Altered Images: Adapting to the Offseason Physique!

alteredIn a recent survey by the American Dental Association only 19% of women said they were happy with their body. This is both alarming and yet completely understandable at the same time.  It is alarming because dissatisfaction with body image is one of the primary triggers leading to eating disorders. However, it is also understandable when you consider the pressure put on women by the media when it comes to dictating how a woman should look, with supermodels being presented as the ‘ideal'.

All this aside, you have got to wonder where this leaves the female bodybuilder who is faced with having to adapt to changing mirror reflections during off-season and pre-contest training phases. As a competition approaches there is no doubt that a psychological boost is gained from looking in the mirror and being faced with a lean and toned physique. However, what about in those off season months when the pounds begin to creep up and the mirror turns from friend to foe? How does a female bodybuilder learn to adopt a positive attitude to the changes she sees before her-changes that society and the media have programmed her to consider as ‘unacceptable'? Additionally, how does she prevent herself from going on a roller coaster ride of emotions ranging from super confidence when she is in contest condition to withdrawal and depression during the off-season months?

These are just some of the questions that arise when we consider the body image issues many female bodybuilders are confronted with. In order to examine these issues I posed an open question on the RX forums asking how women dealt with the mental effects of off-season weight gain. The answers I received were not only interesting but also revealed that the majority of female bodybuilders have developed a very healthy attitude to the issue of off-season weight gain. This could be due to the fact that they view it as a necessary part of their chosen sport and a stepping stone across the river of progress. It could also be due to the fact that female bodybuilders are more confident than the average woman when it comes to their ability to lose the weight when the time comes.


Although there are exceptions to every rule, it would seem from the evidence I collected that the longer a woman is involved in the sport of bodybuilding, the better her mental approach to off season weight gain becomes.

Another important factor here is whether she began bodybuilding as a ‘skinny person trying to gain weight' or a ‘fat person needing to lose weight' - the former seems to have a faster adaptation response to off season weight gain. Either way, an adaptation response does kick in and it seems that most female bodybuilders have a healthy attitude to weight gain (as long as it doesn't happen two weeks out from a contest!). This in turn paints a picture of the female bodybuilder as a very evolved and empowered individual (and I know I am not going to get any arguments with that statement!). However, if we turn away from the seasoned competitor for a moment and focus our attention on the relative newcomer to bodybuilding - or indeed the figure competitor switching to bodybuilding. What words of wisdom and encouragement can we give these athletes as they begin to adjust to the seasonal altering of their mirror image?

Well this is where I take a step back and share some reassuring and inspiring quotes from the women who know best ...the  ladies of RX !


Alli"Maybe I'm a rarity - but I love both my on and off season shapes. That's not to say I don't have days when I struggle - but I have days when I struggle pre contest as well - when I feel skinny and flat and depleted. Off season I may be thicker but my energy is up, I'm lifting hard, and I love feeling my own size in the gym...There are pluses and minuses to both shapes and you have to settle into an appreciation of both." ALLIFIT



"It's an evolution. I think just the fact that I know how to manage my weight gives me huge confidence and the ability to own wherever I am with my body at any given time. At the sassysame time, the road I have gone down has led me to the place where I know that I don't need to draw my self -image from what other people think. It's more important to address it when I am not happy with it (which is usually when I am tired of wearing my fat clothes and I want to get into the skimpy stuff). I know I'll probably never fit into a ‘normal' category of ‘what women are supposed to look like'... I LOVE that I have got big muscles and all that, but I don't feel the compulsion to have the biggest muscles possible. I also want to be happy in my own skin."  SASSY69

"I used to feel uncomfortable right before a show (like I was going to be blown away) and off -season (like a cow). Now I'm fairly content. No, I don't look ripped at the moment - I shouldn't! I'm trying to add size, and size means calories." DVSNESS

TammyP"The first couple of years are the toughest. I never ate donuts and things like that before I competed but after competing I craved them. I now have an off season plan that leaves me with less weight to take off. I'd rather coast into a show than kill myself. I also like looking like a bodybuilder year round, not just for ten minutes on stage. That's motivation for me! Took me a while to get it, but live and learn I guess..." TAMMYP


Despite the admirable sentiments expressed above, I still think that off season weight gain is a big issue for most female bodybuilders. While many have developed excellent coping skills over the years, many women still struggle with body image during the ‘gaining cycle'.  After all, weight gain is not something women are programmed to believe is acceptable. It's harder for a woman to accept 30+ pounds of off-season weight gain than a man (although there are exceptions).  The very fact that the women quoted above have developed a positive attitude during this process must surely provide hope to those women who still find themselves struggling in the off-season. Another factor which must also be taken into consideration is the fact that female bodybuilders have all the diet and training knowledge they need to make their weight loss strategy successful.  In fact, most are confidant that they'll take the weight off; and they certainly don't have the same catalog of diet failures that the average woman on the street carries around with her. Now that's what I call a positive observation!

If you are currently suffering from the off-season blues understand that, as a female bodybuilder, you're an empowered individual with all the knowledge and skills to strip off those layers of adipose tissue and knock ‘em dead come contest time!

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