Crystal Saleh - Figure Competitor

How it all started. . .
My journey began in 1996 when I was diagnosed with scoliosis. My diagnosis indicated I had a double curve and needed to wear a Boston brace. I was instructed to wear it for 23.5 hours a day, which lasted a total of 3 years. Throughout my time wearing the brace, I felt cursed; no one would ever understand the pain I was going through unless they suffered from scoliosis.

Once my spine had reached a point of not progressing any further with the scoliosis, I didn't have to wear it any longer. Unfortunately, I didn't take part in physical therapy and my core was extremely weak. I had to learn how to strengthen everything on my own.

Fast forward several years to July 14, 2012, and I had definitely let myself turn into someone I didn't want to be. I completely let myself go; I ended up weighing 211 pounds at 5'3" with a petite frame. I knew I needed to make a change in my life and I decided that it was time to start turning into the best version of myself I could possibly be on my own. From this point in my life until June 20, 2015, I dropped a total of 83 pounds. I did it by teaching myself the basics of the fitness lifestyle through endless hours of research, gathering information from trustworthy resources, learning the importance of eating properly, and putting in the work.

On June 20, 2015, I competed in my very first NPC figure competition and I even brought home a trophy. Throughout my training for the competition, I initially had been focused on winning a trophy because I felt like that was the only thing I should care about; however, I realized that winning a trophy would be nice, but I was actually accomplishing something I had only dreamed of as a child and I was doing it at a disadvantage because I had a condition most competitors didn't even know existed. My winning moment was when I stepped on stage and felt that I was showing the world you can do whatever you want to do in life, even with a condition, deformity, or disability. Life is what you make of it; you can be the victim or take your circumstances and turn them into something productive.

Diet dilemmas.

My diet fluctuates to see what works best for me. I have a difficult time processing carbohydrates and I like to take time in the off-season to make minor adjustments. Iíve tried all kinds of different methods and I typically stick to more complex carbohydrates. When I was beginning my weight loss journey, I focused on high protein, moderate carbohydrates, and low fats. The diet changed drastically when it came time to prep for my first competition and I was consuming a moderate to high amount of protein, low to moderate amount of carbohydrates, and moderate amount of fats. I like to add as much lean mass as possible in the off-season without gaining too much fat, so I donít hesitate to modify my diet to see how my body responds. Iím all about trying new methods to see what benefits me the most.

Iíve tried several competition diets and many failed my expectations because they were far too restrictive. I wasnít eating nearly the amount of food I should have been and it was resulting in my body holding on to fat while losing muscle mass. My diets have all been prepared by coaches and, in my experience, some are better than others. Part of the learning process is determining which coaches have successfully prepped competitors in the past. When I initially started looking for a coach, I wasnít sure where to go and ultimately ended up with someone that didnít fit my needs. Iíve had a mix of online coaches and a local coach. Both types have pros and cons, so choose wisely.

Crystal Saleh
Crystal Saleh

My type of training.

My training program has evolved since I prepped for my competition. I was strictly into the typical bodybuilding mentality of being a bodybuilder and not accepting any other form of lifting. Within the past several months, Iíve been participating in other fitness avenues such as incorporating metabolic conditioning into my workouts. The results are paying off and Iíve noticed an increase in the amount of overall muscle throughout my entire body. Iím leaner than I ever have been in the off-season and itís very encouraging. I like to have at least three metabolic conditioning workouts during the week along with my typical lifting session. Generally, I donít do cardio on those days as the metabolic conditioning supplements the cardio for me. One day a week, I will have a longer metabolic conditioning session of roughly an hour and a half and wonít lift or do cardio that day. Iíve also been incorporating Tabata training, which is very intense.

Balancing training with diet is crucial to the effectiveness of what youíre trying to achieve. Iím at a point where I can tell itís time to modify my diet according to how my body is responding to the type of training Iím doing. I recently had to increase my carbohydrate consumption because the metabolic conditioning was burning my body out and I wasnít able to sustain the same type of intensity. I want to be able to have a functional training mentality and do more than show off my muscles on stage.

The key to self-confidence.

Building self-confidence is a continuous process. Losing 83 pounds was the first step for me to gain the self-confidence to consider competing; let alone stepping on stage. Having the knowledge of what to do on stage as far as posing is concerned definitely played a crucial role with me. My scoliosis does affect how I pose and creates a challenge for me. The way I choose to overcome that obstacle is with continuous posing practice and having a posing coach assist me. I think the more time I spend on stage in competitions will increase my self-confidence because I will gain experience and know what to expect. Being proud of yourself for what youíve achieved is also essential to being able to showcase your physique.

Lights, camera, action!

The experiences from my most recent competition were definitely worth all the dedication, money, sacrifice, and time I had put in to reach that point. I transformed into a better version of myself by learning things I never knew and I couldnít ask for anything more. I think the most important things to keep in mind are to have fun, expect the unexpected, and be proud of yourself no matter where you place. I had gone into the show with the mentality of having to win, but I now know that for my next show I want to do better than I did the first time; itís not all about winning. Winning is nice and having a trophy is great, but the feeling of accomplishing something beyond your wildest dreams is simply indescribable. I never would have thought in a million years I would be on stage competing in a bodybuilding competition, but it was always a dream of mine ever since I was eight years old.

I like to think about the positive influence Iíve had on other people as my real trophy. I canít necessarily put it on my shelf or in a glass cabinet, but I keep it with me all the time. I love the fact that people look up to me as inspiration and motivation to better their lives. I want to help people reach the best versions of themselves as I have done with myself regardless of their situation. Growing up with scoliosis was very difficult for me and I didnít have anyone to look up to because it wasnít something that many people knew about where I lived and the Internet wasnít as popular as it is today. I had to deal with my life the best I could; I focused on my education and read fitness magazines. I strive to be a role model for people to face their fears and accomplish something they never thought they would be able to do in their lifetime. I know how amazing it felt to achieve my goals and I want others to experience the same sense of accomplishment.

What does the future hold?

My future plans do involve competing, but Iím not sure when at this time. I want to reach a place where I feel even more confident in my ability to shine on stage. As far as my diet and training are concerned, I plan on learning as much as possible to enhance my physique. I want to implement other forms of exercise into what I do now. Change is a good thing; experimenting with diet and exercise is critical to learning what works best for you.

A photo posted by ?????? Crystal Making Gainz (@mightymouselifts) on

Contact Information:
Facebook: Crystal Making Gainz
Instagram: @mightymouselifts
Twitter: @crystalgainz

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