Saturday, October 3, 2009

Interview with Figure Competitor Shelly Howard

It was my pleasure recently to interview Shelly Howard, a Figure competitor who I saw compete at the 2009 IFBB North American Championships in Cleveland, Ohio.

Hi Shelly. My son and I were at the IFBB North Americans in Cleveland (August 29, 2009) and saw you compete. I thought you looked great! I would have had you 2nd (after Silvana Salvati) in the Masters Figure class.

How many Figure contests have you entered in all? (Also, did you compete in bodybuilding before that?)

My first show was the Galaxy (obstacle course/physique show) in 1996 in Venice, California. I had no idea about diet or training back then, just knew I liked competing. There were 200+ girls in that show, and I didn’t even make the top 150! I then pursued my Personal Training degree and did the Galaxy again in 1999, where I placed in the top 15. After that I did 2 bodybuilding shows and placed in the top 5 of each show. Then in 2001 I did a Fitness Show and was hooked on the Figure look, which took hold of me in 2002 until the present.

What made you want to compete in Figure competitions? Do you like being up on stage on contest day, or do you use it as a motivational goal? Or, perhaps, some other reason?

Figure is a more attainable and pleasing look for women, in my opinion. I like being small, tight without too much muscle (AKA, looking “in shape”). I use competing as a way to keep myself in shape. For half the year I’m training and dieting, and then the other half is an “off-time” to enjoy food and my family.

What is your training like? How would your training differ from that of a bodybuilder, if at all?

I used to train exactly like a bodybuilder would; heavy compound movements (bench, squat, rows,etc.). Then about 5 years ago, after the Figure judges kept telling me I looked too much like a bodybuilder, I changed my training technique to more high rep, circuit movements like super-setting lunges with pushups, etc. Since I’ve already put on enough muscle for my frame, I don’t have to lift heavy at all anymore. And during competition prep, my cardio is high: 1.5 to 2 hours per day, 5 days a week.

What has been the reaction of your family and friends to the changes in your physique? I know you are currently living in Okinawa, Japan, so I am particularly interested in knowing the reaction of people there.

My husband has always known me to be a workout fanatic, so he’s not shocked at anything I do! My family gets a little concerned when my body fat gets low (under 10% for my shows) but overall, they are proud of my achievements. In Japan, they are impressed and very respectful of muscularity, especially on women. They always say “Sugoi” which means “great” when they see my arms. Plus being 5’9” here, puts me in the spotlight most places we go off-base.

Do you find that people (outside of competitors and fans) can understand the distinction between Figure and Women’s Bodybuilding? For many, I’m sure you must fit in with their conception of a bodybuilder.

NO! All my friends from high school always ask how my bodybuilding is going. When I try to explain Figure, they ask, “so what do you DO?”

Some Figure competitors have expressed confusion over judging standards for this class. Do you find it confusing, or do you lose any sleep over “what the judges are looking for”?

I used to get very depressed (and angry) after my shows. Especially back when Figure was new, and they kept telling me that I was too big, and too lean. I couldn’t imagine being too IN SHAPE?! But now that I’ve been in it over 8 years, I see the distinction, and frankly don’t like it anymore. The older I get, the more vascular and lean and hard I look when I diet. I cannot fit into the “soft, shapely” look of a 20-something year old. But I’m also not upset anymore. Every year, I get into BETTER shape for my shows. My pictures from show to show improve in my eyes, and that’s all that matters. If I were only doing this to impress the judges, I would have quit years ago.

What can you tell me about your personal training business? It look like from your website ( that you train other Figure competitors. Do you also train non-competitors who just want to get in better shape?

I started out training only non-competitors. Now, the majority of my business are competitors or athletes. My time is very important to me. I need clients who are willing to go “there”… eat and train like I do, or at least give me 110%. I don’t have the patience or time for anything else. Plus, it gives great results and makes my job easier!

If you had to give one piece of advice to someone just starting out in Figure, what would it be?

Research how to eat and train correctly! There’s a lot of information out there. I see so many women doing hours of cardio in the gym without results – wasting so much time and getting frustrated. Find someone who knows how to help get you into shape. Check out their reputation and previous clients. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions about their experience. There are too many “trainers” out there who don’t know what they are doing.

Do you have any other notable interests or hobbies outside of Figure competitions and personal training?

I have two sons; 6 and 3 yrs old. My 6 yr old is now in first grade so we’re experiencing all the extra-curricular things he’s into: gymnastics, karate, boy scouts, etc. I want to be a good, involved mom, so that’s my other passion!

What would you consider as one of your greatest successes in life so far?

Being married for more than 13 years now, and having 2 well adjusted, healthy children. Plus being almost 40 and in the best shape of my life.

What are your plans for the future? Do you have a "next contest" picked out?

After my last show, it was clear to me that my body isn’t what the judges like for Figure. So I’m going to tackle Fitness. If I can get my flexibility where it needs to be, my next show will the Emerald Cup in Seattle WA in 2010. IF I can qualify for a national Fitness show, there’s a MUCH better chance of getting a pro card in Fitness.

Thanks, Shelly! I wish you much success in all your future endeavors.

(Shelly also has a blog: )