New Zealand's premier female bodybuilder, Jo Stewart, has loved bodybuilding for most of her life, and shows no signs of slowing down as she prepares for her third attempt at becoming number one in the world.
As she prepares for November 2006's Masters World Championships in Italy, Jo, 45, reflects on her life in bodybuilding, a sport she considers to be the ultimate challenge - a challenge she has taken head on for the past 15 years.
Competing for the first time in 1992, Jo had finally realized a goal she had planned 10 years earlier. Four years later, she won the New Zealand title, and has not looked back.
Jo now has four New Zealand titles and international recognition as one of the top female competitors in the world. At 45, Jo is an inspiration to women, and men, who want to get into shape the natural way.
Click Image To Enlarge.
Jo Stewart, Kiwi Champion.
As she prepares herself, and the many clients she trains, for physical greatness, Jo is helping to lead the way within New Zealand's physical fitness circles. In the following interview, Jo talks about her life in bodybuilding and gives a run down on her latest competitive plans.
[ DR ] Hi, Jo. Please give the readers some background on yourself: How did you get started in bodybuilding, and what titles have you won? How old are you?
JS: Okay, last question first. I have just turned a frightening 45 years old, but you know, I certainly do not feel 45! I first began bodybuilding training when I was 19 years old and I loved it - but that was short-lived. I got engaged to a non-gym trainer and weight training was not the best idea according to my new fiancé.
I gave up until I was almost 30, focusing instead on running half marathons and triathlons. Once I started back at the gym, just before my 30th birthday, I knew bodybuilding was what I wanted to do.
So I set a goal of training for two years before my first competition, and competed for the first time in 1992. I was determined to win my first event, and I did. It has been a success story since then.
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[ DR ] What is your weight and height?
JS: My weight off-season is 62 kgs, and my height is 5'2" or 158 cm.
[ DR ] What weight do usually you compete at?
JS: I compete in the 52-57 class, weighing in at 54.5 - 55.5 kgs.
[ DR ] What competition are you training for at the moment, and how is the training and dieting going for this?
JS: I am in hard training for the Masters Worlds in Italy (in November of this year, 2006). I have done the Woman's Worlds two years in a row (2004 and 2005), where I placed 7th and 8th respectively.
Both of these places put me half way down the field. I loved the experience so much that I have decided to give Masters one go, and give all I have to give.
[ DR ] Describe the type of training program you currently use. How does this compare to previous programs? What improvements to your initial programs have you made?
JS: I train with my husband who is a very successful bodybuilder himself. We have a fairly no nonsense style of training. Just good hard training and basic compound exercises. We work hard-out every session and there are no secrets. We are just very consistent with my training and nutrition all year round.
I train three days on, one off, two days on, one off, but really I go by how my body is feeling. Of course, when I am close to a contest I do train as much as six-days-a-week.
My job as a trainer also allows me time to double train daily, so I may train smaller body parts alone during the day, and have Mark with me for help during the evening sessions. I also teach Pump classes three times a week, which I love.
[ DR ] What is your favorite exercise and why?
JS: I have lots of favorites, but I do enjoy chins in particular. I am very strong in that exercise, and use full range of motion for every rep. I especially love it when I am at contest weight - who doesn't? - and I rep-out until I think people are getting sick of me showing off. But off-season, sure, I get a little more discouraged at having to pull up more weight, but it is a good challenge.
[ DR ] What physical progress have you made over the years? Do you consider yourself to be genetically suited to bodybuilding competition?
JS: Yes, I do consider myself genetically suited to the sport of bodybuilding. This is why I took it up in the first place. I was always told I was a muscular wee thing, so I used that to my advantage.
Over the years, my symmetry has improved to no end, and I now have what we in the industry call muscle maturity. I am very fortunate in New Zealand to be one of the few females with symmetry and good muscle size on a small frame.
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My Proudest Moment Came Last Year,
When I Came Back To Win The
Nationals Overall Title For The 4th Year.
[ DR ] What presents the biggest challenge to you when preparing for a contest?
JS: I am lucky that I don't find competition diet/training a hard thing at all. Of course, it affects everything else in your life, and it is hard being a working mum and squeezing everything into your day, but that is what I enjoy about competition. I don't mind the stress of it all and I don't mind the diet.
I love going to bed knowing I have done everything I could possibly do that day, to get me the results I long for. I think that the only huge challenge was coming back from the Woman's Worlds, knowing I had to hold my condition for five weeks to defend my National titles.
I have succeeded in doing that, both years, however. Last year was certainly easier than the previous year because I knew I could hold on to it. But as for the whole contest preparation thing, I have the most wonderful home support with my husband and my two eldest children, who help me with my younger child.
[ DR ] Describe your current nutrition program. How does this compare to previous programs?
JS: I think I eat more every year I diet. When I competed before 1996, I used to literally starve myself up to the day of the contest, and go through terrible binge cycles. I always came in ripped, and won my events, but I never looked full for competition, and I always suffered from constant overeating after events.
In 1996, when I met my partner Mark, he taught me how to eat. Now I eat very well through my contest diet, and I don't have a problem with it.
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I am trying to teach the New Zealand girls that we need to eat, not starve ourselves silly, and we need to remain full in muscle, but lean for our events, instead of skinny and flat. It is catching on - I had to pose down with two of my own clients in the Nationals Overall, both of whom came in lean but full.
[ DR ] What has been your greatest competitive moment Jo, and why?
JS: As you could imagine, I just loved my events in Spain. They were tear-spilling events for me, and I was very proud to represent New Zealand. But my proudest moments came last year, when I came back to win the Nationals Overall title for the 4th year.
I won my first Overall National title in 1996, then again 2003, 2004 and 2005. I was confident condition-wise, but also dead scared: I could have been beaten by one of my own clients! But I have to say, I would prefer to have been beaten by either of those two girls, than by anyone else.
It was an awesome moment being on stage with these two girls who I trained. It made me feel very successful as a trainer, to have them there beside me.
[ DR ] The bodybuilding scene in New Zealand seems to be growing. What are some of the good things about being a bodybuilder in New Zealand?
JS: I do a lot of self promotion really. Not to be personally recognized, but to try to show other Kiwi girls that we can do it. I am not scared to approach magazines for anything - even approaching them about interviewing some of my top clients.
I get invited to talk to schools, and have done radio live talkback three times now, where I discussed fitness related subjects. I am now at a place with my career which I really enjoy and benefit from.
[ DR ] What are your views on women's bodybuilding competition in New Zealand? Is it doing fine, or does it need to improve in some areas?
[ DR ] Do you have any secrets to achieving the type of conditioning you regularly bring to the stage?
JS: I have a strong will. It is always in my mind that I don't have any options other than stick to my diet, do my cardio without fail, and train hard every session. I just like to stand on that stage knowing that I have done everything within my power to get there.
I remember back in my 'starve and binge' days, I used to stand on stage and receive my first place trophy and think, "how did I wing that?" Now I have a pure sense of achievement knowing I do it 100%. In New Zealand, we have the "in and out of contest" Drug Testing Program, so my training is done totally natural.
That makes it hard: knowing that you have to be sure of every little supplement you take in case the agency knocks on your door. But it gives me another sense of achievement, as well, knowing that what I have done, I have done for myself. And I love bodybuilding so much - I couldn't give anything but 100% of my best effort.
[ DR ] What do you do outside of bodybuilding?
JS: Oh, life is constantly busy. I wish I could say I get out and try all kinds of adventures that we New Zealanders have access to, but I am afraid that is not the case... I do love to run, however. I run daily - off season or in season. Mostly I run for 30-50 minutes per day, and have been doing so for 30 years.
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We Are Very Consistent With My
Training And Nutrition All Year Round.
With working, training, running, and family time, my days are pretty well taken up. Last year, I had a group of 12 dancers, who I auditioned and prepared for dance routines, which were based around hip-hop, figure posing and Latin American dance.
We entertained at bodybuilding events around New Zealand. They were awesome and we had some fabulous reviews, but that sure took a lot of time out of my year with practices all year round - one to two times weekly. I am having a break from the group this year, but next year it is definitely on the cards.
[ DR ] How long have you been personal training and what is it about this profession you like most?
JS: I have been in the fitness industry now for 15 years, and I love it to bits. I am not based at a gym at the moment, but I do teach classes at a gym. I am having a break from the hour-upon-hour of clients in the gym, but I now work from home, doing training programming, nutrition, and exciting things like cooking lessons, choreography - anything people want really.
We hold "Muscle Weekends" where people come to stay from a Friday through to Sunday night, and we fill them with information, food and training. I love the weekends. Sure they are busy, and we are all worn out by the end of it, but it is very gratifying work!
For us bodybuilders who have been in the business for so many years, the bodybuilding basics seem so easy for us, but just showing someone how to cook their porridge without their egg whites turning to rubber is big help to the average person!
I have had three clients so far today, two middle-aged women wanting to know how to curb their carb intake a bit and what to replace it with, and one drag queen who is growing out of his dresses and needs to lose 20 kgs and build some muscle. So, my days are always different and varied!
[ DR ] What qualities do you feel a good personal trainer needs?
JS: I think a trainer must have a genuine love of the industry, not just for the monetary reward, and they must listen to their clients. You can guide them, but you must listen. I think as a woman training other women, I can understand what a mother, or working woman has to do to fit exercise and sound nutrition into her day.
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It can get stressful and it is not easy if you are not a sporty person naturally. You have to coax the Mums into it, kind of bribe them when the going gets tough - then everything falls into place.
[ DR ] How important, in your view, is a good personal trainer as far as ensuring that one achieves their health and fitness goals?
JS: It is really important. I know if I was not constantly monitoring body fat levels and lean mass, and setting short term goals/conducting fitness tests, then I would lose my clients. I try to always give my clients something to look forward to, and something that is going to challenge them but not scare them off too much.
I know how hard it is to stay focused, but I do it because I love it, and I can only begin to imagine how hard it must be for somebody who truly does not get into the fitness exercise scene.
Quite often my clients will get a random fitness test sent through their email that they must do over the week and report back to me. They get checked up on all the time.
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[ DR ] What would you consider to be the most important variables a woman should focus on when trying to lose weight, and gain muscle?
JS: They need to learn that good food is a priority. If they have not planned, then they will never succeed. I always say to my clients, "you must always know what you are eating the following day - always." Not doing so will mean they might fail to stick to the plan. They may have exercised, but they must learn to eat for full recovery and muscle gain. The rest will fall into place.
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[ DR ] Your posing skills are excellent. How long do you spend on posing? What should one consider when planning their routine?
JS: I study the videos. I have Ms. Olympia videos, and I have studied and studied, but just because I like any one person, this has not meant that I pick her style of posing. Everybody tends to suit their own style.
I love the routines, and I always design mine myself. I have been so disappointed the last two years in Spain, as I have not had the chance to perform - one day hopefully this will happen internationally. My husband Mark is a hard task master with the compulsory posing, and so he should be.
He is very very picky being an National and International IFBB Judge. I have taught aerobics for close to 15 years also, so I am very used to being on stage, so the stage presence has always been there.
What Does IFBB Stand For?
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[ DR ] What is it about being a bodybuilder you like most?
JS: I love the personal challenge of sculpting one's body. Before bodybuilding, I was very fit and could run for hours a day, but I never felt like I do now. Bodybuilding is a very difficult sport, one of the hardest due to the fact that we have to be so disciplined with our nutrition.
But I love the sport with the same kind of love my dad had for his competitive cycling. He has been doing that since he was 17 years old, and he is now in his 70's and still rides the bike. I know that I will love this sport forever.
[ DR ] What would you like to achieve in the sport before you retire?
JS: I would love to place in the top five of an international event. That is my goal for this year. Yeah, I would be very happy with that. I dream that dream every day.
[ DR ] Thanks, Jo, for your great insights, and time. Is there anyone you would like to thank or any sponsors you would like to mention?
JS: Yes, I would like to thank four groups who have been my guardians: the NZFBB for supporting me year after year, and for continuing to encourage New Zealanders to compete in a healthy organization.
Club Physical for allowing me the freedom to train and work from their gyms, who continue to support me as a member of staff. The House of Muscle, which is the newest gym to hit Auckland. I am their sponsored athlete, and they are fully funding me to Italy, and I get very generous monthly package from them.
Click Image To Visit Jo's Website.
Jo's Personal Website.
Lastly, LA Muscle, my supplement sponsors who are helping me to gain the muscle gain I want this year. Also, importantly, my family. They make it so easy for me. So as you can see, David, bodybuilding has been very good to me!
Note: Be sure to check out Jo Stewart's official website: muscle-xpo.co.nz!
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