As a photographer, I started focusing on female bodybuilders from the moment they started competing. The sport continued to grow rapidly and in 1989 a photographer friend of mine told me about a young woman named Lenda Murray who had just won the IFBB North American Championship. I did an article and photo series for Muscle & Fitness magazine called “The Shape of Things to Come” and predicted that Lenda would win Miss Olympia.
Lenda says she posted the article on the wall at Detroit’s Powerhouse Gym to inspire her. Of course, everyone knows that Lenda Murray won eight Miss Olympia titles and became the most popular female bodybuilder in the sport.
To have a young champion like Lenda, one with lots of muscles, a beautiful face, cheerleading experience, an aesthetic physique and a winning personality, is something very special. To have another female champion who can be described the same way years later is even more special. Especially when she comes from the same Powerhouse Gym in Detroit. It’s like lightning striking twice in the same place.
The new champion of the stage is, of course, Andrea Shaw, now the winner of three Miss Olympia titles (so far). As a girl growing up, she was involved in gymnastics and cheerleading. After high school, she was burned out on gymnastics and cheerleading. She was also determined to get a college degree.
Andrea’s mother, a nurse and former personal trainer, encouraged her athletic ambitions by getting her started training at Powerhouse Gym in Centerline, Michigan. At the age of 15, she started going to the gym on her own. Her mother’s training partner was a bodybuilder who started giving her advice on muscle-building exercises when she was 17 years old. Drea says that at that point she had no desire to be a bodybuilder, instead she wanted to be a fashion model. But genetics rule modeling as well as bodybuilding, and Andrea wasn’t tall enough for a successful career in fashion.
Many bodybuilders have found that building muscle is alluring. Both Lenda and Andrea initially had other aspirations and discovered bodybuilding through their athletic discipline. Once you start weight training and experience the body transformation, you don’t want to stop. Andrea’s physical development was recognized by members of the gym, especially IFBB Pro Bodybuilder Ron Love, a regular at the gym and the first to also encourage Lenda to consider Bodybuilding. “Of course,” says Andrea, “Lenda Murray’s example to inspire me was a big help, knowing that her beginnings began here at the Detroit Powerhouse Gym. Lenda competed in track and field and was a cheerleader, and I was in gymnastics and a cheerleader. Lenda was known not only for muscles, but also for exceptional symmetry and muscle shape. People like Ron Love told me that my physique had the same qualities.” Lenda’s eight world titles were so present in Michigan that those accomplishments set the foundation for female bodybuilders to build upon.
Andrea started in the figure department in 2008 and of course her success was not “linear”. There have been changes, stops and starts. Her body developed and she switched categories from figure to female physique. She earned a college degree and then decided to take an eight-year break from competing, but not from weight training. This is important because the evolution of women’s bodybuilding has been significantly slowed down by female competitors entering competitions too early and then competing too often. Male bodybuilders often don’t turn pro until they’ve been in the sport for twelve or fifteen years or more. Many of the female champions of the past were mere beginners in terms of their ultimate potential. They simply didn’t train long enough and were often discouraged from trying to build too much muscle.
In 2018, Drea became an IFBB Pro in the Women’s Physique division, where her body continued to develop and she ranked highly, but failed to qualify for the Olympia. After placing 2nd at the Chicago Pro in women’s physique, Lenda Murray admitted that Andrea would certainly thrive if she moved up to the women’s bodybuilding division. In 2019 Andrea defeated many of the top female bodybuilders and in 2020 she won all the first places to be known as the best female bodybuilder in the world right now.
Andrea is known for her work ethic and trains like a machine with 100 percent consistent effort. Success in bodybuilding requires both nature and nurture. You have to have the genetics, but then put in the time and effort necessary to fully develop your gifts. This requires a certain, committed mentality. As Arnold always said, one of the most important muscles for a bodybuilder is the one above the neck.
One thing many don’t realize about Drea Shaw is just how big she is. She competes in shape at 175 pounds. Compare that to Lenda Murray, who in her prime was around 150 pounds – both of whom were the same 5.5” tall. “During the 1980s and 1990s, competing too early and too often prevented many women from reaching their full potential,” says Lenda Murray. “One problem is diet. Competition dieting is extremely stressful and really slows down your development. I’ve known many women who entered competition no more than two or three years after starting serious training. This should limit your potential development.
Also, until recently, both female and male bodybuilders tended to overtrain, with too many sets, reps and workouts and not enough time for rest and recovery. With more recovery time, bodybuilders have more chances to grow and develop. But the nature of sport is that it evolves over time. Lenda Murray was big enough for the early 90s, just like Andrea Shaw is big and muscular enough to win the Miss Olympia championship today.
But another thing they have in common is how good they are for the sport and how much they can both promote themselves. When Ms. The Olympia was discontinued after 2014, one of the reasons being the lack of a highly marketable champion to help promote and grow the sport. We saw this with the first Miss Olympia Rachel McLeish, with the super popular Corey Everson and, of course, with Lenda Murray. The same was true of professional golf when Tiger Woods came along and tennis when Serena Williams was the reigning champion. We are now in the Andrea Shaw era and the future of women’s bodybuilding looks bright and promising
Andrea Shaw Competition History
- 2022 IFBB Miss Olympia – 1st
- 2022 WOS Rising Phoenix World Championships Pro Women’s Bodybuilding – 1st • 2021 IFBB Ms. Olympia – 1st
- 2021 IFBB Pro League WOS Rising Phoenix Pro Women’s Bodybuilding – 1st • 2020 IFBB WOS Ms. Olympia – 1st • 2020 Pro League WOS Rising Phoenix Pro Women’s Bodybuilding – 1st
- 2020 IFBB Omaha Pro – 1st
- 2019 Pro League WOS Rising Phoenix Pro Women’s Bodybuilding – 7th • 2019 IFBB WOS Chicago Pro Championships – 2nd • 2019 IFBB Toronto Pro Supershow – 11th
- 2018 Nationals – 2nd
- 2018 North America – 3rd
- 2018 Lenda Murray Detroit Classic – 1st
- 2018 John Simmons Championship – 1st
- 2018 Ohio Natural Championship – 2nd
- 2016 John Simmons Championships – 4th