As a photographer, I started concentrating on female bodybuilders right from the time they began competing. The sport continued to evolve 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 championships. I did an article and photo series for Muscle & Fitness magazine called “The Shape of Things To Come,” and predicted Lenda would win the Ms. Olympia.
Lenda says she posted the article on the wall at Powerhouse Gym in Detroit to give her inspiration. Of course, all know that Lenda Murray went on to win eight Ms. Olympia titles and became the most popular female bodybuilder in the sport.
Having a young female champion like Lenda, one with lots of muscularity, a beautiful face, a cheerleading background, an aesthetic physique, and a winning personality, is something very special. Having 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 having lightning striking twice in the same place.
The new champion on the scene is, of course, Andrea Shaw, now the winner of three Ms. Olympia titles (so far). As a girl growing up, she was into gymnastics and competitive cheerleading. After middle school, she was burnt out from 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 to start working out at the Powerhouse Gym in Centerline, Michigan. At the age of 15, she began attending the gym on her own. Her mother’s training partner was a female bodybuilder who began giving her advice on muscle-building exercises when she was 17 years old. Drea says she had no desire to be a bodybuilder at that point, instead wanted to be a fashion model. But genetics rules modeling as it does Bodybuilding, and Andrea was not tall enough for a successful career in fashion.
Many bodybuilders have found that building muscle is seductive. Both Lenda and Andrea initially had other aspirations and through their athletic discipline, they found Bodybuilding. Once you start weight training and experience the transformation of the body, you do not want to stop. Andrea’s physique development was recognized by gym members, particularly, IFBB Pro bodybuilder Ron Love, a regular at the gym and the first to also encourage Lenda to consider Bodybuilding. “Of course,” Andrea says, “having the example of Lenda Murray to inspire me was a big help, knowing that her start began here at the Detroit Powerhouse Gym. Lenda had competed in track and was a cheerleader, and I had been in gymnastics and a cheerleader. Lenda was known not just for muscle, but her having outstanding symmetry and muscle shape. People like Ron Love were telling me my physique had the same qualities.” Lenda’s eight world titles were so present in Michigan, that these achievements laid a foundation for women Bodybuilders to build upon.
Andrea started in the Figure division in 2008 and of course, her success was not “linear.” There were changes, stops, and starts. Her body developed and she changed her categories from Figure and Women’s Physique. She earned her college degree and then decided to take an eight-year break from competition but not weight training. This is significant because the evolution of female bodybuilding has been slowed considerably by the competitors entering contests too early and then competing too often. Male bodybuilders often do not turn pro until they have been in the sport for twelve, or fifteen years or more. Many of the female champions of the past have been mere beginners in terms of their ultimate potential. They just did not train long enough and were often discouraged from trying to develop too much muscle.
In 2018, Drea became an IFBB Pro in the Women’s Physique division, where her body continued to develop and placed high but did not capture a qualification for the Olympia. After 2nd place at the Chicago Pro in Women’s Physique, Lenda Murray recognized that Andrea would surely flourish if she moved to the Women’s Bodybuilding division. In 2019, Andrea beat many of the top women bodybuilders, and in 2020 she captured all 1st place wins to currently be known as the best female bodybuilder in the world.
Andrea is known for her work ethic and training like a machine with 100 percent consistent effort. Bodybuilding success requires both nature and nurture. You must have the genetics but then put in the time and effort it takes to fully develop your gifts. That requires a certain, dedicated mentality. As Arnold has always said, one of the more important muscles for a bodybuilder is the one above the neck.
One thing many do not realize about Drea Shaw is how big she is. She competes in shape at 175 pounds. Contrast that with Lenda Murray, who in her best shape was about 150 pounds – with both being the same height at 5.5”. “Back in the 1980s and 1990s, competing too soon and too often prevented many women from achieving their full potential,” says Lenda Murray. “One problem is the diet. A competition diet is hugely stressful, and it really slows down your development. I knew many women who would enter a contest no more than two or three years after starting serious workouts. That has got to limit your potential development.”
Also, until quite recently, both female and male bodybuilders tended to overtrain, with too many sets, reps, and workouts and not enough time to rest and recuperate. With more recuperation time, bodybuilders have more of a chance to grow and develop. But the nature of sport is that it develops over time. Lenda Murray was big enough for the early 1990s, just as Andrea Shaw is big and muscular enough to win Ms. Olympia championships today.
But another thing they have in common is how good they are for the sport, and how promotable they both are. When the Ms. Olympia was discontinued after 2014, one reason was the lack of a highly marketable champion to help promote and grow the sport. We saw that with the first Ms. Olympia Rachel McLish, with the super popular Cory 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 era of Andrea Shaw and the future of female bodybuilding is looking bright and promising
Andrea Shaw Competition History
- 2022 IFBB Ms. 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 Americans – 3rd
- 2018 Lenda Murray Detroit Classic – 1st
- 2018 John Simmons Championship – 1st
- 2018 Ohio Natural Championship – 2nd
- 2016 John Simmons Championships – 4th