Sunday, November 25, 2012

IFBB Pro Melissa Di Bernardo Interview

Photo Credits:
Photos 1-2: Dan Ray
Photos 3-5: RX Muscle

An athlete all her life, Melissa Di Bernardo took weightlifting and working out to the next level when she first stepped on stage in 2005. From then on she continued to look better and better each time she stepped on a bodybuilding stage. In 2011 she made a wise move and switched to the then new physique division and immediately won her pro card at Nationals. Since then she has done very well on the pro stage including a couple months ago an impressive fifth place finish at the Tampa Pro. On a side note, getting Melissa to do this interview for me is very special because when I myself started bodybuilding, Melissa is the first competitor I became a "fan" of.

Q: Can you talk about how you got started in the gym?
A: I have been playing sports all my life. I started with gymnastics when I was real young, toddler age. I competed from a toddler till high school. In between there I started playing soccer and in high school I was running track. My senior year I didn't run track so I started going to the gym. My boyfriend in high school was into the gym and let me tag along. Through college I was rowing crew for my college and was training through that. When I graduated I started going to a local gym and a couple people said I should compete. I wasn't ready to give up partying and eating crappy food. Finally I decided I was ready to do it. In 2005 I did my first show and the rest is history.

Q: A lot of girls I interview say that after competing it becomes an addiction for them, was that the case with you?
A: I guess you could say that.The very first show I did, I had no business being on stage, I was not ready. I was not in shape and came in fourth out of four girls. It was more saying "let me see what I can do" that first show. When i saw what I should look like, I was pissed at myself and said I was never gonna let that happen. I continued to diet and did another show four months later and won. I guess you could say it was a typical Melissa temper tantrum that got me going.

Q: You recently switched to physique, what was the reason for that?
A: There was personal reasons, physical reasons, quite a few. From the physical stand-point, I just didn't want to get any bigger than I had gotten for bodybuilding. I knew that if I wanted to turn pro I would have to take things to another level that I wasn't prepared to do and didn't want to do. They introduced physique and I couldn't turn down the opportunity to not have to qualify for a National show. I was already dieted down, so lets down-size and loose some of the muscle and try Nationals. From a personal stand-point, my decision to switch really came from a personal side. Being a female and doing bodybuilding, you get the masculine comments. Anyone in the sport is familiar with that. I also work a generally stereotypical masculine job in law enforcement. That coupled with being a bodybuilder, felt like I was losing some sense of femininity. I know people would argue and say that comes from inside, but I was tired of being just one of the guys. I felt like down-sizing would bring back a little of that feminine side of me. That was a big part of it for me.

Q: For physique have you made any drastic changes diet or training wise?
A: Well, when I down-sized, the training differences were drastic. I was doing all circuit-style training. I stopped doing heavy compound exercises. One thing I needed to bring down was my legs, getting my quads down for physique. P.J. (Braun) and I had an image in our heads of what I should look like, it was figure plus, with a little more muscle. I got that and brought that to the pro stage this year and the feedback was to bring my legs up. We went to far in the opposite direction, so my training now, especially this off-season, I have gone back to my bodybuilding style training. Heavy, lots of deadlifts, squats, everything that helped me get dense and muscular for bodybuilding. No more circuits or plyos, back to training like when I was bodybuilding.

Q: You won your pro card at 2011 Nationals, did you ever expect you would actually get it so soon after making the switch?
A: Not at all! In fact, I remember down-sizing and thinking this is the division where I belong, but it would be a long road to turn pro. I figured I would have to put my time in just like trying to turn pro as a bodybuilder or when I was doing figure. When we got backstage and were all checked in and ready for pre-judging, I saw there were almost fifty girls in my class, I turned to my friend Jennie Verde, she won our class, and said "we never stood in a class with this many girls when we did figure, how in the hell are we supposed to stand-out in a class of fifty girls for this?" I was shocked, I was concerned backstage. It was a huge surprise.

Q: When you first realized you were a pro, do you remember what went through your head?
A: It was funny. I don't remember what went through my head, but it didn't sink in. I love the sport and it is a big part of my life, but I knew nothing would change for me. I knew I was gonna get on that plane, fly back to New York and get up to go to work, where no one knows about the status of an IFBB pro. I knew not much would change in that respect. It took awhile to sink in, not till I got on stage at the New York pro for my debut, then it was "well damn, I'm a pro", it took seeing that image of IFBB professional league on the wall with me in front of it. Honestly, it didn't sink in till that first pro show.

Q: Was that first time on a pro stage any different for you?
A: I chose to make my pro debut in New York because that is where I started my NPC journey. The first NPC show was the Atlantic States and I have done that a couple times and Eastern USA's, both as a bodybuilder and figure. So to go back there and make my debut as a pro was unbelievable. I had friends around me, family, it was unbelievable. There is nothing comparable to a New York crowd, New York loves bodybuilders. It was very sentimental. I walked off stage after pre-judge and went to a corner and cried a little bit, cheesy as that sounds, I was just over-whelmed with emotion.

Q: If you had turned pro as a bodybuilder, without the weight classes you would have been one of the smaller girls, does physique help you to compete on a more even playing field.
A: Yeah, absolutely. I feel like I belong in physique. I didn't feel like I belonged in bodybuilding. I love being able to train to grow and stuff, but I knew I was always going to be out-sized on a bodybuilding stage. I worried and thought about "lets say I do turn pro, then what?" As much as I respect the top pro female bodybuilders, I love their physiques, I admire them, but it isn't what I aspire to be, as much as I respect the look, Iris Kyle is amazing, but I knew I would never get to that level. With physique I belong.

Q: Most recently was the Tampa Pro, you took fifth, how did you feel about what you brought to the stage?
A: I feel it was the best look I had all year. For New York, earlier in the year they were rewarding smaller packages, the girls were truly figure with a little more muscle, so we down-sized me even a little more. I wasn't entirely confident with how I looked then and my feedback after New York and seeing that they gave a little more muscle, I went back to the drawing-board and went back to the old bodybuilding style training that puts muscle on me. I came to Tampa with a good look, I was happy with my conditioning, I was sharp, I was on, so considering the short time, I was very happy with how P.J. and I pulled things together for Tampa. Especially because mentally at that point, I was shot, I didn't even know if I would make it to the stage, I felt like I was being dragged. So I was really happy. P.J. is a magician.

Q; Do you know when you want to be on stage next?
A: Yeah, I had thought of taking 2013 off because I was really burnt from 2011 and this season. But I have gotten my off-season together and making the progress that I want, so I really am looking at New York again, I cant pass that up and possibly Orlando if my off-season keeps going well.That is what I am looking at at this point.

Q: As compared to Tampa, is there somewhere specific you want to be better?
A: In general, I could put on a little more muscle. I think i down-sized and they were still trying to put together the look they wanted as far as how much muscle and conditioning for physique. I think that as it progressed they did want a little more muscle and I had fallen behind going with that smaller look. So I am trying to put back on some of the muscle I took off. Definitely bring my legs back up and my glutes. I didn't train legs at all for like seven weeks before New York. I was just doing interval stuff on the step-mill and it showed on stage. My quads were really small. I am under that squat-rack and my quads and glutes will be better. Also trying to widen my back, I have to bring up my back width.

Q: When you are in the gym, do you get any of the unwanted attention or stares?
A: I am pretty oblivious when I am in the gym. I feel like if I don't make eye contact they can not see me. If I do get unwanted or negative stares, I don't notice, I am doing my thing. When people do come up and talk to me, I get positive feedback. Even my off-season, which makes me happy, cause we all struggle with not being in contest shape, at least I do.

Q: If you could spend one day training with any one person that you have never trained with who would it be?
A: Dorian Yates.

Q: Anyone you want to thank?
A: First of all, Species Nutrition and Dave Palumbo for keeping me afloat and supporting and believing in me since 2008. I owe Dave and that company quite a bit, they are very good to me. Also, Matt Johnson and House of Nutrition in Poughkeepsie, he has been a huge help and support, especially since I turned pro, and all the guys at that store, they are great. If I need an ego boost I can go in there and they cheer me up. Of course my coach, P.J. Braun, we have had a roller-coaster from bodybuilding to physique and bringing different looks. One client named him the chess master and it is accurate, he is a great coach and friend. Tammy Patnode and Tiani Norman for being great friends, it is tough to find in this sport.

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