Mary Bell is changing lives and impacting the sport of female figure. Not only is she a figure pro, in the WNBF, but Mary is also an acclaimed competition coach. She enjoys empowering women. May Bell was recently featured on E! News True Hollywood Story - Female Bodybuilders, representing the natural side of the sport. (NOTE: this episode will re-air at 8 am, Sunday January 24th. Click here for details.)
Muscle and Strength: Tell us how you made the leap from a tomboy that didn't care for sports, to a professional figure athlete?
Mary Bell: Simply stated because of a dare.
Ask any tomboy personality type. If they were dared or challenged, would they take it on? I have always been the type to thrive on a challenge. A good friend once told me, "you are the type of woman that if we were on a beach and I drew a line is the sand and told you that you could not leap over it, you would run in the opposite direction of the line, so you could get a running start and long jump over it." He is right.
Thus, when I was dared to do a figure competition with only 3 weeks of preparation, I long jumped over the challenge and changed my whole lifestyle to prepare for this show. I went from root beer and a Snickers for breakfast to egg whites and oatmeal. I went from training on occasion to training every day, twice a day. As a tomboy I have always gravitated to "male" sports, never doing them - just enjoyed watching them. I knew I did not have the size naturally to be a bodybuilder, and I was not going to take drugs, so I admired the sport of bodybuilding from a far. When figure was introduced I was intrigued, but thought, "it's too girly." A good figure competitor can make it look girly. But figure is butt-breaking before you get on the stage. There is nothing girly about what myself and fellow competitors put ourselves through to get on the stage to look girly. Thus, I coined the phrase... "I Train Like a Girl", which is meant with power and pride.
Muscle and Strength: There was also another big leap in your life...a move from competitor to business owner in the industry, with Center Stage Figures. Can you tell us about this, and how you became more then a competitor?
Mary Bell: As an amateur I did very well in the sport of figure and rose to the top pretty quickly. I would place above girls that were more muscular then I was. The judges would tell me that my presentation stood out like a "shining diamond." I quickly realized that I would have to depend on my natural ability at figure presentation to keep me at the top, while I was working hard in the gym to add size to my dancer-like frame. Other competitors started to recognize that their physiques only got them so far, and if they could not present their physiques in the best light they would not do as well as they would have hoped to.
I had a competitor e-mail me one day asking for feedback from a show. I had judged the weekend before, and she was in that competition. I gave her the good, the bad and the ugly (I wont blow smoke up someone's ass). She asked if I could help her prepare for a show a few weeks later. Being a social worker I like to help people. So I said yes...that is what started this, and it grew from a snowflake into a snowball. As a Judge, I watch so many beautiful girls with great bodies do poorly because they could not preset their hard earned physiques. I wanted to make my mission to teach women the importance of presentation. I know it sounds wonky, but it's true.
I gained respect in the sport fairly quickly as a competitor and a judge. Then word of mouth spread of my natural abilities to teach and help people. I just fell into the position of a competition coach. I was one of the first figure competition coaches too. I found working with aspiring figure competitors fulfilled my need to help. And seeing them compete was the cherry on top for me. When they would thank me, and were so happy if they won or lost, I was hooked. I love empowering women.
I would say I am true Gemini. My heart side is my love for social work and helping to empower people. My brain side has always loved the challenge of starting a business. My dad has own his own business. I guess it's in my genes. My mom was a nurse...I got the best of both worlds. And I get to smile when I see my clients hit the stage and strut their stuff. And recently I have been working with non-competitors on weight loss and muscle gain...every time their pants size drops, or their lifts go up in the gym, I feel like a proud mother hen. I am truly blessed.
Muscle and Strength: What's the most fulfilling aspect of working with other competitors, and what's the hardest aspect?
Mary Bell: The most rewarding:
Seeing them make the first step on to the stage. By the time my clients get to the stage I have worked with them for months. I have seen the trials, the weight loss, the low carb self doubt days, the wow look how far I have come days - It is like seeing your baby bird fly from the nest. When they place and get a trophy, overall win or a Pro Card win...I am SOOOO flipping happy. Not because I helped them get there, but because I watched the hard work they put in to get there.
The hardest aspect:
When I see how hard they work and they just don't have the genetics to place. They keep fighting and fighting to place and don't. I feel so helpless when I know I can get them to their full potential, but I can't change their DNA. I love what I do. I never had a client disappoint me. I did have a client that had the genetics and wanted to compete. I trained him, did his diet, taught him how to pose and built his night routine - just to see my drive to help him was more then his drive to compete. He decided not to do the show three weeks out.
Muscle and Strength: I want to ask you about fitness, figure and bikini. Do you feel that the injection of these divisions into the "weight training" realm is changing how women view training, or do you find that the average woman still fears turning into Arnold?
Mary Bell: I would say women that at least go to the gym, even if it is just to do cardio, are realizing that you can be a beautiful women, train with weight, and maintain a very famine physique. I have had more non-competitive women email, telling me that they "want to look like me, and will I do their diet and training." They are asking for nice arms, abs and legs. One client is losing fat and gaining muscle. She just told me, "I am fitting into pants that I have not worn in 10 years, and I am NOT getting bulky!" (laughs)
I think many women that do not train in a gym do not see that you can train with weight and be fit and beautiful. The women that have chosen to do "enhancement" drugs has made the average women scared of "getting bulky." Heck, I went from a size 8 to a size 3 months after I started lifting weights..and after trying for 9 years, I am still not bulky, damn it! (laughs)
Muscle and Strength: What type of training and cardio routine do you generally recommend for a woman looking to shed some fat and tone up?
Mary Bell: I sent this is a client that wants to drop some pounds and tone up:
You will be doing supersets. This will increase your heart rate while lifting, thus burning more fat. You will be doing what I call fours. 4 sets of 4.
Cardio - 30 minutes max. Use a machine that makes you use all of your body, like the elliptical. On your light days, no HIIT - and on sprint days go all out. Here is the training routine:
Monday: Back and Abs, Cardio
- 1-A. Lat pull down.
- 1-B. Sit on pull down bench and do leg-extended crunches.
- 2-A. Wide grip seated cable row.
- 2-B. Cable crunch.
- 3-A. T-bar row (wide grip).
- 3-B. Roman chair leg lifts.
- 4-A. Hyperextension, using bodyweight only.
- 5-B. Oblique crunch with light dumbbell in each hand. Do not increase weight.
Tuesday: Arms, Biceps, Triceps and Shoulders, Cardio
- 1-A. Standing barbell curl.
- 2-B. Bent over dumbbell kickback.
- 2-A. Cable hammer curl.
- 2-B. Cable tricep extension.
- 3-A. Seated one arm dumbbell preacher curl.
- 3-B. Two arm seated dumbbell extension.
- 4-A. Cable curl - (like you are doing a body building front biceps pose).
- 4-B. Reverse grip cable tricep extension (using the D-shaped handle).
- 5. Seated dumbbell press for 30 reps.
- 1-A. Smith machine squat.
- 1-B. Smith machine calf raise.
- 2-A. Hip adduction (inner thigh) machine.
- 2-B. Hip abduction (outer thigh) machine.
- 3-A. Leg curl.
- 3-B. Leg extension.
- 4. One long set (perimeter of the gym) dumbbell walking lunge.
Friday: Chest and Shoulders, Cardio
- 1-A. Barbell bench press or machine chest press.
- 1-B. Dumbbell lateral raise or machine lateral raise.
- 2-A. Pec dec.
- 2-B. Reverse pec dec (on the same machine, just change the arms and face the back of the seat).
- 3-A. Incline dumbbell bench press.
- 3-B. Seated barbell front raise.
- 4-A. Cable crossovers.
- 4-B. Seated Arnold press.
Saturday: Sprints and Weak Points
- Sprints on solid ground - 6 sets, rest in between sets for 60-90 secs.
- Come back that evening and do your weak points. One set of 30.
Sunday: Yoga, Streching Class, or Workout to DVD Exercise Video
Muscle and Strength: Tell me about the recent press you've received. Has it been good for business, and do you feel that female lifting stories are generally well received?
Mary Bell: I was recently showcased on E! True Hollywood Story - Female Bodybuilders; I represented the natural side of female physique athletes. They filmed me and the athletes in my show, The Natural North America. It was a great honor. They gave me a chance to promote my passion for natural bodybuilding and fitness. Since my contact information was not publicized I did not see a huge spike in new clients. However, a friend I lost touch with 4 years ago saw the show, contacted me and we have reconnected. So for me the show was very profitable. Since the show aired I have had women come up to me to tell me they loved the show. And it was nice to promote that a woman could be fit without being "bulky." The public has a misconception that women who lift turn into men - it's just the opposite as long as you stay natural. I felt E! did a great job showing the bad effects of drugs, and gave people another road to travel down.
Muscle and Strength: I want to ask about temptation...do you feel it's harder or easier for a female lifter to avoid the temptation of illegal drug use?
Mary Bell: This is a question that I would say it is really based on the individual. I think in general it's easier for a women to avoid the temptation of illegal drugs, because we are not asked to look like men in competitions, nor is it desired in society. Yet you have women that are hardcore competitors, and feel that they need the drugs to get the gains to impress the judges. Percentage-wise, I feel that it's easier for a woman to avoid the temptation to do illegal drugs. We can have the best of both worlds, we can be fit with muscle and still be sexy feminine women.
Muscle and Strength: Where do you see your life, your business and the competitive side of female lifting in 10 years?
Mary Bell: In the next 10 years I see the competitive side of female physique athletes doubling. Natural bodybuilding and figure is now in "fashion." Women are starting to see that you can maintain a feminine physique without getting "bulky." Women are becoming more educated that it is drugs that gives you the "bulky" look, and the desire to have a fit, lean look over a rail thin look is becoming the norm. I love this sport and plan to compete and empower women to reach their fitness goals. If they want to compete I will get them there. If they want to look like they compete I will get them there. My natural tendency is to help and empower. That will never change, thus you will see me around the next 10 years and the next 20 years.