s sports. Women are slowly in small numbers integrating into motor sports. The problem is the culture of extreme machismo and lack of female interest. There is exclusion that is combined with women not willing to take a risk and try something different. If women want a place in motor sports, they have to increase their participation rates and  encourage other women to join. So it cannot be entirely men’s fault in terms of  the condition of women in motor sports.The frailty myth still exists in one way or another with the idea that women are biologically and physically inferior. Sexual dimorphism does not indicate inferiority. If women are to be successful in F1  they should have training tailored to reaching specific fitness goals.  The question that emerges is which training method is better. Weight training and endurance training can have a benefit to the motor athlete. Dr. Riccardio Cecarrelli who works with F1 Lotus Teams stated that strength is not the only physical fitness element a driver needs. Dr. Cecarelli also said the emphasis should be on mental training as well. Drivers have to be alert and able to concentrate during races. His philosophy is in order to achieve an optimum training should be spent 30 % physical exercise and 70% mental training.  Women may not be driving the best cars in particular races. Women may need more time to physical adapt to the demands of racing. What can be reached as a conclusion is that women can be F1 racers if given the opportunity and correct training. Bernie Ecclestone’s convictions are not based on scientific fact or credible evidence. There is change occurring and it may not be a surprise to see more women race car drivers in the coming decades.


 Norton, Charlie. “Formula One Drivers Feel the G-Force.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 10 May 2010, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/motorsport/7681665/Formula-One-drivers-feel-the-G-force.html.

Edrington, Allison. “Does Gender Affect Reflexes?” Healthfully, Healthfully, healthfully.com/gender-affect-reflexes-8750069.html.
Rosenberg, Warren. “What Is the Difference Between Male & Female Heart Rates?”LIVESTRONG.COM, Leaf Group, 11 Sept. 2017, http://www.livestrong.com/article/208145-what-is-the-difference-between-male-female-heart-rates/.
Cespedes, Andrea. “Does Eating More Boost Your Metabolism?” LIVESTRONG.COM, Leaf Group, 18 July 2017, http://www.livestrong.com/article/383501-does-eating-more-boost-your-metabolism/.
Barretto, Lawrence. “Where Are All the Female Formula 1 Racing Drivers? – BBC Sport.” BBC News, BBC, 2 June 2012, http://www.bbc.com/sport/formula1/18332772.
Auty, Ben. “Formula 1: Are F1 Drivers Considered Athletes?” Bleacher Report, Bleacher Report, 12 Apr. 2017, bleacherreport.com/articles/30864-formula-1-are-f1-drivers-considered-athletes.
“Driver Fitness.” Formula 1® – The Official F1® Website, http://www.formula1.com/en/championship/inside-f1/understanding-f1-racing/Driverfitness.html.
Bernie Ecclestone, Formula One Racing, And The Question of Women’s Physical Capability.

Cheerleader Anna Watson: Dark Side of Female Muscle Worship Fantasies

Cheerleader Anna Watson: Dark Side of Female Muscle Worship Fantasies

This article written by Ewan Palmer for the International Business Times is an example of media sensationalism and subtle moral panic. Anna Watson was a cheerleader and student at the University of Georgia  who received media attention for having an impressively muscular physique. The media called her “the strongest cheerleader in America.” While there was some positive publicity, there were also detractors who were more vociferous. The media often casts activities or groups it has limited understanding of  as either deviant, freakish, or unnatural. Prejudice and conformist attitudes are enforced through a medium that should inform the  public. The subject of women and physical strength becomes a controversial subject.  There still are many people who have a problem with women having muscular physiques. Female muscle and its subculture is something that can easily be misunderstood. Palmer’s article gives the mainstream audience only one section of a larger subculture. Followers and the culture that has emerged are regulated to a “dark side.” The fact that it is referred to that demonstrates the degree of closed minded convictions prevalent in society. Anything that does not conform to the mainstream standard is designated abhorrent. Female muscle fandom is far from being deviant. Palmer admits ”  the idea that some men may find this woman sexually attractive may not be the most unusual concept, especially when you consider some of the darker and grotesque sexual fetishes.”  This however is still presented as abnormal. Female worship fantasies are not unusual; they are another form of sexual expression. The fandom is a larger community than one might think and it goes beyond mere imagined fetish.

           The fandom the exists in this community can be divided into several categories. Schomes who love the most muscular women, fans who are dedicated to the sport, and the person who like the look of muscle on women. There are factions that have different perspectives on aesthetics. The casual female muscle fan may prefer a woman who does not have immense size, but a small amount of shape. Other may like a in between a figure or physique athlete size. The schmoes like the largest women, but this does not mean they would disapprove of women of other muscular levels. Palmer’s analysis does not include this classification within the community. If there is to be a description of the subculture one has to describe the community. Athletes would have to be included in this analysis. Women are not just passive objects in this subculture; they built it. The sport of female bodybuilding emerged in the 1970s and by the 1980s was gaining mainstream exposure. Female muscle fans emerged along with the growing female bodybuilding subculture. Women’s impressive athletic performance in the sport attracted fans and notoriety. Rachel Mclish, Corey Everson, Lenda Murray, Kim Chizevsky, and Iris Kyle became some of the best bodybuilders winning the famed Ms.Olympia titles.

Women changed the fitness culture in a radical way. They demonstrated that women can be strong and that weightlifting as well as muscular development was in their physical capability. Being strong was not longer considered gender inappropriate.  Athletes who were in the industry realized that they had to have some business skills to compete and support themselves. There have been recent setbacks for the bodybuilding category. However, the idea of the muscular woman has spread. It was first promoted by these athletes in small circles and now it has reached the mainstream. Women are becoming more interested in weightlifting and crossfit either for recreation or professional competition. Even though the number of traditional bodybuilding competitions has decreased in number the other categories of fitness, figure, bikini, and physique have emerged. This probably is the best time to be a female muscle fan. This is not happening only in the United States, but in other nations. The women involved in the sport are driven by the desire to succeed and the confidence it gives them. The athlete’s time is spent training and having periods of recovery. Besides that it could involve business activities with supplement companies or their own enterprises. The community is close between fans and athletes seeing as the sport is small. There exists a symbiotic relationship between the factions of fans and the athletes.

           The clinical terms that the author does use to describe female muscle fans properly is cratolagnia and   sthenolagnia. These terms describe arousal from the muscles or demonstrations of strength. This does not mean that every female muscle fan has this fetish. Arousal may come for other reason and they could simply just be fans of the female bodybuilding sport. It just seems more likely that men with cratolagnia and stenolagnia would gravitate to the culture.

Being a fetishist and a fan are two different things. It is possible to be both. This culture and fandom of female strength has many branches. Liking the muscular body type could just be another preference.It is rare that someone claims that a person has a thin woman fetish. There are different ways people display their sexual expression. Sexual fetishes are a part of this. The problem is society has a distorted view about human sexuality. Either there is an obsession projected through various media including film and television or the extreme puritan conservatism of the past. Sexuality and the urges that are associated with it are a part of life. The unusual aspect about it is that people are afraid to discuss or explore such topics. There still remains debate on whether or not to teach sex education in public schools.  Sexology are attempting to educate people about this part of human nature. Muscle worship certainly would not be classified as a mental disorder, but in the article it implies it. This is nothing more than a part of bigger culture.

       The article fails to mention the a large part of female muscle fandom is mixed and session  wrestling. Relevant to athletes session wrestling provides funding opportunities for their endeavors. Female bodybuilders wrestle men for a certain fee sometimes costing up to $500 or more for one hour. It is bizarre that the article does not mention session wrestling as part of the female muscle fandom. There is a difference between mixed and session wrestling. Session wrestling refers to a wrestler or bodybuilder providing a wrestling event for a fee. Mixed wrestling refers to a wrestling match between a man and a woman. There are clubs and leagues that women and men are a part of in which they gather to wrestle. Mixed wrestlers or session wrestlers are not always bodybuilders, but the origins of these activities is rooted in the subculture. Mixed wrestling predates session wrestling, but wrestling mostly became part of the culture due to Kay Baxter and Bill Wick. Wick,  former wrestler himself   would film tapes with Kay his wife wrestling one another. He then got Kay to wrestle other men and started selling videos than other companies emerged. The rise of the internet also saw the expansion of mixed wrestling to a wider and global audience. Some athletes may devote most of their time to doing sessions, because the amount of pay is better than winning a contest.

The motivation for women is part finance and business related. Yet, that is not the complete story. Women also get a thrill from this. There is a level of enjoyment and fun they may get from physically dominating men in a way.  There is to an extent role reversal in which women take charge. Men according to a patriarchal society are suppose to be the strong ones, but this has changed to an extent. Women are more involved in politics, science, and finance so it would only make sense the next step would be to enter the sports world.  Women who have weight trained and built muscle have often stated that it has been an empowering experience. They gain a new sense of self and confidence which they translate into other areas of life. To an extent they define their own paradigm of beauty. The reason why women do mixed or session wrestling is that it gives them a sense of power normally deprived of them in their daily lives. There could another reason for this activity that is more simple. It could just be frivolous fun for both men and women. The act of simple play is something that is left behind in childhood. Here in such an environment adults can play around like children again. Work or family responsibilities can be forgotten for a brief period. Mixed wrestling has been mentioned in the mainstream and it may have more devotees than previously thought.

         Another important element of female muscle fandom is photography. Pictures and photographs are an essential part of the female muscle fandom. Fans love to collect photo sets of their favorite athletes. Photographers who may struggle to sell their photos have an supportive market with this base. Pictures can range from contests shots, candid photos, or other environments. This is more of the artistic aspect of the female muscle fandom. While dedicated collectors like the professional photographs rare images are also sought after. Other times fans will take clippings from magazines.

While photographs can vary, there are some common themes. Standard poses are common such as front double biceps, lat spreads, or side chest. Sometimes these photographs have women posing in a manner that would be seen in magazines appealing to a male gaze. The majority consumers of such materials will be men, which explains the sometimes suggestive nature of photographs. Nude photographs can either be artistically presented or more lascivious in nature.

There is also photographs that focus on specific areas of the body. It could either be the biceps, glutes, or legs. Themes that are recurring are either women in sport, doing some job, or a depiction of strength feats.The themes that are most common are women posing as cops, construction workers, boxing, or lifting weights in the gym. Lifting weights photographs make more sense compared to the other themes in photographs. Sometimes there are also women who are posing as a nurse, which is an overused theme in magazines of a certain caliber.

Fans join websites to pay for photo sets of their favorite athletes and competitors. This is not as the author says ” the timid world of female bodybuilding.” This a much larger following. There would be no questions raised at all if these photographs contained pictures of women one sees in regular magazines. The common misconception is that female muscle fans would reject women of different body types. This is not true, there tastes could be very diverse.

Photography is an art form and when athletes are presented in a such a medium fans have more respect for it. There also is an growing industry of fitness modeling. Athletic apparel companies want to market to a female demographic  and they want women who look the part.Some athletes start their own business producing clothing for other athletes. Collectors of photographs are similar to how fans of baseball would collect cards. The difference now is that this process is digital based. The traditional print magazine is in decline and the internet shall be the wave of the future. Female muscle fans will not have to go buy a magazine to see photos. There is now an instant access to photographs, that allows collectors to gain more.

        Female muscle growth is a large part of  female muscle fandom. Ewan Palmer makes it seem as if its the only dimension. It should be clarified what are the specific denotations. There is a female bodybuilding subculture which revolves around sports activities. The female muscle fandom is a subculture in which female bodybuilding falls under but is broader in the regard that it celebrates all women who are strong or muscular. Palmer states :  “Female Muscle Growth (FMG) goes outside the usual attraction of female bodybuilders and extends into a sexual fetish involving fantasy woman with obscene and unnaturally sized muscles.” What one considers obscene or unnatural is relative. While this is the fetish element, it is an artistic expression. Stories and artwork feature muscular women, but may not always be female muscle growth. Some artwork either is fan art depicting female cartoon characters as muscular or original characters produced by the artists. Art can be controversial, extreme, or imaginative and that is what makes it great. It seems that the muscular female body also threatens people on paper and canvasses as well.

The writing and stories also can very, but normally follow a simple formula. A woman who is either abnormally weak either gains physical strength by magical or scientific means and proceeds to use it in a forceful way. The woman can either be a protagonist or antagonist. A majority of the time women are the protagonists. The artwork can be paintings, drawings, computer generated images, or mixed media. The most popular format for FMG is comic based art. This subculture is very audiovisual based. Renditions can range from a realistic portraiture to cartoon like. The comics that are made by FMG artists could either be action based or comedic. Palmer is correct that “far removed from the mainstream – you will not be able to find these works of fiction in any local library or bookstore.” Such artistic renditions or writings were never meant to be mainstream. The mainstream sometimes adopts elements of a subculture then popularizes it for a wider audience. Some subcultures are just too small to be taken to the mainstream. It is highly unlikely that FMG will go mainstream, because it may appear to be too strange for a conformist public. Most female muscle fans my not want it to go mainstream simply because when a subculture does this it loses something. That close community evaporates and is replaced with capitalist hyper-consumerism.

          Videos are a pillar of the material culture of female muscle fandom. Websites offer exclusive content of women posing, doing strength feats, or being interviewed. Fans also collect videos of their favorite athletes as well. This also ties into the mixed wrestling element.  Sites like Scissorvixens and Utopia Entertainment feature videos of muscular women wrestling men. These feature women of various muscular levels. During the golden age of female bodybuilding it was broadcast on television. ESPN or NBC would show contests, but by the late 1990s this was beginning to end. However, the internet and specifically the rise of video streaming gave the muscular woman more exposure. Not only that, to a wider global audience. Fans began sharing videos and becoming more connected to one another across the world.

The female muscle  fandom and subculture seems best suited for the online environment. The types of videos fans like are either ones showing a contest, individual posing videos, or one of a more muscle worship related nature. During the early years of female bodybuilding such videos had to ordered in the back of magazines or bought from another person. Bill Wick mailed the videos he filmed from his house to individual buyers. Now a buyers can make online purchases. Many websites devoted to female muscle also provide news and coverage of contests that is lacking in mainstream fitness publication. There is the challenge of online piracy, but this does not stop people from making the legal purchase of copyrighted material. Hardcore fans pay membership fees to various websites just to add to their personal collections.

Athletes also produce videos of their own on their personal sites. There they can charge fans for exclusive content. Seeing as the mainstream fitness industry has either ignored or abandoned them they are now free to act as their own gatekeepers. Without the middle channel of  corporate gatekeepers athletes can manage their own image and have funds go directly to them. Videos also hold another significance. They are historical documentation of female strength. Many fans want to preserve videos considering women like this are rare. The unique nature of such women is what attracts attention. Videos are also for fun and pure entertainment value. There do exist videos of an erotic nature, but that is not the only content that exists. The female muscle fandom subculture seems to have branches. Palmer makes it seem as if it is only one thing. Subcultures can be more complex even when they appear to be simple. There is a set of activities, language or terminology, both material and non-material culture.

           Female muscle has come to the mainstream. It may not be the actual female muscle fandom, but its presenting its self in different ways. Women athletes in other sports are displaying stronger looking physiques compared to the past. Women are involved in many sports that get television coverage such as weightlifting, professional wrestling, basketball, track and field as well as crossfit. There has also been an impact on women who are not athletes. Some are joining gyms and using weights like their male counterparts.

Although they are not specifically training to get large muscles, they have a degree of noticeable strength and tone from their regimen. The female athlete is here and here to stay. Everyone is not accepting. The traditional notions about gender and what a woman should look like are still present. Body shaming seems to be a modern phenomenon of Western culture obsessed with looks and youth. Women who do not fit a weaker sex stereotype are either designated as unfeminine or unattractive. These feelings are the psychological projections of a misogynist culture that only values women for their looks or how they can be used by men. This also harms men who support women who fit this different paradigm of body image. The fans of female muscle are either depicted by the mainstream as deviants, perverts, or eccentrics. Ostracism is designed to marginalize groups that do not follow the status quo by shunning them from the wider society. Women who challenge sexist stereotypes or cultural mores are often subjected to this treatment. Even societies that consider themselves progressive, the idea of a woman having too much physical or social power creates a level of trepidation or anger. The fact the article refers to elements of the female muscle fandom as a “dark side” only illustrates how narrow minded readers and reporters can be against something that is not part of standard societal convention. It seems it will take more time for society to accept people have different  preferences   and that women have the right to look like however they want. As long as a fantasy does not cause harm to anyone it really is not a problem. Society does have many vicious elements, but female muscle fantasies are not one of them.

Cheerleader Anna Watson: Dark Side of Female Muscle Worship Fantasies

Sports Medicine Weekly : Strength Training

Strength Training

Sports Medicine Weekly is a radio program and website associated with ESPN  presented by Dr. Brian Cole with Dr. Steve Kashul. They expose readers and listeners to topics regarding sports performance, training, and exercise physiology. The topic discussed in this presentation is strength training and its benefits to performance. It was once thought that strength training would hinder performance, but science proved that notion incorrect. The fear of unnecessary bulk was more of a myth than anything else. This does not stop an athlete from performing a skilled movement of the body. When the term strength training is used there is the assumption is that it is just lifting heavy weights. There is more science and method to training regimens such as these. Sports Medicine Weekly provides a simple explanation about the elements of such training. The strength training program can be describe by five elements : muscular hypertrophy, maximal strength, explosive power, strength endurance, and periodization. If these elements are followed an athlete can increase their physical fitness capacity.

        When the muscle goes through a training regimen it will experience hypertrophy. Muscular hypertrophy only constitutes one aspect of sports specific strength training. This should be done for a specific group of athletes. Football and rugby players need it because their sport is contact. Bodybuilders want hypertrophy to shape the body’s muscles in a particular way.

The significant mass that these athlete acquire acts as a protection from aggressive body contact. The text states that too bulk can be a hindrance to most athletes. This is not true in certain cases, however it depends on what sport an athlete is competing in. Muscle mass would not be helpful curling or race car driving. Extra mass would be useful in wrestling, but that depends on which weight class the athlete is aiming to compete in. Muscle mass can contribute to force generation. Muscular hypertrophy can happen in both men and women. The difference in total mass gained is related to body composition and endocrinology. Muscles do get bigger from a strength training routine through adaptation. What causes growth includes the increase in actin and myosin  which are contractile proteins. There is also an increase in enzymes and stored nutrients. Myofibrils and connective tissue increases. Muscular hypertrophy can either be chronic or transient. Chronic muscular hypertrophy is the long term increase in the size of the muscles. Transient hypertrophy is experienced during exercise.

Protein synthesis stimulates muscle growth. During recovery periods from exercise protein synthesis increases. It is at low levels during exercise. More muscle does not mean more strength. It is related to the fiber type. Type II muscle fiber has more power while type I muscle fiber is more endurance based.A weightlifter would have more type II fast twitch fibers compared to a marathon runner. Athletes train their bodies specifically for a particular physical task. Strength is no solely about the size of the muscle, but the nervous system response to stimulus. Studies have suggested that motor neuron function and its efficiency also aid strength.



It should also be understood that type II muscle fibers have two classifications. Type IIA fibers are fatigue resistant, oxidative,  and fast. Type IIAB are notably glycolytic, oxidative  and are still fast but have an intermediate fatigue level. Type IIB is the most powerful having more force and more energy. There is a price for power in regards to endurance. Recovery is slow in type IIB muscle fiber. It is a possibility athletes could have a blend of both type I and type II muscle fiber. Hormones and    cytokines are essential contributors to muscular hypertrophy.

         The second element to strength training programs is the accumulation of maximal strength. Maximal strength ( sometimes called absolute strength) is the total force an athlete can generate from their body. The importance of this strength training element is based on the specific tasks of the sport. The more natural strength an athlete has the more potential to expand it further. Natural strength is the force than can be generated with no training at all. Through training natural strength can be converted into endurance or explosive power.  The peculiar aspect of maximal strength training is that it may not produce the same level of muscular hypertrophy. This may explain why a thinner person who trains in this manner may become stronger than a person who trains for the sake of aesthetics.

 This does not mean that hypertrophy would not happen to individuals who do maximal strength training. It is possible through genetics. The MTSN gene dictates the instructions for the production of myostatin. This protein regulates the growth of the musculoskeletal tissues. If an individual has low levels of myostatin this makes their potential of muscular hypertrophy greater. People do not use their total strength for simple tasks. Lifting a book would take less effort than lifting a weight. Even athletes when in competition may not use 100% of their maximal strength. There is an obvious reason based on body structure.

The muscles and skeleton when put under intense pressure and strain can be subject to injury. Muscle tears occur when the tissue is pushed far beyond its limit. Athletes may reach a maximal strength level, but they have not tapped into the total reserve of strength. Besides maximal strength, the body contains relative strength. This measures the force produced from a cross sectional area of muscle mass.Maximal strength can be translated into explosive power.

        Explosive power requires more than one action. Powerlifting requires one instance of explosive power to move weights. Other sports have to incorporate skilled movements  that are rapid and need the high power output. Physical power under a strength training program must be designed specifically for the functions of the sport. If this is not done, then maximal strength training will not be as effective in the long term. The basic foundation is the potential to add more strength, which can therefore be converted into explosive power. Power training although related to strength training has a major difference. The goal is to produce the largest amount of maximal strength in the shortest period of time. A person or athlete may have immense strength, but may not generate full power potential. The muscles must contract at a fast rate to improve power out put. This can be reversed by plyometrics.

Plyometrics is a method and system of training attempting to make muscular contraction more efficient by moving from muscle extension to rapidly producing power.  Other athletes such as martial artists, long jumpers, and sprinters have found this method to be the most useful for their performance. There are few guidelines for optimum training methods relative to plyometrics. Athletes who did this training have seen improvement. A quality strength program incorporates the methods of plyomentrics and power training. Strength has to be combined with skilled motor movements of the body. There is also another critical factor that is a part of strength training. Endurance has to be part of the general calculus.

      The other two elements of a strength training program include strength endurance and periodization.   Strength endurance refers to how long a person can last under strenuous activity. The amount of maximal strength also effects strength endurance. The larger amount means more left in terms of reserves. The goal is to maintain strength for a prolonged period. There is a point in which the body will fatigue and cannot to anymore. Athletes that focus on strength endurance include cyclists, swimmers, long distance runners, and rowers. The intent is to have a longer duration of activity.

This explains why circuit training is another method combined with a strength training program. Circuit training uses low weights and high repetitions. The problem is that many of these programs in circuit training  do not condition the nervous system adequately enough. A set of 15 to 20 repetitions would not produce the results an endurance athlete would desire. Circuit training does have benefits. That regimen has the ability to improve flexibility and coordination. The last element of strength training is periodization. A training program must be divided into phases. Doing this allows strength to peak at the right period, producing the desired outcome. Proceeding this way, it will allow for the reduction in possible over training. While it is important to be consistent with a regimen, rest must be valued as well. A period of recovery is required for the body to repair itself and allow muscle fibers to grow. Progression does not occur in  a week by week basis. When the program is broken into periods this allows for variations in exercise volume and intensity. This enables performance enhancements for a certain time.

There is a science to strength that involves cytology, biology, endocrinology, biomechanics,  and nervous system function. What ultimately is the best training method depends on what specific sports an individual is involved in. Explosive power for a marathon runner would not be as important as endurance. Pure strength will not be helpful unless fine motor skills are emphasized. What sports medicine and exercise physiology has done is allowed for a scientifically based method of training, rather than simple trial and error attempts.  Such topics can be complex when examining it from the physiological dimensions. Sports Medicine Weekly provided a lucid explanation for the general reader not familiar with the science of strength.

Sports Medicine Weekly : Strength Training

Venus With Biceps A Pictorial History of Muscular Women

Prior to crossfit or bodybuilding muscular women did exist. There were women involved in physical culture in the past, but there stories were not told. Venus With Biceps A Pictorial History of Muscular Women reveals to readers an unknown history of women’s sports and physical culture between the years of 1800 to 1980. David L. Chapman and Patricia Vertinsky  wrote this monograph. The primary source material contains images, cartoons, and magazines that Chapman had collected over the years. Physically strong women have existed prior to the 19th century, yet this book gathers evidence of their participation in strength feats and physical culture. Chapman spent 30 years collecting these images. His interest in muscular women really started late in life. It was 1987 when he began to do research into women’s involvement in fitness and bodybuilding. Chapman being a writer for numerous bodybuilding magazines was able to meet bodybuilders of the golden age era. He met Abbye Stockton and realized this was an interesting development that emerged among women, especially in a period in which their rights were limited. Another athlete that sparked further interest in this rarely studied element in sports history was Laurie Fierstein. She was a bodybuilder who also was the curator for the New Museum of Contemporary Art exhibit “Picturing the Modern Amazon.”  Chapman was invited to lecture at the museum discussing the iconography of the strongwoman in art and photography. Fierstien gave Chapman more insight into what motivates women to compete and push their bodies to the physical maximum. His discussions with Stockton and Fierstien led to some questions. These questions pondered how women struggled in the past in the physical fitness culture and the meaning of femininity. Female muscularity was more controversial in the past than in the 21st century. There has been a cultural shift, even though the more narrow minded attitudes still are present. The rise of the female mesomorph is a story of  advancement and repression. It can go in cycles. Through images and primary source material Chapman shows how sex politics and sports interacted. The muscular woman can mean many things to people : they can be seen as beautiful to others, threatening, or abnormal.

             The introduction describes the mixed feelings and messages that the muscular women gets from observers and proposes its main thesis . Negative reactions were worse in the past. Outlets for athletic competition were not widespread for women. The only place the strongwoman could display their talents was in variety show stages or vaudeville performance. Circuses also provided another platform.

venuswithbiceps  The text and information mostly focuses on women’s physical fitness participation in Europe and America. It is not known in other areas of the globe if women participated in some form of physical culture. Today it is not a surprise to see a female athlete or a woman who engages in rigorous exercise. More women are competing in the Olympics and in numerous sports compared to a century ago. The are presenting highly developed physiques. The impressive aspect of this is that such improvements are enhanced by new training techniques and pharmaceutical means. Chapman states in the introduction : “with the advent of steroids, hormones, supplements, and other artificial growth stimulants female muscularity has multiplied exponentially, and as female bodies transform themselves into something bigger, bolder, and different from what had been idolized in the past, the same old uncertainties and sexual ambiguities keep society bubbling away with loud,but hardly new controversies.” Women have pushed their bodies in athletic competition to new heights. This is not solely the work of performance enhancing drugs or supplements from a GNC store. Exercise physiology has in the past decades began to seriously examine women athletes. Most studies were done on men and it is clear the physiology is different in regards to sex. Having more resources and information at their disposal, women can enhance their athletic performance in an efficient manner. Old myths about women’s bodies and capabilities have been discarded. Even with these developments, the sexist and misogynist convictions still remain.

There are the common statements echoed by those who believe that certain activities are unladylike. The idea of the “mannish woman” was present in the past to an even more extreme degree. Patrica Vertinsky co-author of the monograph is a professor of  history with a focus on physical education, fitness, and physical culture. Throughout the text she describes this sexist prejudice as a way to dehumanize and undermine women’s accomplishments. There is an over reaction to female muscularity that does not happen with men. Women have to live with double standards and this is just another item on the list. This double standard and ostracism is nothing new to the female athlete. This is the primary foundation of the monograph’s thesis. The muscular woman had a presence in certain venues and in popular culture. The image presented of the muscular woman had influenced certain perceptions. Most were negative projecting anti-woman sentiment or homophobic feelings. The text describes this prejudice : ” over the last 100 years the image of the strong, confident, muscular woman has been the object of derision.”  The portrayal is either sexy dominatrix, sexless mannequin, or sideshow freak in the words of the thesis. However, it is a recent phenomenon that women of such as body were either placed into one dimensional images being presented to the public as monstrosities, lesbian man haters, beautiful living statues or sex objects. Such ideas are based off of hatreds either against women or people of different sexual orientations. It does not represent reality. Just like any other women their experiences vary vastly depending on class, ethnicity, and nationality.

The monograph also states that women had to fight ( and still continue) to reclaim the image and perceptions of the muscular woman. The reason negative attitudes were so pervasive about muscular women or female athletes was that men were producing certain images and ideas distorting public opinion. while the thesis is cogent, there are some debatable proclamations made in the introduction.

          The introduction claims that “sports as we know them were invented in England.” This is not true. All around the globe, various peoples had some form of sport. Sport dates back to ancient civilization. Women were also participants. The Greeks, Minoans, and Egyptians had sporting activities. It has been theorized that sport has its origins in military training. It may have also had a religious significance considering some Greeks had games revolving around the worship of gods or goddesses. Africa had a longtime tradition of wrestling among its peoples. The Diola, Yala, and the Njabi had women wrestlers. The Diola were known to use wrestling as a way to have arranged marriages. The male champion wrestler would marry the female champion wrestler. The issue with such a statement made by Chapman is that it excludes other non-European  civilizations. Doing so presents an ethnocentric perspective of  history, which is extremely limited. Examining the female muscularity phenomenon from a larger international perspective adds to support to the argument. Women were active participants in CuJu during the Song to Qing  dynasty in China. Amerindian peoples were also involved in stickball and footraces. Although met with the same ostracism as seen today, the female athlete is certainly nothing new.

This should have been expressed better in the text. Modern professional sports began in the West , but the sporting tradition had international roots. This should be obvious to any sports historian. Yet, this is a relatively new field of study and the study of the female mesomorph more so. When the industrial revolution occurred labor habits changed, including what was done during leisure time. It can also be disputed that in the words of  Chapman : ” in an age when machines became stronger and more efficient than their human operators, it became necessary to measure one’s peers in another way, and for many physically minded people, athletic competition was the answer- at least for men.” There had already been a system in which people measured one another and that was by class. Most civilizations throughout history have functioned on a pyramid structure with a ruling class controlling the majority. There is a pyramid structure present in democratic societies, which threatens the system itself. Sports provided the working class a brief escape from the agony of economic exploitation. It was more than just the physically minded people seeking an outlet, it was an a stress reducer in a world that was not changing for the better. Chapman should have done more research in this regard to sports history.

           David Chapman does describe the hysteria surrounding women engaging in physical culture. These objections to women’s participation came from religious organizations and traditionalists. The 19th century moralists condemned women’s advancement in any aspect of life saying too much education or exercise would harm women. They used religion as a cover to justify the control of women. They were challenged by others who believed that at least some exercise and education was good for women. Calisthenics, dancing, and rhythmical drills became acceptable in the 1800s for women. Yet, it was still advised not to take it too far. This language is similar to attitudes in the contemporary fitness atmosphere. Women are told often not to get “too big” or “cross the line.”

The physically active woman caused fear in some men and the muscular woman even more so. A strictly conservative society had a level of fear in regards to women’s bodies and sexuality during the Victorian Age. This is why the popular imagery of muscular women was either contradictory, confused, or negative. Men did not know what to make of or how to understand these women. Chapman explains that the reason there are not more photographs of muscular women prior to 1980 was due to moral codes about exposure of the female body. A woman could not simply have her torso exposed during the Victorian Age. Swimsuits were even generating an outcry. This even continued into the early 20th century in which Bernarr Macfadden was arrested in 1905 for holding a women’s physique contest at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The founder of Physical Culture magazine was one of the early advocates of women getting exercise beyond just improvement of figure. To traditionalists and religious advocates exposure of the female body was immoral. Women could be arrested for wearing a bikini in some US states. This was also a crime in Australia, Italy, and  on some French beaches up until the mid -20th century.  The moralists of the past would most likely be more shocked by the bodies and exposure of them are in the 21st century.

There were also arguments that muscle was bad for women’s health. The idea was that women would destroy their reproductive system and this had no basis in biomedical fact. There also an argument that was based purely on aesthetics. Muscles were “unfeminine” and would “unsex” a woman. Such claims represented gender bias and a desire for strict gender roles. Another reason muscular women in popular media may have been rare at the time was that many were not ready to see them. This may explain why producers of various forms of content did not put them in their works. Women who were muscular also may have not been willing to display such physiques for fear of ridicule. Chapman explains that even muscular women who posed for photographs did so in a glamour shot format, rather than the physique posing. The truth is that the glamour element has been a part of women’s posing and physique photograph. While female bodybuilders and physique athletes pose traditionally on stage, they pose differently in individual photographs. The glamour element is there combined with traditional physique posing.

The co-author should remember that bodybuilding was in its infancy, so women probably would not have posed in the same way as modern bodybuilders. To say the early photographs of muscular women are not authentic  physique pictures lacks cogency. It would be ludicrous to say women bodybuilders  who are not flexing in their off stage pictures are not authentic. There was a process of evolution in terms of presentation of the muscular form. The image of the muscular woman was getting wider exposure  compared to other periods of history.

              The female body as the book explains was susceptible to various fads and changes in beauty standards. Just like styles of hair and dress changed, so did ideas about the feminine body ideal. The ideal of the hour glass shape was enforced by the rise of the corset. The came the concept of the S shape as a beauty standard. Bustles were worn by women to enhance the female backside. During the late 19th century there was a paradigm shift in regards to women and exercise. There was the concept that they should do it to improve appearance. The few muscular women in these societies were pioneering such an idea. One of the ways photographers and artists avoided controversy about muscular women was to have them presented in a living statue pose. This would show that they are not a threat to male viewers and that there was no lascivious intentions in its production. This small movement of women into physical culture seemed to expand between the years of 1900 to 1914.

4366315_f1024 There are more images from this period of strongwomen. The reason for this had to do with the increased popularity of circuses, fairs, music halls, and vaudeville stages  .When World War I broke out, this stopped many entertainment venues from functioning especially in major war zones of  Europe. The rise of other mediums like radio and television also contributed to the end of the old forms of entertainment. Muscular women then lost mainstream exposure to an extent.  The strange part of this is that the muscular woman some how got separated from mainstream sports culture. Women getting involved in cycling, archery, and croquet during the 19th century. However women were still be held back at the Olympics Games. Strongwomen were athletes with out a place to compete or show their skills. Their training techniques would later be used by female athletes in various sports from the 20th century and beyond. If it were not for them, such sports and physiques on women would not exist. The real shift came after World War II with Abbye Stockton who demonstrated there was no contradiction between muscles and femininity.


   She revealed an impressive musculature, which at the time was not considered gender appropriate. Chapman revealed that female acrobats and trapeze artists  had more room to navigate in terms of the world of muscularity. The atmosphere of circus performance was more open and therefore less strict. David Chapman referred to it as a “hidden world of female strength.” There was once more a change in beauty standards. There was the diversification of the female form based on particular models in the fitness community. A firm female figure was preferred. This would eventually lead to a more muscular female body. It is not a surprise that female bodybuilding emerged during the 1970s at an important time of women’s liberation. The excellent part  of Venus With Biceps is that  was not afraid to discuss feminist hypocrisy in relation to the muscular woman. The feminist positions on beauty standards are often filled with contradiction and sometimes illogical conclusions. Chapman states that feminists harbor suspicions of muscular women as ” either beauty queens in disguise or that women physique athletes are simply trying to become alternate or inferior versions of men.” The falsehood of feminism is that they believe in a sisterhood and support all women. This simply is not the case when examined from class and race lines. They criticize beauty standards, but continue to support it by being large consumers of fashion and make-up products.

Chapman’s rebuttal to feminist claims is that a beauty pageant just reinforces one standard of beauty, while the physique athlete is developing another image based on individual convictions rather than cultural norms. The ludicrous claim that women are trying to be like men is nothing more than a recycled statement made by sexists, they claim to be fighting. If anything the muscular woman represents a feminist symbol. It shows that women can be strong and be successful in  once male dominated domain. The only reason that a feminist would think that a muscular woman would be imitating men is that strength is a male only attribute. That is incorrect as the female athlete has demonstrated. Men have used the ridiculous argument that because they are stronger they have a right to rule over women. When arguments of biological inferiority are proven mendacious, detractors resort to ostracism. There is a reason for such extreme reaction as Chapman articulates : “physically powerful and heavily muscled women have always been upsetting to the status quo because they reversed the “natural” dominance of the male.” Feminists should be their natural allies. The problem with such monographs is that they normally fall into preaching feminist rhetoric, rather than being a work of academic research. Venus With Biceps avoids this blunder , but occasionally  the illogical feminist reasoning emerges. Beauty standards have changed throughout history,but i may be the first time in which women are developing their own concept of aesthetics.

         The monograph also provides readers with an essay “Muscularity and the Female Body.”  Patricia Vertinsky shares her knowledge of sports history and the female body. Traditionally muscularity was associated with male power and beauty. Women were associated with weakness and frailty. This did not represent reality. Many notions of the body were based on pseudoscience and eugenics. The female body according to Vertinsky’s essay was cast as biologically inferior and designed for passive nurturing. From this emerged the concept of “natural bodies.”  Women’s bodies according to this concept were not meant to be strong. Men were the strong ones. Some scholars link this concept of muscularity and masculinity to the rise of modern celebrity culture and sports. It roots are much earlier according to Vertinsky going back to ancient Greek civilization. This association is more of a Western phenomenon and it can be seen in the art of the Greeks. Iconography shows that the ancient Greeks valued the muscular form as an aesthetic ideal  and this European tradition continued through the ages. Sculptors such as Polykleitos and Praxiteles created their works based on proportions that were numerical based systems  with an emphasis on symmetry. Beauty had been conceptualized as a mathematical quantity.

The female form has been depicted as soft in most Western artworks. The female bodybuilder presents another model of the female body not seen in a iconographical context.  

This was the harbinger to antropometry  and pseudoscientific biological racism. There was some contribution to credible fields such as physical anthropology. The idea of muscular man and soft curvy woman was a product of ancient Greek art and was sustained by pseudoscience of the 19th and 20th century. Women and men have various body types so the idea of “natural bodies” had no scientific basis. Crainometry, phrenology, physiognomy, and comparative anatomy believed that physical characteristics could describe the character, behavior, and intellect of a person. Unproven claims by pseudoscience were used to enforce much held prejudices about race, class, and gender. This would have devastating consequences during World War II when countries like Nazi Germany used eugenics to justify mass murder. Relevant to the discussion of women’s bodies it was believed that their main purpose in life was to produce babies. Other theories suggested that women were just too frail for physical activity. When strong women showed this was not truth they cast as anomalies. People would rather cling to mendacious beliefs rather than accept people who are different. Some theories were so bizarre, even for the eugenicists themselves William Sheldon began a system of body classification that equated body type to personality.

The three somatotypes as described by William Sheldon. Mesomorph, ectomorph, and endomorph are still terms used today in fitness terminology. 

The terms ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph were developed from his theories. Being a psychologist it it was obvious that there is not correlation between body type and personality. What his ideas and theories were suggesting that the mesomorphic body was a superior type and such individuals would run the world. This thinking has racist overtones similar to Hitler’s concept of a master race. His book The Atlas of Men (1954)   featured anthropometrical measurements of men proclaiming what were the superior body measurements. There was to be another book that would have been called The Atlas of Women , but Sheldon never finished it. Although his theories were not credible he got significant funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and his ideas were adopted by physical education departments in the US.  Barbara Honeyman Heath an assistant to Sheldon was gathering data and photographs for The Atlas of Women. She would work with numerous physical education departments who wanted to see women improve posture ,health,  and fitness. Heath came to the conclusion that these methods and ideas were fraudulent then repudiated Sheldon. She would later work with Margaret Mead using the somatotype system while studying the peoples of Papua New Guinea. This tale of junk science and prejudice reveals how perceptions of women’s bodies are based on distortions. The “natural bodies” were based on ideals that were not grounded in reality. When this was applied to health and beauty it was to the detriment of women.

            Beauty during this period of eugenics became associated with health. These two concepts are not related, but became linked together. Beauty can have various means or paradigms depending on who is asked to describe it. It varies among cultures, individuals, and societies. One can be healthy and not meet the societal standards of beauty. What the muscular woman does is define a new form of beauty. The problem with Vertinsky’s essay in the second portion is that it uses Naomi Wolf’s theory of the beauty myth. This has numerous flaws. The text states “Wolf attributed the rise of photography an important historical role in disseminating models of idealized femininity and beauty where the female body was expected to look dramatically different from that of a man.” Photography was not responsible for women’s poor image. It was the product of a society that valued women only as reproductive units or instruments for sex. The images of female beauty being weighed cruelly on women can be debatable as well. Unlike arranged marriage, employment discrimination, or lack of access to education no one is forcing women to focus on their appearance. Women buy and sell make-up, hair care products, and are more focused on fashion.

Women profit off of other women having insecurities about their bodies, yet feminists never acknowledge this. Men they state are the ones who promote the beauty myth. The problem is that Wolf’s analysis and claims ignore the fact women have a choice in the contemporary period; the woman of the Victorian Age did not have such a luxury. The issue also revolves around the fact many women have low self-esteem, which leads them down a path of body obsession. This makes women and girls with such issues of self perception more vulnerable to certain images propagated through various types of media. Victorian Age women were more restricted in most areas of life. Areas such as medicine, fashion, and beauty ideals were used to justify women’s subordination to men. The corset was an example of this subordination. This type of clothing was designed to squeeze a woman’s waist to make it appear smaller. Like most clothing for women during this time period it was designed to restrict movement. It was believed that women should not overexert themselves. Physicians were convinced that physical weakness was a woman’s natural state.   There was another camp that emerged in this debate about the female body. Women should at least have some health conditioning for childbirth. Women involved in some form of physical activity would not harm the as some health reformers ensured. Catherine  Beecher was one of the early advocates for women getting exercise. This was not for the purpose of appearance, rather a eugenic purpose in mind. The major shift came when women wanted their physical exercise to become more than just for the basis of appearance.

        As Victorian prudishness disappeared women began to become more in touch with their independence. During the late 19th century cycling became a popular pastime for women. The beauty concept developed the notion that women needed exercise for their beauty. Body ideals began to fluctuate. The Gibson girl was the voluptuous type. When the 20th century arrived the flapper depicted a thinner female body. The rise of film and popular entertainment venues presented the public with new images of the female body. The muscular woman actually did have a venue in popular entertainment.

 From Corsets to bicep curls, it seems women have gone through a political, social, and physical transformation. 

Circuses, music halls, and vaudeville was a popular form of entertainment during the late 19th to early 20th century. Strongwomen performed in these venues. There were instances in which strongwomen gathered a following. Charmion was a trapeze artist who was filmed in Thomas Edison’s short film “Trapeze Disrobing Act .” The 1901 short film demonstrated that men were getting interested in the a strong female physique. Women were performing strength feats just like the men. This was the period in which modern bodybuilding was being developed. Eugen Sandow and Bernarr Macfadden were pioneers in physical culture and modern bodybuilding.  To them the built physique had to be displayed on a stage. However, the new physical culture movement did receive backlash from medical professionals and physical educators. They though developing muscles to a high degree would reduce body efficiency and pose a health risk. This was not true and advocates of physical culture challenged such claims. Macfadden was revolutionary in the sense he advocated exercise and strength for women. He once stated that “there can be no beauty without muscles.”  Physical Culture magazine was read by both men and women. The magazine would reach sales of  over a million copies by 1955. There was another shift in the body ideal for women. The new woman was athletically active. Charlotte Perkins Gilman feminist, novelist,  and sociologist advocated that women have full control of the bodies, which included developing themselves physically. Her 1915 novel  Herland  emphasized this idea through a book in which women lived independently, were self-sufficient, and were active physically. This was a work of utopian feminist fiction in which men did not exist and the characters resembled the amazons of ancient Greek myth.

The fitness culture has a long history. One of the ways ideas were spread were through magazines and this continues to some degree today. Internet publications are now overtaking traditional print media. 

William  Blaikie produced a popular book called How To Get Strong and How to Stay So. This work of physical education was advocating that women and girls train to build strength so they can maintain good health. It seems some were not seeing a conflict in relation to muscularity and the female body. Vertinsky then explains that during the interwar years some still saw the contradiction between a strong body and femininity. The press was harsh in particular in the criticism of women. Much of it was either sexist or homophobic. While the author does not focus on the fact that non-white female athletes had to deal with both racism and sexism. African American women athletes were normally ignored by the mainstream American press. The text should have mentioned this more in a wider context, because it only focuses on the experiences of mostly white or European women. This limits the scholarship. Women were by the 1930s becoming more vsible in the sports world, yet there were objections to them. Most were based on their appearance. Athletes such as Babe Didrikson  were described as “muscle molls”  meaning they were manly or unfeminine. Women’s strength is often condemned when it is not needed, but in times of peril it becomes a necessity. During World War II women had to take the jobs of men fighting overseas, which required manual labor. Women had to be strong so that the war effort was successful.

After the war, there was a sharp turn in conservatism in terms of women’s roles. Women were expected to return to the domestic sphere. This was happening when Pudgy Stockton was making a larger impact on women’s fitness, which would not be realized until later in the century.   She popularized the idea that women could lift weights and still remain feminine. The odd contrast was that the ideal of beauty was shifting back to a slimmer body type. Vertinsky  cites the rise of the fashion industry, weight loss industry, and even toys like Barbie as a reason for the shift back. It could also metaphorically symbolize some men’s desire to control women and maintain the status quo. Stockton and the women who were inspired by her began to find an alternative. Lisa Lyon would be inspired to build her body and she would later become one of female bodybuilding’s first pioneers. This came from looking at photographs of Stockton.

The essay does do a great job of explaining how body image conformity was and continues to used against women. Yet, incorporating the beauty myth concept into such an argument  makes it lack credibility. Niomi Wolf’s theories and ideas have either been contradictory or at worst not entirely accurate. There is a tendency for feminism to cast all men as oppressors; this seems strongest in modern day third wave feminist rhetoric in academic analysis. The reality is that no one is forcing women to submit to body image pressure like women are forced into marriage or particular economic sectors. Feminism is often uncertain or contradictory on the analysis of the female athlete or muscular woman. It shifts between praise or scorn. Sometimes it takes an extreme route of the notion that women should just enter areas for the sake of  being antagonistic to men. These ideological conflicts can not be solved with a simple answer. The essay does provides a lucid explanation in regards to the connection between sexism, eugenics, health, and beauty. Yet, the small amount of feminist rhetoric weakens that strength of an otherwise rational argument. The  Patrica Vertinsky’s analysis provides also an clear synopsis of the history  in terms of were the muscular woman fits in a wider historical context.

      The rest of the monograph proceeds to show primary source material starting in a chronological manner. The muscular women of the past had more of a struggle supporting themselves with their athletic talents alone. Some professional women made a living being street performers. Strongmen did not have it better and would often work with strongwomen to increase audience attraction. Such performance acts could be seen in carnivals, fairs, and theater houses. Although the strong woman acts are considered to be a development of the 1800s, it is possible that it began earlier. The book in the first chapter shows five engravings from 1783 that depict women performing strength feats. They show women from Leipzig, Germany doing strength feat acts with anvils and horses. There is a possibility that these act were done by means of chicanery or the product of someone’s imagination.  These women could have been real people, but is clear that the strength feats are exaggerated. Strongwomen predate the rise of physical culture and heath fitness fadism in the 19th century. They benefited from this phenomenon. While health professionals were just beginning to embrace lifting exercises, strongwomen were doing this for a century. From the visual materials that remain, their are names of the foremothers of iron. The earliest documented name is that of Elsie Luftmann. She was known to do cannonball juggling acts and lift large weights. Luftmann toured mostly in central Europe.

There could have been more strongwomen active, but Elsie Serafin Luftman  is the only name so far remembered from that era in the early 19th century. This illustration is dated at 1830.

Although it seems that this was the activity of mostly European and American women, women of other ethnic groups were involved. Miss Lala  was a African Polish strongwoman born in 1858. She was also an acrobat, trapeze artist, and did other stunts . She became are very popular strongwoman in Germany, France, and much of Europe. This was not unusual. There had been an African presence in Europe for quite sometime. Her real name Anna Olga Brown and she was active through the 1870s to 1890s. Little is known about the rest of her life.  What is remembered is that she would perform iron jaw acts. Allegedly she would hold a cannon with her teeth as a strength feat. This may be another trick that circus acts would do. However, the other acts she would do were genuine.

strong woman
Miss Lala was so popular that she was the subject of the painting “Miss La La At The Cirque Fernando”  by Edward Degas in 1879.

 The era was known for producing many posters and visuals advertising strongwomen. The graphic art is a delight to look at for a reader. Graphic design is often under appreciated, but has a major impact on culture and visual arts. The most important element in terms of history is that it leaves primary source material.

 Changes and transformations can be documented. This allows scholars to see possible patterns in ideas or commonly held perspectives. Women staring in the 1830s began as strongwomen and by the 19th century were becoming professionals in this profession. They were doing this in an atmosphere that was hostile to women’s advancement or freedom. The reason women may have had more room to navigate this field was because it did not prove to be a threat to the social and political order. As long as this was just simple entertainment with no definite statements on sex politics, there were no repercussions for women involved. While strength and brawn were essential to their acts women were still constrained by social mores about gender roles. Even successful strongwomen like Athleta would do the most to cover up their bodies. The reason was not to be a threat to male members of the audience . Another reason was that it would have been considered inappropriate at the time for women to expose or display their bodies in a particular manner. Some women were willing to challenge  that. Frances Rheinlander  who was know as Athelda was known to do poses that are common on bodybuilding stages today.

Women also had trepidation about displaying such musculature. The fear of looking masculine or violating gender norms was a challenge.  Then came another paradigm shift. Strength was no longer seen as harming a women’s feminine qualities. Strongwomen themselves began to present an image of strong and beautiful woman. Louise Leers, Kate Roberts, and Katie Sandwina ushered in a golden age of strongwoman performance. This as between the 1890s to early 20th century. Audiences were amused and fascinated with women who could lift object twice their own weight.

 There were interruptions that occurred that brought the golden age of strongwomen acts to a period of hiatus. World War I devastated the world order. The world came back to a sense of normalcy to a degree, but by 1929 the Great Depression hit. The 1920s did still have strongwomen performing yet that period of  prosperity did not last. Muscular women obviously existed prior to the 1800s. The text merely shows that they were not documented until that century. The monograph also clarifies that not every muscular woman was  a circus performer or professional strongwoman.

    The following chapter “pumping wood” reveals a fascinating change in terms of women and fitness. Regular women and female athletes wanted to build muscular strength for the purpose of just staying in shape. Early women’s physical culture literature discouraged exercise, due to the concept of the frailty myth. There was the mainstream conviction that women just did not have the physical constitution for strenuous exercise. A consensus was later reach that women needed at least some form of physical activity for their health. Calisthenics and working out with wooden dumbells was advised. Regular women’s motivation for working out was different from that of the athlete or professional strongwoman. The goal was not to build a strong physique, rather maintain health. Many health conditions at the time that were plaguing women were related to the corset. These tight garments could dislodge organs and pinch the lungs.

Just like today every woman who goes to the gym does not have the same fitness goals in mind. 

The chapter contains illustrations from newspaper articles showing women how to do proper exercises from Harper’s Weekly . Women would eventually discard their corsets so that they could have more free movement during an exercise session. Women could join exercise clubs, but this was extremely rare. Women interest in exercise and physical culture did spark a backlash. Even though women were few in number in physical culture, social conservatives and sexists condemn women’s participation. The muscular woman was made into an object of ridicule and contempt. The text has printed a series of valentines cards which mock female athletes from 1900. These were known as vinegar valentines and normally ostracized groups of people the producers found unappealing. Postcards would also ostracize athletic women and women who decided to engage in physical culture.

sexist postcard
This postcard dated  1905 states that women should not waste time on exercise. Postcards and valentines normally depicted the female athlete as vain, ignorant, or egotistical.
This is a booklet from 1900 produced by Lydia Pinkham Company . It features a woman doing a double biceps pose. The Pinkham Company booklet is a demonstration of positive depictions of the female athlete at the time.

Chapman explains that many times men did not know what to make of the muscular female. One method to deal with such a different concept of womanhood was to insult and shun a woman who did not meet societal gender expectations. All the depictions were not negative. Magazines as this chapter demonstrates sometimes had women on the cover. Fitness, exercise, and sport were at onetime considered male only activities. Women gradually entered the world of fitness culture. Women during this period also used Indian clubs and took up cycling. There was a new woman emerging that was more independent and was no longer willing to be regulated to the domestic sphere. As women were demanding voting rights on both sides of the Atlantic men were becoming threatened. This explains the exaggerated reactions to women engaging in sports and physical culture. There are complaints today that female athletes and fitness personalities do not get enough coverage, but during this period of 1900 to 1914, it was rare that women were present on magazine covers. Sometimes there were cases they were visible regardless of public reaction. Booklets also appeared giving advice on women’s health. Women who were seeking heath improvement rather than athleticism or physical development. The following chapter notes several paradigms that emerged.

       The chapter ” Pursuing The Healthy Life” demonstrates how rapidly body ideals changed. The hourglass figure went out of vogue in favor of the s shape. The Roaring Twenties saw  the rise of a woman with more independence. This was not equally distributed among the various classes and ethnic groups of America. Women did obtain the vote, but African American, Native American, and Asian Americans still had to struggle for equal voting rights. Women who were of the upper class had more time for leisure and sport. The fitness world at this time was developing a space for women. Health and beauty clubs would emerge in the US. The taboo about women in exercise had been lifted. There were some problems in this new paradigm. Mass media and popular culture of the era encourage exercise  for women for the sole purpose of making them look attractive to a particular standard. There were multiple models of the female body presented. There was the tomboyish flapper, the traditional lithe woman, and the female athlete. Although female athletes  of the interwar period  were training just for there sport, they did develop impressive strength. Alice Marble and  Babe Dickerson Zaharias were making women’s sports notable to the public, with their magnificent performances.

The public was at least to an extent getting used to the idea women could play sports or be involved in fitness culture. Advocates such as Mary Bagot Stack established the Women’s League of Health and Beauty in 1930 to encourage women to be physically active. This was one example of many clubs that emerged in both Britain and the US. Women there would practice gymnastics, dance, and calisthenics. The reason such organizations did not generate condemnation was they stayed in line with traditional gender roles. Women were not seeking to be athletes or build their muscles. Lifting weights was not part of the exercise regimen. There were women still around in the 1930s will to display a female body with muscular development. Ivy Russell was a weightlifter and wrestler who developed an impressive physique. She was born in the British Empire and many historians of  bodybuilding consider her to be the first woman to create such a physique. This can be disputed, because there may have been others yet she was probably    the first to enjoy displaying such muscular strength.

The muscular woman and the female athlete in general got limited exposure. Ivy Russell was willing to flex her muscles during a period when that was inappropriate for women. Many photographs of muscular women from the 1800s to mid-20th century show them not flexing their muscles to prevent challenging gender role boundaries.Even women with significant development were discouraged from doing so. This does not cause issues when women athletes flex today. Russell was a foreshadowing of what was to come by the late 20th century.

 There seems to be a cycle of advancement and backlash. There was some room for negotiation  to an extent in society. Women began taking advice from other women rather than the majority male medical professionals, who had limited understanding of women’s bodies. There was a fitness culture developing, but it put emphasis on machines that in the contemporary period would seem ludicrous. Weight reduction machines were popular forms of exercise equipment and the shake weights of their day. Vibration belt machines were common in gyms promising users they could lose huge amounts of weight.

Women using vibrating belt machines in the 1920s.

The rise of modern consumer culture also produced fitness fads. As women had more free time , it was only natural that it was occupied with such leisure activities. Some fitness fads even evolved into movements. The Life Reform Movement which developed in Switzerland and Germany advocated humankind’s return to nature by embracing healthy living, fitness, a return to nature, and an embrace of sexual liberation including nudism. This movement was more of a reaction to a rapidly industrialized and technological world as well as the rejection of the traditional conservatism of Europe. This movement spread throughout Europe and embrace outdoor physical activity.  It was at its height between the 1920s and 1930s. It was prohibited in Germany when the Nazis came to power.  There was one element that remained in the totalitarian state: the embrace of physical activity and naturism. The Nazis believed good health would make the nation stronger and produce better Aryans. Nazis and the Fascists did not encourage physical  exercise for women’s sake, but rather to make them fit mothers who would produce future soldiers. Italy was more more advance in this project, because there had been a long history of women being involved in exercise there.

This magazine from Fascist Italy was encouraging women to exercise so that they could be better mothers. The totalitarian fascist governments wanted large populations that so that they could build large armies.

The coming of global conflict in 1939 brought about social and political changes. Women were just like in World War I asked to contribute to the war effort by working while the men went off to battle. There was also a pop culture transformation as well. The idea of  physical strong women appeared in comic books such as Wonder Woman and Sheena. When fascism was defeated women were forced from their jobs in factories. The 1950s gave way to more social and political conservatism.

          There were a number of strongwomen and athletes becoming notable during the wartime era. Dorcas Lehman, Relna Brewer, and Pudgy Stockton.The 1940s was a time in which even women who played other sports were popular. The All American Girls Professional Ball League became popular with the public. With males being drafted and fighting in the war, many teams were losing their star athletes. Owners formed this baseball team with women and it filled stadiums. Women’s professional baseball existed from 1943 to 1954 in America. Sadly, it ended for women when men came home and owners no longer promoted it. Attendance dropped and this meant the end of women in professional baseball.  Some women were actively trying to make sports, fitness, and weightlifting appeal to women. Siegmund Klein a major figure in fitness at the time was opposed to women using his gym. The famous strongman and bodybuilder was convinced that athleticism was a male only affair. He was soon changed his position when he realized women could be great customers to his gym establishment in New York. Some men were getting used to the idea women could be strong.

Pudgy Stockton poses with  her husband Les Stockton.  These two athletes were known to do various strength feats on Muscle Beach in California.

 The monograph does  provide a great explanation why Stockton was important. She participated in the first women’s weightlifting meet in 1947. It was held in Los Angeles and had various weight classes. This was a significant step in the history  of female physical strength. Stockton also became an advocate for women writing in Strength and Health  promoting the idea women could lift and still be feminine. The texts also mentions women’s professional wrestling was emerging in the mid-1940s to early 1950s. The book contains a photograph of Mildred Burke and the Fabulous Moolah who were the harbingers of women’s professional wrestling. While there was some progress for women in fitness and sports culture, after the war there was a return to traditional gender roles.

The 1950s saw a return to tradition. All of a sudden women being strong and flexing their muscles was no longer considered acceptable once more. Venus With Biceps describes the period between 1950 to the mid-1970s as a time in which muscular women disappeared. They literally did not vanish, but their mainstream exposure was gone. This also could be seen in the fitness culture in which magazine merely put women on the cover not for their athletic feats, rather a decoration. This was a major reversal in terms of women’s progress in a male dominated arena. Gone were the days of  strongwomen having mainstream platforms. This would be temporary, because another change would happen in the form of second wave feminism.


There have been muscular women as long as there have been strong men. During this period of limited exposure photographers would seek out trapeze artists, acrobats, and  aerialists during the 1940s and 1950s to document female muscle. Although these women had athletic potential they had no outlet or platform to display it. Two decades would have to pass until the most radical stage of this transformation would come.

         The last two chapters explain the shift to just mere figure improvement to the development of muscular strength. This process would result in the creation of modern day female bodybuilding. Muscular women had been excluded from magazines, gymnasiums, and other public venues  during the nadir period of the mid-20th century. The problem with Venus With Biceps is that it misses on crucial point in this historical discourse. Title IX was pivotal in the increase of women in athletics. That legislation gave many girls the opportunity to play sports and go on to be champions in both national and international competition. Many female bodybuilders of today got their start in other sports before coming on stage. This is a vital link that binds the fitness culture to the sports world. Lifting weights was once thought to harm athletic performance. When this was proven false athletes from various sports began weight training and seeing their performance improve. During the 1950s the only way women could get close to bodybuilding culture was to be in a beauty pageant. It was common at the time to have beauty attached to them. Men objected to this they did not want to be seen as male counterparts to beauty queens. The feminist revolution of the 1960s and 1970s did give women more freedom in terms of employment, education, and reproductive rights. Sports was a low priority compared to more pressing issues. All this political and cultural change was happening during a period when women were entering the sports world en mass. The first female bodybuilding competition would be held in 1977 under the auspice of Henry McGhee. This was not a beauty pageant; women were judged on their muscular development. Following this  Doris Barrilleaux began running contests of her own.  Female muscularity would be pushed to new heights with the arrival of various contests.

Rachel Mclish would go on to become the first Ms.Olympia in 1980. The last photograph is of her in the book. The way it is organized and written readers can see how over the past two centuries women’s athletic physicality developed. The general public who were exposed to this may have thought this was a new phenomenon. Those with a knowledge of the historical background would understand it is a much longer tradition. The difference in the late 20th century was that women were pushing their bodies to the physical maximum. The strongwomen of the past were not making muscular development their goal. The women of the late 20th to 21st century involved in fitness were seeking their highest level of development. The author notes as more contests opened the more muscular women became and the more they appeared.

There was an evolution in the female physique on stage with women becoming more muscular than people thought was possible. Lisa Lyon although she only competed one time was a contributor to the early version of female bodybuilding. She won the World’s Women Bodybuilding Championship in 1979. Like Pudgy Stockton she was prompting the idea of women’s bodybuilding and weightlifting to women. She was inspired by Stockton. The monograph mentions the early pioneers, but is curious it does not mention the later champions like Cory Everson, Lenda Murray, or Iris Kyle. It makes it seem as if the evolution stopped at 1980. While readers would obviously know that there are muscular women in existence and are active in sports new comers may be confused.

       This journey into female strength and muscularity is not over. The author states that the female body was altered to a higher degree with performance enhancing drugs. Drugs have been a part of sports for a longtime, but that is not the only contributor to the new physique presented. Women became serious about training and more competitive as competitions grew. There was another shift in consciousness. It was acceptable for women to have a certain level of  fitness or even tone, just as long as it was not “too much.”  Such descriptions of what is excessive are relative and opinion based. It can be disputed that the claim as Chapman articulates ” unfortunately, the introduction of drugs has meant that once again, many people regard female bodybuilders as freaks.” Prior to the existence of performance enhancing drugs this attitude was present as the earlier chapters of the book demonstrate. This is not based on drug use or the side effects, but on sexist prejudice and a narrow definition of what a woman should be. The reason people have not gotten used to the idea of a muscular woman is that society hates women with power. The oppressive structures can be removed, yet the hateful attitudes still remain within a society.

There has been a distortion about women’s bodies. The difference now is that they are beginning to reject to particular societal beauty standards. There is an irony that the monograph articulates. It has been close to 200 years of the public appearance of the female muscular form and people still cling to the idea it is not proper.  Although Venus With Biceps does not discuss other developments much has happened since its 2010 release. The last Ms.Olympia was held in 2014. This was a major blow to female bodybuilding, but it was brief. The Rising Phoenix Competition became a replacement when the IFBB terminated the Ms.Olympia. This does not resemble the nadir period of the 1950s to 1970s. More women are competing in physique sports such as figure, fitness, physique, and bikini. The female bodybuilding category although struggling has not phased out completely. Former athletes such as Lenda Murray continue to promote and hold contests for athletes.

The women continue to survive in the bodybuilding culture despite various obstacles. The biggest change has been aided by technology. Women who are fit, but do not compete are active on social media and are seen by millions of internet users across the globe. Compared to the past two centuries, it is easier to find material related to or focusing on muscular women. There are women who are active in professional sports to a larger degree compared to the 19th and 20th century. Venus With Biceps A Pictorial History of Muscular Women is a great documentation in regards to a rarely studied element of women’s sports history.   This primary source material is perfect for anyone doing research or wanting to learn more. The monograph’s analysis related to particular subjects can be debated. Not mentioning Title IX seems to be a flaw in the book’s historical discourse. These minor imperfections do not effect the overall presentation. These photographs, advertisements, and visual art show that the muscular female did exist and was part of the pop culture consciousness. Although the same negative attitudes remain, many now see there is no contradiction between strength and femininity. It may take another 200 years for the majority to accept such an idea. The wonderful part about the contemporary period is that there are more strong and muscular women compared to the past.   Venus With Biceps A Pictorial History of Muscular Women is a must have book for fans of history, female muscle, and sports. It is unknown what this evolution in women’s physique will become, but there is past documentation that its has been occurring for some time.

Venus With Biceps A Pictorial History of Muscular Women

Why Strength Depends on More Than Just Muscle : Neural Adaptations Could Account For Differing Strength Gains Despite Similar Mass

Neural Adaptations

There is still more to learn about the human body and its relation to sports performance. The science of strength exposes a link between the muscular system and the nervous system. A study conducted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln revealed that a portion of strength does come from exercising the nervous system. This  was the explanation for why the subjects who lifted heavier weights enjoyed more strength than low load lifters regardless of similar gains in mass. Simply stated larger muscles do not always equate to more strength. That had been the common assumption, but this study challenges it. There should also be considerations to how experiments were conducted. There are other factors that influence strength that could distort the study. If the experiment is to be conducted again it should produce the same results to be considered fact. Exercise physiology has become an important field with applications for sports performance and health science.

          The experiment selected men only. These subjects trained on a leg extension machine loaded with either 30 to 80 percent of the maximum weight they could lift. This was done three times a week and subjects did this until they could no longer do repetitions. Nathaniel Jenkins and his colleagues then discovered that the high loaded group gained more strength compared to the low load group. They were able to increase strength by ten pounds worth. The subjects were making similar gains in terms of muscle mass, yet still there was a disparity in strength. If this is actually a fact of exercise physiology there should be a diverse sample of subjects. It would be fascinating to see how this experiment would work on women. The average woman does not have as much strength as the average man. Therefore if similar results were produced for women it would show which type of  load bearing exercise is most effective. A comparison between athletes and non-athletes could also be done for extra verification.

Researchers also supplied an electrical current to the nerves of the quadriceps . What was stimulated was the muscle used in the leg extension. It was not physiologically possible for subjects to generate 100 percent of force their muscle could produce. Thus the method of measurement  was done by comparing the unassisted kick and examining the voluntary activation. Voluntary activation refers to the capacity an individual has reached. The data showed a difference in low load groups and high load groups. Voluntary activation increase from 90.07 percent to 90.22 for the low load group ( 0.15  percent during the three weeks ).  The high load group saw an increase from 90.94 to 93.29 percent ( 2.35 percent during the three weeks).

What was extracted from this was that voluntary activation of motor neuron units during maximal contraction is beneficial to physical strength.  Jenkins wanted to be more precise and tested his hypothesis by another method. Subjects were asked to kick 10 percent of their baseline strength. This was done from a period of  three to six weeks. If high load training is better than the low load training a smaller portion of absolute strength should be used. This would mean the same force would be generated, while fewer motor neutrons are activated. If more motor neurons are activated that indicates less efficiency. When the electrodes were placed on high load subjects there was a drop in electrical activity during the exercise session. The data revealed that voluntary activation decreased for the low load group from 56 (baseline )  to 54.71 percent . The high load group dropped from 57 (baseline) to 49.43 percent. The conclusion from these experiments demonstrate that the nervous system and motor neurons play a role in strength. Lifting heavier may be more efficient compared to lifting lighter weights. It is possible subjects could gain the same mass, but not have the same strength levels.

           What should also be taken into consideration the other factors that contribute to strength. Bones,ligaments, and tendons also are a part of physical strength. Muscles rest on the skeletal frame. Ligaments attach bones to other bones. Tendons are responsible for attaching muscle to the bones of the body. Besides those considerations genetics also has a role in physical strength.  People with ectomorphic and endomorphic body structures may find it more difficult to build strength compared to more mesomorphic body types.

Although it is not impossible to increase physical fitness capacity depending on training, a part of potential is determined by particular genetics. Sex also plays a role in strength. Up until puberty, there is no difference in strength levels between the sexes. The shift occurs during the changes in growth. The hypothalamus will release gonadotropic releasing hormone, while the anterior pituitary gland forms  luteinizing hormone. This instructs the testis to produce more androgens. Testosterone contributes to protein synthesis causing a strength spurt in the male body. The difference related to to body composition in the sexes is related to endocrine function. Women produce higher levels of fat, which means less muscle for total body force recruitment. However, there is no difference between muscle cells between the sexes. Both men and women can experience muscular hypertrophy.  Relevant to this experiment  it should be asked if these other factors of bone, ligament, and tendon strength were accounted for. Then another question arises was this a measure of relative or absolute strength? If only one exercise was performed, it would most likely be relative strength.


Isometric training was utilized.  The measurements were also obtained by means of an isokinetic dynamometer. These devices are designed to resist applied forces,while controlling the speed of exercise, The rate is predetermined and maintains a record of applied force. While experiments can have multiple methods of measure, this does not completely eliminate mathematical error. The study when published in Frontiers of physiology  recognized this and notes some of the difficulties in the experiment.


Relative strength only measures cross sectional area of muscle and body mass. Absolute strength is the total sum of  possible body force generated from the upper and lower body. This experiment would be more precise if other exercises such as squats, bench press, or bicep curls were incorporated. The results would probably be the same, but it would reveal more about total absolute strength gains during a heavy load based weight training regimen. There are also muscle fiber types that are best suited for more power. Type II fast twitch muscle fiber has less endurance, yet more power.

      To fully grasp this study, one must understand what a motor neuron is. The motor neuron are efferent neurons that have origins in the spinal cord and perform synaptic functions with muscle fibers. This association produces muscle contraction with muscle spindles to also form proprioceptive sensitivity. The central nervous system is the reason the body can move. Nerve impulses ( action potentials ) carry information. These nerve impulses are the same containing 100 milivolts.

This is a diagram   of how the nervous systems functions with both upper and lower motor neurons.
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The motor cortex has involvement in human locomotion.

These cells have the task of controlling voluntary muscle activity. This would include everything from speaking, walking, breathing, swallowing, and for the skilled athlete numerous skilled movements during competition. The upper motor neurons stationed in the brain link through transmission to the lower motor neurons of the brain and spinal cord. The upper motor neurons are the directors and the lower neurons are the subordinates producing the movement of the body. Lower motor neurons would be involved in movement of the arms and chest. Walking would be a function of upper motor neurons. The nerves are branch like for the motor neurons almost resembling telephone lines. This explains when there is a spinal cord injury paralysis can occur. It essentially cuts off communication with other parts of the body. The branches when extended to other areas attach themselves to motor plates of a single muscle fiber. Thus, locomotion is a physiological function.

The neurons of the spinal cord are referred to as anterior horn cells. The upper motor neurons are also called corticospinal neurons. There is more auxiliary support for such specialized neurons. Motor circuits also contribute to the process of locomotion. If there is some form of disturbance with motor circuits this could cause serious health issues. The causes of spinal muscular atrophy and amytropic lateral sclerosis have a direct link to motor circuit dysfunction in the nervous system .  Further explorations into cytology could produce a possible cure in the future. This also could reveal methods at enhancing strength to higher degrees with an understanding of nervous system function. Through training there is a changes neural adaptation. Impulses can be received from other neurons. Neurons are also capable of producing its own wavelike movements of ions. Impulses then transport from one neuron to the next at junctions called synapses.

       Which training method is best depends on  specific goals. Low load exercises would be best for individuals who want to build mass without putting straining on the joints. This would be suitable mainly for older people and people recovering form injury. Building mass does not always equate to more strength. A weightlifter for example could be stronger than a bodybuilder. They are training for two different objectives. One wants to lift more weight while the other wants to gain more mass. Larger size of the muscle does not mean the person would be able to lift more. The weightlifter trains for functional strength rather than aesthetic presentation.

There is also the factor of how much of the body is composed of type II fast twitch fiber. It is possible that a person could have large muscles,but not be as strong as a person with smaller ones. This once more relates to training. Heavy load based training would be more effective in terms of time comparison with light load based lifting. Theoretically lifting light weights still could build muscle; it would take longer amount of time.  The study does show this. Age is also a factor in strength and that is why subjects were selected between the ages of 19 to 35. This was done because around this age that is the body’s physical peak. The subjects did not have any previous weight training experience and were free from musculoskeletal conditions or diseases. Diet is also important factor in strength. Participants completed a three day dietary log. This documented what subjects consumed and allowed for an account of daily energy intake. What one eats only contributes to the effectiveness of the training. This experiment could allow for the design of more efficient training and fitness programs. Depending on the objective a training or fitness program should take into consideration neural adaptation.

            Neural adaptation is the alteration of the sensory system in response to a stimulus over time. It can be classified as either slow or fast adaptation. When the response happens immediately after the stimulus presentation this would be classified as fast. The rate of slow adaptation is gradual. Weight training would be classified as fast adaptation. The experiment conducted proved this through the using electromyography. This is a technique used by medicine to document electrical activity in the skeletal muscles. This study only confirms what many have suspected for a number of years. The nervous system and motor neurons are important to strength building. Heavy loads are a more effective means of producing a desired response from a particular stimulus. Multiple theories have been developed which include the increased firing rates of motor neurons, motor unit synchronization, and decreased muscular co-activation agonist-antagonist muscles. If nerve impulses and motor neurons could be manipulated in a particular manner this could improve sports performance and lead to cures neurological diseases. Strength does not only come from the muscles. Evidence suggests that it is also neurologically based.

Why Strength Depends on More Than Just Muscle : Neural Adaptations Could Account For Differing Strength Gains Despite Similar Mass