Dawn Shillingford, 38
September last year. l had never trained before then. I had never even been to a gym before.
How do you maintain your energy levels?
Luckily it hasn't really hit me. l am down to three percent body fat now and l still feel OK.
It's very hard for me. l am very body conscious, not in terms of what other people think particularly, but more because of myself. l know when l step on that stage the judges will say, "You are asymmetrical." l used to just walk into a room and not think about my body; now l see every little flaw in myself.
I grew up with brothers and a lot of my friends are male, so l'm not stepping into an alien culture. Oddly enough it's women more than men who congratulate me on my gains. Women always tell me l look amazing—they seem to appreciate the hard work that's gone into my training.What does a typical day's training look like for you?
In the run-up before a competition l do cardio in the gym in the morning, then l come back in the evening to train weights and different parts of the body depending on what day of the week, then more cardio to finish. I enjoy weights the most.
Heather Cowley, 51
I was always into sport and that was mainly because l was bullied at school. I loved competing, it got me away from the classroom.What kind of man do you find attractive?
He has to have muscles. I've been single for a long time. I was with my previous partner for 12 months. When l realised it wasn't working and l tried to leave, he would get angry and smash the place up. It got to the point where l was scared of him. l kept the whole thing away from my son who was only little at them time; l kept it all to myself.
He took a knife to me and told me to kill myself because l was worthless. He went to hit me and because l was experienced in martial arts l gave him such a kick, l knocked him across the room and told him to get out of my house and he just went. l threw myself back into the gym and that's the way l dealt with it.Who are some of the women who have inspired you the most though your life? First and foremost my Mum and [fitness models and bodybuilders] Oksana Grishina, Dana Linn Bailey, Nicole Wilkins, and Larissa Reis.
Donna Gittings, 30
I didn't go into the weights section until l met my boyfriend Tony—he changed things for me. l was obsessed with cardio and abs. I was too skinny. l really restricted my food because l had put on so much weight with my babies. l looked ill.I think it's attractive to see a woman cultivate a body that she's proud of and not have to bow to stereotypical ideals.
We see more fitness women coming through now. It's an acquired taste. Men don't always like how you look, but they recognize you've obviously got the willpower to achieve such gains. They appreciate your dedication more than thinking you look nice. I have the odd bit of negativity. Internet trolls are the worst.
In our gym, steroids are not frowned upon at all. Eighty-five percent of people think it's fine.Are you open to taking steroids?
I've taken steroids and l'm very much open about it. l started taking them because l wanted to compete. A lot of women don't admit that they take steroids, they will adamantly deny it but it's very easy to see when someone does—their voice changes and they become a lot more vascular.Do you inject or take tablets?
Not too well. You are pretty hungry and really thirsty. l cut liquids down at about 6 PM [the night before] and l didn't compete until 2 PM. You elevate your water intake on the run-up to the show. Tony can drink ten to 12 litres a day. You will continue to wash out the overload of water from in the week when you are then dehydrating. I take diuretics as well.
Watch: The Men Behind the MusclesDo you feel more beautiful now?
No, l wouldn't say that. l wouldn't even say my confidence is better, it's just very different. l did used to go out and drink alcohol and now l don't. l eat a lot more and our lives revolve around the gym. We get slated a lot because of our steroid use. People say, "Why would you do that to your body?" But we don't smoke or drink and we don't eat any crap.
Victoria Brown, 29
Definitely. My boyfriend helped. He trains hard. He told me that he hadn't really flirted with girls much until he met me and asked me out on a date. The competitions help but you have to be careful. When the judges ask you if you want feedback, you can choose not to ask. I know they might notice imperfections, so l don't ask.
It would be lovely to abs all year round. I enjoy going out for roast dinners and having a few drinks with my friends. You need that balance. You can get metabolic damage if you don't reintroduce food properly. Your cortisone levels and hormones need to be kept at a safe level.
Tabitha Luke Mcclean, 45
Being older now, l read my body better than when l was younger; back then l relied on coffee. The adverse side of that is your body is just no better off, because if you don't have the right food you can't train.
Is there a lot plastic surgery in the body building community?
**Read more: We Talked to the People Having Sex at Your **Gym
Yes. The breast jobs are popular. The thing is, it puts a lot of people off because you aren't able to train for two months after the surgery. It depends what you want to do. Do you want breasts or do you want to keep training? If you take time off to heal you lower your strength.
I am female, but l am strong and bloody-minded. l don't want to look like a man. That's why l don't take steroids. l don't want the square jaw women get because of the hormonal changes. I want to be a strong woman, l don't want to be a bloke. We are strong in different ways. It's just about getting fit healthy and strong and motivating each other to do that in the same way.