Karen Sessions – Figure Coach – Congratulations on your recent success, Amanda. What competition did you recently compete in?
I competed in the “2013 NGA Natural Mr/Ms California Pro Qualifier” in Folsom, CA on June 8, 2013. I placed 2nd in my class.
So in your first time stepping on stage was a Pro Qualifier, and you placed 2nd! That’s OUTSTANDING! What was your competition experience like?
I didn’t know what to expect since this was my first competition, but overall it was a great learning experience. I felt very prepared because of the tips I got from your book, but I also walked away with some things I can do better next time!
Competing is a blast, and you learn something new every show. Have you always been athletic? Did you play sports growing up?
Yes, I started playing basketball at a very young age and eventually achieved my dream of receiving an athletic scholarship to play basketball in college. I fell in love with lifting when I was in high school. I played varsity all 4 years and the coach was very intense about weight lifting. We did mostly power lifting and very heavy weights to get us strong out on the court.
Another Congrats on your scholarship. You’re athletically well-rounded. So What exactly got you involved in figure competitions?
After my basketball career was over, I went on a hiatus from working out. For about 13 years straight I had done nothing but play basketball and work out every day and I was exhausted. After two years or so I had gained 20+ pounds and did not like the way I looked. I tried several times over the course of a couple years to “get into the best shape of my life” but I kept failing. I had always loved the physique of a figure competitor and I knew that setting such a goal and committing to a show would keep me accountable, since I wouldn’t want to be on stage looking like I didn’t belong there! I really wanted to sign-up for a show but didn’t have the confidence to until I talked to my husband about it and he encouraged me to go for it!
That’s not uncommon with those who are involved with sports at such a young age. It’s good to know you have a very supportive husband. *High-Five to him* How long have you been into fitness and working out?
About 4 years now. Being in shape for basketball was always more of an obligation so that I could perform on the court, so I would have to say that my passion for fitness and working out itself began after my basketball career ended. Working out without basketball games on the line gave me a sense of freedom to explore different training techniques and push myself to new fitness limits. It was very exciting to be able to build my body the way I wanted to and see it change as I advanced in technique.
Being that you were so involved in sports in the past, getting into shape for a figure competition was kind of like bouncing back I bet. What is your competition weight and off-season weight, and how tall are you?
I am 5’5” and my competition weight was 125. I am not sure yet what my off-season weight will be since I have another show in November and I am still in training mode. Ideally I would like to get down to 115lb for my next show and maintain 120-125lbs thereafter.
Yeah, you want to kind of maintain for a few months, then pull in hard again if your next show is a few months away. How long did it take you to prep for your figure competition?
I prepped for a total of 20 weeks. I started out at 153lb and I knew I had to lose around 25lb in order to feel comfortable on stage, so I gave myself more time than what would be typical. I already had a solid muscle base but I wanted to focus hard on bulking for the first 4 weeks, and then began cutting things out of my diet for the following 4 weeks. At 12 weeks out I got very strict on my diet and turned up the cardio.
Looks like your game plan worked like a charm. What motivates you to keep in shape?
I love feeling strong and healthy. When I eat poorly and I don’t work out, that lazy mentality seeps into other areas of my life. Keeping in shape and feeling good about myself translates into a happy and confident me!
That’s the worse, getting in one of those slumps. You’ve been goal oriented, so how do you stick to your goals?
My husband and I are very active and that helps a lot. We share a passion for fitness, and love working out together so that keeps us both on track. I also stick to my diet by logging all my food. Before I started my figure training I worked out like a madwoman but my diet was horrible and therefore I saw no results. By logging food into my iPhone app (“Lose It!”), I know exactly what I am eating- the good, bad, and the ugly! Logging unhealthy meals is always eye-opening because you can see exactly what you just put into your body. That alone gets me right back on the straight and narrow.
That is such a powerful statement, “I worked out like a madwoman but my diet was horrible and therefore I saw no results.” Diet is key. That being said, what is your nutrition like off-season?
I haven’t experienced “off season” yet because I am fresh off a show and prepping for another, but before I started training I was in a vicious fast-food eating cycle so I am steering clear of those places for my cheat meals. On regular days I stick to the basics- chicken, oatmeal, protein shakes, salads, and greek yogurt. I am also enjoying being able to eat fruit and wheat bread again since I cut those out a month before my show. Fruit has never tasted so good!!
GREAT job on going for more healthy meals on your scheduled cheat day. What was your figure competition diet like for your show?
For my first show I played it safe and kept it extremely plain so that I could count and weigh everything. I basically ate chicken, brown rice, protein shakes, natural peanut butter, and tuna for 5 months. This time around I am going to experiment with your meal recipes and getting more creative so that I can enjoy the clean eating more and make foods that my husband will also want to eat.
I use to diet really plain Jane as you described. These days, I find the figure competitors want more taste and variety so I had to come up with recipes that could get the job done with a little taste. What is a basic cheat meal for you?
I stay away from the big fast food chains but the one place I will go to is Chick-Fil-A. I love their spicy chicken sandwiches drizzled with honey, fries on the side, a cold Diet Coke, and a granola parfait!! A home-made cheat meal would be a big pasta meal or large steak salad with lots of toppings.
Would you believe I have never eaten at Chick-Fil-A!? So, are there any sacrifices? If so, how do you overcome them?
There are many sacrifices that come with prepping! You have to sacrifice time with your spouse, meeting with loved ones over meals, sleeping in, and of course many of your favorite foods. I overcame these sacrifices with the encouragement and support from my husband and my loved ones. I also kept picturing myself on stage showcasing all my hard work! Any time I felt like quitting I imagined myself with the confidence to stand on stage in front of hundreds of people in a bathing suit! I always dreamed of having that kind of confidence, and making sacrifices is what was going to get me there.
That’s really impressive dedication. What do you find to be the hardest part about getting into contest shape and how do you overcome it?
Obviously the diet was difficult, but I think the most difficult part was staying in the game mentally at all times. Prepping is a constant focus, 24/7. You have to dial in on every choice you make throughout the day; it’s not just about time in the gym. All day, every day, you are thinking about food, training, and how your body is responding. I overcame this by praying to God for strength and focus, as well as reaching out to my husband when I needed encouragement or a reminder as to why I was putting myself through this! I also turned to YouTube videos featuring figure transformations, or watching inspirational videos of ripped chicks throwing heavy weights around!!
Whatever it takes, right? A lot of what you say has me reliving my competitive days because it was a lot of internal work as well. What is your training split like off-season?
Again I haven’t been in off season yet, but right now I am taking 6-9 weeks to build my legs using your “Killer Quads” program, and working other major body parts 1-2x per week. I am lifting very heavy to build more muscle mass before I start cutting for my next show. My focus is on building my back and legs this time around.
Awesome. Build that muscle density for the next show. What is your training like when you are prepping for a contest?
I followed Your “Figure Competition Secrets” programs all the way through my prep so I change up my lifting techniques every 3-4 weeks to keep my muscles guessing. I lift 5-6 days a week and depending on where I am at in prep, I will do cardio anywhere from 3-6 times per week.
For prep, I find that constant change in training to be a secret element in making progress. Do you happen to track your personal best lifts and if so, what are they?
I didn’t log my personal bests for this last prep, but I found a great app for my phone and I started logging all my lifts this time.
LOL where would we be without cell phones. What do you do for cardio?
I love HIIT cardio. Nothing beats cranking up that incline on the treadmill and doing uphill interval sprints! I also learned to love the stair climber. I used to loathe it, but I started doing HIIT on the stairs and it was pivotal in dropping the last few pounds before my show.
I had been using the Incline Trainer with the 40% incline! Do you have any future competition plans?
Yes, I am planning to do a show in Hollywood in November with my best friend!
Figure Prep Buddy System. Should be fun. Do you use supplements? If so, what are your favorite supplements?
Yes, I used some of the supplements outlined in your book, Figure Competition Secrets. I started out using HydroxyCut for fat burner, and then I switched to Yohimbine. I also used Guggul Extract, Glutamine, and L-Carnitine.
All good supplements to getting off body fat. Does your family support your fitness endeavors?
Yes! My entire family was extremely supportive and my husband was my #1 fan! It was so amazing to have all the support from my loved ones.
That’s good to hear. It makes it easier and more fun. What hobbies do you have outside of fitness?
My husband and I love to bike ride, hike, camp, go on trail runs, anything outdoors really! We also love being involved at our church, and I enjoy training and coaching youth basketball players, most recently as a volunteer at my local YMCA.
Very active lifestyle! What advice would you give someone who wanted to get in such outstanding shape as you are in?
Diet, diet, diet!!! I learned that the diet aspect of prepping is a serious factor in success and that is the first thing I tell anyone who asks how I did it. I would also encourage them to set small, attainable goals throughout the prep. Focusing too far out into the future can be discouraging, so set weekly goals to attain, even if it’s something as small as cutting out soda for a week. Along those lines, whenever I attained a small goal I would do something to reward myself like getting my nails done. When you can’t reward yourself with food, you have to find something else that will motivate you to reach your goals.
Diet, set goals, and reward accomplishments. Great advice. How has competing in figure changed your life?
I have proven that I can set a goal and achieve it if I really apply myself. I spent so many years on and off the diet wagon and making false promises to myself that I began to lose hope that I could ever get into the shape I wanted to be in. I am more confident and sure of myself than I have ever been! I have also broken that vicious fast food cycle that I was in for so many years, and I am very proud of that. What I put into my body is much more important to me now.
That’s what it’s about, doing it for yourself. Do you have any long-term goals in the fitness industry?
I am doing a show in November and then my husband and I are going to start trying for a baby in early 2014. Post-baby my husband and I would like to get into bodybuilding together, hopefully in a mixed pairs category!
Again, another great game plan. The two of you should do well. Now, if you could give one piece of advice to a first-time figure competitor, what would it be?
Stay positive. Prep can be mentally taxing. It’s easy to get caught up in the negativity that comes with missing out your favorite foods or time with your loved ones. Stay positive by reading blogs and articles, or YouTube “female figure transformations” to get inspired again! That always got me out of my funk.
It’s good to have a support group, either at the gym or online. Anyone else who could understand what you are going through. Anything else you would like to add, Amanda?
I would like to thank you, Karen, for your amazing book, “Figure Competition Secrets,” special reports, book recommendations, and emails! There is an overwhelming amount of information out there on the Internet so it was priceless to be able to follow one program that had proven success and such an abundant supply of support and tools.
Thanks for your great feedback and your time in sharing with us your experience. Again, congrats and keep that focus for your future show.
One Last Bit of Information…
Do YOU Want to Enter a Competition, too or Just Have the Body of a Competitor? Stop sitting on the sidelines…