The world of competitive physique sports is divided into five major categories for women (bodybuilding, physique, fitness, figure, and bikini) and two major categories for men (bodybuilding and physique). The largest and most well-established organization in the world is the International Federation of Bodybuilders (simply known as "The IFBB"), alongside other powerful organizations on the international level (e.g. NABBA and the WBFF). Our main focus, however, is on the United States, the IFBB's feeder (or "amateur") organization, the National Physique Committee (simply known as "The NPC"), and the Women's Fitness category.
Fitness, along with Figure, was the IFBB/NPC's way of diversifying the playing field back in the 1990's. The new divisions were introduced at a time when Female Bodybuilding was, arguably, beginning to wane in popularity. The sanctioning bodies and promoters wanted to have categories that would draw more competitors, thus making for bigger, better, and more profitable shows. Figure has proven to be a powerhouse, holding its own against the newer Bikini division, meanwhile giving the world top knotch physiques that successfully embrace muscularity and femininity. However, unlike bodybuilding, physique, figure, and bikini, the Fitness category has less to to do with dieting, weight-training, tanning, and posing that it's fellow divisions.
"75% of the score in FITNESS is due to ROUTINE so they're de-emphasizing physique in favor of more entertaining routines."
- Dave Palubmo
Founder of RxMuscle.com
The emphasis on routine has brought about a grim reality for the division - made famous by stars like Kelly "Flying" Ryan (title shot) and legendary Ms. Fitness Olympia champion, Adela Garcia(above). Take the NPC Nationals, the king of the U.S. Pro-Qualifying shows! It does not have a Women's Fitness category! Whereas class winners in a division (sometimes six different champions or more!) go pro, top-ranked national Fitness amateurs have no where to compete in this massive event! But it gets worse, let's look at some of the most recent shows (on the #1 Place on the Web for context coverage ::::RxMuscle.com::::, and let's see how many competitors for Fitness showed up, let's also compare that to the amount of women that showed up for Bodybuilding, Physique, Figure, & Bikini.
(1) 2011 NPC Texas State Naturals (2) 2011 NPC Northwest Championships
Women's Bodybuilding (hereinafter "FBB"): 4
(2) 2011 NPC Northwest Championships
2011 NPC Elite Muscle Classic
(3) 2011 NPC Nationals
Women's Physique: 90+
Fitness: NOT OFFERED!
(4) 2011 NPC Eastern USA
(5) 2011 NPC Iowa Battle of Champions
Sadly, the numbers don't lie. Fitness is in big trouble, and unless the judging criteria changes - it will only be a successful divsion at the profesional level. There is no question that the ladies that reach the Fitness Olympia stage are the best in the world; however, at some point there will be a change of the guard, and women earning pro cards at are fewer shows, in shallow line-ups, will inevitably lower the standard set by women like Adela Garcia, Kim Klein, and Tanji Johnson. Unlike the bodybuilding, physique, figure, and bikini, fitness is not a viable division for beginners. This is a category populated by ex-cheerleaders, balerinas, choreographers, gymnists, and dance students. It's certainly going to be an uphill battle, but with more and more promoters keeping it from their events, one can only wonder.
And yet another tough fact to digest, is the fact that unlike Women's Bodybuilding, Fitness does not enjoy the unquestioned loyalty of diehard fans taking to the boards and holding out at all costs. Women's Bodybuilding has been hit hard, but it's resilient -- it's fans are fanatical! As far as Fitness goes, it seems to be the black sheep of the physique world -- largely because it's 75% routine-driven.