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Several months ago I ran a feature of one of my figure clients, Michelle Vodrazka, who was starting her prep for the Ontario Natural Championships, held in Hamilton on September 22, 2012.
At the time that article was written, we had anticipated making a running series of Michelle’s contest prep, but the funny thing about life is that it always has a habit of getting in the way!
Without going into too many details, shortly after that article was written, Michelle wound up finding a very troublesome lymph node in her neck, one that had her physician and family concerned. Needless to say, taking care of one’s health is far more important that worrying about preparing for a figure competition. And in Michelle’s own words, “I was mentally very distracted”.
Of course, whenever life stress ramps up, the natural inclination is to say “To hell this this, I’m going to drown my sorrows in booze/ice cream/cookies/etc”. And in the interests of full disclosure, Michelle does admit to having lost a lot of her normally indomitable motivation and drive for healthy eating at this point.
But you know what? Even with the specter of some potentially very grave news affecting her motivation, Michelle still managed to stick with enough healthy habits during this stressful period to not undo all the hard work of the prior 8 months.
Mind you, eating well enough to look healthy vs. eating to prep for a figure competition are vastly different. Once you step out on stage, the judges don’t award compassion points and if you go out there looking like you spent a summer at the buffet line and not in the gym, you’ll be penalized accordingly.
So when Michelle asked me a few weeks before the provincials whether I thought she should still compete, I had serious reservations. She’d been through a lot of stress, both with the health scare and having been dieting for several shows over the 8 months prior, but I don’t like to say “no” before seeing where she stood.
I told her to send me a few recent photos, as it had been several weeks since her last photo update, and that I’d make a decision based on what I saw. Although Michelle definitely wasn’t as lean as she typically was a few weeks pre-show, she wasn’t bad.
Now typically, I don’t recommend any client decide to compete when they give themselves only a couple of weeks of concentrated effort to diet down. However, Michelle has a pretty responsive metabolism so I felt that as long as she cleaned up the diet, she’d actually have a shot!
With renewed enthusiasm, Michelle buckled down and went ahead and competed in provincials.
While this definitely wasn’t the plan we had hoped to follow leading up to the competition, Michelle still managed to pull off a very impressive 2nd place overall in figure open and 3rd place in figure masters, qualifying her for the 2013 Nationals in both categories!
Safe to say, Michelle’s performance on an abbreviated prep exceeded expectation and gave us both a lot of hope and excitement for seeing how she’ll do next year, this time with a full prep phase under her belt
If you’d like to follow more of Michelle’s reflections and thoughts, check out her blog at http://mommefit.ca or follow her on twitter @mommefit.
What do you call a woman who has completed several half marathons, a full marathon, numerous triathlons, an adventure race or two and now has stated that it’s her personal goal to compete in a figure competition and be in the best shape of her life when she turns 40?
Many might call her an inspiration, others might just refer to her as Michelle, but her kids just call her mom
Although Michelle’s interest in competing started back in her early 20’s, about a third of the way through her first attempt at contest prep she found out she was pregnant.
Needless to say, having a child will waylay even the best laid contest prep plans, but Michelle seemingly destroyed any aspirations of competing by going on to have three more children!
Now for a lot of women, even having a single child can make the prospect of getting up on stage and walking around in a bikini an absolutely terrifying proposition.
But not for this supermom!
As if raising 4 children wasn’t enough, Michelle decided that at the age of 38, she was going to stay true to her goal of making it to 40 in the best shape of her life.
So she took the plunge and signed up to tackle a figure competition.
In her words, Michelle “wanted my kids and other moms to see me as an inspiration and a role model. I wanted to show them how important it is to make health and fitness a priority.”
And has she ever!
In Michelle’s first competition, the 2012 IDFA Montreal Classic, Michelle rocked the stage to finish 3rd in novice fitness model and 1st in novice figure!
For most people, that would be a huge start to your first season of competing and you could pretty much pack it in. But Michelle is a little bit of a hyperactive high achiever and the best was yet to come…
Michelle followed up that performance with an even better showing at the Ontario Physique Association’s 2012 Ottawa Classic by finishing 2nd in Figure medium tall, while bagging another 1st place finish in the Figure Masters Tall category!
Needless to say, for someone’s first foray into competition Michelle has totally surpassed even her own wildest expectations.
Normally, after a couple of shows I would strongly recommend most athletes take a protracted break to allow their body to recuperate from the stresses of competing.
But at this point but Michelle is probably healthier and more energetic after her two shows than when we first started. As a result, we’ve decided that Michelle will compete one more time this year at the 2012 Ontario Natural National Championships taking place in September.
As part of her journey to provincials, Michelle has graciously volunteered to document her trials and tribulations through an online training log as we prepare her for her next show as means a means of giving everyone an honest account of what you can expect preparing for a figure competition.
So to kick off the road to provincials in style, I wanted to share a bit of Michelle’s background story…
Michelle: I learned that having a plan is so important! As the saying goes, “Not having a plan is a plan for failure,” so set yourself up to succeed.
I worked out for years without a plan and never came close to the changes I have made in the last three months!
I also learned how critical it is to write everything down. I take time every day to record my workouts, my diet and how I feel. That way I can look back and assess what worked, what didn’t and where I can make improvements.
I also learned the importance of was practicing your posing. Graeme, you drilled this into me over and over again.
Thankfully, I listened, because when I was able to hit my poses it felt really good.
Even after reviewing my photos (when we have the tendency to be overly critical), I can honestly say that I felt proud of my posing and thought that it helped me present a professional, polished look onstage.
GT: Michelle, what was your biggest fear you had to overcome to wrap your head around competing?
Michelle: One of my biggest fears initially was whether I would be able to stick to my diet, yet I actually found this to be one of the easiest part of the prep. Once you get used to eating clean, you find that you start enjoying the taste of the food itself rather than the sauces, salt, sugar, seasoning and additives you are used to tasting.
I did find that having exact foods specified for me was too restrictive for my lifestyle (I have a family of six to cook for!) and after communicating this, we came up with a plan that worked much better for me. The new plan you wrote for me was much more flexible and allowed me to chose from a list of proteins, carbs and fats which enabled me to stick to my plan.
This taught me how important it is to be honest and to communicate your struggles with your coach.
Just remember, your success is their success!
The only time now that I truly struggle with my diet is during the last week before a show, when I’m not using any salt or seasonings and I’m eating mostly chicken and green vegetables. That’s when it gets really boring.
GT: Awesome… well not about the boring final week of dieting, but your comment about the importance of having an open line of communication between coach and client.
So continuing along the same vein, did you run into any particular struggles during your prep?
Michelle: One of the biggest issues I struggled with during my prep was letting go. I learned that I needed to be patient and trust my coach and trust the process. Changing your body takes time and you really do need to be consistent to see results. Don’t be afraid to commit and stick to the plan.
I also learned how important it is to ignore other people’s (sometimes unsolicited) advice and see where it takes you.
It could be somewhere amazing!
GT: Can you elaborate a little on your comment about ignoring “unsolicited advice”… that seems to be a pretty recurring issue many of my clients encounter.
Michelle: Absolutely. I learned that there are always going to be people trying to bring you down and you need to learn to tune them out.
My mom told me a friend of hers had seen my photos on Facebook and that she thought I was crazy. This drove me nuts for days! Why did they say that? What did they mean by it? I was psyching myself out feeling like I had to justify my decision to compete to someone else I didn’t even know very well.
I finally realized that I had to let it go. It was their problem and not mine. Competing made me happy and I knew I was making a healthy choice and that was all that mattered.
Not only that, but I discovered that I really enjoyed being on stage. When you’re on stage its your chance to show off all the hard work you have done over the past few months. Your body won’t lie, so if you’ve done your homework, it will show.
GT: Excellent point about focusing on what makes you happy and ignoring all the naysayers. What I’ve found is that life is too short about letting other people’s negativity drag you down.
So final question, what was it about competing that makes you want to continue?
Michelle: I’d have to say that even though being on stage was great, I found the preparation and mental focus that went into competing to be incredible satisfying. I had never followed a plan so thoroughly before and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed to process.
But without a doubt, the best part was seeing how proud my family was of me.
Even though all the time spent during prep was hard on them at times (and yes, they complained a lot, LOL) seeing the look on my kids faces when I brought home two trophies made me it all worthwhile. They’re the ones usually bringing home all the trophies and medals so it felt good for mom to have a chance to bring home some too.
My ex even showed my stage photos to his co-workers and that was a HUGE compliment! Incidentally, my husband also ended up losing 20 pounds on “my diet”, so it was a win-win situation all around.
GT: Thank you so much Michelle for taking the time to do this quick interview and I’m excited about helping you get prepared to tackle one of the biggest physical challenges of your life!
Emily Zelinka and I worked together in 2009 during the period she was preparing for her first ever appearance at the Canadian National Figure Championships. Despite being relatively new to the sport (she had only competed in three shows up to that point), Emily had already accomplished more than most physique athletes achieve in a lifetime:
As a result of finishing 2nd in the Provincial Championships, Emily earned an invitation to compete in the Nationals the following year. Clearly, Emily was an up-and-comer in the sport, but as is often the case when attempting to become elite at anything, there is always room for improvement.
This desire to improve led Emily to ask me to look over her contest prep diet. As part of her contest diet review, I also asked Emily to give me a detailed account of what she normally eats. When I compared her diets, two things stood out:
The fact that Emily enjoys eating and routinely eats a healthy number of calories was actually a huge plus. It is far more common to have female figure competitors come to you looking for diet advice on how to lose body fat, but they’ve only been eating 1000 kcal a day for the past year.
The sad reality: you can’t get blood from a stone, nor can you produce body fat losses in someone whose metabolism has down-regulated to accommodate a really low-calorie diet.
For any female trying to lose fat on a chronically low-calorie diet my best advice is this: spend the next 6-12 months getting your caloric intake back up in the 2000 kcal range. After that, if you reduce calories in an intelligent fashion, your body will respond quite well.
If this is your idea of a reasonable diet… you are delusional
Clearly, having a sluggish metabolism from eating too few calories wasn’t Emily’s issue. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Emily has a naturally high metabolism, which is a great thing. But giving someone who loves eating an ungodly number of restrictions on what they can and cannot eat is just a recipe for failure.
Emily on a drastic low-calorie diet is going to be very moody and unpleasant to be around (if you don’t believe me, just ask her trainer and now husband, Brad Fowler), and won’t do a whole lot to accelerate her fat loss.
So contrary to the diet advice she had been given, we actually came up with a diet that contained far more calories and lee-way than she’d been operating on previously.
Just how much lee-way you ask? Well over her 12-week “get ripped” diet, Emily had regularly scheduled days where she was allowed a hearty plate of nachos and a few beers**.
**Note: these were always planned in advance and we factored in her progress from week-to-week. However, this does highlight that many foods can be part of a lean lifestyle, as long as they are included strategically.
Obviously beer and nachos aren’t going to help most people get lean but Emily has the metabolism that requires a large amount of energy. Her strong metabolism, coupled with a propensity for unplanned bingeing if she felt deprived, meant that including more variety and semi-regular re-feed days actually accelerated her progress.
Fast forward to August ’09 and Emily stepped on stage at Nationals looking for a top 12 finish. We were hoping for top 12 since this was her first ever appearance at Nationals and it’s rare that a virtual unknown places well.
Unfortunately, we made a serious miscalculation of being content with a top-12 finish… because Emily placed third in her class! This awesome showing earned her a trip to the North Americans where she was one of the few Canadian competitors to come away with a top 10 showing.[flagallery gid=3 name=”Gallery”]
Since that time, Emily has gone on to finish 2nd in the Arnold’s, one of the largest figure and bodybuilding competitions in the world. She is currently gearing up for return trip to Nationals and hopefully, a chance to win her pro card. I recently sat down with Emily to find out what she’s been up to.
Emily, thanks a bunch for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat. Just what does the schedule of a Nationally ranked fitness competitor look like?
Haha, I wish I could say that I get paid to train all day. Unfortunately, the day-to-day life of a figure competitor is pretty much like it is for for anyone else. I work (Emily is a paramedic), train and just recently moved into a new home, so that’s been occupying a lot of my time. In fact, I spent all of yesterday fixing up the yard and got quite the awesome tan that will need to be fixed before the next show.
Ohhh the dreaded tan lines, the bane of figure competitors everywhere. Speaking of competitions, when is your next show?
Well I’m going to be competing in the CBBF National Championships, scheduled for August 28th, 2010 in Toronto. The show will be taking place at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and pre-judging will begin at 9 AM and the finals are slated for 6 PM.
This show will be a big one for me because after finishing 3rd last year, I’m hoping to win it all this year. I did really well at my last show, a 2nd place at the Arnold’s in March. This strong showing even got me a little write-up in MuscleMag: Amateurs Shine at the Arnolds.
Fingers crossed that I can bring a killer physique into Nationals. Last year’s winner, Kim Tilden, was awarded her pro card, so I’m hoping that a win in my class would result in the same for me. It really would be a dream come true to get my pro card.
GT’s note: Finals tickets are only $55 and Emily would greatly appreciate tons of fans and supporters come help her in her quest to win her pro card. For more infomation on the show, check out: http://www.cbbfnationals2010.com/
Ahh the illustrious pro card, exactly what kind of benefits come with getting your pro card?
For starters, you get to travel and compete internationally, which is pretty sick. And who can turn down the chance to compete for prize money?
But you are also exposed to a whole new world of sponsorship opportunities. Although the opportunity for international travel is exciting, there is a little matter of having enough funding to be able to do so. Currently, I am sponsored by PVL and Darrin Robinson through Team Emerge, but as any competitor will tell you, you can never have too many sponsors!
I know you’ve had Darrin help you with your posing for a while now. How important would you say posing practice is for a figure competitor?
It can easily make or break your competition. Although so many people think you can just look at a few picture online and get an idea of what to do, there’s so much more than goes into it. Knowing how to hold your hands, which muscles you need to be flexing while relaxing others, staying poised and smiling as you go from pose-to-pose, it’s surprisingly challenging.
Typically, I’ll meet with my posing coach several times before a show. I have really great shoulders, arms and abs so those are definitely body parts we try to highlight with how I pose.
It’s important that all figure competitors remember that your body keeps evolving from show-to-show. Just because you had the proper poses to highlight your figure for your last show, doesn’t necessarily mean that those same poses will best accentuate your physique for your next one.
Excellent point. What kind of advice would you give to girls new to the sport in terms of posing?
Practice, practice, practice. Knowing how best to present yourself on-stage is both a science and an art. I typically recommend that for your first show, you initially meet with your posing coach 4-6 weeks before going on stage, then spend ample time posing in front of a mirror, as well as without a mirror.
Discovering what you look like in a mirror is important, but equally important is having the muscle memory and confidence to hold your poses when you aren’t getting that visual feedback.
Awesome advice. Judging by the work you’ve done helping a few new competitors already, I’d have to say you are one of the best resources a figure newbie could have.
Awww…. thanks. Yes, I’ve always understood and valued the hard work that goes into some of the behind-the-scenes details for show prep. What most girls don’t understand is that it’s not enough to simply get a good training and nutrition program, but understanding how to apply your tanning products, getting properly made-up, hair-style, jewelry… you are being judged on all these factors and if you haven’t worked with someone who knows what the judges are looking for, you are putting yourself at a competitive disadvantage.
Very good points, do you have space for any new clients?
Always! I have a very busy schedule but I love working with girls who are just getting into the sport and I think I have a lot of valuable information to pass on their way. Anyone wanting to get in contact with me for show prep help can always reach me through my website: http://www.emilyzelinka.com/.
Any other advice you can share for people just starting out?
Certainly. The biggest mistake figure girls make is they have a total lack of balance. Their lives revolve around over-training and micromanaging their food. I mean, it’s good to have a goal but when that goal costs you all of your friends or the ability to enjoy life, well at that point figure competitions no longer become something you do for fun.
Contest prep dieting will never be confused with a vacation, but if you hate your life every step of the way, is it really worth it?
And another thing, you can’t think you are going to walk around all year with a 6-pack and a stage-ready physique. I love looking shredded, but also realize that that look is temporary and that I’m going to gain weight back after a show. I just make sure I regain 10 lbs… and not 40 lbs like some other competitors.
I couldn’t agree with you more. So what is your body weight and training like off-season compared to when you compete?
Three years ago before I started competing, I was 128 lbs and 18% body fat. Now in my off-season, I weigh 154 lbs and I’m 14% body fat. Then for a show, I’ll drop down to around 136 and come in around 7% body fat.
But my big focus with off-season training is to try and continually get leaner by building more muscle mass. So most of my training consists of heavy lifting.
When you mention lifting heavy, that would be…
The usuals. Right now I would be doing:
Crap, I know a lot of guys who can’t move that kind of weight.
Haha, I know. But let’s face it, the only way to keep getting leaner is to add muscle mass and building muscle mass requires heavy lifting. I’ve added 25 lbs to my frame since I started competing more seriously and it has only continued to help me get leaner. Personally, I’d much rather lift weights than do cardio.
I hear ya. Just how much cardio do you do during the off-season?
None. Well that’s not entirely true, I lead an active lifestyle so I’m always on the go, but if you are asking about hopping on the treadmill or elliptical? That’d be a grand total of zero minutes.
Mind you, I do incorporate a few cardio sessions every week when I’m getting ready for a competition. But outside of that, I focus more on weight training and eating enough healthy foods to keep me lean.
Amen to that. Well we are about out of time, any partings words?
For sure, I just want to remind everyone that Nationals are Saturday, August 28th in Toronto. So if you are in the area, I’d love the support. I’m trying to organize a group ticket purchase, so if you’d like to come and sit together as part of a group, please get in contact with me ASAP: drop emily a line.
I’ll spread the word. Thanks a bunch for taking the time to share some of your experiences and here’s wishing you nothing but the best at Nationals!