25 Greatest Female Bodybuilders of All Time (Updated 2023)

The 25 greatest female bodybuilders that we will explore in this article have paved the way and championed female bodybuilding over many years.

Female bodybuilders are a powerful embodiment of strength, discipline, and resilience. They participate in a dynamic sport that has experienced a significant evolution over the years. Through rigorous training and strict nutrition, these athletes sculpt their bodies into muscular masterpieces, challenging traditional notions of femininity and redefining conventional beauty standards.

The history of female bodybuilders traces back to the late 19th-century strongwomen performances in European vaudeville acts and circuses. However, it wasn’t until the 1930s when women began to significantly influence this predominantly male sport. Pioneers like Abbye “Pudgy” Stockton, a physical culture enthusiast, started to defy societal norms, paving the way for future generations of female bodybuilders1.

The genesis of female bodybuilding dates back to the late 19th century with strongwomen performances in European vaudeville acts and circuses. However, it was not until the 1930s when women started to leave their mark on this predominantly male sport. Trailblazers like Abbye “Pudgy” Stockton, a physical culture enthusiast, began to challenge societal norms, laying the groundwork for future generations of female bodybuilders1

The 1960s witnessed the inaugural female fitness contest sponsored by FIBB. These competitions, however, resembled beauty pageants more than a showcase of strength and physique3. It was in 1977 when the idea of women honing their muscles primarily for aesthetics came to fruition. This marked the inception of modern women’s bodybuilding, igniting a revolution that would forever alter the course of the sport.4,5

Despite the significant strides, female bodybuilders have faced considerable challenges, from societal prejudices to health concerns. Nevertheless, they persist, driven by passion and determination, breaking barriers, and inspiring countless others along the way.

Today, female bodybuilding stands as a testament to the power and potential of women. It’s a movement that promotes body positivity, equality, and empowerment. Female bodybuilding encourages women to embrace their strength, defy societal expectations, and carve their own path in the world of fitness.

Female bodybuilding competitions like the iconic Ms Olympia are a testament to feminine power. Many of our 25 greatest female bodybuilders have achieved top prizes in bodybuilding competitions worldwide.

But, who are these female bodybuilders, and how are they achieving these impressive goals? In this article, we’ll help you to answer those questions by considering just 25 of the now-countless female bodybuilders taking the weightlifting world by storm. 

The Top 25 Greatest Female Bodybuilders of All Time

Rachel McLish

Rachel McLish greatest female bodybuilders

  • Highlights: First-ever Ms Olympia champion 
  • Speciality: Redefining the rules of feminine physique

According to many trusted experts, female bodybuilding started with Rachel McLish.6

First ever Ms Olympia winner (back when it was known as Miss Olympia), and general trailblazer for a new kind of feminine physique, McLish began her bodybuilding journey while working in a gym in the late 1970s. During just four years of professional competition, she became a two-time Ms Olympia champion, as well as the first woman to win the United States Championship. 

Melina Keltaniemi

Melina Keltaniemi greatest female bodybuilders

  • Highlights: First-ever Elite Pro World bikini champion
  • Speciality: A clear vision on improvement

From one of the first trailblazing female bodybuilders to one of the youngest, Melina Keltaniemi became the first-ever Elite Pro World bikini champion at just 22 years of age. Labelled as a coach and an athlete, the youngster is a trailblazer in her own right thanks to a refreshing understanding of the need to improve her strengths, without constantly striving for the win.

And that’s not to say there haven’t been plenty of wins in her history, with Keltaniemi also securing impressive accolades including 2nd place in the 2018 Nordic Elite Pro and 3rd in the Russia Elite Pro for the same year. Generally, though, Keltaniemi is unique in her admission of not attempting to stay in contest shape all year, but instead giving herself off seasons to recuperate. 

Corinna ‘Cory’ Everson

Corinna ‘Cory’ Everson best female bodybuilders

  • Highlights: Six-time Ms Olympia champion
  • Speciality: Elevated female bodybuilding during the Golden Age

Still heralded as the greatest ever female bodybuilder by many, Cory Everson was the first to win the Ms Olympia championship an astounding six consecutive times between 1984 and 1989.

Once married to bodybuilder and coach Jeff Everson, who introduced her to the sport, Everson began training after graduating from college and entered the competition circuit in 1980 with almost immediate success. From 1984, her impressive physique left her pretty untouchable, until a growing industry focus on muscle size, and increasing competitiveness, saw her bowing out shortly after her final win in 1989. 

Iris Kyle

Iris Kyle greatest female bodybuilder

  • Highlights: Ten-time Ms Olympia champion
  • Specialty: Most successful female bodybuilder in history

Throughout her astoundingly successful career, Iris Kyle secured an impressive nine consecutive Ms Olympia wins between 2006-2014, while a further win in 2022 saw her awarded a record ten Ms Olympia titles in total. Other wins throughout Kyle’s career included an impressive 7 Ms International champion wins, which helped to secure her position as the best female bodybuilder in the IFBB Pro Women’s Bodybuilding Ranking List.

 While Kyle was controversially open about her use of steroids, she was adamant that hard work and genetics were far more imperative to her impressive performance.

Lenda Murray

Lenda Murray greatest female bodybuilder

  • Highlights: Eight-time Ms Olymipa champion
  • Speciality: Proving the power of a long career

Eight-time Ms Olymipa champion Lenda Murray is proving the power of a long, fruitful career. Having enjoyed her first Ms Olympia win when she was just 28, and her last at the age of 41, Lenda has remained a bodybuilding great since joining the competition circuit in 1988.

Speaking after an astounding 31 years total as an athlete, Murray said, ‘I strive for a balanced physique when I train. As I train a body part I feel like I’m sculpting. I’m conscious of what needs work and what does not.’ 

She’s on Instagram @themsolympia.

Nataliya Kuznetsova

Nataliya Kuznetsova greatest female bodybuilders

  • Highlights: Breaking records for world deadlift, bench press, and arm lifting
  • Speciality: One of the heaviest-known professional female bodybuilders

Russian bodybuilder Nataliya Kuznetsova is often referred to as the heaviest known professional female bodybuilder and, given that she weighs in at around 220 pounds in the off-season, it’s easy to believe. 

Though she placed first as an IFBB WOS Romania Muscle Fest Amateur, Kuznetsova doesn’t have the back catalogue of wins seen across some of the names on this list. Still, with half a million followers on Instagram, and a weight category that even male bodybuilders would envy, she’s certainly earned her place. 

Andrea Shaw

Andrea Shaw greatest female bodybuilders

  • Highlights: 3x Ms Olympia winner
  • Speciality: Persistent heavy weight training

Andrea Shaw is one to watch on the current weight training market, and she secured her first Ms Olympia win when the contest returned in 2020. Also taking the top spot in 2021 and 2022, this supposedly ‘soft-spoken’ powerhouse is certainly proving her worth.

After initially beginning training with her mum, who is a former personal trainer, Shaw largely attributes her success to a consistent and enthusiastic training ritual that sees her aiming towards 20 rep sets every time. 

Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia

Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia Greatest female bodybuilders

  • Highlights: 5x Ms International Champion
  • Speciality: First and only Venezuelan Ms Olympia winner

Ranked second best only to Iris Kyle in the IFBB best female ranking list, Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia is a Venezuelan bodybuilder who found her success in 1993 after moving to America, where she became the first and only Venezuelan Ms Olympia winner in 2005.

Between 2002 and 2012, she was also the Ms International Champion an impressive five times. Oriquen-Garcia now teaches her training techniques in her own Miami gym, as well as sharing fitness tips and videos with almost 50,000 Instagram followers @Yaxenita.

Juliette Bergmann

Juliette Bergmann greatest female bodybuilders

  • Highlights: IFBB European Championships winner and Ms Olympia champion
  • Speciality: Only Dutch Ms Olympia winner. President of IFBB in the Netherlands

After entering her first competition in 1982, Juliette Bergmann went on to win almost every major award in female bodybuilding, including the European and World Championships. After 12 years of not competing, Bergmann also returned to secure a Ms Olympia win against Iris Kyle in 2001 and remains the only Dutch woman to do so. 

What’s perhaps most impressive about Bergmann, however, is the lasting legacy that she’s created in the female bodybuilding sphere. She’s now an IFBB judge, and president of IFBB in the Netherlands, accolades that have recently seen her inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame

Debi Laszewski

Debi Laszewski greatest female bodybuilder

  • Highlights: Finished in Ms Olympia’s top three 5 times
  • Speciality: Personal trainer for several champion bodybuilders

An impressive career that saw her finishing in Ms Olympia’s top three 5 times from 2009 to 2014 has earned Debi Laszewski the third spot on the IFBB pro women’s ranking list. Despite starting her career as a track-and-field athlete, Laszewski began striving towards a bodybuilding career at the age of twenty, after being motivated by Linda Hamilton’s physique in the Terminator. 

As well as carving out her own impressive bodybuilding career, Laszewski is well-known for her role as a personal trainer to top names like Brittany Miller and Reggie Simmons. 

 Andrulla Blanchette

  • Highlights: Only British bodybuilder to win Ms Olympia
  • Speciality: One of the most decorated British bodybuilders

UK-born Andrulla Blanchette discovered a love of bodybuilding when she started lifting weights to improve her Judo skills. She became the first British Ms Olympia champion in 2000 and is widely considered the most decorated British bodybuilder thanks to additional wins at the World Games, and the Junior British Championship. 

Failure to sign a contract to compete in Ms International in 2002 saw her disqualified, but the now-retired Blanchette has since opened a gym in London, where she offers professional training that covers all aspects of health and fitness. 

Elisa Pecini

Elisa Pecini greatest female bodybuilders

  • Highlights: Multiple bikini competition placements
  • Speciality: Achieving transformation through healthy eating habits

Brazilian Elisa Pecini’s achievements in bikini competitions including the 2018 MuscleContest National Pro Bikini and the 2019 Bikini Olympia category would be impressive in themselves. The fact that she’s achieved all of this at the age of 24 after battling with severe anorexia nervosa between the ages of 13-15 proves just what a powerhouse she is. 

With a focus on developing healthy eating habits and consistent training, she’s gradually built her weight up to competition level, and she’s shared these journeys openly with her Instagram and YouTube followers. After winning her pro card at just 19, this youngster certainly looks set to achieve promising things. 

Alina Popa

  • Highlights:  IFBB National Championship winner
  • Speciality: Best Romanian female competitor

Alina Popa places fourth on the IFBB pro women’s ranking list and continues to be considered the best Romanian female competitor, despite not competing since 2018. Finishing second to Iris Kyle in Ms Olympia for both 2013 and 2014, Popa has only failed to reach the top five of one competition she’s entered – her first Ms. International in 2010. 

Despite an impressive ranking sheet all around, Popa’s career highlight came when she won the Wings of Strength 2018 Rising Phoenix World Championship. Fittingly, she’s now a Wing’s of Strength vice president of European operations and works alongside the organisation to advocate for female bodybuilders. 

Helle Travino

Helle Travino best female bodybuilders

  • Highlights: 2xs IFBB WOS Rising Phoenix Pro Champion
  • Speciality: Helping others to transform their bodies through private mental training

Helle Travino started training when she was just 17, but her career has by no means taken a straight path to success. Rather, Travino has taken two leaves of absence from the profession, the first when she placed 10th in the 1999 Australian World Championships. Her return in 2003 saw her earning her pro card just a year later, but herniated discs during her first Ms Olympia meant another eight years off for the athlete. 

Since her return in 2011, however, Travino has more than made up for her absence, with multiple wins including two IFBB WOS Rising Phoenix Pro wins. Travino’s experience with eight years of rehab has also paved the way for a career in training seminars, in which she helps others transform their bodies through private mental training. 

Sarah Villegas

Sarah Villegas best female bodybuilders

  • Highlights: 3x IFBB Pro Olympian and 2xs Olympia’s Women’s Physique winner
  • Speciality: Outstanding conditioning

Sarah Villegas may still be in the early stages of her career, but she’s already a two-times Olympia Women’s Physique winner. Villegas is particularly famed for her outstanding conditioning, which she puts down to her ability to master the leanness, dryness, and fullness necessary to achieve a truly ripped finish. And, with Villegas already considered one of the greatest women’s physique competitors of all time, it clearly works.

Outside of competitions, Villegas completed a 4-year internship program with AFS Premier Fitness in 2017, which is also when she started to make ripples in the bodybuilding circuit. Here, she now leads a team of personal trainers, and she specialises in body transformations, weight loss, muscle toning, and nutrition. 

Deepika Chowdhury

Deepika Chowdhury india's first female bodybuilder

  • Highlights: Winner of the NPC Steve Stone Metropolitan Championships Overall Figure Category
  • Speciality: India’s first pro female bodybuilder

It’s not every day that a molecular biologist turns their hand to female bodybuilding, but that’s exactly what Deepika Chowdhury did, and she’s become India’s first pro female bodybuilder as a result. 

Chowdhury was accepted by the IFBB in 2016, after competing in the US circuit for around two years and securing a win in the 2015 NPC Steve Stone Metropolitan Championships. Chowdhury reports largely seeing bodybuilding as a fitness activity during her years as a molecular biologist, but she found almost instant success in the field and has paved the way for countless other Indian women to do the same, especially as she shares her top fitness focuses on her Instagram @deepikapune_ifbbpro.

Shanique Grant

Shanique Grant youngest ever winner female bodybuilding

  • Highlights: Youngest ever Ms Olympia at 23
  • Speciality: Impressive physique

Despite suffering from body image issues throughout her younger life that resulted in hard partying and severe kidney failure, Shanique Grant is another young woman proving the power of determination. At just 23, Grant became the youngest ever Ms Olympia, winning the physique title in both 2018 and 2019.

While she retired from the sport after losing her title in 2020, Grant’s short stint has left a lasting impact, and a record winning age, on one of the best titles in female bodybuilding. 

Stefi Cohen

Stefi Cohen first women to deadlift 4 times her weight

In terms of current popularity and capability, Dr Stefi Cohen is probably at the top of the list. Not only was she the first woman to deadlift over 4 times her body weight, but she’s also secured an impressive 25 records through her competitive years, including those in squat and deadlift. 

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Cohen, and the accolade that makes her an all-around fitness inspiration rather than a pure bodybuilding figure, is her ability to turn her hand to most things fitness. Now a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Cohen is also currently working her way up the ranks as a professional boxer. 

Jessica Buettner

Canadian powerlifter Jessica Buettner highlighted herself as a figure to watch by breaking an impressive three junior powerlifting records at the 2018 World Championship when she was just 24 years old. 

Now a two-time IPF Powerlifting Champion, the youngster has overcome odds including a nasty snowboarding accident and type 1 diabetes to become one of the most impressive rising stars in the bodybuilding arena. Crediting the motivation and confidence that powerlifting gives her for how far she’s already come, she currently trains 5-6 times a week despite also working as a pharmacist. 

Cydney Gillon

Cydney Gillon greatest female bodybuilders

With parents who were both competitive bodybuilders, it’s hardly surprising that Cydney Gillon started her own fitness journey from an early age. An appreciation of the discipline necessary to succeed has certainly rubbed off, with Gillon placing in the top ten of every professional competition she’s entered.

As well as lasting 37 days and finishing 4th in Survivor: Kaôh Rōng, Gillon is a three-time figure Olympia champion, and has also placed first in the Arizona Pro and Figure International competitions. 

Dana Linn Bailey

Dana Linn Bailey greatest female bodybuilders

  • Highlights: Olympia, Dallas Europa, and Jr. USA wins
  • Speciality: Ms Olympia Champion and now youtube star

Dana Linn Bailey secured her spot in the female bodybuilding world of fame with wins in both Olympia and Dallas Europa back in 2013. Her position in the world of women’s physique certainly looked like it would take her far. And, despite not having competed since placing as runner-up in 2015’s Olympia physique category, she continues to grow her audience via a hugely popular YouTube channel.

As well as making videos, Bailey owned ‘The Warhouse Gym’ with husband Rob Bailey, they then closed the gym during the pandemic.

Sheila Bleck

  • Highlights: 2x IFBB Tampa Pro Champion
  • Speciality: Posing

Despite being retired now, Sheila Bleck remains in the sixth spot on IFBB’s pro women’s bodybuilding list. Inspired by watching Sylvester Stalone as Rocky Balboa, she began powerlifting at the young age of just 16. 

Throughout her career, Bleck won in the NPC Nationals and was an IFBB Tampa Pro Champion twice. From 2010, she’s been in the top 6 of every professional competition she’s entered except for the 2014 Ms Olympia. She placed second overall at the 2016 Rising Phoenix World Championships, where she also won the best poser award.

Monique Jones

  • Highlights: 2x champion at IFBB Chicago Pro-Am Extravaganza 
  • Speciality: Impressively large frame

Also known by nicknames including ‘The Golden Girl’ and ‘The Dark Destroyer’, Monique Jones started weightlifting at just 13 and was encouraged to compete professionally by a keen-eyed personal trainer. With Jones currently ranking seventh on the IFBB best female bodybuilder list, you could say that the rest was history.

With an impressively large frame and a weight that sits around 250 pounds even in the off-season, Jones has won countless titles, including two IFBB Chicago Pro-Am Extravaganza wins. 

Kim Chizevsky Nicholls

  • Highlights: 4x Ms Olympia champion
  • Speciality: First person to win both Ms Olympia and Ms International in the same year

Still regarded as one of the greatest female bodybuilders of all time, Kim Chizevsky Nicholls joined the sport in 1988, when she was dating her future husband, fellow bodybuilder Chad Nicholls. As well as winning four consecutive Ms Olympia titles, Chizevsky Nicholls became the first person to win both Ms Olympia and Ms International in the same year in 1996. 

Chizevsky Nicholls retired in 1999 but was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame in 2008 when she was officially recognised as one of the most muscular female bodybuilders in history. 

Juliana Malacarne

Juliana Malacarne best female bodybuilders

  • Highlights: 4x Ms Olympia Women’s Physique showdown winner
  • Speciality: Leg training

Juliana Malacarne is a Brazilian IFBB professional who’s been making waves with her full, shapely legs since earning her IFBB pro card in 2005. However, it wasn’t until the women’s physique category was introduced that she was able to creep out of the bottom half of the majority of competitions she entered. 

Since then, Malacarne’s best features have earned her four 1st prize places. Malacarne credits this to the squats that she always uses when training, as well as an ongoing determination that’s not seen her out of the gym for more than ten days in the last 15 years. 

Take a Lesson From the Greatest Female Bodybuilders

Whether they were inspired by a great personal trainer, or have furthered their love of fitness with a personal training pursuit of their own, most of our 25 greatest female bodybuilders had some element of personal training in their lives.

Whether, you wish to become a fitness professional like them, or you simply want to inspire others to pursue the path to fitness, internationally recognised personal trainer courses will provide the skills you need to start a rewarding career in fitness.

You may also want to check out the worlds best personal trainers too for inspiration.

Sources

1 https://www.trainheroic.com/blog/women-in-bodybuilding/

2 https://ynf.com.au/advice/the-evolution-of-womens-bodybuilding-from-the-1930s-to-today/

3 https://liftbigeatbig.com/female-guns-a-history-of-women-in-strength-physique-sports/

4 https://www.muscleandfitness.com/flexonline/flex-news/the-evolution-of-female-bodybuilding/

5 https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/billdobbins8.htm

6 https://www.the-sun.com/sport/9199421/bodybuilder-rachel-mclish-who-biography/

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