The truth about body-fitness competitions

Training to be on stage can be a good motivator to get in shape...but for how long?

body-fitness competitions

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I don’t own a Speedo. I’m not planning on buying one either because I’m not about to enter a fitness competition where I pose on stage. This is mostly because I shaved my chest hair once and vowed to never do it again.

Still, competitions can be motivating for some people. It gives them a firm goal to strive towards. They have to focus intensely and work hard at dieting and exercise to look their best on the day they slip into barely-there swimwear, slather on some bronzer-type stuff, and pose on stage in front of an audience of onlookers. That takes more guts than I have.

Heather Yourex, a health reporter for Global TV Calgary, has more guts than I have as a person who has had her stint in fitness competitions. Heather said she went on her first diet when she was 12yrs old. “That was when I started to count calories. After high school my weight climbed up to 175 [which at 5 foot 9 puts her BMI just barely into the “overweight” range], which I didn’t think was too heavy, but I was perpetually trying to lose 10 or 15 pounds. After years of trying to lose this weight and being stuck at 175, I gave up on my diet. I kept exercising but ate what I wanted and ended up gaining 15 pounds.”

Looks like trying to lose weight was what kept her weight stable. I can vouch for the efficacy of such an approach; It’s my perpetual effort to get six-pack abs (which I never have achieved) that has allowed me to maintain a “four-pack”.

“I got up to 190 and then took a leave of absence to travel to South Africa,” Heather told me. “I was living in an area where running outside wasn’t safe and there was no gym, so because of a lack of exercise my weight then hit 205.” At that weight, Heather had moved to a BMI that was considered “obese.”

Heather returned to Calgary and started to get back into an exercise routine. Her friend Tanis, who is a personal trainer and a fitness competitor, offered to train Heather for a competition that was 20 weeks away. She worked hard, but also cheated on her diet regularly. “I was four weeks out and down to 165 pounds, and I knew that I wasn’t going to be lean enough for the competition, so I opted out of competing.” Still, getting down to 165 was a major accomplishment.


Heather then went on vacation and quickly got back to her post-highschool weight of 175 and stabilized there. “I was feeling happier about being at 175 – I still felt a little chubby but I was back to having pretty healthy habits and definitely felt good about not being 205 any more.”

A year later Heather got her chance to compete again. “It bugged me that I hadn’t followed through on the goal and it was a spur of the moment thing. Tanis told me the next competition was 12 weeks away and I was holding at 175 pounds, and I said, ‘You know what? I’m going for it.’”

“I was already exercising three to four times a week, but I instantly went up to exercising hard every day. During those 12 weeks I think I took two days off. Also, my eating was cleaned right up. There were no cheat meals; no junk food and no alcohol.”

Heather’s trainer Tanis had her eating six small meals a day, with lots of lean protein and nothing processed and no sugar. I asked her how she felt about the diet and she said, “I had a problem with cutting out sugar, but I felt really level and in control and happy. It was certainly a good and healthy diet, but the problem was there was no flexibility; it was restrictive. At the time I liked being on this diet, but as I got close to competition I was ready for it to be over.”

In terms of exercise, “I lifted weights, did high-intensity interval training on the treadmill, did boot camps with my trainer, hot yoga, and some slow and steady cardio sessions as well. I did feel like areas of my life were suffering from spending so much time training. I didn’t get to see my boyfriend much and my house never got cleaned.” (I’d rather go for a bike ride than clean house any day.)


On the day of  the competition Heather was an ecstatic 155 pounds. “I couldn’t believe it was me. I felt amazing, but I also knew not to get attached to it because I was sure it wouldn’t last.” And she was right. Shortly after the competition she went on vacation to an all-inclusive resort and lazed poolside while drinking and eating. She was 20 pounds back on in a short period of time.

So Heather had her fitness competition adventure, and as you can see from the photo she did look amazing, but now she’s back to her usual 175 and holding. “I feel like I would look better if I could get down to 165,” she said. “I think always trying to lose that weight is what is keeping me stable at 175.”

Being at 175 certainly is better than 205, and she does it through mostly healthy eating (with some cheating) and regular exercise, so it seems like Heather has found her sustainable lifestyle. Still, another fitness competition could be looming. “I’m toying with the idea of doing another competition next summer,” she said. If she does, maybe she’ll be able to keep her weight at the desired 165 once the competition is over.

If you decide to give fitness competitions a try, they can be good motivators for launching into a healthy lifestyle. In Heather’s case, it got her back to her usual 175 after being 30 pounds heavier. Still, realize that even serious competitors don’t look the way they do on stage year-round. That kind of lifestyle is too hard for most to maintain.

James S. Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, AB. Visit or email him at