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What Is Women's Athletic Physique?

  • Written by Doug Schneider

Stunning Julie-Christine Cotton is featured on our cover this month. She was the Tier 3 (novice) women’s athletic physique winner at the 2015 Physique Canada National Classic, held June 13 in Gatineau, Québec. Despite being in a novice category, Julie-Christine looked incredible, and the potential she showed practically guaranteed that she can go far within the discipline if she sticks to it. But what you might be asking yourself right now is: What is women’s athletic physique? After all, Physique Canada is the only organization in the nation that offers the category, so you might never have heard of it – or of women’s muscular physique, another Physique Canada category.

Julie-Christine CottonJulie-Christine Cotton

It all began in late 2011, when Physique Canada was being created. It was then that everyone involved felt that the competition category names should reflect what the judges are looking for when assessing competitors. Men’s bodybuilding has become well known enough that no modifications to the name were needed, so the organization simply adopted it; however, on the women’s side, things weren’t so easy, for a couple of reasons.

First, women’s bodybuilding was out as a name, because the organization had no inclination to include it in its events, even if the name is well known enough and is indicative of what the judges look for (it’s as good as men’s bodybuilding, obviously). The reason for not including it back then was because the sport was well on its way to completely dying out, which had mostly to do with the rampant drug abuse (e.g., steroids, growth hormone, etc.) that the organizations of the past simply turned a blind eye to, and which made the whole thing a complete turn-off to pretty much everyone in the fitness industry. So Physique Canada wanted no part of it.

As for the other women’s disciplines that are successful in other organizations and have a more positive image, such as bikini and figure, it was felt that their names weren’t all that descriptive as to what the judges were looking for. What’s more, the names didn’t make any sense when you really thought about them. For example, someone can compete in a bikini, but competing in bikini sounds like nonsense – a bikini is something you wear, not something you do. Someone who competes has a figure, but what does it mean to compete in figure? Physique Canada wanted to improve things by having names with purpose and proper meaning.

So what to call the categories? It turns out that it wasn’t hard to come up with some meaningful names.

Since Physique Canada puts on physique competitions, it was decided that physique should be in the category name. It was also decided that there would be two categories for women, and that the names for them should be based on the overall judging criteria for the category, which the group had detailed explicitly. One of the categories would be for women with muscular physiques, akin to modern-day figure and early-1980s women’s bodybuilding (before the drug use destroyed it) – larger muscles, smaller waist, wide shoulders. The other category would be for women with smaller, sleeker, and highly athletic physiques. As a result, women’s muscular physique and women’s athletic physique were born.

While it’s conceivable that a few women could have the genetics for both disciplines, most women are going to be best suited to one and not the other, which makes the names of the categories all the more relevant. Take Julie-Christine Cotton, for example. She has the kind of structure that could work well in women’s muscular physique – broad shoulders, small waist – but her muscle size and fullness, while impressive, isn’t what’s required for that category, especially when you compare her to Nadia Moussa or Marie-Eve Delorme, both past Physique Canada Tier 1 Pro women’s muscular physique winners. Instead, Julie-Christine has the sleek, lithe look that’s ideal for athletic physique, which is why she did so well in June and should continue to do well in the future. Then there’s Jess Kanstrup, the Tier 1 Pro women’s athletic physique winner at this year’s National Classic. Jess’s muscles are larger than Julie-Christine’s, but she still does not have the muscle size of Nadia or Marie-Eve, nor does she have their wide shoulders, which are required to create the bodybuilding-type V-taper necessary to win a top-level women’s muscular physique competition. Jess, like Julie-Christine, is much better suited for athletic physique, while Nadia and Marie-Eve are wise to stick with muscular physique because of their extreme muscularity and V-like top-to-bottom shape.

Jess KanstrupJess Kanstrup

I suspect that even those people who had heard of women’s athletic physique before they read this article never knew how the name for it came to be, simply because the story behind the name was never told publicly. So whether you have or haven’t heard of it, now you know how it came about. What you also now know is that the names for women’s athletic physique and women’s muscular physique weren’t arrived at haphazardly; instead, the folks at Physique Canada deliberately created names that relate to the judging criteria. And if you’re a competitor, hopefully their goal to provide those descriptive names will help you decide which competition is more appropriate for your physique.

Doug Schneider
SeriousAboutMuscle.com Founder and Publisher

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2016 Canadian Competitions

April 2 – SAF Spring Spectacular (women’s categories only)

June 10-11 - SAF Summer Spectacular (women's categories only)

June 11 - Physique Canada National Classic (men's and women's categories)

October 21-22 - SAF Fall Spectacular (women's categories only)

October 22 - Physique Canada Canadian Championships (men's and women's categories)

Note: Competitions and dates subject to change without notice

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