The first question I get about competing in a fitness model / natural body building competition, is "Rhoda! What made you decide to do this?!"
So, let me answer that straight away, and then we can get into the key lessons I learned going from a novice, to the world championships in just 9 months.
I decided to go on this journey for 4 key reasons:
- Competing on stage was so far out of my 'normal' life and 'comfort zone' that when the idea was presented to me, I decided to do it ... because it wasn't normal or comfortable for me.
- I'm competitive ... and when I found what I needed to do in order to have a chance at placing in the competition, I felt it was possible for me ... and so I used the competition as motivation for my fitness.
- After meeting a few other competitors, and getting over myself, it just sounded like fun ... bikinis, hair and makeup, dresses, travel, fitness ...
- Lastly, for me, competing on stage isn't about 'showing off' or 'vanity'. It's about me being able to say to myself, "Rhoda ... I accept you. You are enough. You are OK."
So, taking the time for myself to train and prepare for a competition ... and then facing my own issues about posing on stage under scrutiny was me sticking my elegant finger up at my previous anxiety and small thinking ... and stepping into the Woman I imagined I would be as far back as a little girl.
Recruiting my 'dream-team'
I knew I needed expert help. I was over 40 ... I'd never done this type of thing before ... and I was serious about competing. If you're going to do something, then give it 100%.
First, I found a personal trainer who was experienced at helping women prepare for competitions. I'd seen what he was able to do for other female competitors, and so I knew if I did what he said, that he could help me.
Next, I did my research and found new science about the best way to transform your body. I also found my own specialised nutrition coach.
Even though I'm a dietician, there's a big difference between general nutrition, or hospital nutrition ... and nutrition for body transformation.
I then found a stage and posing coach ... in fact I hired a couple of great women who had already competed at the highest levels internationally. Posing was my greatest concern because it counts for about 30% of your total score.
I was really stiff and uncoordinated by comparison to these strong, glamorous women ... who were able to command attention with their confident twists, and turns, all while demonstrating the necessary muscle definition.
In order to compete, I had to gain about 4-5 kgs of muscle ... and we joked, I didn't have to work my 'ass off' ... I had to work my 'ass on'.
Gaining lean muscle ... especially that much ... can be really challenging for women. I'm an ectomorph, which means I've got a lean frame ... but my body fat percentage was still too high, and unlike men, we don't have testosterone for muscle growth.
I started training in February of 2015. I had my trainer 3 times a week ... and trained with my husband a further 2 times per week. That's 5 sessions per week ... about 45 minutes each.
The training was based around a very simple group of lifts. Squats. Deadlifts. Shoulder Press.
I supplemented these with other accessory exercises, such as lunges, leg press, leg curl, flys, and incline dumbbell press.
Funny ... I did virtually no specific ab exercises ... and yet my abs still came out because of how hard they work during the other exercises.
The reps and weights were varied depending on which stage of my program I was up to ... but the core approach was as I describe above.
I had to lose fat and gain muscle ... and in order to do that I had to eat more, not less.
I was so used to eating small portions, that I really struggled with the increased food intake.
This was the opposite of a calorie restricted diet ... and I had to do quite a few things that were the opposite of what I'd learned as a dietician.
- I had to eat more protein
- I had to eat more fat
- I had to reduce the carbs I was used to eating ... things like fruit or cereal in the morning
You might say that the diet was similar to a Paleo diet ... and I certainly never went hungry.
The net result of this first 5 months of training was that I put on 5 kg of lean muscle. I went from 51.5kg to 55.1 kg and lost about 0.4kg in fat. That's a kilo of muscle per month ... for 5 months.
The first competition
The first competition I entered was the All Female Classic in June of 2015 ... and event run by the International Natural Bodybuilding Association (INBA).
Naively, I thought being an 'All Female' event, that it would be a small event ... a great one to put my foot in the water.
In fact, it turned out to be the premier female event in Australia. I was in the 30+ Fitness Model category and when I arrived on the day ... I was so impressed with the other competitors ... the room was amazing and full of hundreds of competitors preparing for their turn on stage.
I was so excited when they called my name to walk out on stage for the very first time. I know I was a bit awkward ... I know that I didn't have the swagger of the more experienced women ... but the judges rewarded me with a place in the top 5.
I had my first award from my first competition. I was ecstatic. I was also one of the oldest competitors there.
The next competition
After that first experience, I was hooked. There was a national event on the Gold Coast in September 2015, so I had 3 months to prepare. This was the Muscle Mania event put on by Natural Bodz.
My training and nutrition plan didn't really change ... but what had to change was how well I stuck to my eating plan. I was finding it hard to eat all the food I was supposed to eat ... and so that's why I wasn't putting on enough muscle ... even though I was spending the time lifting in the gym ... it was of no use if I didn't eat outside the gym.
I needed to put on another 1 kg of muscle ... so that was the focus.
I also needed to improve my posing and stage presence ... and for this I decided to get some help on mindset. I'd learned the poses ... but what I needed was the confidence and to lose the 'self-consciousness' that was keeping me from being my best self out there on stage.
Girls ... this is the part when all your negative self-talk comes out. All those issues you've picked up over time about whether you're 'good enough' and whether it's OK if you, as a person, just shows up.
Dealing with these issues head-on was as tough as lifting heavy weights ... maybe tougher. There's a big difference between hiding in the corner of a gym, and posing on stage in a tiny bikini just so that certified 'body' judges can scrutinise and compare you to other women!
But this is exactly what I'd chosen ... and so I learned to welcome it. I dealt with those issues and now I thrive on stage ... it's so much fun to go out there, knowing that I have internal certainty about exactly who I am, why I'm doing it, and knowing that I put in the work to earn my place up on that stage.
I competed in the 30+ Fitness Model division again ... and this time I placed 3rd. I was much happier with my posing ... it was a great experience and I thought that was it for the year. Until ...
I qualified for the Worlds in Vegas
By coming 3rd in my division, I earned a place on the Australian Team to compete at the Fitness America Weekend in Las Vegas, USA. It was in November ... just 2 months away.
When I found out about this, I looked at my husband ... and before I could say anything he said, "Of course we're going ... we're ALL going ... you can't miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity and there's not a chance we wont be there to see you!"
The training intensified.
I became even more skilled and knowledgable regarding my own nutrition.
My husband and I read every scientific paper we could about burning fat and gaining muscle. We wanted to optimise everything I was doing ... and I didn't want to waste time on things that didn't work, or worse, were unsafe.
Fitness America, World Championships, Las Vegas
I knew going in to this competition, that I had very little chance of placing.
First, it was the world championships ... not only was I competing with the best in Australia ... but the best from many other countries in the world.
Second, there was no age division ... it was an open category. This meant I would be up against competitors as young as 18.
Still ... I had to go and compete. I had to give it a shot. I had to go to Vegas and have this amazing experience with an amazing team of people.
I didn't place at this event ... the competition was very fierce and those who won really were amazing.
But I did come away with a determination to continue ... and that story is unfolding in the gym right now ... it's unfolding with the nutrition plan I'm following.
In fact, there's a lot more to this story than I have told in this post ... but I'll leave you with a punch line.
As a dietician ... after having now succeeded and specialised in 'muscle gain' and 'fat' loss' ... I've come to the realisation that this approach is actually perfect for any woman who wants to thrive in life ... not to become a natural bodybuilder ... but to become lean, strong, powerful, and fit ... and to do it in a way that is safe, easy, and enjoyable.
If you want to get average results and 'avoid' disease ... then follow general dietary advice.
If you want to get outstanding results and thrive in wellness ... then you'll need to do something different ... and I can tell you from direct experience ... it's SO MUCH BETTER.