How many of us enjoy going to the gym or a fitness class? Some of us do it to support our chosen sports. For some of us it is stress relief. Some of us want to socialise or escape the kids. Some of us seek longevity. Some of us want to increase our fitness and strength. Some of us actually enjoy it (yes I hear a gasp). And if I dare say, some of us even want to look good. Yes I said it; look good.
Then there are the minority of people who are so passionate about their weight training (just as others enjoy Saturday sport or dinner dates) and what their body can achieve, that they decide to go one step further and enter a bodybuilding competition. The premiership equivalent of the weights room; a challenge that is not for the faint hearted, but one of extreme discipline and hard work; one that rewards months and months of effort and training. But also one that receives much negative feedback at times.
One such person, Sharelle Grant – a past Swan Hill resident who recently won her first (and second just this weekend) bodybuilding competition in the Sports Model category – willingly met with me last Monday to chat about her incredible experience on and off the stage, while also busting a few myths about the bodybuilding scene and the associated stigmas attached to this sport, in particular for females.
As a personal trainer and an endurance event fanatic at heart, I was very keen to delve into the muscle pumping end of the fitness spectrum and what it entails, so when Sharelle said she was happy to chat with me, I was a little more than pumped (and no, I’m not talking about my muscles).
My last recollection of Sharelle was chasing her swift behind at our running group last year, and then the next thing I hear, that same speedy behind is striking a pose on a bodybuilding stage in Tasmania with a trophy large enough to purchase its own plane ticket home. That’s if Sharelle hadn’t already decided to fly the plane home with her own pilot licence. Yes, she is one multi-talented woman!
Always into health and fitness, as well as a keen runner at school, Sharelle started to enjoy attending the gym and Body Pump classes with her mum in her later teens. When asked about the influence her mum had on her healthy lifestyle she is quick to say, ‘she loves it (the fitness).’ Also an avid gym goer, netball umpire, clean eater and someone for Sharelle to regularly share walks with, she is grateful for her mum’s positive influence.
After Sharelle completed the Maxine’s Challenge at the end of last year, she ‘caught the bug.’ She enjoyed the routine and training different muscle groups, and after achieving some fantastic results, a fellow gym user posed the question, ‘have you thought about entering a bodybuilding competition?’
On first reflection, Sharelle thought, ‘no way, get up there in a tight little bikini. No…’ But as she pondered the idea over Christmas – and not one to shy away from a challenge – she gradually leant in favour of having a shot at it. When the decision had finally cemented itself, she revealed its entirety to her boyfriend Luke (a slightly opposed footballer/team sports man) while out for dinner one night. His reply was, ‘I knew you were going to do it.’ Although lacking an understanding of the sport, she had his full support.
Sharelle started discreetly training for her first competition in the New Year – a smaller ANB (a natural Federation that tests for drugs) competition in April this year. Once she confirmed that she would make the event, with only five weeks remaining she announced her intentions to her friends with an Instagram post. She had 50 missed calls that night!
While most competitors attain the coaching services of an expert, Sharelle took a different tact; she coached herself. For her it was about the journey, and she was opting for the more adventurous path. ‘I wanted to learn and I enjoyed anatomy and discovering how the body reacts to things.’ During the process she even picked up on certain foods that she was sensitive to such as lentils.
However, as a nurse and an avidly health conscious person, Sharelle wanted to do it the sensible way. ‘Some girls are so extreme. They have no carbs for two weeks or drink eight litres of water and then have nothing.’ Some of the competitors take to the stage looking so ‘flat’ that Sharelle questions the need to put their bodies under so much unnecessary stress. ‘You can come in looking 5% better or 50% worse.’
Sharelle likes to allow the odd drink or light carbs such as oats or rice cakes depending on the training day, but struggles with the portion size more. ‘It’s all trial and error. Everyone is different. I don’t work well with low carbs.’
Taking on a macro counting approach (better choices) rather than solely calorie counting, she spends the start of the week weighing out a variety of foods such as vegetables, steak, chicken breast, oats and nuts into snack bags for the week. Organisation is the key to success in this sport.
Not only do we share an appreciation of running, but I also discovered on Monday as she spoke about the things she missed most in training, that this ripped 22-year-old is a self-confessed peanut butter addict – not unlike myself – and it is not uncommon for her to demolish a whole jar of the stuff. Admitting she was also a sweet tooth, she said she had missed chocolate at times, but if it wasn’t in the house to tempt her she could resist.
Although, there is no resisting at the completion of a body building competition; with a secret underworld of well-deserved nutella donuts, hot cross buns, a candy bar and endless champagne to celebrate their efforts backstage. ‘It is really fun,’ describes Sharelle.
However, not only do bodybuilders have to follow a stringent eating plan, but their exhaustive weight training programs aimed at sculpting every muscle in their bodies for many tedious hours at a time in the gym is not to be overlooked. The most common thing Sharelle was asked by friends and acquaintances after her success was, ‘how did you do it?’ A simple question that she finds difficult to answer because ‘there is no magic pill. No cookie cutter alternative. I just ate really clean and trained a lot!’
Unfortunately bodybuilding has earned a negative reputation in society, particularly for women. As a minority sport in Australia and a relatively foreign sport in regional areas such as Swan Hill (with only a handful of local people competing in recent years), this is most likely due to lack of knowledge. Common negative stigmas attached to the sport such as being likened to a beauty pageant, self-absorption, drug assumptions (similar to any sport mind you), the idea that it is ‘unnatural’ and widespread thoughts of, ‘what is the point?’ are rife throughout society.
Sharelle’s support from friends and family has been positive, explaining that she has a great support network. Her friends and family see how much she loves it and that is enough for them. Although she claims, ‘it does make you realise who your real friends are.’ While in the bodybuilding world a stage competition is their version of a Saturday game on the netball court, some people ‘think they are simply getting up in a bikini just to show off.’
Heavily criticised as a sport that is judged solely on appearance, we must ask ourselves, who’s judging who? We should be celebrating strong, brave and confident women who are willing to step outside their comfort zones even at the risk of judgement.
However, the aim in a Saturday sporting match is to score the most goals, in a bodybuilding competition the objective is also to score points for endless months of training their defined muscles. That isn’t going to happen while dressed in a snow suit. Both have a goal or a challenge at the end, and whether we understand or not, both are equally as admirable for their hard work, dedication and commitment, regardless of their attire.
Not only judged on their highly trained physiques (approximately 40%), the criteria also includes a portion of marks for stage presence (performance) and for posing (a scientific art form in itself); two areas that also involve a lot of skill and training. You might resemble Arnold Schwarzenegger, but if you can’t present that physique to its full effect on stage you will suffer in the final scores.
Also, with a range of categories such as bikini, figure, physique and the sport’s model category that Sharelle recently won, there are sections for all types of body builders. Her category is aimed at an ‘athletic’ looking competitor; hardly unhealthy.
Gone are the days when being skinny was everything. Often told she had a ‘fat arse’ in her school days, Sharelle’s booty is now considered quite the asset in a culture where views are slowly shifting and diversity is celebrated. As society becomes accepting of different shapes and sizes of women, muscles and curves are now more desirable.
And while others sit back and criticise, Sharelle is quick to praise the efforts of other fellow bodybuilders. ‘I’ve met people who have lost 50kg on this body building journey. If it takes a goal like that to change someone’s lifestyle, what could be better?’ Working in a surgical ward as a nurse, Sharelle sees the effects of an unhealthy lifestyle on a daily basis as patients present for surgical intervention, making her grateful for her own health and wellness choices.
While most people view a bodybuilding competition as a conceited, egocentric and perving spectacle of bare skin and mirror posing, Sharelle describes it as quite the opposite. Everyone appreciates the work that has gone on behind the scenes and people are happy for one another. ‘I have met 40 instant friends since competing,’ she says. Unlike team sports where the aim is to beat the other team, people help each other prepare and ‘it’s nice to have a conversation with someone about something you’ve both been thinking about for months.’ Comments like, ‘look at your delts’ are as ordinary as, ‘that was a great kick.’ And so they should be.
So while many of us fail to understand what the point of bodybuilding is, or even question it as a sport, think about this… What’s the point in chasing people around a footy oval while trying to get a ball through two posts just to say ‘I won?’ What’s the point in bashing someone’s head in the boxing ring for entertainment? What’s the point in driving a car repetitively around a race track ALL day at breakneck speeds with a horrendous noise droning in your ear? What’s the point in running 100 kilometres in pain just to say you did it?
To challenge yourself. To set a goal. To see what you are capable of. Fulfilment. That’s why you do it. What can be healthier than that?
Sharelle is competing in one last competition – a qualifier in Adelaide in mid May – before jetting off overseas for two months. We at 3585livestayplay wish her the very best!