Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Ashley Howard Interview
Q: First, Ashley, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this.
Q: Can you start out by telling a little about yourself.
A: I was born in California but grew up just south of Fort Worth, Tx. I have a younger brother who is in school in Washington state. My parents live about 20 minutes from me, so I get to see them often.
Q: Before the gym were you an especially athletic person? Play any sports or anything?
A: I have always been involved in some type of sport while growing up, whether it be softball, basketball, or flag football. I was on varsity basketball all four years of high school at a private Christian school and my senior year, our team won state. Now I am a volunteer coach for the girls varsity basketball team at that same high school!
Q: What initially led you into the gym?
A: Even though I was athletic, I loved to eat carbs and chocolate! I honestly had no idea that different foods had different purposes and was vegetarian most of my life. At 21 yrs old, I became a full-time firefighter/paramedic. I am the first and only female firefighter at this city, and in an effort not to cause too much disruption (more than I already had as a woman coming into a "mans world"), I started eating meat, and began learning about how macronutrients worked.
There is a national female firefighter calendar that sends a large portion of their proceeds to burn foundations. I have always been slightly overweight, but hold most of my weight well. When I learned about this calendar, I knew it was something that I had to do! However, there is an application process in order to be selected. I knew that at 5'10" and 186 lbs, I stood a slim chance of being accepted to be a calendar model. I started studying nutrition and began training with another firefighter, who is a personal trainer on his off-shift days. I quickly became obsessed with nutrition and completely changed my diet. I was selected to be in the calendar about 4 months later!
Q: Was training something you picked up fairly easy? How long before you started to see results?
A: I have always known that inside of me was a very tall, lean, athletic girl. I just have had a hard time bringing her out! When I changed my diet and began a meal plan to diet down for the calendar photo shoot, I followed a figure contest prep diet. I was able to lose 37lbs before the photo shoot, which took place in Ft. Lauderdale about 3 months later!
Q: What made you decide to compete for the first time?
A: When I saw that dieting for a contest was simply about choices made and dedication, I knew that it was something I had to try out. I had a very muscular physique under my bodyfat, and am able to hold muscle well. However, for that first contest, I did not have a dietitian, a trainer, or a posing coach. Granted, it was my first competition, but looking back, is kind of embarrassing! I dieted a lot of my muscle off, and was just skinny on stage. I enjoyed the feeling of being lean however, so I continued off-season with a higher carb diet and began to build muscle back on.
Q: Is competing something your family and friends supported?
A: My parents were very supportive, as well as most of my friends. My extended family and some coworkers have had a hard time accepting the change I think. It is definitely a culture shock to a family of vegetarians that aren't big into working out, to have one of their own completely change lifestyles. Now that I have been training for a couple of years though, it has given them time to accept it.
Q: Was competing what you expected or did anything surprise you about it?
A: The lower intensity cardio is probably what surprised me the most. So many people think that you have to run a marathon 7 days a week in order to lose weight. In fact, its just the opposite. Yes, lots of time is spent on the treadmill or Stairmaster, but at an intensity level that isn't society's norm.
Q: Can you share your contest history.
A: So far, I have only done the one figure competition, which was a MuscleMania show in Fort Worth, October 2010. I placed 3rd. I am hoping to wait another year or so, gain some muscle size and lean my mid-section out more before stepping on stage again. When I get back up there, I want there to be zero doubt in my mind that I will take home first place!
Q: As far as body parts, what do you feel is your best one?
A: My legs and arms are phenomenal! I have had great legs since I was a kid, and have always had huge definition in them. My arms came in when I started training hard.
Q: Do you have a part you most like to train?
A: I love to train shoulders!! I have had to build my shoulders up quite a bit this year due to sports injuries and to increase size for figure class, but I love every minute of it.
Q: What is your normal training routine and diet like and how do you alter it for contest prep?
A: I lift 4 days a week, and do cardio for 30 minutes 5-7 days a week, depending on my work schedule.
My lifting split is usually:
Off season dieting for me is almost as dedicated and strict as pre-contest. I concentrate my complex carbs around my first meal and my pre-workout meal. I don't eat much bread or pastas, and try to keep these carb sources unprocessed, such as sweet potato and brown rice. My simple carbs are saved for during my workout and immediately post-workout meals. I keep these carb sources limited to fruit, maltodextrin powder, or the sugars in a protein bar.
The rest of my meals consist of high protein, fat, and fibrous carbs such as green beans or zucchini. I always keep my protein at 1-1.5g/lb through the off season, and increase to 1.5-2g/lb pre-contest. Fats usually take up 20% of my total daily calories, and the rest are the carbs.
During pre-contest, I clean up my diet here and there and become more strict as the weeks go on. No matter if it is off-season or pre-contest, I strive to drink at least a gallon of water each and every day! I was truly impressed with the benefits that drinking water brought, from clearing up my skin, to having more energy, to creating a leaner physique!
Q: When someone sees your physique or hears you compete for the first time, what is the most common reaction? More positive or negative?
A: Everyone seems to be very positive! They are usually highly impressed that I have the dedication and commitment to keep my diet clean and workout. Most people are more shocked that Im actually a firefighter.
Q: When they see it that first time, what is the one question or comment you are most sick of hearing?
A: People will ask what I had to change in my diet and/or workouts to get to this point. When I tell them, they immediately give me an excuse as to why they cant eat right or cant find the time to workout. My response is that I have lost a total of 60lbs from my heaviest point to now, that I work full time for the fire department, part time for a pediatric hospital emergency room, coach varsity basketball 4 days a week plus games, and am in nursing school. Yet, I still find time to eat healthy and go to the gym, even if it means waking up at 3am, which is frequent for me.
Q: What is the biggest misconception about women who train and compete or the one thing you wish people understood?
A: That it really does take a long time to build muscle, maintain it, and to lose fat. Its not an overnight process (even though I, of all people, wish that it was!)
That lifting heavy is not only sexy, but that you aren't going to "bulk up" as a girl from lifting heavier than you think you can. Push yourself!! This is the reason I like to have a trainer. I am not a whiney person in the gym anymore when it gets hard, but if I workout by myself, I am not as likely to push myself further than I should.
Women who lift don't have to look manly. If you take care of yourself, keep your chest up and your shoulders back, and continue to hold onto your femininity, you will end up being the most beautiful woman in the room!
Q: What is the best and worst part of training for you?
A: Best is the endorphin rush you get during a workout!
Worst is when you are exhausted, but you keep pushing yourself until you're done.
Q: Do you have any favorite competitors or any you admire?
A: Nicole Wilkins
Q: Do you have a favorite cheat food?
A: Donuts have been my favorite the last few months! It used to be pizza and cookie dough though.
Q: If another woman told you she wanted to start training, what is the one piece of advice you would most want to give her?
A: That you HAVE to eat! So many girls first words about losing weight are, "I've just got to quit eating so much" Most women don't understand the concept of eating 6, 7, or 8 meals a day to increasing their fat loss.
Q: Do you think its becoming more common for women to use the weights as opposed to just doing cardio and things?
A: I would like to think so, but I'm not convinced yet. Far too many times, I am the only female at the weight rack with the guys.
Q: Outside of training, any other hobbies or activities you enjoy?
A: I love coaching my basketball girls! I also love being outside and doing things such as wakeboarding, snowboarding, four-wheeling, etc. I'm a very spontaneous person and love to have fun!
Q: Can you describe a typical day in the life of Ashley Howard.
A: Hahaha!! Yeah right. I honestly do not have a "typical day" As a firefighter, we work 24 hours on-shift and then are off-shift for 48 hours. During shift, we are doing a lot of busy work and running errands until we catch a call, which might mean we sleep all night, or it might mean we are fighting a house fire for 6 hours starting at midnight.
Off shift, my days are either spent working at the ER, coaching, working out, going to Church, or spending time with my friends and family. I make sure that I don't get too caught up in staying busy and make sure I have time to relax.
Q: Describe Ashley Howard in five words.
A: Happy, Silly, Determined, Tall, Committed
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
A: I am very independent. I can change my own oil, do all my own handyman work around the house, and had my first home built when I was 21. I owe that kind of knowledge and maturation to my dad and the guys at the fire department.
Q: Any set plans for the near future as far as competing or anything else?
A: I am shooting for Europa in Dallas 2012!
Q: Ashley, again, I thank you for taking the time to do this. Any last words before you go?
A: Thank you so much for letting me have the chance to get my opinions out there and hopefully motivate someone else to take a positive step for their health and fitness!