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Michelle Hollander has won bikini competitions up and down the east coast. Not your usual bikini competitions though, these have nothing to do with the contests that pop up by the handful in coastal towns during springgg brrreak. These are the competitions that take many months to prepare. The kind that require you to eat six meals a day, work out for three hours straight five to six times a week, and buy $900 swim suits (yes, you did read that correctly). Hollander is well on her way to becoming a professional body builder and, lucky for us, she let me pick her brain about the incredibly intense sport.

Could you tell me a little bit about how you got into bodybuilding?

I was interested in fitness for several years and I started out joining a gym where I was in a women’s group, and I really enjoyed that. The trainer at that gym, I became really good friends with him. He and I evolved into kind of developing and sculpting me on a higher level, so I started working one on one with him more often and kind of got away from the women’s group. A couple years, probably four years into that, I saw a friend that I worked with back in the mid 90’s, who, she’s a little bit younger than I am… I saw that she was going to compete. I watched her transformation, she was always fit and very cute and what not, and to see her transformation was just amazing. I was intrigued by it.

I thought that I was in very good shape at that point, but this kind of took my thought process to a whole new level. So I saw that she did it and I thought, “If she did it, why can’t I do it?” At that point, she had a coach, and then you also have a trainer, so I contacted her coach… that’s who puts together your workout plans, your meal plans, you do check ins with that person to evaluate where your at, what needs to be tweaked, or added, or taken away. I guess that was in September of 2012. So that’s how I kind of got into it. My friend did a show before I did and she did really really well. Her whole scenario just flipped a switch in my head and I was challenged by that.

Were you always a fit person? Did you do athletic stuff in high school?

I was always pretty fit naturally. As you get older your body needs a little help to keep yourself that way. So I went from always looking good, I thought, to starting to work out, and then you see your body start to look really good. Then once you get to a state where you’ve been competing, oh my god, your body is like it’s never been. It’s really exciting and really cool and you’re really proud to get to that point.

I imagine that feels like creating a piece of art. Your body is less of a thing you hang out in everyday and it’s more of a scientific process.

It is! The body does amazing things. Working with a coach and a trainer who have the ability to take that and sculpt that and make that end product. And it is a science. It’s about what you eat, the specific work outs, how often and how much you lift. Eating is probably the most important part of it all. It was a whole process for me to learn all of that. It was really amazing to see it all come together.

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What are your dietary restrictions? What’s your nutrition plan?

Off season, you stay to your eating regime which is a lot of lean protein, a lot of vegetables, healthy carbs in moderation. Then once I get into training, I’m eating six meals a day every two and a half to three hours. Probably two and a half to three hours in the gym five days a week, sometimes six. You usually take one day to let your body rest and recover. Your eating is very rigid and you meal prep once or twice a week so you have your meals. You take your meals with you. You don’t eat out a lot because you don’t have control over what you eat when you eat out. Overall, I’ve learned to incorporate that into my life and I try to tell other people about it because it’s good for everybody. Not everybody can be that rigid and controlling over it, and prep their meals, and carry their meals, but just the rule of thumb of eating healthier. Eating protein first and eating vegetables before you eat carbs… and you can cheat, You get a cheat meal once a week, which is your reward for all the hard work you do.

Give me an example of an average meal you might eat.

A lot of white fish. I cook tilapia a lot. I eat asparagus a lot. Spinach. I eat a lot of chicken, as well. Turkey once in awhile because it’s a lean meat. Red meat every once in awhile, not very often. That goes back to the science of different foods, which I don’t fully understand yet, but red meat does certain things to your body. The leaner your meat is the leaner your body is going to become. Protein is protein though. Your body needs protein. It’s the most important thing you can put into it.

What’s your ideal cheat meal? What do you crave at the end of the week?

Usually pizza.

That makes sense!

I love pizza. It’s an accessible cheat meal. Or you can have a burger and fries. Because your body is so healthy and your metabolism is so high, your body bounces right back from your cheat meal, but the body needs it.

Do you even want that kind of food anymore? Or are you so used to your regimented schedule that you don’t notice?

Your body kind of gets used to not eating that way. A couple of times when I have had a cheat meal, I really didn’t want it. but my coach said, “You need to eat it.” Other times, like at the end of a show, you’re so looking forward to eating everything and anything that you can’t eat normally, and it tastes so good. It’s just wherever your mindset is. When you’re so focused on your show and doing well, wanting to be perfect and better than the last show, in my mind I don’t go to that place where I even want my cheat meals, but you need them.

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You explained earlier that your pre-competition workouts are very intense. What kind of workouts are you doing?

Certain days you work certain muscle groups. You work your legs and your glutes the most, because what I compete in is the bikini division, so you’re very lean. You’re not bulky muscular but you’re very toned and very lean. You definitely work your legs and your glutes the most. Your upper body, your back, your abs, so everything has a day that you do it. Say, for example, on shoulder day you do your lap pull downs, you do lap raises, shoulder press. There’s usually six different exercises you do for each body part. Definitely leg days are the longest and the toughest.

Why is that?

You lift heavy, you try to do as many exercises as you can. You do, say, four sets with 12 reps, so it’s time consuming and lengthy. Most days you’re incorporating some kind of cardio into your regimen, probably 45 minutes to an hour, so that adds a length of time into your workout as well.

How many competitions do you usually do in a year?

I try to do two. You choose which shows you’re going to do in the beginning of the year, and then you can add to them. You travel, so there’s a lot of cost incurred with shows, your suit that you wear, your accessories, the fees for the shows, the cost of your trainer and coach, your meals, your supplements, so it can get quite costly. So if you can do them, it’s great, but also I like to focus. I pick my two shows and focus, so I know I can do them really well and then take some downtime from doing shows to let my body relax and recover to prepare for whenever the next show is.

Do you wish you could do more?

Oh, I would love to do more. Absolutely. It’s exciting, it’s rewarding. You meet so many good people and you get to go to so many good places. It’s just inspiring and it’s awesome to be able to inspire other people. When they see your journey and the training process leading up to a show, they get really excited to see where the end product and what the result is. When you do your shows and you win your shows, it’s a really amazing feeling.

Tell me about your first show. What was it like in the beginning?

It was probably the best experience of my life. I overcame some fears that I had by doing it, like I was always afraid to be in front of people, especially on stage, and when you look out front into the crowd and there’s that many people… but you’re in a zone and it’s just such a high that it’s just amazing. I did really really well on my first show, so that was just something to add to the whole experience. I was beyond cloud nine when I finished that show. Whether I would have done well or not, I think I still would have been in that place. It was such an achievement to have looked the way I looked and felt the way I felt, that I set a goal and I met that goal and then exceeded that goal. I can’t put it to words how great it felt.

How long did it take you to get to the point where you felt ready to do a show?

Three months.

Whoa!

I was already in pretty good shape by the time I decided I wanted to do a show in March. So I started what was called pre-prep, pre-competition prep, which is a twelve week program, so that put me in November, so at that point I verbally committed that I was going to do a show in March, and that show was the Baltimore Gladiator. I spoke it, and it became real. From then on I worked as hard as I could I put forth 150,000% to make sure that I was proud when I got to that point in March.

Is that normal? It seems like such a short period of time.

Yeah that’s normal. There’s people that can do it in three months. Your body does react, when these programs and sculpted and your meal plans are sculpted, and you’re committed, your body reacts very quickly.

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Was having a coach and a trainer necessary to keep you on schedule?

Yes, absolutely. There are people that don’t have a coach, most people have a trainer on some level, but I’ve met several girls who have done it without a coach, but hands down having a great coach is just a tool for success. When you send progress pictures to your coach, the evaluate you and look at you in ways that you don’t see yourself and then they tweak your program. And that’s the key to success. I would never do it on my own.

What would you say to someone who is just started to get interested in this? Is there any key advice you would give?

I would say, make sure that this really is something you can give 100% to, and that you know what you’re getting into before you commit. The costs of it, the discipline and the dedication are the most important things. If you’re not committed and dedicated and willing to do what you have to do you’re not going to do that well. For as much as it costs to be part of this sport, I would say make sure you’re 100% before you commit and move forward.

Could you give me a ballpark estimate on how much is costs to be a body builder on the level that you do it?

Oh my goodness. I’ve chosen not to think about those figures in a total number… I’ll throw some numbers out and you can put it together. My coach was about $1,200 for every twelve weeks, my trainer – because he was a friend I actually got a deal – was $500 a month. You have your food, which is $150 a week. You have your supplements that you buy every month, they could be anywhere from $150 to $300. Then the suit that you buy for competitions… I think I paid $900. You have your travel to the hotel, so that’s a couple hundred dollars there. Your show fees and miscellaneous expenses there, so that might be $500. I think that’s the majority of the cost.

That’s definitely quite the investment.

When I first started my coach did say that financially, you have to be able to afford the sport and I said, “well yeah!” and then when things progressed I found out it really was expensive, but that’s part of what it is.

How are the competition swimsuits different than a normal bikini?

It’s the cut. They’re properly sized to you. It’s the… they have embellishments on them, like rhinestones. They’re really really pretty. It’s the stones, like my suits have swarovski stones on them, so you’re paying for that part of it. Every suit is custom made to you. With every competition your body is different, so if you use the same suit you have to get it resized. You send it back and they rework it for you.

For girls that do wear the same suit, I think I’ve worn the same suit twice, but you can switch out the embellishments on the side to chains or bigger rhinestones. A lot of the cost of the suit is how extensive you want to get with your stones and the rhinestones, because on stage the lights reflect off all of that, and believe it or not, a suit color that you choose, or a suit design, can make or break you. You can be gorgeous. Your body can be on point, but if you choose the wrong color for you, that can make or break your show.

What are your bodybuilding goals?

I want to… Okay so the progression of the circuit is, when you first get into the sport you do a local show, which is called a regional show. You have to win the regional to go to the national level, which is the next step up. Then you need to win your pro card from the national show, and at the pro level, that’s the top level you can get to, besides going to the Olympia and the Arnold and stuff like that. My goal is to get my pro card, for a couple of reasons. It’s a personal goal, and I also want to own and open my own training facility, and getting my pro card would be huge along with my certification and credentials. That would be a key to growing my business at a faster pace. People look at you because you have that, and they respect you. Anybody that knows anything about it knows the discipline and the dedication and the knowledge that it takes to get to that point.

I guess my long term goal would be, aside from myself to help other people evolve into being the best person they can be. That’s kind of my big scope.

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