This two-time Ms. Bikini Olympia and two-time Bikini International champion opens up to Oxygen.
I wish women in the fitness industry didn’t think they have to look perfect. It seems like they are never really satisfied with the way they look, which is a shame. It is important to enjoy the process of getting fit and making sure you do it in a healthy way.
What’s your favorite bodypart to train?
What is your dream vacation?
“Though I have traveled many places as a pro, my dream vacation would be Italy. The people seem to be very warm and friendly — and of course, the food is amazing!”
Is there anything in life you wish to re-do?
“If there was one mistake I could go back and correct in my life, it would be to learn English before moving to the U.S. from Brazil. It would have made things a lot easier.”
To what do you owe your success?
“In order to be successful, you have to employ mental strategies along with the physical work. I visualize achieving my goals every day as if they were really happening. I even feel the chills of the moment of winning when I see it in my mind.”
Who is your fitness inspiration?
“My inspiration when I started in fitness wasn’t a woman — it was Arnold Schwarzenegger. He came from another country and used bodybuilding to become a legend. He is an example that it doesn’t matter where you come from — that everything is possible when you’re willing to work hard for your goals.”
How would you describe your family?
“We are a fit family. My husband Marco works out, as well, and is a black-belt jiu-jitsu instructor. He definitely lifts more than I do! But I do love to lift heavy, and I always use a Schiek lifting belt to protect my back.”
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These fit females have transformed their lives and are now leading the way for others to do the same.
“It’s crazy to think I’ve been working in fitness for 20 years. Since then, I’ve helped hundreds of women sculpt their dream body and develop a positive mindset to love themselves. Many of my clients are super busy, but I show them that you can turn a crazy pace into a healthier lifestyle that is sustainable. My passion is helping women achieve their fitness goals! I was a fitness expert for Oxygen Australia for 10 years. The research side of fitness excites me because I have a Master of Business degree, majoring in market research. Before I had children, I worked as a marketing director for large organizations.
Now I’m a mom of two children, run my online coaching business, compete in bikini contests, and love my close friends and family. Fitness is something I see as part of my life forever, and I love meeting others and sharing my passion.”
“I’m a 42-year-old fitness enthusiast from Philadelphia with plenty of unseen battle wounds and scars from my fight with binge-eating disorder, which has been a part of my life since childhood. Though I had physically accomplished a number of activities throughout my life — including running two marathons, completing a Tough Mudder and a triathlon, and even stepping on the NPC bikini stage — I still had not conquered my innermost demons.
My goal was to recover from my disorderly eating habit once and for all! Once that was accomplished, my goal changed: to inspire and motivate others to realize that eating disorders can be put to rest and that a balanced life of fitness and well-being can be achieved.”
“As a professional in the wine and fitness industries, my mission is to help people live, celebrate and get fit! My personal experiences with weight loss, bodybuilding and teaching group fitness classes have taught me many of the healthy habits that are a must for living a fit lifestyle. After going from being an athlete in high school to gaining 35 pounds in college, I saw my health, confidence and energy levels decline. I knew I had to make a change.
Through educating myself on nutrition and exercise, I was able to lose the weight and gain my confidence back. It is my mission to share what I have learned so that others don’t have to spend the years it took me to get healthy, fit and confident!”
“I have been a 911 dispatcher for 19 years, and I fell into fitness as a way to escape the emotional pressures that my job entails. This led me to do a few competitions and become a fitness trainer, specifically for first responders. Over the past few years, I have noticed that the amount of suicides within the first-responder family has increased. We have a stigma within our walls that have been passed down from generations before us that we are weak if we ask for help, if we unload the emotional backpack that has weighed us down from years and years of hearing and seeing the worst that society can be. These stressors, along with the stress of 12-hour shifts ranging from all day to all night, take a physical and mental toll.
My mission and purpose are to help first responders improve their physical fitness not only for safety reasons but also to enjoy life after retirement. I also want to build their mental fitness. They will only be as strong as they allow their mind to be!”
Bobbi Parker Hall
“After getting in the best shape of my life at 56 years old, I began my mission to prevent older women from giving up on their bodies as they age. There is a fitness movement that is revolutionizing the way we see aging women, and many stereotypes are being demolished — women no longer have to associate being called “Grandma” with being out of shape and flabby. More and more, I see women who are fit, strong and healthy well into their 70s, and this really excites me!
I love being involved in a movement that changes perspectives like this. Becoming physically stronger helped me to be mentally and emotionally stronger. Feeling more connected to myself gave me the power to care again about my hopes and dreams. It empowered me to take more control of my life and to finally make a few hard decisions I had been putting off for years. Become the mother of your own reinvention!”
Nicole Matthews and Heather Vines-Bright “Imprint”
“We believe that a true transformation begins on the inside and reflects on the outside and that it is the journey of getting there that truly impacts you. We know what it feels like to be lost in our purpose and confused about who we are and what we stand for. We are humbled by our own transformations and inspired by the gift a fit and healthy lifestyle has given us. Our affinity for all things beauty, including makeup and fashion, has paved the way for our styling services.
We want to give back to other women and impress the importance of finding your “why” and acknowledging that burning desire to be something more, something that truly leaves a lasting IMPRINT. We are both motivated and committed to make a difference and share our love and wisdom with others through fitness, fashion and beauty.”
“I am a 47-year-old mom of three, and my love for fitness came as a very young girl. I remember watching bodybuilding shows on TV with my dad. I told him I would be up onstage one day. Long story short, I became a mom in high school — still graduated but put most of my goals and dreams aside to be in that role. Fast-forward 20-plus years, a huge loss in my life brought me to where I am today.
I started competing about eight or nine years ago. It was what I thought was going to be a “bucket list” thing, and then it became a great distraction and addiction all at the same time. Once I saw how my body could transform from one extreme to another, I wanted to keep going. I did my very first competition as a WBFF bikini model, got a few shows under my belt, and then tried a few more in the NPC federation. I continue to compete to this day!”
“I am a weight-loss and fat-loss success story and have been featured on the cover of Oxygen magazine and in FitnessRX for Women. Today, I am a working and traveling professional, bikini model and life coach, but in my early 30s, I was overweight, unhealthy and unhappy. Armed with the decision to change my health for the better, I lost 40 pounds and entered my first fitness competition. The empowering experience launched me into the health and fitness industry, and I have been lucky enough to gain the respect of countless fans and professionals!
My goal is to continue to empower women, spreading the message of loving your body no matter what. I think it’s important that we stop focusing on unimportant things like a number on the scale — that little number used to rule my world! We should be thinking about important things like our real worth and what we have accomplished. Your appearance is just one part of you, and it doesn’t determine who you are or what you are capable of.”
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Division I track athlete and two-time Figure Olympia champion opens up about her enduring love of track, the practice of gratitude and her weekly self-care indulgence.
If I could go back and give my younger self advice, I would tell myself to be kinder, to enjoy life more and to practice being grateful. I think we miss out on a lot by being self-conscious or picking ourselves apart. Gratitude puts things into perspective and delivers happiness.
Once a week, I’ll put on a facial mask and just lie on the couch for an hour — that is my guilty pleasure. It’s kind of fun donning a robe and looking like a sea monster for a little while!
My best memory from my Bikini competition days was in 2012: I won the Figure Olympia, hopped on a plane to New Delhi and won the Sheru Classic. From there, I traveled to Spain and won the Arnold Classic in Madrid. I was able to shake Arnold’s hand for the first time onstage. The entire experience was surreal and a dream come true!
True sport is you versus something tangible, and I loved the challenge of track and field. I could also quickly learn from my failures. For example, if I missed three bars in a row in the high jump, I could review my form, approach and other aspects of the jump and correct them. My sister and I are actually planning to do a few meets in 2019, and my father said he may run the 100 meters, so we can all relive our glory days!
I take MuscleTech Clear Muscle with BetaTOR and Swanson Peak ATP about 30 minutes before I train. BetaTOR can increase muscle synthesis, decrease muscle breakdown and increase strength, while Peak ATP helps improve performance and body composition. Both help me train longer and with more intensity and enable me to recover quicker from hard training sessions.
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You’re only 60 days away from finally making exercise and clean eating part of your lifestyle.
New Year’s is approaching fast, and if you’re like 99 percent of the world, part of your resolution is to get fit/lose weight/eat healthy. Unfortunately, the majority of resolutioners will abandon their healthy goals by March, and so continues the cycle of gym memberships that go unused. So also continues the cycle of quick-fix programs and yo-yo diets, which not only do a number on your metabolism but which also undermine your confidence.
“I have been there,” says Katie Corio, NPC bikini competitor and creator of Oxygen’s Healthy New You online education program. “I have felt the guilt and the low self-esteem that comes with being out of shape. I understand what it is to want to be fit and healthy, but to have it seem so out of reach.”
Stats: Katie Corio
Birth date: August 29, 1993
Weight: 127 lb
Current residence: Del Mar, California
Sponsor: 1 Up Nutrition
Instagram: @cutekatiebug @cutekatiebug_workouts @fitforlift_ig
YouTube & Facebook: KATIECORIOCUTEKATIEBUG
Corio went from being super active to sedentary after she tore her meniscus in a volleyball tournament. Though she did the work to rehab her knee, Corio gave in to the typical college lifestyle — late-night drinking, poor food choices and zero exercise — and quickly lost her physique. “I remember trying on bikinis in the dressing room and noticed how different I looked,” she says. “That’s when I decided I needed to make some real changes.”
Corio hired a trainer who competed in figure competitions and was immediately inspired to do so herself. She did three NPC bikini contests and a powerlifting event and excelled at them all. However, after her last bikini competition, Corio felt horrible. She had stiff, swollen joints and would lie in bed at night in tears wondering why she could not move. The doctors diagnosed her with rheumatoid arthritis and told her to stay away from the gym. “That was like a death sentence to me,” Corio says. “I thought my fitness days were over.”
The lab coats also wanted to dose her with medication, but Corio was reluctant. She researched alternative treatments and decided to try homeopathic remedies and an anti-inflammatory diet to control her symptoms. She continued doing physical therapy exercises to loosen and warm up her joints, and after several months, she was living and training almost completely pain-free.
“This filled me with hope that I could manage my symptoms naturally,” she says. “So I decided to train for a USPA powerlifting meet to prove to myself — and the doctors — that I could lift heavy and be strong with rheumatoid arthritis and that I didn’t need their harsh medications to cope.” Needless to say, she crushed her competition, squatting almost 300 pounds with perfect form and optimal mobility.
Even if you don’t have rheumatoid arthritis or the desire to squat the equivalent of a baby water buffalo, you likely can relate to Corio’s dressing-room drama. “That terrible day of trying on bikinis helped me move forward,” she says. “I was determined to improve my self-confidence and be happy with my body again. My intuition was telling me there were bigger and better things in store, and I fully committed to seeking those out. I didn’t realize at the time that much more than my body was going to change.”
Corio found that the healthier she got, the more her mindset and desires changed. “I started sitting a little taller, looking people in the eye and speaking with more deliberation,” she says. “I transformed from the inside out rather than the outside in. That, I think, is the secret beauty in living a healthy lifestyle: It isn’t just a physical improvement but a total-life transformation.”
Happy New You
This is the transformation Corio wants for you, as well, as the coach of our new 60-day Healthy New You online video program. “I know what it takes to break out of that cycle and can teach people how to maintain their health and fitness long term,” Corio says. “Together, we can turn any resolution into a daily, sustainable lifestyle.”
Corio’s program of consistent exercise and clean eating enables anyone at any level of fitness to succeed. “It’s about finding exercise options that you love and look forward to, and finding recipes and heathy foods you enjoy eating,” she says.
Her workouts are a progressive mixture of total-body training and bodypart splits using simple equipment (e.g., no gym membership required!) so you can do them anywhere, anytime — in 60 minutes or less! Corio also curated her best collection of recipes to share with program participants, and moreover, she will show you how to create your own healthy meal plan. “My step-by-step guide centers around macronutrients and teaches you how to put your meals together in a well-balanced and nutritious way,” she says.
“My hope is that you will use the Healthy New You program as a springboard to living a fit and healthy lifestyle,” she continues. “At the end of 60 days, you will have all the tools you need to make your new, healthy habits a permanent part of your life. Ladies, I got you! No more starting over. We will do this together, once and for all!”
Slow-Cooker Turkey and Sweet Potato Stew
Makes 6 servings
“’Tis the season to get cozy! Warm up with this easy, healthy recipe!” Corio says.
- 1 lb extra-lean ground turkey breast
- 16 oz sweet potatoes, cubed
- 2 zucchini, cubed
- 1 (15 oz) can red kidney beans
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into chunks
- 2/3 cup marinara sauce
- ½ onion, chopped
- 1 tsp garlic, minced
- 1 tsp salt
- cracked black pepper, to taste
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 3 bay leaves
In a skillet, brown ground turkey, breaking it up as it cooks. Remove and put into a slow cooker. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. The liquid level should fill the pot a little more than halfway with ingredients inside; add more chicken broth, if needed, to level out. Cover and cook 4 hours on high, or until potatoes are tender. Remove bay leaves and serve.
Nutrition Facts (per serving): calories 212, fat 1 g, carbs 30 g, protein 21 g, fiber 8 g, cholesterol 30 mg, sodium 468 mg
Ho-Ho Holiday Survival
Here are five tips from Katie Corio for avoiding collateral celebratory damage.
- Pace yourself. Your eyes are usually bigger than your stomach. Eat a small portion and then wait before diving in for seconds.
- Hydrate. A lot of times we mistake thirst for hunger. Drink a full glass of water between each helping of a meal for hydration and appetite control.
- Exercise early. That way, you ensure it doesn’t get pushed back by family plans or lack of energy. Plus, you’re more likely to make healthier choices after a nice sweaty workout!
- One is enough. Don’t deprive yourself of the joy of the holidays. Indulge in dessert but remember that one is enough: Have one piece of pie — not three!
- Plan ahead. If you know you’ll be enjoying a high-calorie, home-cooked meal later in the day, eat light and healthy leading up to that meal.
Resolve to Evolve
Preregister now for the Healthy New You program! You’re only 60 days away from living your fittest life — ever. Go to oxygenmag.com/healthy-new-you and get ready to face down your resolutions!
The One-Plate Glute Workout
Believe it or not, Katie Corio’s glutes were flatter than a flap- jack before she started lifting. After years of trial and error, she found a winning formula that gave her a brag-worthy booty. Here are some of her favorite go-to moves to build gravity-defying glutes.
Do all the exercises in order one after the other. Rest one minute and then repeat for a total of two rounds. Choose whatever weight plate is appropriate for your fitness level.
Pulse Sumo Squat; 15
Plate Swing; 15
Walking Long Step Lunge and Twist; 15 (each leg)
Single-Leg Hip Thrust; 10 (each leg)
Single-Legged Romanian Deadlift; 10 (each leg)
Pulse Sumo Squat
Hold a plate with both hands and stand with your feet outside shoulder-width apart, toes turned out comfortably. Bend your knees and drop your glutes straight toward the floor, stopping when your thighs reach parallel. Rise back up a couple of inches, lower back to parallel and then stand all the way up to complete one rep.
Katie’s Tip: Focus on squeezing your glutes at the top of each rep — exaggerate it even — and go nice and slow for each rep.
Hold a plate with both hands and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees soft. Break at the hips and push your glutes back to swing the plate underneath you and between your legs. As it comes back through to the front, quickly extend your knees and snap your hips forward, creating enough momentum to lift the plate to shoulder height. Guide it down carefully and go right into the next rep.
Katie’s Tip: Don’t round your back as you swing the plate between your legs. Keep it flat throughout.
Walking Long step Lunge and Twist
Hold a plate with both hands at your chest. Take a large step forward, bending your front knee while keeping your back leg straight. Lunge until your front thigh is parallel to the floor, then twist your torso toward the forward leg. Return to center, push off your back foot and bring your feet together. Continue, alternating sides.
Katie’s Tip: Long step lunges target the glutes and hamstrings more than a traditional lunge. Exhale and blow out all your air as you twist.
Single-Leg Hip Thrust
Lie faceup, knees bent, and position a plate across your hips. Extend one leg straight up over your hip and then press down through your grounded foot to lift your hips toward the ceiling, keeping your hips square and the plate centered. Slowly lower to the start and repeat. Do all reps on one leg, then switch.
Katie’s Tip: Changing your foot position changes the emphasis of the move: The closer it is to your glutes, the more you engage your hamstrings; the farther away it is, the more you engage your quads.
Single-Legged Romanian Deadlift
Hold a plate with both hands and shift your weight onto one leg. Extend your opposite leg behind you, then hinge at the hips and lower your torso toward the floor as you simultaneously lift your leg behind you, hips square. When your torso and leg come parallel to the ground and/or you feel a stretch in your standing hamstring, return slowly to the start. Do all reps on one leg and then switch.
Katie’s Tip: Lower the plate over the arch of your standing foot and pull your shoulders back for optimal position and balance.
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Better choices helped Christina Jordan transform her body, reverse diabetes and win a beauty pageant.
For many, Disneyland is “the happiest place on earth,” but for Christina Jordan, it was the most embarrassing place on earth. She was kicked off a ride in front of hundreds of people and her two young kids for being “too big,” just after having been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
“I was terrified because nearly every member of my family was overweight and had diabetes, and several had even died from it,” she says, explaining that she was teased and bullied her entire childhood and suffered from low self-esteem. “I had just had my second child and knew I had to change.”
Cleaning Out and Cleaning Up
Jordan had an unhealthy relationship with food, starving herself all day long while drinking sodas and sugary coffee drinks. At the end of the day, she would come home exhausted, and too tired to cook, she would binge on pizza, french fries and other processed foods.
“Eating was my outlet for self-abuse,” says Jordan, who hid food in her closet and under her bed. “I would eat until my stomach was so full that I would cry. Then as soon as I could eat again, I would.”
When Jordan realized that it was time to make a change, she sat her husband down and asked him to help her stay accountable. Then she purged her home of all junk food. “I actually hated any kind of vegetable or fruit, so I had to force myself to try new foods,” she says.
For exercise, Jordan began by simply taking a brisk walk every night after dinner. Within a year, she had lost 100 pounds and had completely reversed her diabetes. She added hiking, kickboxing, weightlifting and yoga to her routine, and when she got pregnant with her third child, she gained only 27 pounds instead of her usual 90. She lost that weight plus another 30 pounds, and today Jordan does strength training three days a week and yoga and cardio two days a week. Her husband, a black-belt martial artist, remains her biggest advocate. Together, they exercise with their three boys in their home gym and enjoy taking weekend hikes.
A Family Affair
Motivated by her success, Jordan quit her stressful job and went back to school to become a nutritionist. “Because of my transformation, my parents, siblings, cousins and even grandparents are all eating healthy,” she says. “Now our family holidays are hosted at home, and we always have healthy options available.”
In 2017, Jordan wrote her first book, Forever Fit Weight Loss Guide (amazon.com), and she launched a six-week workout program. She also competed in and won her first-ever beauty pageant and now serves as the 2017-2018 Mrs. USA Elite Global Earth.
“I never realized how much I hid behind my weight until it was gone,” says Jordan, who was recently signed by a national modeling agency. “I can do handstands and elevated push-ups, run 3 miles without stopping and hike mountains.”
Christina Jordan/Queen Creek, Arizona
old weight: 271 lb
current weight: 137 lb
occupation: Nutritionist and YouTube host
Swap smart: Replace a bad habit with a good habit. Instead of unhealthy milkshakes and sweets, have a protein shake and go for a walk.
Mini-meals: Before, I would starve all day, then binge on something unhealthy. Now I eat five to six small meals every day.
Start small: If you have a lot of weight to lose, set small goals and accept that this is a complete lifestyle change.
Teach your taste buds: At first, I didn’t like vegetables, but I learned that salad doesn’t have to be boring and that flavoring with various sea salts, garlic and cilantro makes a huge difference.
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Mauri Peterson didn’t let a serious heart condition keep her from pursuing her athletic dreams.
Growing up, Mauri Peterson was an avid gymnast and surfer who thrived on competition. But around age 10, she began suffering from fainting spells and blackouts. She was misdiagnosed with anxiety and hypoglycemia for several years, but then she experienced a cardiac arrest. An EKG determined she had sudden arrhythmic death syndrome (SADS) long QT type 2 — a dysfunction of the heart’s electrical system that causes rapid and irregular heartbeats. Peterson had surgery to implant a defibrillator, which administered a shock to her heart each time it went into arrest.
But perhaps worse for Peterson was the news that came next. “My cardiologists said I could never again participate in physical sports because my heart was unable to sustain a rapid heartbeat,” she says. “I felt sorry for myself and went through a lot of emotional turmoil trying to accept my fate at such a young age.”
Her Heart’s Desire
After high school, Peterson got certified as a personal trainer because she knew her calling was to help others. But even though Peterson had made peace with her diagnosis, she still refused to give up on her own dreams.
“I didn’t want to let my disease define my life or control how I lived,” she says. “So I discussed my desire about competing in fitness with my cardiologists. They had never been up against this disease with someone so young, but they understood that I wouldn’t be fulfilled living a sedentary life.” Together, they devised alternative training options and created a strategic plan that wouldn’t put her at an increased risk: Peterson was to take frequent breaks while lifting weights to control her heart rate and her risk, and while brisk walking was OK, high-intensity interval training was not.
A few years later, Peterson was stable enough to step onstage and win the Miss Muscle Beach 2015 bikini division. “I was in disbelief that I won because it felt like my whole life the world was telling me ‘no’ and that my dream to compete was impossible,” she says. “But here I was, proving it could be done.” She also placed in the top 20 at the 2016 NPC Nationals in Las Vegas.
Because SADS is often genetic, Peterson’s doctors conducted testing on her entire family and discovered that her mother and several of her aunts, uncles and cousins also suffered from the disease and were given defibrillators.
“My No. 1 goal is to bring further awareness to this disease,” says Peterson, whose last cardiac arrest was in 2017. “My mother started a nonprofit, which provides funding to families that cannot afford genetic testing. She is my role model, and I have never met anyone with a bigger heart than her. I love how she has turned this disease into something positive.”
Mauri Peterson/Las Vegas
weight: 130 lb
occupation: Online personal trainer, coach and bikini athlete
Veggie meal: Sweet potato tacos: Fill corn tortillas with sauteed sweet potatoes, cilantro, peppers, garlic, avocado and fresh lime juice.
Coaching mantra: As a society, we need to adopt a mindset of appreciation. Your health on the inside is much more important than how you look on the outside.
Advice: We only get one body and one life, so it’s important to take care of it in the best way possible. Have patience, listen to your body and practice healthy choices.
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Two-time Olympic gold medalist and five-time world champion rower Susan Francia shares sleep’s significant impact on her athletic conditioning and performance.
Oxygen: How many hours of sleep do you get per night?
Susan Francia: I try to sleep about eight hours but usually get closer to six and a half. I’m a night owl. I somehow find a second wind at 10 p.m. Where is that second wind at 4 p.m.? Sometimes I take a 30- to 45-minute nap after work, usually before I work out in the afternoon. It’s the perfect amount of time to wake up refreshed.
Oxygen: How have you adjusted your sleep schedule to cater to your training and travel schedule?
SF: Practice starts pretty early. Nobody told me that when I joined rowing! So I try my best to go to bed early. When I’m traveling, I have to be very disciplined and not take naps. Otherwise, I can’t get a full night’s rest. Especially if I’m changing time zones, I have to adjust as quickly as possible so I can be at my best when I race.
Oxygen: How does lack of sleep impact your performance?
SF: Rowing is an early-morning sport, so it’s the first thing I do. There’s nothing worse than feeling like I’m dragging myself to practice and — even worse — dragging through practice. There’s no food or water or special pill that can make up for lack of sleep (and more importantly, lack of good sleep!).
Oxygen: How have you felt sleep benefits your performance most?
SF: It obviously helps me feel refreshed for the next day’s training, but it has also helped keep me injury-free. I recently got a new Molecule mattress, which has made a big difference. I wake up without any back pain, which I used to experience a lot. And the mattress also has cooling technology that helps regulate my body temperature, so I sleep better. I sweat enough with exercise. I don’t need to be sweating while I’m sleeping!
Oxygen: What is your go-to pre-sleep routine?
SF: I put my phone away before I even brush my teeth. Whether you’re an athlete or not, I think it’s good to go to bed with a clear mind. To get to my “Zen place,” I like to read various historical fiction novels before dozing off.
Oxygen: What are your top strategies that help you sleep better?
SF: Honestly, finding a quality mattress that eliminated my back pain and keeps me cool made a huge difference. I also have an adjustable bed frame (just like grandma!) so I can elevate my upper body and prop my knees up a little. Sleep is such an essential part of our day, and I think we undervalue it!
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For Optimum Nutrition-sponsored athlete Sarah Brown, fitness is a family affair.
For 31-year-old Sarah Brown, health and fitness is a huge part of her family dynamic. So much so that she says, “Our son has been attending bodybuilding and fitness events with us since he was 6 days old! Yes, days!”
It’s no surprise because being active is definitely in Brown’s DNA. As a teen, she dabbled in ice skating and competitive cheerleading, and she even earned a black belt in seidokan karate. Back in 2011 when she went to a bodybuilding show with her husband (who is a bodybuilder), she saw the Bikini division for the first time and thought, Now that’s a great look for me. I want to prep for one of these shows. She asked her husband to train her, and she placed in the top five at the Flex Bikini Model Search in early 2012. “From that point on, I was hooked!” Just five months later, she competed in her first NPC show. “I loved training for something and setting a goal for myself,” Brown says.
After some trial and error Brown, who is sponsored by Optimum Nutrition, developed a practical approach to nutrition. “It took me a while, trying out different diet techniques and playing with my macros to really grasp what works for me,” Brown says. “Moderation and balance are the keys to success. I really had to change the way I looked at food. I made it more of a life change than a diet; diets seem restrictive and immediately make you start craving the foods you know you shouldn’t have. Healthy and nutritional foods make me feel better and more energized. While I enjoy cheat meals from time to time, if I don’t go overboard, I’m able to have them more often and keep from having cravings.”
While managing her salon, working on her clients (she is a cosmetologist), helping her son with his homework, competing and being a wife, Brown still dedicates time to get her training in and prep her meals. “It’s not always easy, but if you make it a priority, you will find a way to get it done,” she says.
Sarah’s Favorite Optimum Nutrition Products
Opti-Women Multivitamin: It’s packed with 40 active ingredients, including botanicals and antioxidants.
Protein Water: Not only does it contain 20 grams of protein, but it’s also conveniently pre-mixed and supports hydration and muscle recovery.
Fitness Fiber: I have this every day mixed with my morning cup of coffee. It provides digestive support and helps me reach my daily recommended intake of fiber, which most people lack.
Essential Amino Energy: I love this because I can use it as anytime energy by taking just a couple of scoops, or I can add a couple of more scoops and use it as a preworkout. It never makes me jittery, and it’s packed full of aminos.
Gold Standard 100% Whey: I love this stuff because there are so many different delicious flavors. It is also very versatile. I love to add it into my oatmeal or pancake mix.
Sarah’s Sample One-Day Meal Plan
Breakfast: ½ cup egg whites, 1 whole egg, 2 slices Ezekiel toast with light spread of honey or spray butter
Snack 1: 2 scoops Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey protein in water
Lunch: 1 fish fillet and 5 asparagus spears
Snack: Optimum Nutrition Opti-Bar
Dinner: 6 oz sirloin steak and 6 oz sweet potato fries, small salad with mixed leafy greens and garden veggies with oil and balsamic vinegar*
*I usually train at night, so I like to have carbs with my last meal on training days.
Learn more about Optimum Nutrition’s complete line of products, here.
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Authentic, ambitious and altruistic, cover girl Massy Arias — aka Mankofit — is on a mission to change the world, one social post at a time.
An estimated 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression, according to the World Health Organization. But despite its pervasiveness, there is still an unambiguous stigma attached to depression that makes it an unmentionable subject of conversation, no matter your race, creed, country or age. In fact, more than 50 percent of Americans don’t seek treatment for the condition, and even fewer admit to having a mental health issue at all for fear of judgment, shame and discrimination.
“Mental health is taboo everywhere, and in my country, we never talk about these things — people just get labeled as crazy, even if they are only depressed,” says the Dominican-born Massy Arias. “But I think we should be open about it, and depression should be treated the same as any other health condition.”
Exercise as Medicine
Arias is the voice of experience. She suffered from severe depression for years, hiding away in her room, sleeping for avoidance and even losing her hair. She tried everything short of prescription medication to assuage her condition, including meditation, hypnosis, herbs and cognitive therapy. Nothing worked until a friend suggested exercise. Arias had never played sports or been to a gym, but she was willing to give anything a try. Within six months, she was a new person.
“When I say fitness saved my life, I mean it,” she avows. “Movement puts you in a very positive hormonal state, changing the chemistry within your body and your brain. I was also occupying my mind with new challenges and was meeting people who were holding me accountable and making me feel good about myself. I had something to look forward to, and my life completely transformed.”
However, feeling those feels was a temporary condition, and within hours of leaving the gym, Arias would come back to earth — hard. “I ended up overtraining because I started craving that feeling of happiness — a feeling which I only felt during exercise or right afterward,” she says. “But once I started building a routine and collected a team of people and friends who helped me over that hump, things got easier. I got certified as a trainer and started teaching group classes, and everything fell into place.”
Sharing and Caring
Wanting to share her experience, Arias opened an Instagram account — a new platform at the time — and regularly posted raw and personal accounts of her struggles, failures and successes in her journey toward wellness.
“When I started exercising, I couldn’t do a lot of things, and people saw that process on Instagram and watched me go from not being able to do a push-up to doing clapping push-ups, not being able to run a full block to running a 5K,” she says. “My social media is not a bunch of curated pictures that look pretty; I don’t sell dreams — I sell reality — and you will find inspiration to keep on moving forward in everything I do.”
Providing a refreshing break from the typical narcissistic and vapid content of social media, Arias’ vulnerable authenticity garnered her rapid popularity, and she soon amassed a global following of millions, helped in no small part by her bilingual posts.
But depression was still lurking within, and after having her daughter, Indie, in 2017, Arias experienced postpartum depression, which renewed her advocacy of exercise as a defensible and valid prescription. “It was tough, but I used the same approach to help treat it as I did before — using movement and healthy food as medicine,” she says. “As long as I continue moving and eating well, I will continue to rise above my depression.”
Using this all-natural prescription, Arias once again prevailed, and a year later, she is beyond thrilled to be a mother. “Being a mom is tiring and it’s hard, but it has also made me an overall better person — a little more regimented, a little softer, more compassionate,” she says. “It also made me a better trainer and a better motivator because I can relate to so many more women who have kids. Now I have an understanding as to what women all around the world have experienced and what struggles they face with health and exercise and family.”
There are hundreds of studies supporting exercise as a valid prescription for depression. Here are just a few notable findings:
- According to Harvard Medical School, exercise causes a series of internal changes that reverse the symptoms of depression, such as the release of endorphins, which actually help block physical and emotional pain.
- Continued practice of exercise triggers the release of specific proteins that cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections, most notably in the hippocampus — the region of the brain that dictates mood — ultimately improving mental health and well-being.
- A study published in ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal determined that even modest amounts of exercise alleviate depressive symptoms on a level comparable to pharmacological drugs, and another study showed that exercise reduced depressive symptoms in patients who failed to respond to antidepressant medication. How much is a modest amount? Just one hour per week, according to research published in The American Journal of Psychiatry.
- Postpartum women who participated in exercise programs showed a significantly lower incidence of depression, and those at high probability for the condition had a reduced risk of 50 percent! This is especially good news for breast-feeding mothers who are worried about the effects medication can have on their newborn.
On the Horizon
Today, Arias juggles several sponsorships, and she is kept busy making appearances for companies such as Target, C9 Champion and CoverGirl. In fact, at the time of this writing, Arias was en route to Dallas to do an engagement in the inner city hosting workshops, an exercise class and a meet-and-greet. This sort of athletic philanthropy is her current MO, and Arias is ardent about reaching out to those with little access to exercise and healthy living.
“I never played any sports growing up, but I strongly believe that if I would have started at a young age doing what I am doing now, I probably would have been a great athlete,” she says. “That is why I am passionate about a project I am working on in the Dominican Republic: I am teaming up with a retired Olympic hurdler — a gold medalist — to build an athletic academy for performance training and nutrition. Hopefully, we can also integrate the Olympic committee and the government to be part of this initiative to help inner-city kids who don’t have the resources they need to play sports.”
She also continues to be an Instagram inspiration by living her fitness truth for the world to see, continuing to set and break goals. “Right now, I am working more on building strength and endurance, trying to be a beast!” Arias says. “I want to be able to jump higher, lift more, be more explosive and beat all the guys I train with. Be a ninja. I want to live my life in a way that changes lives positively every day. If my story can give people the confidence and reassurance that they can reach whatever goal they have or overcome any obstacle in front of them, then I’m fulfilling my purpose in this journey.”
Kettlebell Pickup (30 seconds each side)
Banded Football Squat
Banded Jumping Jack
Stand behind a kettlebell with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your back straight and your core engaged as you hinge from your hips and fold forward, reaching down with your right hand as you simultaneously lift your left leg behind you. When your torso and leg are parallel to the floor, grab the kettlebell handle and stand back up. Reverse the move to lower the kettlebell back down to the floor, release it and stand back up to complete one rep. Do all reps on one side, then switch.
Banded Football Squat
Secure a band loop around your thighs just above your knees and stand with your feet hip-width apart so there is tension in the band. Jump your feet apart and squat down quickly with a flat back to touch your left fingertips to the floor. Explode upward, jump your feet together underneath you, then jump them apart again, touching your right hand to the floor. Continue, alternating sides.
Banded Jumping Jack
Secure a band loop around your legs just above your ankles and stand with your feet hip-width apart so there is tension in the band. Jump your feet apart and raise your arms overhead, then jump your arms and legs back together as with a normal jumping jack.
Kettlebell Stiff-Legged Deadlift to Kettlebell Squat
Banded Side Shuffle
Banded Square Bear Crawl
Kettlebell Stiff-Legged Deadlift to Kettlebell Squat
Hold a kettlebell with both hands in front of you, arms straight, and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back straight, your knees soft and your head neutral, push your glutes back as you hinge forward, lowering the kettlebell toward the floor as low as you can, or until your back begins to round. Return to the start, then explosively pull the kettlebell upward in an upright row motion, catch it on the sides of the handle, and hold it at your chest as you kick your hips back and lower into a deep squat. Continue, alternating moves.
Banded Side Shuffle
Secure a resistance-band loop around your thighs just above your knees and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Kick your hips back and lower into an athletic “ready” position, core tight, posterior chain activated. Hold here as you quickly drive your right leg to the side, swinging your left arm forward and across your body. Step your feet together and repeat. Continue, taking five steps one way, then five steps the other way for the duration of your time.
Banded Square Bear Crawl
Secure a band loop around your thighs just above your knees and get onto all fours with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips, back straight and head neutral. Turn your toes under and lift your knees off the floor to get into the bear position, then using opposing limbs, take four slow steps forward. Then use your same-side arm and leg to take four steps to the right. Use your opposing arm and leg to take four steps backward, then same-side arm and leg to move laterally to the left and complete the square. Repeat in the opposite direction.
Kettlebell Step-Out With Knee Drive
Squat With Opposite Arm and Leg Crunch
Banded Plank Step-Out and Leg Lift
Kettlebell Step-Out With Knee Drive
Hold a kettlebell with both hands at your chest, elbows down, feet shoulder-width apart. Lift your knee to hip height, then squat down on your left leg as low as you can. Stay in this low squat position as you slowly step to the right, shifting your weight to your right foot. Balance on your right foot as you lift your left foot off the floor, then extend your right leg to stand, lifting your left knee to hip height. Continue, alternating directions.
Squat With Opposite Arm and Leg Crunch
Secure a resistance-band loop around both arches of both shoes and place your hands lightly behind your head, elbows flared. Keep your chest lifted as you kick your hips back and squat down, then stand and simultaneously lift your right knee as you twist to the right, aiming to touch your left elbow to your right knee. Replace your foot, perform another squat and continue, alternating sides.
Banded Plank Step-Out and Leg Lift
Secure a resistance band around both legs just above your ankles and get into a forearm plank with your elbows underneath your shoulders and your head, hips and heels aligned. Hold your upper body in position as you open your right leg out to the side, touching your toes down briefly to the floor, then return to plank. Then keep your right leg straight as you lift it upward as high as you can. Continue, alternating legs.
The Short Circuit Workout
“This program is something I would do myself,” says Arias, who created this workout exclusively for Oxygen. “Because I hate all cardio except doing stairs or sprinting, I like to do circuit training for my strength work, which allows me to get in both my aerobic and anaerobic training at the same time.”
This workout contains three circuits of three moves apiece. Do the moves in order for 30 seconds each with no rest in between, and rest up to a minute in between circuits. Do three to four rounds of each circuit, depending on how much time you have.
“Use a resistance loop or weight that challenges you for each move, and try to hit your max reps with each set,” Arias advises, noting that you should use a lighter weight band loop when placing it around your ankles and a heavier one around your thighs. “And make sure you can move that weight effectively in a controlled manner.”
Why a band loop? “It’s for the booty,” says Arias, laughing, who admits she has a hard time engaging her glutes. “I had muscular imbalances and my glutes didn’t activate properly. The muscles that were tight would turn on right away, preventing the glutes from engaging. But these bands ensure those glutes will fire!”
Full name: Massy Arias
Birth date: November 23, 1988
Hometown: Dominican Republic
Current residence: Glendale, California
Sponsors: Target, C9 Champion, CoverGirl
Facebook and Twitter: mankofit
Favorite saying: “But did you die?”
Follow along with Massy as she demos her workout here.
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Meet five women from a wide range of industries who’ve got the fit factor.
Westfield, New Jersey
Stats: 36 • 128 lb • 5’4”
Gig: Interior designer
Down but Never Out: Overcoming obstacles has defined Vanessa Romond’s fitness quest. “I’ve suffered from osteoarthritis and spondylolysis since I was 18, and recurring lower-back and neck injuries have forced me out of training for months at a time,” she says. Always athletic, Romond participated in track, skiing and kickboxing in high school while also earning NCA All-American honors as a cheerleader. She made it her mission to re-establish her fitness groove after having her second child. “I started strength training and focused on stabilizing my core, and my overall pain management really improved,” she says.
Fit Fam: Romond typically heads to the gym after dropping her kids off at school. “I’ll do HIIT cardio mixed with free-weight and bodyweight exercises three or four times a week, and I try to get outside for a run once a week,” she says. She also makes the time to exercise with her family. “We love to do 5Ks and mountain hikes with our daughters,” she says. “Our 5-year-old, Ella, even competed in a Spartan Race with us last summer.”
Magic Moment: Romond recently did a fitness photo shoot, and while going over the images, she got a reaction from her daughter she’ll never forget. “Ella looked at the photos and said, ‘OMG, mom, you’re like superwoman!’ If that’s not motivation to live a fit and healthy lifestyle, I don’t know what is.”
Stats: 36 • 140 lb • 5’4”
Gig: Online personal trainer
Cardio Queen: Kyra Williams’ “aha” fitness moment came when she was 23. “I had just graduated from college and weighed 165 pounds,” she recalls. “I was eating calzones and whole pizzas in one sitting, and I felt horrible about myself.” Williams turned her life around by initially just eating less and doing hours of cardio. It worked (a little), then a friend introduced her to Oxygen magazine and lean muscle became her No. 1 goal.
At a Cross-road: Williams dropped from a size 8 to a size 2/4 and did three bikini shows, but she did not enjoy the process of that kind of competition. Her introduction to CrossFit in 2012, however, changed everything. “I fell in love with the sport — it’s all about performance,” she says. “I’ve put on at least 10 pounds of muscle and am back up to a size 6, but I am more balanced. I don’t stress about every morsel of food, I still have cocktails on the weekends and I eat butter on my steak. This is the best I’ve ever looked or felt.”
Sharing Her Journey: These days, the NASM-certified personal trainer, CrossFit Level-1 trainer, and USA Weightlifting and USA Powerlifting coach is aiming to grow her business while continuing to test herself in competition. “I’ve done more than 10 CrossFit events and made the regional team in 2016,” Williams says. “I’d like to try an Olympic weightlifting meet and a powerlifting meet at some point, as well.”
Stats: 42 • 120 lb • 5’2”
Gig: Fit lifestyle coach
Serious Setbacks: “I was always the athletic, strong, healthy girl who could work 12-hour days, train twice a day and still take care of my loved ones,” Angel Scott says. “But this strong, healthy girl also completely ignored every sign her body was giving her on two separate occasions — first when I developed rhabdomyolysis due to overtraining at age 31 and again before my diagnosis of Graves’ disease at 41. Both times, it could have cost me my life.”
Winning Ways: Now 42, Scott uses weights as her weapon to combat and manage her disease. “Maintaining strength is a top priority because Graves’ causes muscular weakness — the less I lift, the weaker I feel,” she explains. “A typical workout week for me includes an upper-body day, a lower-body day, a total-body conditioning day and a flexibility/mobility day. I also like to throw in some hot yoga.”
Function Over Form: Scott credits her mom and her husband as her dream team, whose support enabled her to come back from illness and injury, and even win the 2003 Fitness Canada Toronto regionals. “With every obstacle, I’ve become stronger and have learned to appreciate my body not for the way that it looks but for all it does for me every day,” she says. “I know firsthand that if you’re not your healthiest, you can’t be anything to anyone.”
Little Falls, Minnesota
Stats: 28 • 155 lb • 5’7”
Gig: First-grade teacher
Teacher, Role Model: Fitness has always been a part of Brianna Sanoski’s life, from exercising with her mom growing up to high-school gymnastics to pro Figure and Bikini competitions. After earning two degrees in elementary education, Sanoski began teaching first grade and coaching gymnastics. “My students and athletes see me with a gallon water jug and eating my healthy meals and ask a lot of questions about fitness,” she says. “Seeing how much of an impact I make pushes me to continue bettering myself.”
Strength to Persevere: Fitness has been Sanoski’s touchstone through some very tough times. “When I was 15, I was raped by one of my brother’s friends,” she says. “At first, I drank to cope with the pain, nightmares and PTSD, then I turned to fitness. Lifting weights and running helped my anxiety and made me feel stronger.” Exercise was also there when Sanoski went through her divorce.
On the Go: In addition to strength training, Sanoski also loves avid hiking, skiing and bow hunting. “I use a calendar to keep track of all my jobs, responsibilities and fitness goals, and when I’m meal prepping, I’ll also plan my workouts,” she says. Sanoski’s advice for aspiring fitness enthusiasts? “Exercise to be fit, not skinny, eat to nourish your body, and always ignore the doubters. You are worth more than you realize.”
Stats: 32 • 115 lb • 5’2”
Gig: Eligibility worker, Kern County Department of Human Services
New Motivation: Valerie Quinonez has had a gym membership since she was 11 years old, but she didn’t truly get serious about fitness until she was 26. “It was a few years after I had my daughter, Ashira,” she says. “I had toxemia during my pregnancy, so I rapidly gained an extreme amount of weight for my body size. I started lifting to fill out my stretch marks and loose skin with muscle, but then it became a desire to be strong and gain as much muscle as I could.”
Stand and Deliver: Quinonez recently took second place in Bikini Class B at the 2017 NPC MuscleContest Excalibur Championships. “I have scoliosis, so placing top five is winning for me,” she says. “The scoliosis affects my workouts and my overall symmetry, and I have to really use the mind-muscle connection to hit the intended bodyparts. I’ve also learned how to hide flaws onstage by standing using certain presentation techniques.”
Mind Matters: As a single mother, Quinonez credits fitness and bodybuilding for helping her achieve her own dreams as well as helping her daughter achieve hers. “I’ve discovered an inner strength and confidence and would love to be an example to anyone who feels discouraged because things are not quite perfect in life,” she says. “No matter where you came from or what your current circumstances, you can achieve anything you put your mind to.”
Calling all fit women: think you have what it takes?
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