Sat. Jul 20th, 2024

What sort of dedication does it take to become a leading female bodybuilder? Well, as you might imagine, for women who devote much of their time to extreme fitness, their gains come from next-level discipline and a military approach to exercise and nutrition.

Now, before we go any further, a quick caveat. These women are bodybuilders by profession, and they’ve each got experts on hand to guide them 24/7, so we’re by no means suggesting you go out and aim for the same results – that would be neither safe nor possible.

Extreme diet and fitness plans are most certainly not for everyone and most certainly should never be attempted without the advice of a trained medical professional. The below routines are specific to the highly-trained pros below.

Rather, we feel that the women profiled below deserve a bit of recognition for their impressive fitness feats. Plus, from how they train to what they eat, their routines make for interesting reading. Which you might already know: an average of 10,000 of you Google ‘female bodybuilder’ every month.

Granted, two-time Fittest Woman on Earth Annie Thorisdottir isn’t technically a female bodybuilder – but she is a pro CrossFit athlete and all-round machine. In her home country of Iceland, she was raised with the cultural belief that a woman being strong was an achievement, she previously told WH. But needless to say, she went above and beyond, and is now one of the most reputable competitors of all time.

Having given birth to her daughter in August 2021, she’s also nailed the juggling act that is competing in one of the most intense sports of all time with being a mum – apparently NBD for Annie. Here’s what you need to know about how she does it.

Annie Thorisdottir

Exercise routine

‘My weekly training varies a lot,’ she tells us. ‘It depends on what part of the season I’m in. In the off-season there is a bigger focus on strength, building muscle and getting stronger and some of the general base conditioning. As we move closer to the season there is more sport specific training, more workouts and events that we might see in competition.’

In the off-season, a week of workouts for her looks like this:

  • 3-4 weight sessions, between 90-120 minutes long each
  • 2-3 skill and gymnastic sessions
  • 3-4 cardio sessions


To fuel her activity, Thorisdottir follows a plan from RP Strength which in her words, is more of a “nutritional guide”.

‘It helps me figure out how many calories I want to get through over the course of the day and where I want those calories to be coming from, i.e. carbs, protein and fats. It keeps me accountable so that everything I’m doing in my training and nutrition can be is geared towards my recovery and sleep – both huge parts of being able to compete at such a level,’ she said in a previous interview with WH.

‘Because I eat almost the same thing every day, I choose as little processed food as possible. I’m fortunate in that it’s very easy for me to get very high quality food products in Iceland. I eat dairy as my body doesn’t seem to be lactose intolerant, but I have cut down on my meat after I realised I was consuming way too much,’ she explained.


‘I normally have two rest days per week, one of those is active,’ she explained to us. ‘I try to get outside of the gym and do some sort of physical activity, mountain biking, hiking or longer walks. Then on the second rest day I just I take a complete day off just to physically and mentally recharge.

‘Becoming a mum has been the most amazing thing I have ever experienced. At the same time, it also means that I have to be even more structured and plan my days to make sure I get everything done that I need to get done. The main thing for me is to make sure that I actually recover from the training that I do as having a toddler around means less sleep and someone else is the number one priority.’To view this content, you’ll need to update your privacy settings.Please click here to do so.

Annie also swears by her WHOOP fitness tracker: ‘Making sure that I don’t over reach in training or under reach is key to make sure that my body adapts in the best way possible to the stress I throw at it. My WHOOP has been a huge help here as it gives me an objective measure of how I respond to training, if I need more sleep, if I need to dial down the intensity, or if my body is primed to put in more work.’

And sleep trumps all: ‘No amounts of exercise, no amounts of Whole Foods can combat poor sleep,’ she affirms.

‘Some people need more than others, and many will get used to little sleep, but that does not mean that this is the way that works best for them, they might not know how good they could feel if they would focus more on their nightly recovery. I actually have my mum use the WHOOP band, she’s not a competitive athlete, but I care more about her health than almost anything else, and I want her to realise if there is anything she can do to make herself healthier.’

Biggest challenge

‘I had an extremely traumatic birth and it took me a while just to get back to walking, and at that point it was hard for me to envision myself making it back to the CrossFit Games,’ she tells us. ‘It was a very fine line of pushing myself as hard as my body would allow me, without getting any setbacks that could result in injury and a delay in my recovery. Sometimes it’s not easy to feel exactly how the body is responding so data is your best friend.

‘I had the assistance of experts to guide me through what to do and when, but they were not able to feel what I felt or tell me how my body was responding.

‘You have to look at the overall stress you put in your body, not just the work you do at the gym but everything else that might take effort from you throughout your day. So having data from all your activity, not just your training, is key to maximise your recovery.’

Most memorable career moment

‘It was unreal to win back-to-back championships in 2011 and 2012 [at the CrossFit Games] but to be honest making my way back to the podium in 2021 is the feat that I am the proudest of.

‘That being said I do believe that the experience I enjoyed the most was taking second place at the Rogue invitational the same year as I got to share the experience with my daughter and my parents in the stands, without anybody to share the success with, the success is not worth fighting for.’

Top motivation tip

‘Nobody is motivated all the time, but you will never be motivated unless you start.’

Dr Stefi Cohen

Stefi Cohen is a powerlifter, physical therapist, certified strength and conditioning coach, professional boxer – and one of the most successful female bodybuilders of all time, with 25 world records under her belt. She’s also the co-founder of Hybrid Performance Method, a programme that helps clients accomplish their own goals with the help of badass Stefi.

Exercise routine

Interestingly, Stefi has previously said that she doesn’t stick to a strict workout plan since she prefers intuitive exercise – she senses what her body needs, then chooses the appropriate workouts from there. She’s shared a few of these on IG, and it’s safe to say there is one consistent: she goes ham.To view this content, you’ll need to update your privacy settings.Please click here to do so.

For this ‘stadium’ (i.e. stair running) workout, she wrote: ‘By far the most mentally challenging workout of the week. If you’re looking for a way to callus your mind and test the limits of your will power and mental strength; this is it.’

This is exactly what it involves:

  1. Warm up
  2. Single steps regular 70%
  3. Single hops 80%
  4. Double steps
  5. Single, double step
  6. Single step normal



Stefi occasionally shares videos of what she eats in a day on YouTube, and in a recent video this included:

  • Lunch: Burgers with rice and veggies
  • Dinner: Chicken with soy sauce, courgettes, sweet potato, hard-boiled eggs
  • Second dinner: Pizza

She shared that 20-30% of her daily calorie intake comes from fats, for its performance and health benefits.

Again, remember that this is personal to Stefi and what works for her might not work for you – particularly when she’s aiming to smash some serious bodybuilding goals.

As for that second dinner, she said: ‘Usually the dinner I break it down into a three-course meal that I have across the entire night.’


Stefi often answers training Qs for members of her Hybrid Performance Method on the programme’s website, and on the topic of rest days, she outlined her ideal: ‘It starts off waking up from an amazing night sleep, going out for a walk, going in the sauna, doing some contrast therapy with ice baths, taking time aside for myself, and sitting down with a good book, eating great food for the day… mostly cooked from home.’

As for how important they are for achieving goals, she explained: ‘If you can train 7 days per week, likely you are never training hard enough in order to create a positive training application to get stronger, get faster, or run further.

‘Further, we need to be able to turn the intensity significantly up for strength training sessions and significantly down for others.

‘What most people do is, they end up spending most of the train time in the 50% intensity range, never training hard enough in order to improve or resting well enough to recover.’

Biggest challenge

Stefi has been particularly open about overcoming injuries in her career, and one particular lower back issue meant she had to give bodybuilding a break.To view this content, you’ll need to update your privacy settings.Please click here to do so.

‘I spent two years going from therapist to therapist, asking the most qualified in the game about my injury. Not once did I get the same response twice. At best I was dealing with a “muscle spasm” and at worst I had multiple herniated discs, a vertebral fracture, and degenerative disc disease,’ she said in a blog post for Animal.

‘It all sounded awful. And the cause? I got everything from people telling me I needed to fix my technique or my posture, or I had weak glutes, weak back, lack of stability, leg length discrepancy, and pelvic floor issues.

‘After years of battling this thing out, showing up to every single national and international competition, beating my body up, and not being able to train as hard as I needed and would want to, I decided to break up with powerlifting—for now. I was depressed. I felt like I lost my identity because I thought strength was measured by numbers, but I was wrong.

‘Even though I couldn’t see it at first, taking time away from training was the best decision I could’ve made. In the last six months, I not only survived but I continued to grow through the worst economic climate of my adult life.

‘I learned to play the drums, got into fashion designing, learned how to sew, made new friends, took a genetic editing course from Harvard, got into female bodybuilding, and started boxing. Not training 5 hours per day allowed me to discover new passions and interests, but most importantly it’s given me my happiness back.’

Most memorable career moment

In 2020, she deadlifted 205kg, squatted 202.5kg and benched 102.5kg, making a total of 510kg. To note, she did this all at her lightest weight in three years – 114 pounds.

Top motivation tip

In another blog post for Animal, Stefi affirmed: ‘It is inevitable that one day you will wake up with your motivation nowhere to be found. This is why you should never depend on motivation to take action. It is simply unreliable.’

Her solution? ‘I established systems and habits that became routine, taking motivation and emotion out of the equation and increasing my chances of success each day.’

Jessica Buettner

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27-year-old Canadian Jessica Buettner can deadlift three times her bodyweight. Let that sink in. She’s also a pharmacist and a Type 1 Diabetic and has been a female bodybuilder for almost eight years, but it was only after a snowboarding accident that she got into powerlifting.

‘I used to do track and field on the University team. I was a pole vaulter, and I sprained my ankle really bad doing a dumb snowboard trick, and that pretty much ended my pole vaulting career right there,’ she told Fitness Volt. ‘So I started lifting weights over that summer, and I just really started falling in love with it.’

Exercise routine

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Jessica occasionally shares workouts on her IG, and during the pandemic she set up her own gym so she could stay on track. She told Fitness Volt that her home gym equipment, however, was pretty basic, so she focused on the fundamentals, but her coach put together a programme for her.

She’d get up at ‘6 or 7 in the morning, trying to deadlift, hoping my neighbours would stay asleep’.


In her interview with Fitness Volt, she said: ‘I try to stick a little more on the lower carbs side. I pretty much eat eggs and avocados every single day for breakfast, lots of steak and veggies. Really, really dark chocolate, too… and tons of natural peanut butter.’


Though rest is surely a part of Jessica’s routine (according to her lockdown schedule above, she’d have at least 1 day), she did celebrate Christmas by bashing out some festive deadlifts on Christmas day.To view this content, you’ll need to update your privacy settings.Please click here to do so.

Biggest challenge

As if everything she’s achieved isn’t enough, she’s done it all while managing Type 1 Diabetes. She previously shared a post about how she copes on IG, and wrote: ‘For me, managing my diabetes means 5-12 injections, plus 5-15 blood glucose tests, and tracking macros every day since I was 11.To view this content, you’ll need to update your privacy settings.Please click here to do so.

‘I have also learned to use my blood glucose levels as a biofeedback mechanism in training, and I’ve gained a deeper understanding of nutrition, and the body’s energy systems. It’s even helped me in my pharmacy classes, one place where it’s actually an advantage to know so much about diabetes, and a place where there’s an opportunity to help others with it.

‘I’d encourage other diabetics to see the positives of diabetes too! But most importantly, never let being diabetic hold you back from achieving your goals.’

Most memorable career moment

In 2021, Jessica competed in the 76kg female bodybuilding category for the IPF World Classic Powerlifting Championships. She walked away with three world records: a 210.5kg squat, a 247.5kg deadlift and a total of 563kg (with a 105kg bench press included). Another level, we know.

Top motivation tip

Just like the rest of us, Jessica doesn’t have limitless motivation, but according to this post she said she’s always glad she pushes herself.To view this content, you’ll need to update your privacy settings.Please click here to do so.

‘Motivation was low,’ she wrote. ‘Literally just went home after my backoff sets and didn’t do anything else, but I’m always glad I went.’ We hear ya, Jess.

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