Why No Lat Spread For Women?

In the early 1980s, Ben Weider appointed a woman named Doris Barrilleaux to be in charge of women's bodybuilding for the IFBB. Find out why she eliminating lat spreads and how it can be changed!
NPC decides to restore lat spreads to women's bodybuilding compulsories!

The National Physique Committee of the United States, national governing body of American amateur bodybuilding, changed the rules for women's bodybuilding at a meeting held in conjunction with the NPC Nationals in Miami in November to restore the front and rear lat spreads to the women's bodybuilding compulsory poses beginning in 2004 that had been removed in the early 1980s.

Below is an explanation of how these poses originally came to be removed from the list of compulsory poses. Congratulations to the NPC for correcting a rule that was a clear case of gender discrimination and disrespect for female bodybuilding.

As of this writing (December, 2002) there are no compulsory lat spread poses in NPC or IFBB contests. This was not always the case. When the federations first started sanctioning female bodybuilding these poses were included. But in the early 1980s, Ben Weider appointed a woman named Doris Barrilleaux to be in charge of women's bodybuilding for the IFBB.

Doris then showed up at a pro show in Atlantic City with some drawings illustrating what the official compulsory poses were to be. Pretty much on her own, she had simply dropped the front and rear lats spreads. When asked why, she replied that she "didn't like them" and that "women don't have lats anyway."

How It Got Started

Unfortunately, I had something to do with this. Wanting to promote female bodybuilding as much as possible, I had traveled to Florida some time before and done an article and photos for Weider entitled "Muscles Mid The Magnolias" featuring a contest Doris was promoting. It was this article that had brought Doris to the attention of the IFBB. Subsequently, I was asked to provide some female bodybuilding posing photos to Doris for her proposal regarding the future of the sport.

One of the best and most aesthetic posers of the time was Shelly Gruwell, and it was Shelly's way of posing that Doris copied almost exactly. However, the examples sent were of how Shelly's posed for her own personal routine, not the direct, technical poses the judges require in order to compare physiques in the prejudging rounds.

As a result, Doris' proposal required that women bodybuilders do poses exactly like Shelly (regardless of their individual body types or proportions) in an "aesthetic" assymetrical fashion - thereby disquising rather than revealing physique faults - and to pose with hands open rather than closed, making it difficult to display a full degree of muscularity. This was another example of the ongoing effort to make female bodybuilders look "feminine" rather than to display their attributes as genuine physique competitiors.

This approach was, unfortunately, no great surprise to many of who were genuine supporters of the sport. Doris clearly did not like the continuing evolution toward "hyper-muscularity". She reacted with disgust when the relatively tiny (by today's standards) female bodybuilders of the day did "crab shots" and other serious muscle poses.

In fact, she shared the view of many of the women who had started weight training in the 1970s - they didn't like women bodybuilders who were more muscular than they were, in part because they knew they could never keep up with the increasing level of muscle being developed by female physique competitors as time went on. If you look at female bodybuilding in Australia, you'll see this view is capable of stifling the sport on an entire continent.

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By the way, at this point I had already written the official rules for both amateur and professional bodybuilding for women at the request of the federations. In both cases, the number one admonishment was - in keeping with the practice in almost all sports -all rules for women should be the same as for men unless there is a clear and compelling reason why a rule change is necessary. Having women wear tops while the men didn't was a clear case of the need for differing rules. The changing of the compusory poses for women was not. Thankfully, women no longer do compulsories in this "feminine" style. But the lat spreads have never been put back into the sport.

Why Haven't They Come Back?

Why is this? For the most part, because nobody has ever bothered. Sandy Ranalli, an experienced IFBB and NPC judge, told me "We don't need the lat spread in order to judge the women." USA promoter Jon Lindsay - who is an avid supporter of female bodybuilding - has expressed the same sentiment. "The NPC will never put lat spreads back into the women's compulsories," he said recently. No... and why not? If a lat spread is not necessary or takes up too much time, why use it in men's contests? Contrary to the opinion of Doris Barrilleaux, women bodybuilders do have lats!

The fact is, not having lat spreads for women not only makes the judges' job that more difficult because it withholds information that could help decide close contests (for example, we never saw a back lat spread comparison between Lenda Murray and Iris Kyle at the 2002 Ms. Olympia) but it also shows a fundamental disrespect for female bodybuilding. Given that the width, density and muscularity of the back involves the biggest concentration of muscle in the upper body, ignoring this pose indicates the judges are not interested in judging women's bodybuilding as a real physique contest, but that they are more interested in what is euphemistically called "the complete package" - meaning an emphasis on conventional beauty, marketability and sexual attractiveness of the women competitors.

We're all for promotion and marketability. But this has to come about by the maximum possible growth of the sport, not by turning it into a beauty contest. We already have "figure", and that's enough. You end up with a Rachel McLish, Cory Everson, Anja Langer, Sharon Bruneau, Lenda Murray, Dayana Cadeau or Valentina Chepiga by encouraging more women to become competitive bodybuilders and thus increase the available gene pool. You do not help the sport grow by disprespecting female bodybuilders, giving them little or no promotion in the magazines (or worse, negative publicity), not treating them with the consideration they deserve at competitions, discouraging potential sponsors, cutting back on their prize money and showing how little regard you have for them as serious athletes by failing to include an important and fundamental pose as one of their compulsories.

How Can We Change This?

What would it take to correct this omission? Not much at all. It is just a matter of Wayne Demilia and Jim Manion declaring at the beginning of the season "From now on we are including front and rear lat spreads as part of the women's compulsories." That's it. It's just that simple. And what would be the downside of doing this? Nothing at all - except perhaps that doing would be a tacit admission that the lat spreads should have been a part of the compulsories all along - in spite of the fact that Doris doesn't like them. And it would put an end to the ludicrous situation where almost all of the women do lat spreads in their own routines but are not allowed to do so in prejudging.

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Of course, organizations often find it difficult to change. Sometimes it takes people speaking up. So if you agree the lats spreads should be put back into women's bodybuilding, let the NPC and the IFBB know how you feel by letter or Email. Or voice your opinion to your local promoter. One thing that keeps promoters honest is the need to sell tickets. If they believe you'll be more enthusiastic about supporting their contests with lat spread restored, that's what will happen.

By the way, Wayne Demilia recently introduced weight divisions into IFBB pro bodybuilding for women, plus changed the rules to allow them to wear more elaborate costumes and use props in the finals - both very smart and effective changes. Change for the better can happen - so there is no reason to give up hope.

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