Paula Heller - Physique Competitor

Paula: Although Iíve been training daily for over 25 years, it never crossed my mind that competing was an option for me. I didnít even begin working out until I was in my mid 30ís and by then I guess I assumed it was too late. In fact, it wasnít until I was in my early 50ís that I set out to join the world of competitive bodybuilding. It all started when I was training at a gym that held ďBiggest LoserĒ competitions, and while I was never heavy, it was fun to be part of the contest. At the end of the contest, they held a photo shoot to showcase our hard work, and I realized how much I enjoyed working towards an end goal and being part of a friendly competition. Also, for the first time in my life (because weíre our own worst critic) I liked how I looked, and felt good about what I had accomplished.

Ever since then, I have been completely dedicated to improving my body and training for competitions. And while I enjoy getting up on the stage on show day, what I really love is the long journey to the stage that takes months of preparation and dedication in order to accomplish my goals. How I place or perform at the competition isnít nearly as important as how much Iíve improved from last year, and how much better that makes me feel.

A photo posted by Paula Heller (@mamap56) on

For me, I then proceeded to seek out a contest prep coach because there was so much I felt I needed to learn. Which taught me so much about dieting, training posing, supplements, choosing a suit, learning a routine, picking music,etc. I donít know that I could have just figured it out on my own.

Most of the year, my diet is clean. I eat healthy, but at the same time, I indulge in fun foods on special occasions. Once I am 6 months out from a show, I diligently follow my diet to a tee. To prepare for competition, I follow Macros and weigh my food at every meal. My Macros numbers change as I get closer to competition, but I typically always have a protein, a carb and a fat at every meal. I have tried low-carb diets in the past, but I have found that when combined with too much cardio, I lose too much muscle mass. Honestly, I think the key to a successful diet program is to always be prepared. I cook and prep my meals early in the week for the entire week, so that I know I will always have my next healthy, balanced meal with me at all times. I leave nothing to chance. I also plan my meals around my workout routine. It is extremely important to have a pre-workout meal with a protein and a carb. Usually for me this is oatmeal with a scoop of protein. It is equally important, if not more so, to have a post workout meal within 20 minutes of my training. This is often oatmeal and eggs.

This commitment and consistency is also crucial in my weight training program. Generally I go to the gym every morning for weight training, and then go back in the evening for cardio. For years I did a traditional one body part each day, and then didnít train that body part again for a full week. Although I found success in this system, it is important to always change your work-out so your body does not become accustomed to it. During this program, for example, I wonít do the same exercises for each body part two weeks in a row. Recently, I changed my routine in hopes of increasing my size. Currently, my training program involves doing each body part twice a week. So for example, when I do legs I would do quads, and then four days later, I would do hamstrings and glutes.

To keep track of my work-outs, each day before the gym, I write out what I plan on accomplishing. That way, I have a record of what body parts and exercises I have done so that I donít repeat them the following week. I generally do 4 sets for all exercises, with reps of 15, 12, 10 and 8. I max out my weight for all body parts, and superset the smaller muscles like biceps and triceps. When Iím done weight training, I am usually so spent that cardio is not an option. For this reason I come back in the evening 4 days a week for 30 minutes of cardio. When itís closer to the show, I replace my cardio sessions with HIIT sessions either on the treadmill, elliptical, or spin bike.

For me, the most difficult part of competitive body building is building confidence to step out on the stage. Some people relish in this moment, but that has never been the case for me. I find it very important to go to posing classes at least a few times before each competition, no matter how long you have been competing. Posing could make or break your performance, and sets the stage for the rest of the competition. I have seen competitors with amazing physiques whose performance has suffered because they obviously have not learned to pose correctly. I also practice my routine every day at least 6 months before a competition because I am so fearful I will forget something, even though I realize nobody would know even if I did.

But I have to admit for the 90 seconds I am on stage, I am continually telling myself to stay calm and focused. And when those 90 seconds are over, it is an incredible feeling of both relief and accomplishment. I think if it was easy for me to step out on that stage, it wouldnít be as rewarding. At the end of a competition, no matter what I placed, I feel extremely proud that I stepped out and held my own because of all my months of preparation and hard work. I also feel proud to be approaching age 59, and looking and feeling as fit as I do.

One show I especially enjoyed was the NPC Big Cat Classic in Allentown, Pennsylvania, which I competed in last October. It was a very well run show, with great expeditors backstage that helped every aspect of the show run smoothly. Athlete check-in was the night before, which helped speed up the process on show day. The next day, everything from the tanning, the makeup and hair, the competitors meeting all ran on time and extremely smooth. They had almost a full gym of equipment available for the competitors to pump up. Even the time scheduled as to who should be pumping up was organized! I was very impressed with how organized the entire show was. I am hoping to do that show again this year.

A photo posted by Paula Heller (@mamap56) on

My plans for the upcoming season are undetermined so far. In February, I had hand surgery and I really thought that I was out of the game for the year. I was completely out of the gym for 7 weeks! I donít think in 25 years, Iíve ever been out of commission for more than a week! By the end of February, I started back, lightly of course, starting with simple machines. I was amazed at how quickly I felt that I had lost strength! It took months just to get back to where I left off prior to the hand surgery! By April, I was training with much intensity and decided that I was going to train as if I were doing a show, eat like Iím doing a show and come September, weíll see where Iím at and hopefully Iíll be ready. I feel Iím on a good path so far, I like the changes going on in my body. My ultimate goal is to achieve my pro card by the time I turn 60. I am fast approaching 59Ö Anything is possible!

Ig- mamap56
Fb- Paula Scarcelli Heller Bryan

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