This Girl Is A Woman Now

The crown jewel in Donald Trump’s festival of beautiful woman now complete for 2007, a new Miss Universe has been crowned. Now in the post-season, next year’s pageant hopefuls are already gearing up for the 2008 season of local and state competitions.

Having successfully coached competitors (and even judged a couple pageants) in the past, I still get the occasional question about pageant fitness prep. While many of the girls/women in this subculture are still clinging to old-school training concepts (thighmaster, anyone?) I do still consider working with competitors if they’re willing to put their leg-warmers and leotards away and put on their game-face for a serious training program.

This morning, I received a letter from a young woman who has already had some pageant success as a teen and is about to make the jump to the big-leagues. The following email exchange was edited for space and readability. Identity was removed to protect the innocent.

*** *** ***

Q: Hi! I was searching online for fitness tips for pageants and I came across your website. I won [my state’s] Miss Teen America title in 2005 and this year I will be competing in [my state’s] Miss USA qualifier.

I am happy with my body, but I have never been completely confident in a swimsuit (mostly because of my butt and legs) and would like to be around 125 lbs. My legs are muscular and my thighs are larger than any of my friends’. I like my stomach, but my upper body could stand to be a little more toned. I know you can’t spot reduce, but it’s also really hard for me to drastically cut calories (especially when I’m working out a lot!). I guess my question is, what are your biggest tips for pageant girls?

Signed, Miss X

*** *** ***

A: First, cutting calories is only one way to drop weight (and I’d even call it outdated)… Especially since you are training, the application of TEF (thermic effect of food), nutrient partitioning and nutrient timing are much more effective and healthy methods to manipulate and control body composition. [all are aspects of biochemist/nutrition “guru”, Dr. John Berardi’s program to help you achieve your ideal body through 10 nutritional habits.]

Now, here are my general tips for pageant competitors:

Tip #1) If a trainer/coach requires you send photos of yourself in swimsuit and heels in order to design your training program, I’d recommend you think twice about using his services.

As you already understand, you cannot spot reduce (at least to any meaningful degree). While a “before” picture might be a helpful motivator for you, to base a training program on the idea that you just because you may have “big legs” or “big arms”, then suggest exercises which are supposed to make them “long and lean” only perpetuates the idea that spot reduction really IS possible.

Now if you do find your coaches’ guidance helpful and feel compelled to provide your ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures that can be used for marketing, a swimsuit shot will do a great job of displaying the body but an evening gown pic or even a basic headshot can be just as useful. To require a swimsuit/heels photo just seems a little sleazy to me.

Tip #2) Don’t train like a bodybuilder unless you want to look like a bodybuilder. One of the key concepts of fitness programming is known as the SAID principle: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. Meaning, your body will adapt in an almost predictable way depending on the stimulus you provide.

To help this make sense, here are a few examples:

Person A spends all day sitting in front of a tv/computer. Her abs and hip flexors adapt by becoming short and tight while her back, glutes and hamstrings become longer and weaker.

While it’s not the lifestyle I’d recommend, I admit that frequent repetition of this stimulus will create the ‘perfect’ adaptation for this activity (just don’t expect to get up and move well when it’s time to open another bag of chips)

Person B is a martial artist and she spends countless hours doing a light ‘karate chop’ against a hard surface. In turn, the skin on the edge of her hand responds by becoming thicker, the bones stronger. As the years go by, she can hit progressively harder with less chance of injury to herself because she’s already adapted to THAT stimulus.

Person C is a stereotypical bodybuilder who attempts to isolate individual muscles with the intent of hypertrophy (growth) and muscular symmetry while striving to create her idea of the physical ideal. But (and this is a BIG but!) – bodybuilding competition is largely based on static poses and still photos in magazines, NOT the flowing, natural movements across the stage you’d see in pageantry.

Fitness & Figure competitors training comes close because it addresses not just static posture, but functional movement, too.

*** *** ***

Having just used the “f” word, I’ll add that from a functional standpoint, pageants have their own specific needs that can be addressed through fitness training: stability (I can only imagine trying to look ‘in control’ while balancing in heels!), muscular strength/endurance (specifically through the postural muscles of the ‘posterior chain’) and confidence (if you know you’re putting in more effort than your competition, even if your training program isn’t ‘standard’, you can still gain a mental edge that the judges will pick up on.)Aesthetically, body composition is certainly a concern for many pageant competitors. If you were to you ask 10 coaches for the ‘best’ way to get ‘lean & mean’, you’ll get at least 15 different answers! Generally speaking (and this applies to all-things-fitness), the ‘best’ program is the one you haven’t done yet.

Tip #3) If you do have outside help, be sure you trust your coach/trainer AND you can be brutally honest with him/her. It does you (or the trainer) no good if you say you’re eating/training differently than you really are. Coaches can only make adjustments based on what they can measure and know to be reality.

On the whole, trainers don’t get offended easily and it never hurts our feelings when a client says they didn’t/wouldn’t/couldn’t do something we asked – it just gives us a reason to find a different approach (or sever the trainer/client relationship)

Okay, that’s enough ‘fluffy’ training talk for today… I need to deadlift.

Good luck!


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