It's show time at the Jay Cutler NPC Bodybuilding Competition in Richmond Virginia! The hopeful young women in tiny colorful bikinis held together by strands of rhinestones at their narrow hips and between their breasts are air drying their spray tans. Their washboard stomachs and sculpted arms shine while their wrists and earlobes drip with more sparkling babbles. My daughter Alexa is one of these natural fitness and figure competitors and I can only admire the discipline and incredible hard work it took for her to get to this point -- from an average soft shaped 24-year-old 6 months ago to a hard bodied, heavy-lifting competitor waiting for the judging results.
When I proudly show my daughter's professional fitness modeling pictures to friends, a gig she got after her transformation, they all asked -- how did she do it? That question does not have a simple answer since everyone has different goals, body types and nutritional needs. For her, the process consisted of cutting out all sugar, alcohol, processed food, balancing macronutrients and cooking all her own meals at the beginning of the week to carry with her to work -- her full time job as a sales manager -- as well as a six day lifting and cardio workout regimen. She lost 20 lbs. during the weeks of training while eating 7 times a day and drinking over 2 gallons of water each day. She counted food consumed in ounces and time in the gym in hours starting at 4:30am for cardio and again at 6pm lifting weights to build specific muscle groups.
In fact when I took Alexa to Costa Rica with the Yale Club of Charlotte in May to do service work at a women's and children's shelter she fretted about how she could keep up her training as well as help the people in need. Before flying out we researched and found a gym that she could go to lift weights before she spent the entire day at the shelter digging a garden, building kitchen cabinets or repairing windows, then she ran in the afternoon for cardio. With the guidance of her coach, she was able to find foods that fit her planned macronutrient diet along with a couple cheat meals during the few times we ate out.
Charlie, her coach, customized the protein, carbohydrate, and fat content of her diet to fit her specific lifting schedule, muscle growth, and progress schedule leading up to the stage. He gave her daily lifting and cardio plans, and tracked her development through weekly weigh-ins and progress selfies. I nicknamed him Clark Kent since he is an attractive, mild mannered and kindly man with glasses, carefully groomed hair and the hint of an athletic build under his street clothes. When he is competing though, pumped up with oiled skin and dressed only in board shorts, he is transformed into a rippling muscled Superman who has won multiple NPC competitions and is heading to Nationals later this year.
For my daughter's first bikini competition she gave herself only 10 weeks to prepare. I was in the front seating of the auditorium with hundreds of excited noisy fans. She had approached the event as a learning experience, but soon fell in love with feeling strong, looking fit and standing under the stage lights. Out front the competitors glowed under the stage lights with bulging muscles, flawless makeup, exotic outfits and most of all confidence. But the next competition months later I got a backstage pass and the magic was revealed.
Backstage some of the women's flesh jiggled, acne was visible under the foundation and the spray tans were dark enough to hide ethnicity but blotchy if the competitor wasn't careful in the bathroom. Many of the men, looking perfectly proportion from the front, were actually much shorter in person and were beginning to smell even though the A/C was cranked up so they did not sweat off their spray tans. One woman was rumored to have lost 200 lbs. before the competition and I wanted to shake her hand in admiration for her courage.
While waiting behind the curtain the girls glued their bathing suits in place, fastened on acrylic high heels, applied false eyelashes and hair extensions. The slope shouldered smooth shaved male competitors in small blue or purple velvet bikini pouches paced the backstage in that rocking gate resulting from highly developed thighs, dropped to do pushups or rubbed each other down with more gloss. The smoke and mirrors of theater.
So a question pondered during this event was -- is this a sporting event, an art form or just plain entertainment? I came to the conclusion that to me fitness bodybuilding is all of these. The incredible commitment and grueling hours that these participants put themselves through to become conditioned for judging ranks similar to its offshoots of weightlifting and gymnastics, but it has never been officially recognized as a sport.
While the definition of beauty has changed over the decades, from Rubenesque roundness to Twiggy thin, the fascination of an audience to muscular development is something that has occurred thousands of years when the Greeks and Romans built stadiums, including the stone amphitheater in Delphi and the Coliseum in Rome, for viewing feats of strength and competition. Of course these events in the past were only for admiring men's efforts but now women have joined the stage in their own unique way.
Next question, can this approach be used by anyone to lose weight and get in shape? Maybe to some extent but it is not quite so simple as diet changes and working out. The amazing transformation of my daughter's body included not only developing sculpted muscles, hard glutes and a chiseled waist but through posing classes she improved her posture, gained confidence and learned to move her limbs more gracefully. She researched the effects of nutrients, fats and protein and she is now enrolled in a Masters of Nutrition program so she can study the best way to consult and help other people with their health and eating habits. We will have to wait until she graduates for more information since right now we are still celebrating her big win!