10 Questions About Fitness Competitions Answered: An Interview with Cheryl Richards


by Rachel Tallant

What are fitness shows? What are they about?

                Bodybuilding has traditionally been a men’s sport, but since the 1980s, women have been competing in their own sector of the bodybuilding world. Many are familiar with men’s bodybuilding competitions, but women’s fitness shows have five different divisions aside from just female bodybuilding; bikini, fitness, figure, physique, and more recently, wellness. The guidelines for women’s fitness shows are to have a balanced muscle definition, clear separations between muscle groups, leanness, and low body fat levels. In what used to be a sole domain for men, fitness shows are a way for women to take their fitness to the next level and take their own stand in the fitness world.

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Who is Cheryl Richards and how did she get started with fitness shows?

HAC Master Personal Trainer, Cheryl Richards has been in the fitness industry and training for 30 years. She teaches spinning classes including Sprint and the Spin to Lose 8-week weight loss program. She also instructs HAC crew and is certified in GRIT Coaching. In 2015 she began competing in fitness shows under the bikini category and quickly began placing 2nd and 3rd in shows around Delaware. Soon after, Cheryl had the drive to continue working on her body, place higher, and compete in larger competitions. Throughout 2018 and 2019 she has continuously placed within the top 5 for all her competitions and plans to continue competing with hopes of achieving her pro card within the next year. To earn a pro card, a competitor must place first in their weight class at a national competition. Cheryl most recently placed top 5 in the 55 and older group in the Master’s National’s competition in Pittsburgh. In the same show, she placed in the top 10 in the 50 and older group.

What’s the difference between doing fitness competitions and just working out on your own?

Competing in the fitness world is many people’s driving force to keeping their bodies in shape. Through fitness competitions, competitors must keep their workout and diet in serious check, this allows people to use these guidelines to direct their daily routines. With that being said, fitness competitors do not follow universal routines, for each person is sculpting their own individual body which means one person’s diet and workout routine is going to be vastly different from another’s. Many fitness competitors, including Cheryl, say that this is, in many ways, a selfish sport because you are working out, competing alone and making many sacrifices. Cheryl also states that although you are working out and keeping up with your diet alone, it is essential to have a professional trainer to guide you.

What is your routine of keeping in shape? What is your diet like?

                Since Cheryl competes in the bikini division, the smallest muscle grouping, she mainly focuses on making sure her body, especially her back, is in a balanced “X” like formation and that she mainly focuses on shoulders and glutes within her workouts. Cheryl says that everything about her diet and workout is planned and scheduled. A person’s diet is very important in fueling your body to get ready to burn calories so Cheryl does a lot of meal prepping.  An example of Cheryl’s breakfast is; an omelet made of 4 egg whites, 2 whole eggs, spinach, tomato, and some fat-free cheese along with half a cup of oatmeal (sometimes with stevia on the off-seasons). With that being said, Cheryl emphasizes that her diet is extremely personal and specific to her body, and warns readers not to take this as a weight loss remedy. 

Is it tough keeping up with the diet and other routines?

For some, an extremely strict diet like this sounds like a nightmare, but for Cheryl, she says she has gotten pretty used to it and it is easy for her to follow. However, in the past, she has a difficult experience following a diet of just fish, asparagus, and rice. During that time, she states she had a lot more craving and felt hungrier than usual. As for working out, Cheryl has been active her entire life. Growing up, Cheryl shares that even then she was very competitive as she was involved in both cheerleading and volleyball during school.

What are the competitions like?

Cheryl says that before the actual competitions, the diet and workout become even more intense. Competitors will deplete their calories, fill up on water and then cut all water dry out and show their muscle tone the best. “Peak week” or the week before the show is when their eating becomes “extremely clean” and sometimes are even cutting out certain vegetables because of their water and calorie content. However, Cheryl also states that bodybuilders and competitors are never completely depriving themselves of water. She states, “Your body is a fine-tuned machine that you have to keep a check on”.  Along with making some serious alterations to their diet, competitors are bearing a mostly naked body in front of judges and a crowd. In a typical fitness competition, there is a swimsuit round where competitors wear a two-piece bikini and high-heeled shoes, presenting their physiques with a series of quarter- or half-turns toward the judges and audience. “You’re basically wearing no clothing–Just a bikini”, Cheryl states. When asked, “Isn’t that scary? Don’t you feel self-conscious up there in front of all those people?” She says you get used to it because the other competitors are wearing the same thing. Over time it becomes easier to embrace especially since your body is something you’ve worked so hard on!

What does being a fitness competitor mean to you?

To Cheryl, being a fitness competitor means building and structuring her body in a certain way. She says, “It was a goal that I set myself and I wanted to see how far I could take it” It’s all about hard work and discipline. For her, getting on stage means overcoming self-consciousness and showing off the hard work she has put in. Cheryl says the results are what drives her to keep going. She also says this is the case with many of her clients when you see your body actually changing it encourages you to continue working on it. Over the years Cheryl has said she has noticed her body has gotten better and better. “You feel very satisfied when completing a large goal like this”. Cheryl also mentions that it helps her as a trainer, to know how challenging it can be for her clients to keep a consistent diet and routine.

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What is your advice for others who may be interested in becoming a fitness competitor?

Cheryl says you absolutely need a trainer, that it’s impossible to do it on your own. The biggest factor in helping her feel less self-conscious about her body and competing is having mentors. With a mentor, they can let you know every little thing to expect moving forward. Her biggest advice is to always “follow through, don’t be all talk.” You must be a strong person and have a strong mind. Failure allows you to push harder, as an example, Cheryl says that being in the top 5 just makes her want to push harder and get to 1st. She also says, “Stay consistent and follow your path”.


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