Allow me to introduce you to Mindy Ambrose. Please enjoy reading part one of this two-part interview. Mindy will be discussing some of her training specifics a little later today. I also want to take this opportunity to tell you that Mindy is beginning her own column here at FitnessVolt.com, every Tuesday. Watch for Your Friendly Neighborhood Gym Girl beginning this coming week.
L&S: When did you decide you were going to be a fitness competitor?
MA: I decided about two years ago when I learned that there were newer categories that suited my body type.
L&S: What led you to that decision?
MA: I have been consistent with weight training since I was 20 years old, and watched bodybuilding on TV all through my twenties. I knew it was something I could excel at, however there wasn’t a category at the time that suited my ideal body type. I adored the physiques of the Fitness Division, but a gymnastics-based routine was required, which I had no experience in.
When I was 30 I discovered that more categories had been created. I was training for amateur boxing at the time, and had developed a decent amount of muscle. I searched for a coach and picked a show date to compete in bikini division (the smallest and softest category,) with about 15 weeks to prep.
Part of my motivation was my insecurity with my appearance. I struggled with rocking what I was born with, appearance-wise, and wanted to force myself to just totally own it, going into my 30′s. I knew that throwing myself into the public eye and taking on modelling opportunities would show me that I didn’t have to have a commercial appearance to live out my dreams in the fitness industry. It still feels odd being introduced as a fitness model, but I enjoy it.
L&S: Has fitness always been a big part of your life?
MA: Yes it has. I can’t say there was a pivotal moment or milestone that kicked me into this lifestyle. Fitness has always been in me. When I was in grade school I loved volleyball, basketball, and track and field. I realized I had impressive strength while training for Shot Put. In secondary school, I continued with these sports, but I ached to work out in a gym like a ”real athlete.”
I couldn’t afford a gym membership, so I went as a guest with anyone I knew who had a membership. Then I got a six-dollar per month youth pass to exercise classes at a rec center. Very few kids showed up to these classes, so I developed a relationship with the instructors, and they let me pick the exercises and body parts we worked each day. I was doing crazy amounts of weighted incline crunches and squats when I was 17. Even back then, I was driven by results more than anything else.
L&S: When did you start training?
MA: I would say that my first gym membership at 20 years old marked the start of pretty consistent weight-training and cardio development. I was never one of those people who had a membership but rarely used it. I absolutely loved going to the gym as a past time, and I valued feeling physically strong as a result of it.
L&S: When did you get serious about it?
MA: I always wanted to box – my dad used to box but said I wasn’t allowed to when I asked permission in high school. When my marriage ended at the age of 29, and I realized I had freedom to move around and train anywhere in the city, I joined a boxing gym on top of my existing gym membership. This is when I noticed a nagging feeling that I had to do something big with my passion for fitness and the physique I enjoyed building. I couldn’t get enough of the results I was seeing from such a challenging regimen.
L&S: What is your pre contest diet like?
MA: My diet has loads of healthy fats, and slow-release carbs (sometimes it feels like an effort to consume the number of carbs assigned in a day.) Obviously protein and veggies are in my diet too. I don’t consider my diet to be strict until about two weeks before stage time.
I enjoy a long list of foods, but my coach tailors the quantities allowed, on a weekly basis. Because of my consistency, lack of cheating, and self-control in the off-season, my coach doesn’t have to rely on depletion to cut my body fat before a show. I walk around at five or six pounds above stage weight in the off-season. Even on the day of my shows, other girls stare at me backstage while I ingest loads of proteins, carbs, veggies, fats, and fruit. My diet is more geared towards keeping my muscles full than depleting.
L&S: How do you deal with cravings, and what do you crave most when dieting?
Since I hired my current coach in February of this year, my cravings have been minimal. I do not have much of a sweet tooth, so this lifestyle suits me well. I make protein iced cream and sorbet in my blender almost daily during the summer. I would say protein shakes satisfy any sweet cravings I get. I also turn to delicious yam spice muffins, right up until the week of a competition. In the off-season I will cheat, but it is always decided in advance. I don’t use yummy foods as a reward ever, and don’t eat them spontaneously. During contest prep, I am pretty focussed on my goal and am fine with clean oatmeal cookies and natural peanut butter, or a bowl of mixed berries.
L&S: What is your off-season diet like?
MA: This coming off-season will be my first with my current coach. Based on my 15 weeks out diet, I already know that it won’t look like a diet at all. I was eating club sandwiches, clean pizza made on sprouted grain bagels, omelettes, hamburgers, olives, cheese, coconut, chicken strips and honey mustard dip… but this freedom in my diet meant no cheat meals. I didn’t eat any dirty, decadent foods even at 15 weeks out. I have a feeling that my off-season diet will be similar, but with weekly cheat meals.
L&S: What are the goals you hope to achieve through fitness, related or otherwise?
MA: Aside from earning an international pro card in the Fitness Model category, my immediate goals are to be a bodybuilding judge, and to teach posing/stage presence workshops. I take this very seriously and am currently studying the categories I haven’t competed in. Right now I am signing up to be a mentor of a highschool student with similar interests, and plan to use this experience to create a volunteer-based health and fitness programs for teenaged girls. Within three years I plan to have these programs in place.
I also plan to start a career as a motivational speaker promoting confident living, and ageless living. I am a walking example of someone who was able to design a fun, fulfilling, happy life purely because of combating poor self-confidence and creating uncomfortably big goals for myself. I am also a walking example of someone who doesn’t act their age. I want to spread the word that young mindedness is bliss.
L&S: What is more important to you, to be healthy and happy, or to look good?
MA: I would say that health and happiness comes first for me. Looking good is just the gravy. Embarking on judged physique competitions felt right only after I had taken care of my emotional and physical well-being. Because of my healthy mindset, genuine happiness, and effort to treat my body well, the aesthetic component is more like a treat. I would rather feel good and strong going into a competition than have a more dynamic appearance achieved at the cost of damaging my body. I am an ambassador for healthy competing, which in my mind includes avoidance of injuries, a balanced diet at all times, eight hours of sleep every night, and no hormones/drugs or fat burners.
L&S: What would you tell someone who is considering competing to help them along?
MA: I tell all aspiring competitors three pieces of advice:
1.) Choose a realistic show date that doesn’t feel like a desperate race to look ready. Nothing feels better than knowing you are ready, and competitive even at eight weeks out. I see too many people competing in shows that they are not ready for. This leads to exhaustion and reliance on depletion/short cuts. I feel sorry for the family members of competitors who are an emotional wreck leading up to their show. Is it so bad to choose a show date that allows more time for prep?
2.) Be proud of small accomplishments along the way. The show date doesn’t have to be the only goal in place. Give credit to consistency, new friends made, increased energy, and will power. Accept that you have no control over winning a trophy – this is a subjective sport and you never know who else is going to show up. Focus on accomplishing what IS in your control, like mastering stage presence, having a trophy physique, feeling prepared, and genuinely enjoying yourself.
3.) Fake it ’til you make it! Observe the pros in your category and do what you can to evoke that standard, even in your first show. Forget about how uncomfortable you are and commit to performing at 100 percent no matter how foreign it feels. Eventually it will come naturally. Do not identify with your weaknesses. I never smiled much, and never smiled with my teeth showing until I started practicing posing for my first competition. I can’t tell you how fake it felt! Now I get told weekly that I have a nice smile, and my fake smile looks beautiful in stage pictures – who would have known? Why would you spend all that money, time and energy on something that you aren’t willing to commit to on all levels? Never hold back – just go for it.
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