One girl's journey into the world of Figure competition

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A No Good Day

There is no disguising a bad day in my books. When it’s a bad day, I tell it like it is and just admit it.

Today sucked.

It wasn’t that anything bad happened, it was just a really long day at work where I still didn’t get everything I wanted to get done, done. I didn’t feel particularly well (I may be coming down with something) and I’m getting kind of tired of chicken.

I stomped through the front door this evening at about 7:30 and my boyfriend was standing there. “I had a horrible day!”  I hollered as I threw down my keys.

He always likes to look on the brighter side of things. As he approached me I said, “I know that I should be thankful for all that I have, for the job that I go to every day, for the paycheck I get, for the people I work with, for all the things in my life, but despite all of that I still had a crappy day!”

I didn’t work out yesterday and took it as a rest day. Today, I had grand plans of working out in the morning, but when the alarm went off my body did not spring into action.

I hit the snooze button and slept for another hour and told myself I would work out in the evening.

By the time I walked out of the office it was 6:45. I had worked non-stop all day. I was exhausted and slightly miffed and to top it all off it was leg day! Ugh. Hard.

The whole way home the only two things that were on my mind were: 1. my job and  2. am I going to workout tonight?”

I had almost talked myself out of it.

After a brief pep talk at home and a few laughs, I decided that I would hit the gym after all. I threw on my shorts, threw back my pre-workout shake and walked down the street.

Someone once told me that you should never be frustrated or angry in the gym. You shouldn’t go there looking to fix yourself, you go to the gym because it is your refuge. It is your place of peace and meditation.

And so I entered the gym and focused. I began with leg presses and fought out all the angry, moved to squats and kicked out all the frustration, then did hack squats where I got out all the negative things in my head, then deadlifts, leg extension and hyperextensions.

I  finished my workout with a smile on my face, two very tired legs and one very happy heart.

I had pushed all of that negative energy out of me; got myself ready to face tomorrow with a smile and a sense of calm and peace.

The gym is a place of renewal and strength for your body and your mind. No matter what you do when you are there, that is your time to focus not only on the outside of your body, but on the inside, where it counts.

And, in case I start to focus on things beyond my control, I have a little soap dish in my kitchen where I keep my sponge that reminds me every day how I should always feel:

How do you keep positive?

 

One Day I Will Grow Up and Be Big

Every once in a while, my Grandmother will laugh and remind me that as a young girl I used to say, “One day, when I grow up and my bosoms get very very big, I will wear a bra.”

While I am still waiting for that big bosom day to come, I find it quite hilarious that I am excited by the idea that one day, as a grown up, when my muscles are very very big, I will wear a sparkly bikini and have an amazingly dark spray tan.

I have been eating like nobody’s business for the past  3 months.  I have put on a considerable amount of weight and am now tipping the scales at 160 (previously 143).

My jeans are tight, I can’t fit into my favorite cocktail dress any more and leggings and black drapey dresses have become my new best friends.

I am not fat.  I am just stronger.

I can’t say that I hate the way that I look, but after years of being “skinny,” I’m still getting used to the bigger, better me.

“How do you think you look?” my trainer asked me the other night as I rested between a set of cleans.  We were both looking at me in the mirror.

I had had a long day at work.  I was sweating and felt bloated.

“I think that this is a skinny mirror and that I look a lot different than what we’re seeing.  I think my legs look really puffy and bloated and big and that my arms look skinny and small. “  He looked at me like I was crazy.  “I mean, I think I’m making progress though…How do you think I look?”

“I can never tell with you, Berry,” he said.  “Some days you come in here and are like, ‘I am a MONSTER’ and then other days you come in and are like, ‘Meh…I feel fat.’”

More often than not, though, I’m a monster.

“You look good.”

When I was warming up, one of the other trainers at the gym who I have been chatting with quite regularly walked out of the men’s locker room and did a double take.  “Lookin’ good!” he said, “Coming along nicely.”

That made me happy.  Looking at my body every day I see changes here and there, but having not seen this guy for 3 weeks and then him tell me he sees progress, too, is a great thing to hear.

I just have to keep on pushing.

My legs are coming along nicely as well as my glutes. My butt has morphed from two pancakes into two dinner rolls.

Disappointingly, my shoulders are the slowest part to develop and also the most important.  I train them like no body’s business but they are slow to arrive.

I was told to add creatine to my diet last week and today rounds out the 7th day.  Just about 3g on average.  My workouts are more powerful and I’m hoping this will help push me into the next muscular development level.  We shall see.

My six pack has vanished but I swear at times I can still see it.  I know this weight will come off in about 3 months when I start prep and I’m excited for it.  I have a strong base that is getting stronger by the day and I know I can make this work.

It has been so long…

For the past two weeks work has been an explosion of – well, work. I have been in the office early and have left the office late. Fortunately, my eating did not suffer but during the first week of work mania my workouts did.

This I cannot tolerate.

I used to be a morning worker-outer and then I started working with my trainer in the evenings. I started to like sleeping in and working out after the work day was done. However, in weeks like the past two, working 12 hour days and then hitting the gym was easy on Monday and completely not workable on Friday.

Last Friday I almost fell asleep on the train ride home and that never happens to me. Saturday and Sunday I was dragging and felt so sleepy but could not sleep. I was stressed about work and dreaming about it, too.

This past week was better. I managed to get in 3 weekday evening workouts and 2 weekend workouts.

Next week, though I have a new plan: Workout in the PM Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday I will rest and then Thursday, Friday , Saturday I will transition into an AM workout when I typically struggle to workout after work.

I hope this works.

I know that I need to be stronger than this. I need to workout even if I’m tired, but why couldn’t I? Why can’t I?

Should I?

How do you deal with getting to the gym when you’re zonked?

Getting Over Office Eating

Don’t get pushed around at work.  Not by people or by situations.

“My biggest problem is when I’m at the office,” one of my friends said to me.  She can eat healthfully while at home, but at the office she has trouble staying on track.

I was confused.

For me, office eating is the easiest thing in the world.  I bring my meals and my snacks and that’s all I eat.  When I’m at home I have the most trouble because I graze, even if it’s just on chicken and protein powder.

“Wait – why?” I asked.

“There is food everywhere!” she said, frustrated.  She told me how every last Friday of the month there is a pizza and cupcake party for all the birthdays that are coming up the following month.  That there is food put out in the kitchen left over from entertaining clients or food left over from corporate lunches and that people encourage each other to eat.

“Healthy eating is not advocated – it’s not the norm in my office or really anywhere!  Why do I feel like I’m the odd-ball for eating healthfully, bringing my meals or for saying ‘no’ to something that I don’t want to eat?”

I think we can all relate.

I have worked in offices where there was hardly ever any food – and so I never ate any food that I didn’t bring. I have also worked in offices where there was food and candy all the time – and I ate it.

We have all had food pushed on us in the office by co-workers, when out with friends or even at home with our families where it feels like it should be the easiest to say “no,” but sometimes isn’t.

While we can’t always change the office culture of food sharing, we can change how we deal with it.  Here’s how I avoid temptation.

1. Let it be known that you are a clean eater
Rather than allow people to push me around in the office kitchen, I made it my business to be the “clean eater.”  We don’t push the vegetarians in our office to eat meat, so why should someone be able to push me into eating something that’s not clean?

When I started my new job in June I told my colleagues that I was a clean eater.  That I ate 5 – 6 times a day and always brought my food.  Rather than keep my goals a secret, I told them, “I’m working towards my six-pack” or “I’m training right now and need to eat a very specific diet” and so when there is an office poll for pizza at lunch, people don’t even ask me anymore because “CB doesn’t eat that.”

2. Always have a meal on hand
Because I pack and bring my meals to work each day there is always a meal waiting for me nearby, so I’m never starved and never looking for food to satisfy me.  I love how I feel and how I look when I eat clean therefore I’m willing to forego the goodies to fill myself with natural, nutritious food when it’s time.

3. Wait it out
If there is food put out by colleagues or friends – wait.  If you wait long enough, the food will either be a) so picked over that it’s no longer appetizing or b) gone.

4. Don’t look – what you don’t see won’t tempt you
“Cookies in the conference room!” someone yells.  This is a message to stay out of the conference room!

5. Pick it up and throw it out
I am not an advocate of wasting food, but this tactic helps when you find yourself with anything you really don’t want to eat in hand.  Have a colleague offer you a cookie that you can’t say no to?  Did you pick up a piece of pizza from the kitchen and get back to your desk and then realize you shouldn’t have?  Throw it out.  Because you can.  If it’s not in your mouth, you didn’t eat it yet and you don’t have to.

I admit that there are some days when I find myself scrounging around in the office candy box.  Before I know it, I’m back at my desk about to unwrap and eat the offending candy.  That’s when I look at it and think, “Is this really worth it?”  The answer is usually, “No way!” and I just throw it out.  It’s pretty empowering.

How do you stay on track at work?

My Pants Feel Like Sausage Casings – And other things I’ve learned while prepping

Who would of thought that part of getting ripped first meant getting a little plump?

When I first signed up for this bodybuilding journey I was expecting to dial up the exercise, dial down the food intake and then see my amazing muscles grow and bulge all the way to the stage.

I, of course, did not understand the science of muscle building at that time.

Cutting and muscle growth are not something you can do in tandem.  You can cut and spare muscle, but you cannot cut and gain muscle.

That was news to me.

Muscles need plenty of energy from food to fuel their growth which happens with caloric excess and cannot happen with a caloric deficit.  You shouldn’t be packing in a thousand more calories a day, but 200-300 over your daily expenditure should do the trick.  And those calories should be good ones, mainly from complex carbohydrates which will increase your glycogen levels to create a favorable environment for muscle growth.

The more I travel down this road to competition, the more I realize how many unfounded beliefs and strange ideas I carry with me about my body and muscle building in general.

I am now travelling down the road to enlightenment

Like many women, I have been hung up on being slender – if not skinny – my whole life.  I have worked endlessly with no real finish line in sight to change my body to look like something I don’t even know if it could.

When I started working with my coach I was 5’10”, 145lbs.  His goal for me was 155.  I couldn’t believe that I was signing up to getting heavier, but I did sign up.

This is me before.

Having suffered through eating disorders in the past, my mind was going a mile a minute trying to be at peace with what I was doing. I could see glimmers of my 6-pack disappearing due to water retention.  My thighs started to touch.

I was sincerely uncomfortable with what I was doing, and my brain was unable to find the rationale behind gaining weight.  I was allowing my body to morph right before my eyes away from what I wanted it to be.

What was I doing?

I did a lot of self-coaching over the next few weeks.  I told myself that although this was uncomfortable, I had never tried to gain muscle by eating more ever before.  I read more online.  I talked more with my trainer.  I found rationale behind his advice.

I needed to gain muscle, so I needed to fuel myself more.  I had to give this method a try, so I pushed on.

I reassured myself that my body is malleable, that my body will be okay and that I can return my body to whatever state I so desire – if I choose – after this is competition is over.

I couldn’t deny my brain that I was seeing my muscles grow, even if they were covered by an extra puffy little layer of body fat.  I now knew that I couldn’t cut back my calories and expect the results I desired.

So I decided to charge on.

It was a Tuesday night.  I was in the gym.  I was doing squats and looking at myself in the mirror as I worked through my last set.  I was staring hard at my legs as I raised up from a deep squat, clenching my butt cheeks.  Are my legs fatter?  Do I look fatter?

And suddenly a switch flipped.  I finished out the set and put the bar on the ground.

No.  I’m stronger and want to be strong and I will continue moving forward and I will not look back.

And I was suddenly over the skinny thing.

I wasn’t going to beat myself up over the fact that my pants were a little tighter.  I wasn’t out of control.  I wasn’t doing anything ridiculous.  I was adding some calories and adding some muscle and this was purposeful.

I want to achieve my goal and so I will do what needs to be done to get there, even if it is slightly uncomfortable for a while.  Even if my pants do feel like sausage casings.

I decided that I was going to let my body do this and then finally my brain decided it was going to do this, too.

And so I am continuing to allow myself to get stronger in every sense.

What have you learned on your journey?

An Intro – Finally

All my posts thus far have been about my meals, supplements and a little bit about motivation, but I recently realized that you don’t know a thing about me or how I got interested in Figure competition.

So allow me to introduce myself:

My name is Christina and I am a 28 year-old fitness loving girl living in the city of New York.  All my life I’ve been into sports and fitness.  I rowed during high school and was recruited to row on the United States Junior National Team my junior year of high school.

I was awarded an athletic scholarship to the University of Virginia where I rowed as a Division I athlete on the varsity team for my first year.  However, sadly, after my first year at college, my love of rowing waned and I made the decision to resign from the team.  Despite losing my athletic scholarship, I decided to stay with the University to continue my studies and to fund myself via academic scholarships.

Brains over brawn.

While rowing was gone from my life, my love of fitness did not disappear and I took up running and signed up for a class on weight lifting as one of my electives.  It was in that class that I learned about creating my own routines, weekly splits and learned the fundamentals of pyramiding and super setting.

I carried my enthusiasm for fitness with me throughout the rest of my college career, into my young professional life up until today, where I became enamored by bodybuilding.

I constantly read about figure competitors: diets, supplements, routines, desiring results like those I saw on the pages of magazines.  I lifted weights diligently and trained on my own for about a year and a half.

I weighed and packed my meals, almost completely eliminated alcohol and did what I knew in the gym.

I found that the more I mentioned to people my goal to compete, the more people started to mention that they knew someone who had competed in the past, so I kept telling people my goal.

I looked for coaches but didn’t know where to begin and just ended up continuing to craft my own workouts, hoping for success.

In early December, I signed up to take a Trapeze Class with some of my girlfriends at a local gym.  Before going I went online and checked out the gym’s amenities and trainers and noticed that one of them trained Figure athletes.

Interesting.

The morning of the class I asked at the front desk if it was true that they had a coach that trained there.  “Yes, he’ll be here later if you want me to introduce you,” the front desk gal said.

“That would be great!”

The rest is history.  We’re now working towards a June show for practice and a September show for placing.

As my father always told me, “You don’t get what you don’t ask for,” and I really feel that I brought this into my life in a positive way.

I believe that I can get there and am excited about my goal to compete.  This journey has already taught me so much about myself and I can’t wait to learn and accomplish even more.

What are you hoping to accomplish this year?

My “Going Out” Clothes

Thursday had come to a close at work and I was doing a quick change in my office bathroom before I met my trainer for our 7:15PM session.

As I  emerged from one of the stalls a co-worker eyed me.  “Going to the gym again?” she asked.
“Yep – hitting the gym again,” I said.
“I guess…oh never mind,” she said as she washed her hands, “I was about to say something that is borderline offensive.”
I looked up at her.  I was crouched on the ground tying my sneakers, “No, go ahead, what were you going to say?” I asked with a smile.
“I was going to say, ‘I guess those are your going out clothes, huh?’”
I laughed, “Well, they kind of are, but I kind of like it like that.”

As I walked to the gym I passed people dressed up and on their way to grab drinks or dinner and the words your going out clothes kept playing back in my head.

Should I be dressed up now, going out, grabbing a drink?  Would I be happier if I were about to get buzzed rather than about to get my butt kicked by my trainer?

My honest answer was no.

At the end of each day I look back and think, “Will I regret any of the choices I made today tomorrow, and if I will, then what do I need to do differently to try to make tomorrow an even better day?”

I rarely regret my decisions, but I can say for sure that I don’t foresee myself ever regretting going to the gym in order to make my goal to compete happen.

I’m so excited to compete this year and every choice I make that helps drive me towards that goal is a worthwhile one.

So what if my going out clothes are sneakers, sweatpants and a tee shirt?  This is me right now – this is me working towards a goal that I want and this kind of going out – going to the gym – makes me feel energized, fit and amazing and while a cocktail can do a lot – it sure can’t do all that.

What’s In My Supplement Cabinet

I’ve taken everything from thermogenics to liver pills in the past thinking that everything I was adding to my routine was making me stronger and more fit.

Yet after discussing my supplement regimen with my trainer, I learned that many of the things I was taking weren’t doing a darn thing.  Most of the supplements in my routine were more important for competitors in the thick of their pre-contest phase, which I was – and still am – not.

My trainer pinpointed a few extras that would help me get to where I need to be – and it isn’t many.  Here’s what’s currently in my supplement cabinet with links to them all.

What’s in your cabinet?

GNC Women’s Ultra Mega Multi-Vitamin
$16.99 at GNC
– I take a multi-vitamin each day to ensure that I’m nutritionally balanced.  This contains calcium and essential vitamins and minerals with no caffeine or other enhancement additives.
– I take 1 serving (2 pills) each day with breakfast.

 

Optimum Nutrition: BCAA Powder
$21.99 at Smartbodynutrition.com 
– BCAAs (Branch Chained Amino Acids) consist of Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine.  Leucine is the king of the BCAAs and is essential in protein synthesis.  They help your body retain muscle while leaning out and help you add lean muscle while bulking.
– Right now I am “mega dosing” doing 20 – 30g of BCAA per day: On training days I take 2 servings of this pre-workout and  2 servings post-workout with my shake.  I will also take 1 serving before bed.  On non-training days I take 2 servings in the AM and 1 serving before bed.

Beverly International: Up-Lift
$34.99 at Smartbodynurtition.com
– Up-Lift is an NO (Nitric Oxide) booster that helps increase blood flow to your muscles to help them last longer and recover faster so you can get more intense lifts in each session and be able to hit the weights again the next day.
– I love this supplement and pay a little more for it because there is absolutely no caffeine.  This means you can take this for a PM workout without inhibiting sleep – a huge plus.
– You can check out the benefits of NO supplements here.

Optimum Nutrition: Hydro-Whey Protein Powder
$31.89 at Vitacost.com
This is something I just started taking.  Hydrolized protein is broken down into smaller pieces so your body can absorb the nutrients faster.
– This is kind of expensive and the jury is out on how much more effective hydrolized protein is, so I ordered the 1.75lb tub and will see if I notice any significant changes. 
I take 1 serving pre-workout and 1 serving post-workout.

Beverly International: Ultimate Muscle Protein
$34.99 at Smartbodynutrition.com
This protein powder contains casein protein, a protein with a slower rate of digestion, and which provides muscles with sustained nutrition over an extended period of time.
 I like to take this before bed to ensure that my muscles have something to chew on for the next 8 hours.  

So there you have it!

As I move into contest prep mode my supplement routine will change, so I’ll keep you posted.  But just keep in mind that you don’t need to put a lot of extra things into your body when you’re looking to change your physique.  Find out what works for you, but do your research first to make sure it’s worth it.

What’s in your supplement cabinet?

I’m Awake!

Sleeping was not easy last night.  A lot of tossing and turning.  I got back from the gym around 10PM (on Valentine’s Day, mind you) after an hour-long commute.

The gym where I train is in Midtown East and I live on the Upper West Side.  After my workout, I throw on my sweats and hop on the bus with my bags full of clothes and empty Tupperware.  It’s an easy (but long) commute with my book or my iPod and offers some nice decompression time and a chance for me to digest my post workout protein shake before my final meal for the day.

Last night was legs, but I was not feeling so hot and was kind of fearing my performance.  

I received a Tetnus shot earlier in the day and had a pretty bad headache (which I never get) and I was feeling nauseous.  I had only been able to eat 3 of my normal 5 meals before heading to the gym because work was insane and I was at the doctor all morning for my physical.

I anticipated a so-so workout, but was able to kick out an awesome one – what a great surprise!  My trainer actually said that he was happy with how my body was changing – exciting!! – and I can see it, too.

We talked about getting me set up to go into pre-contest mode, but we want to see how much size I can get in the next couple of months first.

I feel like I’m getting somewhere and feel good about this partnership.  Not because he’s telling me I’m doing well, but because I can see that this is working.

When I arrived home it was time for some food, so I prepped a scramble of 1 egg with 5 egg whites, arugula, cherry tomatoes and a little tiny bit of mozzarella cheese.  On the side I had two Wasa Light Rye crackers with a little humus and some Beverly International UMP Protein pudding for desert.

After cleaning up the dishes from dinner and washing my Tupperware and shaker bottles from the day, I started to pack my meals for Wednesday only to realize that I had no brown rice or sweet potatoes prepared.  Knowing that I had no choice, I decided to cook all the brown rice left in my apartment (I was not in the mood for sweet potato preparation, nor did I have sweet potato patience).

I jumped in the shower while my rice did its thing and by 11:30 my meals were complete and my rice, gone.

By 11:45 I was in bed with the lights out but my brain would not turn off.  My eyes were wandering all over the insides of my eyelids and I just wouldn’t sleep.

I tossed and turned, I woke up around 2AM, I fell back asleep and then awoke at 6AM on the dot (my alarm was set for 7:45) and I was as awake as I would normally be at noon.

Why, when we have the luxury of sleeping in do our bodies not want to comply?  

So I’m up.  I took some Advil (still had the headache) and ate my protein pancake.  I’ll get an early start today and hopefully hit the sack early.  Today is my rest day and I’m hoping my body will take the rest.

How do you wind down after a PM workout?

Breaking the Fast: Meal 1

For the past two weeks I have focused on eating more in order to gain muscle.  I have been working out with more intensity and resolve, working through my reps and sets to push my muscles to failure and then pumping them full of nutrition to make them grow.

I eat a meal every 2 – 3 hours and target getting about 50% of my daily calories from carbohydrates (sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole wheat bread, oatmeal) and have increased my intake of saturated fats from animal and nut sources – these fats are healthy to eat and help your brain and hormones function normally (watch Fat Head).

As crazy as it seems, I can see my body changing by the day.  My legs are getting more muscular, my arms and shoulders are growing and my back, when flexed, is looking good.

I am changing my body.  

I can’t believe that I  pushed for almost a year to gain mass following a high protein, low carb, low fat diet and a simple change in macronutrient ratios and calories has given me results in only 2 weeks. 

Breakfast (Meal 1) is one of my favorites.  After fasting all night it’s important to refuel your body with enough carbs and protein to stop catabolism (the breakdown of muscle for energy) and give you enough lift for the day.

Below is my routine for Meal 1 on an evening workout or rest day and is a good base for anyone, competitor or health-nut.
1. Upon Waking:
– 8 – 12 oz. water
– 5 – 10g BCAA powder mixed with light fruit juice
– Multi-vitamin
– 1 Activia Light yogurt
– 1 protein pancake (recipe below)
– 1 – 2 cups 1/2 caff coffee with cream (1 Tbs)

Remember that I am targeting 50% of calories from carbs and 15% from fat.

PROTEIN PANCAKE
1. Place 1/2 cup rolled oats, 10 raisins, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 packet of sweeter (optional), 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice into a cup or dish.
– If desired, add 1/2 scoop protein powder.
– Add about 2 – 3 Tbs water depending on your desired pancake moistness.
The oat quantity can be reduced all the way down to 1/4 cup depending on your calorie / carb needs

2. Add 2 whole eggs and 2 egg whites – you can put in as many eggs and whites as you like.

3. Mix it up until the eggs are fully blended and pour the contents into a non-stick frying pan.  You may need to spread the mixture until it covers the pan.

4. Keeping the stove on medium heat monitor the pancake until the top begins to stiffen.  Once it’s no longer runny you can flip the pancake!

After the top side is done cooking, I like to flip it again a few times so that the exterior of the pancake is crispy.

5. Remove the pancake from the pan and cut into triangles.
– You can eat it as is, but I like to spread some Laughing Cow cheese (.5 – 1 wedge) onto the top of the pancake and sprinkle it with some sweetener and cinnamon for a little more flavor.

6. Enjoy!

A word of caution: If you don’t use enough water your pancake will be dry and stiff like the one I made the other morning (below).  It was still tasty…but a little hard.

What do you eat for your Meal 1? 

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