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Feeling the Burn: Intense Bodybuilding Pays Off For ‘Extreme Muscle Girls’

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“Can I eat now? I’m so hungry,” Kayla Black asked. A 103-pound version of this mother of two small children stood stage left at the 2014 Alaska State and All High School Bodybuilding, Fitness, Figure, Bikini, and Physique Championships.

Approximately 400 people entered the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Wendy Williamson auditorium, paying $30 apiece to see the results of her two months of willpower imposed hard exercise and diet manipulation dance across a stage.

Larry Irvine, a massive 52 year old and owner of Muscle in Motion, answered, “Yes. Let’s get some fats into you so that you start to fill out. Jelly and rice cakes. You brought some, right?”

Kayla nodded affirmatively, “Can I eat my fish, too?”

Like the coach of any other sports team, Irvine asked how 146 pound Natasha Gill was feeling. Tired, she answered. She fidgeted nervously as she played with the belt on her robe. It’s was her third show, fresh off a win at the natural bikini state championships.

Traditionally, Irvine works with men, but, he decided four years ago that the way to expand his influence locally was to recruit a team of women athletes — not an easy task in a sport as isolating and introspective as bodybuilding. Black is among 12 women under Irvine’s direction choosing to make the transition from gym rat into one of the Extreme Muscle Girls. Seven bravely decided to compete at the Jackie O’s 2014 National Physique Committee’s championship inside rhinestone-studded bikinis and high heels.

“Do you know why she’s tired?” Irvine asked me.

“No, Sir,” I replied.

Humans. We come from hunters and gatherers. Today, because we live in modern times and get our food from the grocery store we tend to forget that. Our Ancestors had to search for food. Our bodies are still built to hunt and search for food. I told them [the athletes] that they couldn’t eat for two days. They couldn’t sleep because the body wants to be up searching for food. Now, I’ve told them they can eat. So, just like lions. After a hunt, what do they do? They sleep. So, they feel tired.

I asked what the diet schedule for the final week leading up to the competition looked like.

“We load water and sodium seven days out. And, depending on how their bodies respond, we do different things,” Irvine responded. “We want their skin to get thin, which means feeding them carbs so the carbs soak up the remaining water in their system.”

The process is a very sophisticated manipulation of the human body through diet. It produces the “look” we associate with bodybuilders, living muscle charts from the doctor’s office or biology class. The skin is there, yet, you can see everything underneath the skin. All developed like a Marvel cartoon character.

“After the show,” Irvine said, “I tell them to chug water. Not Gatorade. It has sugar in it which is bad for bodybuilders.”

Tim Hall, who owns Hall’s Auto Body in Palmer, presented himself, tanned and in a t-shirt. At 47, he’s the veteran competitor with 8 years of experience in the gym and 3 years experience on the stage. He won the 2013 Master’s Division and was the only male Irvine was coaching.

The assessment was fast, with Irvine darting around Hall. “See, the fats are kicking in. You are filling out. Look at those veins,” Irvine chattered.

“Normally, you wouldn’t diet down this far,” Hall said. “The show gives you a goal so you don’t cheat. It’s easy to cheat on your diet when you don’t have a goal. But, with a goal, you want to see the results of all this hard work on stage.”

Mentally, Hall said he was just trying to remain calm and focused. For the past month, he focused on the details of his stage performance, devoting one hour each day to practicing his posing routine.

As a sport, bodybuilding resists easy definition. Similar to gymnastics, it’s a highly subjective sport, but, unlike gymnastics, athletes don’t perform as much as they display the upper limits of human muscularity.

As much as fans discuss the abstract differences between judging qualities like symmetry, mass and striations, the sport amounts to an appreciation of beauty. Some people just look better in highly customized versions of their birthday suits than others, especially during a side-by-side comparison.

In the 1960 and 70s, the most famous bodybuilder of our time, Arnold Schwarzenegger, promoted himself into household name status through the pages of Joe Weider’s Muscle and Fitness magazine. In article after article, Arnold taught readers that bodybuilders fight through tremendous pain, called lactic acid build-up (or the “burn”), using “intensity techniques” which increases the stress-weighted exercise applies to select muscle groups. This forces the muscles to grow and develop outside their comfort zone.

Bodybuilding is an act of will and narcissism.

Irvine works with women. I know a lot of women who view all the muscle-building he encouraged as masculine, not feminine.

“Yes, but, there is a class for every commitment level,” he answered.

1) Bikini, 2) Fitness, 3) Figure, 4) physique and 5) Body building.

At the first level, you have “Women’s Bikini,” which is equivalent to the magazine model. Think Abercrombie and Fitch models. Not too muscular, but in shape.

Then, there are the fitness and figure classes. Usually people with a background in gymnastics or martial arts join these classes. “Very performance-heavy,” Irvine described the category to me. “They do power moves on stage, splits and tumbling.”

“Next, with a little more commitment, one enters the physique class, which is starting towards the upper range of what you are referencing. Think Serena Williams. You know she works out, but still has a feminine frame,” Irvine explined.

Lastly, at the top tier, are the people on stage doing the double-bicep pose. Full bodybuilder. Cory Everson or Pillow.

To their credit, Extreme Muscle Girls made a good showing this year.

  • Tim Hall placed second overall in the masters division.
  • Hailey Black placed first in the bikini class and second in the the figure class.
  • Kayla Black placed fifth in the bikini class.
  • Kateylyn Disney placed sixth in the bikini class.
  • Natasha Gill placed seventh in the bikini class.
  • Amy Pearse placed 10th in the figure class.

Next year, everyone hopes to place higher. For now, they say they are content being in the best shape of their lives.

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