Karen Sessions – Figure Coach – Hey Amy. Congrats on your recent figure contest successes. What competitions did competed in and how did you place?
I competed in the OCB New York State Natural, 2nd in Tall class and the NGA North American Pro-Am; 2nd in Tall class.
You moved up a placement since last year. That’s work in progress paying off. What was your competition experience like?
Competitions are always a blast. I think the bulk of the “experience” is in the prep- every day is a challenge and it’s a real test of your mettle at times, but it’s worth it. You really learn a lot about yourself.
Yes, the prepping itself is an experience and a challenge! Have you always been athletic? Did you play sports growing up?
Nope. I ran track in high school, which gave me a lovely, waif-like physique. I joined a gym just to use the treadmills during the winter, but after my first session in the weight room, I was completely addicted. I ended up becoming a trainer and working in gyms for years.
How Cool! One addiction led to another, right? So, what got you involved in figure competitions?
One of my co-workers at a gym asked me if I’d ever thought about competing, and I kind of scoffed at the idea, thinking I would never look like that. I had been lifting like a powerlifter or doing Olympic lifts to try to pack muscle on that previously mentioned waif-like frame, and never believed I had enough mass for figure. But his suggestion definitely planted a seed in my brain, and I began trying to sculpt a figure physique with my training.
I remember thinking “I would never look like that” too. I was determined to though. So, how long have you been into fitness and working out?
I ran in high school and the first year of college. Then I hit the weight room. HARD. And that has been one constant thing in my life ever since. I’ve been lifting about 11 years, lifting to compete about 4.
That’s a pretty good track record. Your HARD training shows though the muscle you have. It takes some focused training with heavy weights to build that kind of physique. What is your competition weight and off-season weight, and how tall are you?
My driver’s license says I’m 5’5″, and off season I weigh in about 135 lbs. Stepped on stage at about 122 lbs this year.
That’s a pretty good off-season and contest weight span. It makes your contest prep a little easier, as you don’t have to drop as much body fat. How long did it take you to prep for your figure competition?
I prepped about 12 weeks- the first 2 were on my own. I got in touch with you, Karen, at about 10 weeks out and followed your advice to a T.
Yes, I have your before and after (contest) pics and your were transforming EVERY WEEK! What motivates you to keep in shape?
I’m a nurse with 2 jobs- one on a cardiac stepdown unit and one in stroke rehab. Being in shape helps me immensely with my job duties. But seeing people sick and recovering from major medical insults (a large majority victims of poor lifestyle choices) reminds me every day that we have one life to live and enjoy to the fullest.
So much of our quality of life and health is up to us. I try to make the best decisions to make my life a long, happy and healthy one. I also think it’s awesome to feel powerful and strong; it carries through to all parts of your life, not just in the gym. If I look good in a be-dazzled bikini to boot, bonus.
I was in nursing too, but it just wasn’t for me. The fitness niche chose me so I left nursing. So, how do you stick to your goals?
I know it’s kind of cheesy, but this time around I had to give myself little mantras: “No one can do it but you”. Only my own hard work and effort will get me results. Also, “Be that other girl”. I told myself that for every pound I lifted, some other girl was lifting 2. For every drop of sweat, some other girl sweat 2. I wanted to be that “other girl”
Cheesy… LOL No, just kidding. I always imagined my competition training hard, so it pushed me to train harder and not cheat. What is your nutrition like off-season?
In general, pretty clean. But we do enjoy a meal out here and there, and I have a sweet tooth. I’d say 90% of the time it’s lean meats and veggies, whole grains. I never weigh my food (or myself) “off season”. This year, my goal is to clean it WAY up and realize that there really is no “off” season.
Yeah, off-season nutrition is just as important. The perks are you can eat a little more but ideally it should be about 80% clean. What is your figure competition diet like?
Chicken. I may actually have feathers at this point. Seriously though, lean meat, fish, and eggs are staples, and sometimes Greek yogurt. VEGGIES are my saving grace. Sweet potato, brown rice, quinoa and oats for carbs, with the rare piece of fruit in there when the sweet tooth cravings are too much to bear. Lots and lots and lots of water. (Oh, and COFFEE.) I find the less variety I give myself, the more strict I am- less “wiggle room”.
I hear you on that chicken part. I’ve learned to become creative with my cooking. Sautee those veggies in with the meat for one big meal and you don’t know you’re eating veggies. LOL What is a basic cheat meal for you?
Pre-comp: unmeasured piece of meat I don’t usually have, like a nice med-rare steak, yum! Or, an apple slathered in natural PB (chunky, of course) Off-season: about the same, but add some ice cream at the end.
Wow, I have to say or taste are different! I can do medium-well steak at the most. Are there any sacrifices? If so, how do you overcome them?
Oh gosh yes. You don’t realize how much our social interactions revolve around food! I have some great friends who grill me chicken when we go over for dinner or aren’t the least offended if I bring my own food. Sometimes I have to sacrifice hanging out for gym time. The very worst is when I visit my Mom and have to turn down her home cooking or dessert. I also know which restaurants have the salad bars with the best veggie and balsamic selections, so I don’t have to be totally anti-social.
EVERY year when I was prepping and go to visit my mom she would offer me her homemade strawberry pie. I would get SO mad and tell her that she KNOWS I can’t have it.Carry your food everywhere to always be prepared. What do you find to be the hardest part about getting into contest shape and how do you overcome it?
Balancing a ridiculous work schedule with training time and diet. Sometimes, I pull 14+ hr days, which means not training that day. Diet on those days is actually tighter, because everything is pre-packed the night before. If I can, I try to do SOMETHING when I get home, or just make sure my diet is always spot-on. The urge to cheat is very high when your stress level is, too.
I hear you on the stress and the urge to cheat. That’s when “how bad do you want it” comes into play. What is your training split like off-season?
Almost no cardio, per se. Cardio only comes from circuit style lifts or HIIT. I lift HEAVY and do a lot of what the hubby and I call “Renegade” training- think flipping tractor tires, kettle bells, weight vests, big ropes and hitting things with sledge hammers. FUN!! Also, our house and woods got hit by a tornado last year when I was 5 weeks out from a competition-I learned the value of cutting, splitting and hauling wood in a workout routine!
OMG, I’m terrified of tornadoes! I was headed to Joplin just minutes before it was leveled. What is your training life when you are prepping for a contest?
I put on my dirty old hat, giant earphones, loud rock music and get to work. I must look mean, because nobody even tries to talk to me until my lift is done.
There you go. Stylin’ and profilin’ to train. Do you track your personal best lifts and if so, what are they?
I only make a mental note of the Big Three – Bench, Squat, and Deadlift. My goal is to pull 300 , squat 250 and bench, well, more than I can now. I’m getting close.
I was able to hit my maxes a few years back. Get those maxes in, it’s a great accomplishment. What do you do for cardio?
HITT and Plyo workouts are my favorite because they are fun and not monotonous. I prefer to be outside as much as possible otherwise, running, walking or biking. If I’m stuck inside, I like the StepMill, Rower, Jacob’s Ladder or Viper Rope climber- unusual equipment I’m thrilled my gym has.
I’m probably the only one that likes standard boring cardio. LOL I have the Incline Trainer and jack it up to 30-40% incline. Do you have any future competition plans?
Pro-card, here I come!
You are there… You’ve moved up every year, so next season is Pro Card Season! Do you use supplements? If so, what are your favorite supplements?
Pre-workout, I LOVE beta-alanine and creatine, but cut creatine a couple weeks out. Protein powder is a staple. Caffeine, but that is more of a life-necessity than a supplement.
Good supplement line-up. Does your family support your fitness endeavors?
Yes- my husband has competed too (and proud to say, done very well!) and he “gets it”. My family and friends didn’t really understand all this at first, but after coming to a show or two, they now know why I do this and understand the level of dedication it takes.
After my family attended my first show and got to see what it was all about they were even more supportive. So, what hobbies do you have outside of fitness?
I have a zoo at home- 3 big dogs, 2 cats and a rabbit, so a lot of time goes to them. The dogs are unofficial training partners. I also love to ride my motorcycle, garden, and read.
I have 8 cats and 2 dogs, all rescues. They seem to find me… ? LOL What advice would you give someone who wanted to get in such outstanding shape as you are in?
My best advice is that everyone seems to have advice! Do your research and find a reputable source. If a plan seems too good to be true, it is. Expect hard work and there are days it will absolutely suck-just keep going! Don’t be afraid to lift heavy weight. And NEVER let anyone bring you down for wanting this- usually the biggest naysayers are the ones who don’t have the willpower or strength to do it themselves.
EXACTLY! Everyone has advice. Choose ONE person to listen to. How has competing in figure changed your life?
It has amazed me what my body is capable of -in and out of the gym- and now I want to help other people realize this too.
Yeah, it’s amazing how quickly your body can transform with the right figure diet and training. You’re living proof. Do you have any long-term goals in the fitness industry?
To help people realize the endless benefits of exercise and fitness. It truly is a miracle drug. I’m willing to sacrifice my job security as a nurse if it means people are healthy and fit!
Well, you are dedicated to this! If you could give one piece of advice to a first time figure competitor, what would it be?
Just having the courage and tenacity to step on that stage makes you stronger, more fit and more brave than 99% of the rest of the world. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it or diminish your huge accomplishment, no matter where you place in the lineup!
Let their negativity make you stronger. So, anything else you would like to share?
No cheat meal tastes as good as that trophy feels in your hands!
One More Thing…
Do YOU Want to Enter a Competition, too or Just Have the Body of a Competitor? Stop sitting on the sideline…