I was 46 years old in 2016 when I decided it would be a good idea to see if I could whip my semi-fit mom-bod into contest-ready bikini shape. After a lot of internet research during which I found lots of cookie-cutter programs and just as many extreme and bizarre diets, I finally found Joe at Next Level Bikini Prep. He intrigued me because his blog posts about bikini prep are based in science and knowledge of human physiology. He tailors each client’s program to their individual needs. And best of all, he cares about not only his athletes’ physiques, but also their health. As a Registered Dietitian with a career in health care, I knew I couldn’t bring myself to compromise my knowledge, principles, or personal health just to transform my body. But Joe’s approach seemed novel in the industry, so I decided to apply.
Apparently, Joe loves a good challenge too, because he took me on and handed me over to his co-coach, Cherish. This is one wise, razor-sharp, and funny woman! We clicked immediately and within a very short time, she had me pegged in seemingly everything… body type, mindset, work ethic, needs, likes/dislikes, even how far she could push me. I had originally thought that because I wasn’t overweight, I could probably hit the stage within 6 months max. How wrong I was!! I was quickly acquainted to the “building” part of “bodybuilding”… Cherish had me lifting hard and heavy 5 days a week and we built my calorie intake up to 2600. It was a lot of food for a girl who’s lifelong philosophy had been “smaller is better!” But I trusted Cherish implicitly as I knew she was leading me down a path of not only physical growth (I gained 10 pounds during that first building season), but mental and spiritual growth as well. As my body grew and developed, so did my acceptance of myself at a heavier weight. It was a real freedom, which is ironic in this sport of extreme discipline, where the perception is that dieting is the norm.
But in my case, the dieting would come later, and for 6 months I ate in a caloric surplus… REAL food, WHOLE food, HEALTHY food… food I was used to eating. Cherish cared about my diet, and she cared even more that I was healthy. Together we figured out what foods were best for my body, and for the first time in my adult life, I stopped suffering from stomach issues.
We prepped for 3 months prior to my first show to get me to my stage weight, which was ironically within a pound or two of my original weight. (However, I looked much different than when I started!) Prep with Cherish was nothing like the horror stories I’d read about typical bikini prep coaches online. We decreased my calories only slightly every few weeks, and added cardio only as necessary to keep my weight moving in the right direction. I never felt overly hungry, and I was amazed at the high calorie level I “dieted” on for most of the prep.
Eleven months after starting with Coach Cherish, we had done it… we transformed this 47-year-old body of mine from “mom-fit” to “stage-worthy” with excellent programming, nailing macros to a T, hard work, and consistency. I stepped onto an international stage (ANB Universe, Manila, Philippines) and placed 2nd in Master’s and 4th in Open (against girls half my age). I was absolutely floored by my result, and I couldn’t wait to do more.
At Next Level, there is no “off-season”, there is only “improvement season”, and we take it seriously. We jump right back up to maintenance calories (no “reverse dieting”- it makes absolutely no physiological sense) and get right back in the gym to build and refine muscle. Of course, improvement season comes with necessary weight gain back to a normal maintenance level, and after being stage-lean for so long, it can be a hard transition. But every time I had anxiety, Coach Cherish was there to reassure me that I was right on track with where I should be. And my bi-weekly progress pictures showed it. My feedback from my first show was to bring up my hamstrings. We did exactly that, and we also brought up my glutes even more, and refined my upper body to give me an even more balanced look. In drug-free bodybuilding, improvements are subtle and take time and consistency, but Cherish & I could see that my physique was better this year: fuller glutes, smaller waist, and fuller shoulders. I was leaner, tighter, with more muscle maturity. Her programming was perfectly planned throughout the improvement season and prep to bring me in better than ever.
In September of 2018 we were ready to show off the improvements of the past 11 months, and I competed in IFBB Muscle Contest Philippines, where I won both Master’s Over 35 & Master’s Over 40, and placed 3rd in Bikini Novice and Bikini Open (again, against girls half my age.)
Six weeks later, I returned to the ANB Universe stage and won the Master’s 35+ class, allowing me the opportunity to step into the Pro show the following day for the chance to earn my Pro card (placing in the top 3 against the pros wins a Pro card for an amateur.) I did, and I placed 3rd, winning my Pro card. To do this in my second competitive season, as a 48-year old mom of 3 teenagers… well, this far exceeded my wildest dreams, especially given that I was sharing the stage with women closer to my daughter’s age than my own.
Bodybuilding is so much more than “building the body.” It’s also building the mind, strength of spirit, resilience, courage, and discipline. To have a coach who can not only nail programming and macros, but can also get inside her client’s headspace and make a positive impact… that’s where the magic happens. And that’s what’s happened with me, working with Coach Cherish at Next Level. It’s been more than I ever expected, and my life is changed for the better.
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