Iron Maidens

Meet the women bodybuilders changing the rules of fitness 
in India

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When you think of bodybuilding, you think of Arnold Schwarzenegger, right? Well, time to change that. Female bodybuilders with impossibly proportioned muscles are putting the average beer-bellied male to shame. These beautiful goddesses bust the popular myth that lifting weights will turn women into men. Meet the she-hulks of bodybuilding.

Deepika Choudhary

Age: 31

Titles: Winner in the figure category at the International Federation of Body Building (IFBB, a new division of bodybuilding that is different from traditional muscle flexing). First Indian woman bodybuilder to win the Pro card (a coveted title among professional bodybuilders).

When not competing: Deepika works as a virologist at the National Institute of Virology, Pune.

A troubled childhood magnified with issues of self-image led Deepika to power lifting. “I was really thin and scrawny and didn’t like the way I looked,” she said. “Then I saw women figure athletes on stage at the Sheru Classic event held in Delhi. I couldn’t believe women could look like this. I knew I had to do it. I had the confidence that I could do it.”

Unfortunately, not many around her felt the same way. “Given my thin frame (I was only 48kg), no one really believed in my dream,” she said. “They said that I didn’t have the genes. But I wanted to give it a try. Indian men have been competing in this field for so many years, but how many Pro athletes do we have? Just one—Virendra Singh Ghuman. Women have been competing for just three years and we already have Deepika Choudhary as India’s first IFBB Pro. What does that mean? Our girls have so much potential. If I can do it, so can the others.”

What started as a secret mission between the husband and wife threatened to spill over when Deepika started developing muscles. The excessive consumption of chicken and eggs, too, raised eyebrows. The toughest thing for this Pune-ite was wearing a bikini for the competition. “I was really very shy. But then I realised that it’s a requirement of the sport. When you are up on the stage, you are just a sportsperson. Your morals, upbringing and ethics shouldn’t come in the way of being an athlete. Of course, the workshops we had before the competition helped.”

She wakes up at 5am every day to meditate, eats protein every three hours, keeps a regular job and trains for hours at the gym. Deepika has committed herself to a gruelling regime. Her goal is not just a chiselled physique or a personal best, but the Ms Olympia title (the Super Bowl of the sport). “I want to be the first Indian to do that. I am almost there.”

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Shweta Rathore

Age: 27

Titles: Shweta competes in the Fitness Physique category of IFBB and is a winner at the international level.

When not competing: Runs a fitness training academy.

Mumbai-based Shweta started working out her soft stomach, broad shoulders and thighs to build a new figure made of solid muscle soon after school. “I was always into sports and loved working out. I had to hide my passion from my father who thought that girls who go to the gym at an early age become like men. So I would skip my tuitions and sneak to the gym,” said the Instagram queen. Although her family was initially incapable of comprehending why she was going to the extraordinary lengths required to achieve the unmistakable proportions of a competitive bodybuilder, they gave in when they saw her commitment.

Shweta believes in being fit round the year and follows a high protein diet of five whole eggs, 450gm chicken and fish, protein shakes, nuts and salads everyday. Forty-eight hours before the competition sees this Jaipur native pull out all stops. “It’s not a healthy way and I won’t suggest it to anyone. I cut down on salt and water in the days preceding the competition and 48 hours prior to the competition I give up water, salt and carbs completely. This is to make the muscles look leaner and sharper. On the day of the event, I load my body with carbs to make my muscles look fuller. So I gorge on brown rice. Just before I step on the stage, I eat a muffin or a chocolate for the energy to pose.” All this for a few seconds of strutting out on stage, striking a pose and hoping for the number one ranking.

Between hours at the gym, training young girls in fitness, managing her NGO, macronutrient measuring, careful meal preparation and posting regular updates on social media, bodybuilding is a lifestyle for Shweta. Despite looking like she is chiselled out of a rock, Shweta is a down-to-earth girl who loves a selfie. But come on, if you had abs and arms like that, would you keep them covered up?

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Shweta Sakharkar

Age: 25

Titles: Placed sixth in WBFF (World Beauty Fitness and Fashion Inc) in the bikini fitness category

When not competing: Works for a supplement brand

She may not have buns of steel or glistening biceps like her contemporaries, but she is beautiful. The fact that she can flex her muscles, lift unbelievable weight while still looking feminine, adds to her appeal. Shweta competes in the bikini category and wants to steer clear of a rippling physique. “Not all bodybuilders have to look muscular. I don’t,” she says. “Most look beefed up because of the stuff they put into their bodies. If you just weight train and diet, you won’t look muscular.” She is one of the few people out there who can make a crop top and hotpants look like a match made in haute couture heaven.

Dejected with her sports career (in football and volleyball), Shweta took up weight training, a regimen that developed into a love for bodybuilding and weightlifting. “Most guys can’t digest the fact that a girl lifts better than them. It hurts their ego. Some want to wrestle with me while others send me their naked pictures on FB. It’s disgusting at times.” That, however, hasn’t stopped her from continuing the sport she so loves.

Shweta trains after 10pm and maintains a high protein diet of a dozen eggs, 400gm of chicken, protein shakes, brown rice and salads each day. Moods swings and aggression are a part of the profession and Shweta has learnt to deal with them. “I keep to myself when I am prepping for a show. It’s important to keep yourself stress-free and motivated. So I cut myself from all distractions and negativity.” Shweta has her eyes on acing the WBFF bikini competition to be held in London. Her motto—eat clean and train dirty.

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