By Hans Klein
In the last couple of years there has been a wave of competitors who have successfully moved up from women’s physique to women’s bodybuilding – including Andrea Shaw, of course, who won both the Rising Phoenix and the Ms. Olympia last year. Inspired by their success, there will be another wave of women’s physique competitors making the transition to women’s bodybuilding this year.
Three of them are new Wings of Strength brand ambassadors: Julia Föry, Sheena Ohlig and Sheikha Nguyen. The goal of the brand ambassador program, which Wings of Strength started in 2019, was to support women’s bodybuilding by providing an opportunity for female bodybuilders and creating a community – a “sisterhood”, as Alex Sacasa of Wings of Strength puts it.
Look out for these three up-and-coming competitors from around the world onstage this year!
A lot of women’s physique competitors that move up to women’s bodybuilding worry about whether they will be big enough. But that’s definitely not going to be an issue for Julia Föry. At 5-foot-7, she currently weighs 223 pounds as she begins her prep for her pro debut at the Tampa Pro in August and is likely to be one of the biggest competitors onstage.
It was really only ever a question of when Julia would compete as a female bodybuilder. Growing up in Switzerland, she fell in love with the look of muscle on women as a teenager and was always in awe of female bodybuilders. She was inspired by Kim Chizevsky and Alina Popa – who used to train at the same gym as her in Zurich and even once autographed her lifting belt. She started competing in women’s physique and turned pro at the Arnold Amateur in 2019.
At that time, Julia didn’t think she was yet ready for women’s bodybuilding and was planning to make her pro debut in women’s physique last year. “Women’s bodybuilding a big thing for me and I wanted to honor it,” she says. “I didn’t want to get onstage and look like I’m not there yet.” But the pandemic changed her plans. She decided to take the opportunity to have a long offseason and put on more size. “I just love to be big as a woman!” she says.
Julia is now working with Branden Ray, who also works with Aleesha Young – another of Julia’s favorite female bodybuilders – and is focused on conditioning and detail. She says her goal is just to prove she belongs onstage with the big girls. “It’s a dream come true to finally get onstage as a female bodybuilder,” she says. “I want to look like I have the right to stand there.”
Jersey girl Sheena Ohlig turned pro in women’s physique in 2012 and placed fifth at the Tampa Pro in 2019. Last year she decided to compete as a female bodybuilder at the Chicago Pro, where she placed ninth, and then went back to women’s physique at the Rising Phoenix, where she placed eighth. But this year she is all in as a female bodybuilder. “I couldn’t be more excited!” she says.
Sheena, a former track athlete, had been lifting since she was a teenager. By last year, her body had developed to the point where she was on the cusp between the two divisions. Three days before the Chicago Pro, her prep coach Trey Hodge suggested she make the jump to women’s bodybuilding. They had followed the success of competitors like Asha Hadley and MayLa Ash at previous shows that year and thought Sheena’s look would be a good fit for the new era of women’s bodybuilding. At 5-foot-7, she competed at around 158 pounds.
Since last year, Sheena has changed the way she trains – she is now doing fewer reps with heavier weight – and has put on more size. Right now, she weighs 194 – compared to around 175 in the offseason when she was competing in women’s physique. “It feels empowering!” she says. “I feel strong and I like the development in my body – I see it in my chest and shoulders and back.” One of her biggest supporters is Monique Jones, who also works with Trey Hodge and has helped Sheena adjust the way she poses.
The 37 year-old says her plan for this year is to “make a splash in women’s bodybuilding”. She is going to do the Chicago Pro in July – the same show where she made her debut as a female bodybuilder last year – and the Tampa Pro in August. “I want to make it to the Olympia stage!” she says.
Sheikha Nguyen won the Vancouver Pro in 2019 on her pro debut as a women’s physique competitor the day after she turned pro and placed tenth at the Olympia. After such a promising start to her pro career, you might think she would want to continue to compete in women’s physique. But Sheikha had other ideas. After the announcement at the Olympia weekend in 2019 that the Ms. Olympia would return the following year, she immediately decided she would switch to women’s bodybuilding. “I was so excited,” she says.
The 32 year-old, who is from Vietnam and now lives in Singapore, had begun training only a few years earlier and was always inspired by female bodybuilders – especially Lenda Murray and Alina Popa. But by then, the Ms. Olympia has been cancelled and she decided to compete in women’s physique. She describes it as a “learning phase” that ultimately prepared her to compete in women’s bodybuilding.
Sheikha says the best thing about making the switch is that she no longer has to hold back in the gym. “I’m so happy that I get to blast through my workouts without having to worry if I’m getting too big,” she says. During the last year, she has brought up her whole upper body to match her incredible legs. At 5-foot-2, she weighed 118 pounds when she last competed in 2019. Right now she is at around 160.
Sheikha is planning to compete at the Chicago Pro and Tampa Pro and hopes to get an invitation to compete at the Rising Phoenix and to qualify for the Olympia. “I know some of the girls are huge,” she says. “I can’t match that with my frame. But I will bring as much muscle as I can pack on to my frame this year without compromising the flow, symmetry and conditioning. Just wait!”