When people think about resistance training (i.e., strength training), bodybuilding often comes to mind. Professional bodybuilding, as a competitive activity, focuses on exercise programs designed to develop muscle mass, symmetry, and definition. Both men and women dedicate countless hours at the gym and practice a diet that is as close to clean as possible in pursuit of optimal form on competition day. Corynne Pero, personal trainer and fitness specialist, knows all to well what it takes to be a competitive bodybuilder. With a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a Master’s degree in Advertising, her passion for fitness led her to her dedication to bodybuilding. A career woman, married for seven years (almost eight), Corynne shares a unique perspective on what it takes to become a professional bodybuilder. She shares her thoughts with us today.
1. What made you decide to compete in your first bodybuilding competition?
CP: I was a competitive gymnast for 18 years. I started when I was 3 years old and continued until I was 21. Gymnastics did great things for my work ethic, self-esteem and overall mental and physical development. My greatest reward in regards to gymnastics was that I earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Iowa and was a member of the women’s gymnastics team for 4 years. Earning a scholarship made the aches, pains and all of the money and time invested by my parents worthwhile. When I ‘retired’ from gymnastics I entered grad school, graduated, met my husband and also gained a little bit of weight. Too many pizza nights! I always worked out but once I was done with grad school and had settled into my marriage I realized something was lacking in my life. Competition. I love to compete and since competing and working towards a goal was all I had done for 18 years of my life I missed the thrill of it. My husband would always encourage me to start bodybuilding and after some cohesion and research on my part I went for it. I did one show and the thrill of the experience got me hooked. I earned my pro status in only my second show!
2. What is the most rewarding part about the bodybuilding experience?
CP: I have received many rewards from this sport, not in the shape of medals or trophies, but from the overall experience. I love any form of competition because of the challenge it provides. I like the fact that I can always do better. In training, if I can lift 50lbs, next time I’ll shoot for 60lbs. If I can do 10 reps, next time I’ll shoot for 12 reps. Over the last several years I’ve learned so much about my mind, my body and my limitations. I’ve lifted weights I never thought I could and I’ve found myself to be in the best shape of my life. How many women can say they can deadlift over 300lbs? How many women can bench press 225lbs? Sure there are some out there who can. It takes tremendous work to do this so the pool of women who can do this is very small and I’m happy to be a part of this elite group. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is that I can do more than I think I can. I don’t care about the medals. I care about how disciplined I have become and the level of health I have achieved.
3. What is the hardest part about the bodybuilding experience?
CP: Although bodybuilding offers numerous rewards there are also some struggles. Most people decide to bodybuild because they enjoy spending time in the gym and working on their physique. However, working out is only part of it. For me, the two hardest parts of bodybuilding are the diet and life balance. When on a competition diet, how strict you must be can be tortuous. Unfortunately, with a yummy fast food restaurant on every corner our world does not cater to the health conscious individual. When preparing for competition you have set number of calories you can consume each day, and no matter how hungry you get you can’t go over your caloric allotment! You are basically a slave to a caloric number, your food scale and your food cooler! While those around you are eating enjoyable, yet unhealthy foods, you have to stick to clean foods within your diet. Will power! The low calorie diet coupled with the daily intense workouts leaves you tired and sometimes frustrated. There have been many times when I’ve asked myself why I’m doing this. However as tired as I may be quitting isn’t an option so I continue. The other difficult part of this sport is maintaining balance between the sport and life in regards to work, friends, family and relaxation. With food preparation, multiple training sessions a day, posing practice, and the need for sleep it becomes difficult to not allow the sport to take over your life. Amidst training we still have jobs, husbands/wives, children, family and other commitments that we must still maintain even during prep.
4. Outline a typical training week in preparation for a major competition.
CP: During prep for a major competition the days rush by as a blur. Sometimes I look back on my day or week and wonder how I got through it! I typically train 2-3 times a day, 7 days a week. I’m up at 4am for my first workout which typically lasts about 2 hours. After workout #1 I rush home and head to work. During lunch, depending on how much cardio I need to do that day, I’ll train again doing cardio only as workout #2. Then, for workout #3, I’ll go back to the gym after work for more weight training and cardio. On the weekends I’ll go the gym early for weights and cardio, come home and run errands, and then I’ll go back to the gym once more in the evening. I spend my weekends running errands, resting, preparing my food for the week, grocery shopping, and spending time with my husband and family. I’m busy but once I’m in the thick of contest prep I don’t even think about it, I just make it happen.
5. Being that bodybuilding is traditionally a male-dominated sport, what are the challenges you face as a woman representing this sport?
CP: Luckily I have not experienced much of any criticism or negativity as a woman representing the sport. Sure I’ve gotten comments here and there from people who think women with muscles look too ‘manly’ or are not feminine. However, those comments are few and far between, and the few I do hear do not phase me at all. I must say though the majority of the comments I do receive are people who are intrigued, inspired or simply want to say “Rock On”! In the end, I hold my physique, accomplishments and hard work in high regard and I challenge everyone to push themselves past their limits.
6. Who is your role model?
CP: This answer may seem odd but I don’t have a role model. Not to say that I don’t take inspiration from someone’s accomplishments and the level of success they have achieved but I am my own role model. I look at what I’ve done and am happy with my achievements. I use those achievements to achieve even more.
7. Training and nutrition are equally important in preparing for competition day. Of the two, which is the most challenging component?
CP: Nutrition is by far the most challenging aspect of this sport for me. I absolutely love training and am always motivated to go to the gym. I enjoy living a healthy lifestyle from a nutritional standpoint but the diet of a competitor is a step above simply ‘eating healthy’. Competitors eat as clean as possible and there isn’t much room for the ‘fun’ foods. Since our world seems to cater towards unhealthy foods each day brings on new food temptations that you must walk away from. Whether it’s the dozen donuts someone brought to a staff meeting or having to go out for dinner and drinks to entertain clients. Will power and making smart decisions is always key. Sure I enjoy being healthy and living the way I do but please remember I’m human. I have cravings just like everyone else however I work very hard to ward my cravings off by focusing on my main goal, competing.
8. How would you change the sport of bodybuilding? In what ways would this change benefit athletes in the future?
CP: Some may probably think I’m no fun for saying this but I wouldn’t change a thing about the sport. I love the sport for what it is – a challenge. If I changed anything it may not be a challenge anymore. Many comment that this sport is political and subjective…perhaps it is. However, each sport has its flaws, such as when referees or umpires make certain decisions that others don’t agree with. It’s all part of the game. Take it or leave it.
9. Have you ever suffered from a major injury as a result of training that affected your ability to compete? If so, what happened and how did you respond to the challenge?
CP: I’ve been an athlete since I was 3 years old and luckily I have not sustained any muscle/bone/joint injuries. Do I have aches and pains? Yes! But I’ve never had any injury that forced me to sit out for an extended period of time or had to be repaired with surgery. I train hard everyday however if I notice a lingering pain I’ll take a few days off from training that body part. A few days off and some heat/ice typically does the trick. I’m back at it before I know it.
10. What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone looking to get into bodybuilding to help them become successful?
CP: I wish I could give only one piece of advice but I actually have two and both are equally important. First, I would say it is very important to work with a coach. Not just any coach but a coach you trust and who has a track record of helping athletes get to the stage in a healthy way. Many people step on stage depleted, overtrained, underfed and weak from all of the dieting and training. Being somewhat tired is inevitable but remember your overall goal with this sport is your HEALTH. Research coaches and talk to people they have previously worked with before making a decision. Secondly, remember bodybuilding is just a hobby. It shouldn’t rule your life. Sure, you will have to miss a few things here and there but be sure to hold on to the relationships with family and friends. Once bodybuilding is over you’ll want to have these important people in your life. To be honest, theses are things I continue to struggle with even after 4 years in the sport.
TodaysFitnessTrainer.com is excited to include Corynne to our team of contributing writers. Her background as a bodybuilder, personal trainer, and fitness specialist lend to providing the readers with valuable information. We look forward to learning for Corynne and sharing great content in the future
For more information on Corynne, click here.