The world of female bodybuilding, like men’s bodybuilding, is governed by strict rules of diet, exercise, and physique. What is unique in women’s bodybuilding is the expectation to maintain a including a curvaceous figure and a generous chest size in addition to gaining muscle mass. Because of this pressure, an increasing number of female bodybuilders have gotten or are considering breast implants.
The Popularity of Breast Implants in Bodybuilding
In the bodybuilding community femininity is expected from competitors in the female divisions. In the Bikini, Figure, Physique, and Fitness divisions, the lack of certain feminine qualities, such as curves or large breasts, can hinder the scores of the women competing. Women are expected to wear high heels, makeup, and have their hair styled for competitions. While there are no explicit directives about how large a competitor’s breasts should be, critiques about shape, total package, and beauty flow indicate that big is best.
In an almost cruel twist of irony, bodybuilding can actually cause a woman’s breasts to get smaller. Breasts are composed mostly of fatty tissues; as a woman loses weight and builds muscle mass, the body will begin to feast on stored fat. Once a woman gets below 12% body fat, it is very likely that her breast size will decrease. This is even more problematic for competitors in the Figure, Physique, and Fitness divisions, which require all contestants have a body fat percentage below this threshold.
In 2009, with the introduction of the Bikini division, there was even more of an emphasis on the femininity of bodybuilding competitors. This division quickly drew spectators and sponsors, and women had an opportunity to gain recognition and money. Breast implants became much more prevalent and obvious with the introduction of this division, and have been on the rise ever since.
What Female Bodybuilders Should Know About Implants
For those interested in getting breast implants, it’s important to consider the placement of them. When the implant is placed above the pectoralis muscle, it is more noticeable, especially in women with very low body fat, and can create rippling in the breast. However, there is less of an impact on the muscle recovery and development. Placing the implant under the muscle can make it appear more natural. There are longer healing timelines for this placement, though, and the full development of the pectoralis muscle can be impacted. The best placement for you will depend on your needs for training and competition.
When selecting your implants, you have a choice between round saline, round silicone, or gummy bear. Round silicone implants have the most natural feel and are very soft and flesh-like, but are expensive. Round saline implants look the least natural, but are the most inexpensive, and thought to be the safest in case of rupture. Gummy bear implants are filled with gel and have a very low rupture rate, which can be important for athletes. This is the most expensive option.
While the surgery for any of these implants is painful, the discomfort can be managed with painkillers. Most women who have the implants placed above the muscle are able to resume all exercise within six to eight weeks, while those with implants below the muscle require more time to regain their previous strength level. It’s important to build up slowly, as jumping back into training too quickly and too intensely can cause the implants to shift.
Aside from the rest time required by the surgery, training with implants should not impact your strength or progress too significantly. Most women can get back to their weightlifting, and often continue to increase their strength. As for the fragility of the implant, there is a higher risk of rupture with intense training. However, allowing your body to recover properly after surgery and repairing the implants if needed will help prevent or minimize a risk of rupture.
Going Natural in Bodybuilding
While there is intense pressure for female bodybuilders to get breast implants, not all women are on board. While the implants do not typically interfere with weightlifting and training, those that are placed under the pectoralis muscle can prevent complete development of the muscle. Additionally, very rigorous training can lead to issues with the implants that require surgery to repair. Some women also just prefer the look of their natural chest, and do not want risk the disruption to their training from the surgery and the implants.
Many bodybuilders, both men and women, are trying to move toward natural bodybuilding. In this practice, all performance enhancing drugs that are restricted by the sanctioning body are eschewed. In addition to avoiding steroids, diuretics, and HGH, some women will also forgo implants in an effort to achieve their body building physique more naturally. Their muscles are often smaller and look more depleted than the ones on those who use steroids. This will also be true for the bodies of women who forgo breast implants, as they will likely lose breast tissue.
The best way to decide if implants are right for you is to consider why you want them. Is it necessary to enhance your chances within your division? Will the financial investment provide income or opportunities for you? Can your career handle the recovery time from the surgery? The decision to get breast implants is very personal, and a successful bodybuilding career is possible with or without implants.
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