For newcomers to fitness, the mountain appears insurmountable. Not only are first timers often out of shape, but there's almost no base of knowledge upon which to build. Unhealthy food habits run rampant, and their circle of friends often includes individuals equally committed to the couch.
Just starting out, the odds of ultimately achieving success may not appear in your favor, but they weren't for any of these individuals we interviewed here either. All three ultimately reached their goals, or have come very close. All three athletes, sponsored by MuscleTech, made the same commitment on day one to be their best and let nothing stand in their way.
Sure, obstacles and challenges arise, and mistakes are made along the way. But at least you can learn from others' errors, which will hopefully speed you back on the path toward fitness.
Meet the three MuscleTech athletes we interviewed!
Justin Robbins, 31, is from London, Ontario, Canada. The former competitive hockey player found that his banking job caused his body weight to balloon. In 2007, he resolved to get in shape. Today, he spends the summer months doing civil construction work in the Arctic province of Nunavut, and working as a security manager at a local nightclub when back home.
Danielle Beausoleil received her master's degree in environment and sustainability from the University of Western Ontario. She won Oxygen Magazine's Fitness Model Search in 2013, and competes in the bikini division on the bodybuilding stage.
Katie Miller is an ACSM certified personal trainer and NASM corrective exercise specialist. She trains clients at Magna Fitness Center in St. Louis and is a four-time top-five national bikini competitor.
What prompted you to begin your fitness journey?
Justin: I started out at the age of 23. At the time, I was very weak, and I weighed almost 250 pounds. I was sick and tired of clothes not fitting, feeling out of shape and lethargic, and the ridicule that came with it. I was into sports prior to gaining weight, and I wanted to do something active again to change my physical appearance.
Danielle: I started playing hockey at the age of 3. I also played soccer and took part in karate, among other sports, growing up. But after college, it became more difficult to commit to team sports, given the travel demands of my work schedule, not to mention some knee problems.
Resistance training enabled me to incorporate fitness into my life in a way that worked. I spent long hours in the gym recovering from a knee surgery, and later changed my focus to fitness competitions. Preparing for those gave my training more purpose and meaning. I did my first show in 2012 and I was hooked.
Katie: I began weight training to compete in my first bikini competition. In the beginning, I was just doing cardio and making up my own weight workouts until I met a coach, Staci Boyer, who got me started in the right direction. My first show was a week before my 21st birthday.
When you first started, where did you find information on proper training and diet?
Justin: I was clueless on dieting. I just knew I had to eat less crap—soda pop and fast food—and stop eating before I was full. Just eating less and cutting out one or two bad things made a world of difference at first. For training, I turned to Bodybuilding.com and followed one of the first articles I saw for beginners. I just did the basics at first, and based on forum recommendations, I started with 20 minutes of elliptical work at the end of my workouts. Later, I found a four-day split that suited my evolving needs.
Danielle: Bodybuilding.com has always been a huge source of motivation and information. I created my own BodySpace profile in 2012 to track my progress. When I got tired of my own routines, I also used the site to find new workouts for specific muscle groups. I especially loved finding cool new diet and training programs for my body type. It's really helped me achieve my goals and stay focused.
Katie: I relied on several sources, including my coach at the time, friends who are fellow competitors, and my university textbooks and professors, since I earned my bachelor's degree in exercise science. Websites like Bodybuilding.com were invaluable, and I still like to read women's fitness publications now and then.
What were your sources of motivation in those early months?
Justin: I had a good support system at the time, including my girlfriend and family. One key motivating factor was that I took very honest "before" photos and posted them online in the Bodybuilding.com forum. I was determined to update the world on my progress, and that held me accountable. To this day, whenever I start a diet, I always snap photos beforehand.
I think the biggest thing that motivates everybody is change. Once you start seeing those changes, you become addicted and just want to see more and more progress.
Danielle: I mentioned Bodybuilding.com in the question earlier, but there are some awesome female influences whom I've always admired, and I still use their recipes. (I'm talking to you, Jamie Eason, and that amazing Christmas dessert.) Creating my BodySpace profile helped keep me motivated, because I was able to track my progress. I'd also get comments and messages of support from others also working to achieve their goals. I am so grateful for the support!
Katie: My sources for motivation in those early months were anyone and everyone who had ever doubted me. Nobody thought I was capable of being successful in fitness at the time, but I was determined to prove them wrong. Nicole Nagrani, Nathalia Melo, and Nicole Wilkins were the three people I aspired to be like.
What mistakes did you make along the way?
Justin: I didn't know much about nutrition, nor did I grasp what constitutes proper exercise form. I wasn't using a full range of motion, I wasn't using proper weights for my strength level, and I wasn't focusing on the muscle contraction. It wasn't until two years later that I discovered the right way to lift weights—and that meant practically starting over, often decreasing the loads to ensure I was doing the movement properly.
Danielle: Early on, I found it difficult to juggle everything on my plate. Fitness became a priority that wasn't flexible. Going to the gym and eating healthy took over my life, and for a while I wasn't allowing myself to enjoy the process or spending time doing other things that were also important.
It took me some time to learn how to allow myself to have a good time and not beat myself up over a cheat food or meal. Since then, I've found a proper balance. Fitness is part of a healthy diet, but I'm in control.
Katie: Mistakes are an opportunity for growth. Perhaps the most significant one I made early on was not having an open mind and taking a my-way-or-the-highway approach to fitness. I realize now that I was wrong. Here's what I tell my clients: There are several ways to make a chocolate chip cookie, and each one will probably get you a pretty delicious cookie.
But you must stick with one recipe from start to finish for it to work out right. The same goes with fitness: There are several approaches you can take, and some better than others. But you have to commit to one all the way through, rather than combining random elements from different approaches.
What were your early goals?
Justin: As funny as it sounds today, my biggest goal was to push 135 pounds on the bench press. Aside from strength goals, I really just wanted to lose weight. I think I had a 50-pound weight-loss goal by end of the year, which would put me under 200.
Danielle: My first goals were to take on a transformation fitness challenge and enter a fitness competition. I did a show, but I didn't place well. I revamped my training over the next year and placed second the next time out, having learned from past mistakes.
Katie: One of my early goals was to earn my IFBB pro card. While that's still my dream, as you grow, you realize the impact you have on others, and the personal growth you achieve is so much more rewarding than simply attaining a status could ever be. I don't believe that earning a pro card necessarily distinguishes you as successful.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when you started?
Justin: For me it was a lack of guidance. I stepped into the weight room staring at the dumbbell rack with this blank look, not knowing what to do. I also didn't know what a proper diet was. I eventually made great strides, but a lack of understanding of basic nutrition concepts really held me back. It took me two years to figure out a diet, and even that was nothing compared to what I know today.
Katie: The biggest challenge I faced when I started was that no one around me understood the world I was entering. I didn't even fully understand it myself, but I did know that I wanted to do whatever it took to succeed. I'm an extremely reserved person by nature, so my friends didn't believe I could ever get onstage in a bikini. My parents thought I was starving myself. My college friends thought I was boring because I never went out and drank with them anymore.
I also worked three jobs in college while taking 19 credit hours in order to pay for my competitions, so I'd say even money was a struggle in the beginning. I will add that everyone around me became way more understanding once they saw how serious I was about fitness. So don't lose hope if you're experiencing some of what I did!
What advice would you offer to others starting on their fitness journey?
Justin: Talk to individuals who've been doing this a long time and get as much information as you can. Don't be afraid to check out online sources, either. Most people in the gym started out just like you did and will gladly offer advice. People I don't know in the gym ask me questions all the time.
My biggest piece of advice is to start everything in moderation. Too many people get too restrictive on their diet and/or go too hard at the gym all at once. They end up hating it. Fitness is my passion, but even I don't like eating chicken salads and doing cardio seven days a week. It's just not realistic, especially if you're not used to doing it.
Start out slow—even if you cut out just one thing from your diet—and just go to the gym. I guarantee you'll see results. Then, fine-tune it from there. If all things remain the same in your life and you add fitness and/or subtract bad food, you will lose weight.
Danielle: I think the best advice is to learn how to balance your new lifestyle. Don't cut yourself off from people who care about you just because their lifestyle isn't the same as yours, and don't give up on your goals for that same reason.
There's so much support in the industry if you look. You're never alone on your journey! Create a profile on BodySpace to track your progress, read about others' successes, and share your stories.
Katie: The best advice I can give beginners is to never stop believing in yourself. Great things take time! Nobody ever got anywhere without failing many times before achieving success. Nothing comes easy; every top competitor in this industry was required to make sacrifices. It's worth it, and you are worth it, so start believing it!