Danielle Ruban, IFBB Pro
One-on-One with Danielle Ruban, Canadian IFBB Pro
2011 IFBB North American Championships - Fitness Overall
2012 IFBB Arnold Classic Europe - 12TH
2012 IFBB Olympia Weekend - 12th
2012 IFBB Toronto Pro Supershow - 4th
2012 IFBB Pittsburgh Pro - 4th
2012 IFBB St. Louis Pro - 3rd
2012 IFBB Arnold Classic - 9th
By: Jaime Filer
Q. Give us a background on yourself and how you got in the industry. Why did you choose to compete in fitness over other classes?
A. I had a background in gymnastics. I did it from the time I was two until I was 14. And I’ve just always loved to perform. The floor exercise was my favorite. So when I saw fitness on TV for the first time, I thought, “I can do that!” I was 17 or 18 at the time. I made a promise to myself that I would try it one day. I saw the performance aspect and that these girls weren’t just gymnasts, but they had the muscle! So watching them execute athleticism but also having the lean, muscular look at the same time is what I admired. Though I wasn’t into bodybuilding per se, I was learning how to manipulate my body with exercise and nutrition. Fitness seemed to encase everything I was drawn to. It took me another five or six years after first witnessing fitness before I had the guts to try it myself.
Q. What, to you, was the most significant moment in your career?
A. Earning my pro card at the North Americans. It’s pretty close to competing at the Olympia. But getting my pro card had been my goal from the beginning. I would look at pros and think, “If I could just get to where they are, that would be the best.” But making it to the Arnolds would be a close second. Getting to the Arnold stage was also big, and in fact, I never thought it would be as a pro. I thought I’d be up there as an amateur. That was huge, to look around the dressing room and see all my heroes.
Q. What do you think some of the biggest mistakes of your career were? What would you have done differently, looking back?
A. I think everything happens for a reason. I think what I’ve done is not give myself enough time to make improvements to my physique, like in an off-season. I’ve just officially started to change my physique to grow. But in my career, I’ve just gone from show to show to show, and stayed really lean, and from that I almost feel like I’ve dwindled a little. So I wish I’d taken periods of time to develop more. But all things considered, I’m happy with how things turned out.
Q. What separates you from other Canadian pros like Myriam Capes and Jodi Boam?
A. In the physique round, I have less of a typical gymnast build; I’m tall and have longer lines. I’ve been commended on my stage presence. I really smile and look genuinely happy up there, which I am. But if you watch my walk and turns, I feel like I have a grace or presence about me that I’ve been told stands out. In the routine round, I can tumble, jump, and be explosive like everyone else, but what stands out again is the stage presence. I really get into character. Some have said that I come across as a dancer. I have somewhat of a dance background and consider it one of my strengths, so I use that in my routines. I think good choreography and smoother transitions are the glue of a solid routine.
Q. Do you train alone or with a trainer or partner? Why?
A. I mostly train alone. I just have my own way of doing things, and it’s just better to focus. Sometimes it’s nice to train with a friend. I usually train with competitors, because they understand the intensity and they want to work out just as hard as I do. Sometimes I’ll get someone to train with me who is another trainer, because when you train by yourself, you don’t realize you’re losing form or taking little short cuts. Sometimes I need a reminder too.
Q. What specific exercises in the gym help fitness competitors that wouldn’t be as beneficial for figure or bikini competitors?
A. I think everybody needs to train according to their goal. My goal is to be strong and explosive, so when I’m doing my exercise, I focus on using a lot of fibers, exploding on the way up, then controlling the weight on the way down. That mimics what I do in my routine, whereas with bikini girls, maybe they do supersets or combinations of cardio in between, because their goal is to stay lean and burn more calories. Then bodybuilders do their own thing too where they try to create bigger fibers for size, and I’m sure they have their own techniques for that. I think there’s a similarity across the board, but each division has their own way of training that will benefit them most with what they’re trying to accomplish.
Q. Do the pros that you’ve gotten to know write down every training routine they do and log every set and every rep?
A. Yeah, some do. I went to a fitness camp with Jodi Boam (we have the same coach), and I watched her write down everything she did, training and diet-wise. And it looked a little overwhelming to me.
Q. Do you do this?
A. I’ve tried in the past and didn’t keep it up. I’ve been doing okay so far without. I have a program that changes daily anyway. I don’t focus on the numbers, just the intensity.
Q. How much and what type of cardio do you do in the off-season, or do you do cardio in the off-season?
A. Right now, I do about three morning sessions a week. I use the stepper just to maintain the shape of my glutes. I also do a little bit of light biking after I work a smaller muscle group. In the mornings, it’ll be about half an hour, and the bike will be about 20 minutes after my weights. Sometimes I just like to do cardio because it feels good, too, not always because it’s part of the training.
Q. Do you do it on an empty stomach?
A. Yes. The only thing I take is a coffee and BCAAs.
Q. How does your cardio change pre-contest?
A. I start doing longer sessions and start incorporating high-intensity interval sessions. Maybe I’ll also do more rigorous machines like the Stepmill, and even get into boot camp-style cross training, where I might sprint, then do burpees and chin-ups on the bar—things that will mimic the anaerobic component of my routine. The sessions will get up to 40 to 45 minutes, and it’s usually twice a day.
Q. Do you change your routines for every show you do?
A. I did change it a lot last year. You generally keep the same routine per season, but I just wasn’t receiving the right feedback, so I kept trying different things. I brought back an old routine from when I was competing at the Canadian level. Everyone did their old routine for the Olympia, and I did something new.
Q. Wrists seem to be one of the first body parts to get injured on a fitness competitor. What do you do to prevent injuries like this?
A. My wrists haven’t given me any problems (knock on wood). To avoid and prevent injuries, a good warm-up is important, plus enough rest and recovery. Treatment, self-care, and remedial exercises are crucial if you do have an injury. You put your body through so much that you have to be prepared to make up for that with taking care of it right after, with ice or heat or whatever is needed.
Q. What is the average span of a competitive career in fitness at the top of her game?
A. I look at people like Adela Garcia, and she is 42 or so and has been doing this for 10 or 12 years. Some of them have amazing longevity. I think it all depends on you, and how you can balance it so that you can stretch yourself. I’ve gotten really good advice from some of the top pros and what they do to be able to keep going year after year. Take care of yourself mentally and physically, and give yourself enough down time when it’s needed. Then you can go as long as you want to.
Q. What is your current weight? What is your contest weight?
A. My current is probably around 146. Onstage I was 133. I think I’ll go up to 150 and hang out around there, but I can’t see it going much higher. If it does, it’s going to be all muscle! [laughs]
Q. How many calories do you consume off-season? And how many pre-contest?
I don’t know, and I don’t really care to know. I just do what the plan says. You need to trust your coach and let them worry about that. I know if I train harder on one day, I may eat a little more because I need more.
Q. Do you weigh every single meal leading up to a show?
A. I do. I weigh my proteins for sure and will measure fats and carbs too. Sometimes I’ll estimate them, but not around the contest season.
Q. How do you have time to prepare all your meals. Explain the weekly ritual.
A. Luckily my husband is on board, and he eats similar to me. So I cook in bulk with the meat, and I’ll just have what I need ready and available. When I worked full days, I’d just do it all the night before and pack my lunch so it was all right there. It might have taken me an hour or so, but I’d have the TV on in the background. You just get into a habit and do it. Now I work from home more, so it’s a little bit easier to just step into the kitchen, get what I need, and get out.
Q. What are your favorite protein sources pre-contest?
A. I get over fish really easily, but it works! I prefer lean beef like flank and chicken breast. I really like them and don’t get sick of them like fish. I like protein powder and eggs too.
Q. What sauces or condiments (if any) do you allow yourself to include in your diet leading up to a show?
A. Anything that’s low-sodium, like Mrs. Dash. Fresh herbs are much better. Look up different recipes on bodybuilding sites to learn how to combine different spices or mimic different dishes, so you can trick yourself into believing you are eating something better than you are.
Q. Do you allow yourself a cheat meal pre-contest? If so, how do you decide when it’s time to do so?
A. Not usually, and I do better without them, honestly. If anything, I will just have extra of whatever I’m eating currently, like extra carbs or fats one day to kind of just reload.
Q. How long does your pre-contest diet last?
Eight to 12 weeks if I stay relatively lean. If I put in a solid off-season, I might take 16 weeks just to take a month to get back into the groove. But a good solid 12 weeks is the average.
Q. What are the top three tricks you use to help yourself stick to a diet?
A. 1. I just have my food ready. I always have it there. Never be caught unprepared. My lunch bag is with me like another limb.
2. I prepare my foods differently, like adding different spices or herbs, just to keep it interesting.
3. Stay motivated and remind yourself constantly what the end product is.
Q. How do you prevent yourself from going overboard in the week after the show?
A. Because I’ve been there, I’m sure everyone has. It’s not fun—just the reaction your body goes through. It’s no better than when you’re really hungry. You just come up with a game plan for afterwards, like, “I know I’m going to cheat the night of the show and have something the morning after, but then I have a game plan for Monday.” Have a new goal to work towards. You can’t just lose sight of keeping a regimen.
Q. It’s widely accepted that fitness competitors must have the greatest amount of explosiveness, power, balance, and stamina onstage or any category. In your experience, can a fitness competitor be successful on a low-carb diet?
A. I think so. I know we do need a little more carbs for what’s involved, but your body is smart, and it will adapt to using other energy sources like your body fat if you train it to.
Q. Do you cut water the week of a contest? Describe your depletion ritual if you have one.
A. Not usually. I’m lucky, and my coach believes in actually looking the part. So if I’m a week out and I look like I can step onstage right there and then, there’s very little that he will tweak to the week leading up to the show. Sometimes he’s kept my diet exactly the same. I will take in about two gallons a day all the way up until Wednesday, then it will be 1.5 on Thursday, and sometimes a gallon and a quarter on Friday. Then he’ll cut the water at eight o’clock.
Q. What drinks do you allow yourself to consume pre-contest? Is Diet Coke off-limits or encouraged?
A. I love Crystal Light and MIO. I’ll try to cut them out the last week of the show just because they are chemicals, and your body might respond to them negatively. I find Diet Coke or sodas too acidic and they bother my stomach. But everyone is different, and you try to find what works for you and what your body is able to handle, and if your body can still achieve a certain look using artificial sweeteners.
FITNESS COMPETITION STUFF!
Q. What are two of the most effective exercises for a fitness competitor for each of the following body parts?
A. Glutes: I think the Stairmill is amazing, because it’s high rep and very targeted. Also jump squats because they’re functional, and if you execute them properly, those are great for glute shaping. We do a lot more shaping exercises than building ones. Explosive jumping and high-rep burning exercises are great.
Abs: Plate drags—it’s not just abs, it’s full body. You take a plate, put your toes on it, and walk on your hands. You can drag it in a plank position for however many meters. Hanging leg raises are functional too for fitness competitors.
Delts: Quarter laterals: Hold heavy dumbbells at your side, and you just raise them a quarter of the way. Up and backs: Start by doing a front raise, then pull your elbows backwards so it mimics a row, then you punch them back out and lower them down again in one swooping motion.
Quads: Lots of lunges: Diagonal, short, jumping. Quarter leg extension: Stick a bench so that when you’re sitting in the leg extension machine, you’re sitting on an incline. It hits the quads differently.
Arms: Bent-over rows—they’re great for strength and thickness. I do them underhand, but everyone is a little bit different.
For low back, I do deadlifts with a full range of motion.
Q. In your first year as an IFBB pro, you qualified for the Ms. Fitness Olympia. What was the work ethic that you believe took you all the way to the top?
A. It was hard because with the new point system, I didn’t understand whether I was going or not, or if I had enough points to qualify. So I didn’t believe I was going to the Olympia until I got that letter. I looked at what I had accomplished that year, and whatever feedback I got. I just thought, “I have to do better this time than the last time.” That’s my goal for every show, really. The Arnolds in Spain, which I got an invite to, were shortly after the Olympia, so either way I knew I was going to be preparing for something around that time, and hopefully it was the Olympia. So I gave it my everything and more.
Q. You spent six months maintaining your condition between your first show of the season (the Arnold Classic in March), and the Ms. Fitness Olympia (in September). How did you manage that, and what was it like psychologically and physically?
A. It was really hard, mentally and physically. Your body needs a break after a while—you’re not able to keep that lean for so long without suffering some consequences. The workouts did get harder, and I did get more fatigued, and chronic injuries started popping up. So it was a battle at times.
Q. Where does your motivation come from after taking time off from the stage during your off-season?
A. I did lose my motivation at times, but I would fake it because I knew it was an important career move or a great opportunity. Some shows, I wasn’t even very happy to be there. But it was something I just knew I had to do, so I was just looking at it like my job. I knew I wasn’t going to regret doing any show anyway. I just knew that this was all going to help me in the end and mold me as a person and a competitor. I would look to my peers, or a coach, or my husband, and just surround myself with positive people and people who believed in me, and what I wanted to do.
Q. What body parts have been difficult for you to develop since the start of your career?
A. I’m trying to get more thickness and width to my upper body, and more muscle maturity and lines in my legs. My back specifically needs to be much wider and thicker, and I’ve always struggled with that. It’s the same with my back pose; I can’t make the same mind-muscle connection that I can with other body parts. I’m also trying to bring out my delts more.
Q. With each body part mentioned above, what specific exercises do you attribute to bringing up these body parts to where you’re at now?
A. Bent-over rows for sure, but really all the exercises I mentioned above. But I’m always trying to find different ways of stimulating the muscles.
Q. In the ‘90s, many competitors bulked up in the off-season, allowing their body fat to get high. The belief was that this was the fastest way of building muscle. What’s your opinion on this practice, and does it have any merit for a fitness, bikini or figure competitor?
A. I think figure and bikini girls can afford to stay a little closer to their stage weight, especially if they do have a physique that they’re happy with. You can always make improvements and gains, but it doesn’t require the same amount of intensity as a bodybuilder, for example. Like me, if those girls were to stay lean for too long, they would start to lose some of their muscle mass; it would just happen. More importantly, an off-season is necessary psychologically so you’re refreshed and strong when you start you prep again.
Q. How lean should a fitness competitor be in the off-season and why? Is there an off-season?
A. I think you should stay within a range of your stage weight, because it is really hard to get back. Especially with fitness, you have to keep up with the athletic part of it. You have to keep doing plyometrics to keep your tendons and muscles strong. If you stop it, you’ll lose it.
Q. What is one word that pops in your head when we mention each of the following IFBB pros?
• Adela Garcia: Legend.
• Oksana Grishina: My hero.
• Myriam Capes: Powerhouse.
• Vanda Hadarean: Inspiring.
• Jodi Boam: Friend.
• Mindi O’Brien: Best physique.
Q. What are your favorite supplements in the Revolution Nutrition product line and why?
A. Well, anything that’s flavored, I enjoy more. Right now, they’ve come out with their amino whey. That has a whole slew of protein that release at different times, as well as amino acids packed in there, so I think it’s a very complete protein to have. The flavors are also amazing, especially the Vanilla Ice Cream. What I really enjoy is their flavored L-carnitine cooler. I think L-carnitine is beneficial to anyone just trying to maintain or lose weight because it’s a stimulant-free fat burner. It tastes really good.
Q. What is Revolution Nutrition like as a sponsor?
A. It’s awesome. They just send me what I need when I need it, and it’s really cool to try their products and see how they can benefit me. Then, from there, I can recommend them to my clients. They don’t really ask a lot of me. I know some supplement sponsors have their athletes do a lot and expect a lot. Revolution isn’t like that; they’re just grateful for me plugging them or giving them feedback on their product. I’m very happy to represent them and recommend them. If they’re at a show, I’m happy to work the booth.
Q. How did you get sponsored by Revolution Nutrition?
A. When I got my pro card, I realized I was going to have to make a career out of this, and I had to get some help. So I was at a show, and David Slough was there, so we started chatting. I knew I needed a sponsorship, so I offered to send in my resume and have them consider me. They liked me as a person, and from there it grew.
Q. What’s your favorite protein shake recipes?
A. Nothing original. I like the basics. I always do the same thing. I add chocolate or vanilla, with banana, a little cinnamon, a little peanut butter, and a little oatmeal. Also a little bit of skim milk.
Q. What advice do you have for women looking to get sponsored?
A. I think when you approach someone, you should have a game plan and a package written up for what you can do for them. Some athletes will approach companies and just expect that since they are who they are, that they should just get it, but it’s a give and take and teamwork that makes sponsorships happen. So I’d say present a game plan. Tell them what you can do for them.
Q. Is there anything you would like to change about fitness as a class?
A. Right now, they favor the routine. It’s worth two thirds of the mark, and the physique is worth one third of the mark. Sometimes I think it should be fifty-fifty because I know I work just as hard on my physique as I do on my routine. But at the same time, fitness is what separates us from the other bodybuilding categories, so it is more about the routine anyway. I think across the board, I would like to see fitness promoted more.
Q. If you were advising contest promoters on how to improve the entertainment value of their shows, what would you recommend? Give us an athlete’s perspective. Fitness has been criticized as being on a steady decline in popularity. If you were in charge, what would you do to increase the popularity of this class? What would you do to get more women to compete in it?
A. Fitness routines are the entertainment! Really, I have heard that so many times. I would say there are fewer fitness competitors because the reality of the situation is fitness routines are hard. But like anything, if you work at it, you can come up with a fitness routine, especially if you have any kind of basic background in dance, martial arts, gymnastics, or cheer. I think promoters should make more time for it at shows and highlight the event the same way they would for the any of the categories. They could show video clips, do interviews with fitness competitors, or provide information pamphlets on all the categories. Men’s bodybuilding, bikini, fitness—they all have their unique appeal. Very recently, we fitness pros have come together and are finding ways help lobby for fitness. Stay tuned!
Q. What have you learned from competing in US shows (pro or amateur) that you would like to see adopted in Canadian shows?
A. It’s different everywhere you go in the States: In some competitions, they favor less muscle in the fitness round, but then you go to Europe and they favor it much more. I haven’t noticed anything totally different between the two. When you look at the trend of what the CBBF looks for at Nationals, they favor a stronger and harder physique, and it’s different when you go to the North Americans. I’d like to see it grow to be similar across the board so that everyone has a good idea of what they’re looking for at every continent.
Q. Does your achievement of winning your IFBB pro card seem overshadowed by so many new pro cards being awarded each year?
A. Yeah, I don’t understand it entirely. They’re still high-caliber athletes, and I like to think that it’s because the sport is growing and there’s just that many more people competing now, but at the same time, ten years ago, it was a lot harder to get your pro card. They just didn’t give out as many. I wouldn’t have as many qualifying shows and wouldn’t give cards out to the top three—maybe the top two. But I think that makes more sense in Canada where we only have two opportunities to get a pro card. I think Canada should have more shows, and the US should scale back a bit.
Q. Having competed in other leagues yourself (I think you did UFE shows in the past), how does the caliber of athletes and qualifications of judges differ from other leagues and the IFBB/CBBF?
A. I think some other organizations are better for people who just want the experience of being onstage, or just have it on their bucket list, or just want to do it for fun. And those are great to get your feet wet and get an idea of what competitions are like. The caliber caps off at a certain point. I know other leagues have their pro divisions, but I think the IFBB is just world-class, so the recognition and the prestige is totally different. I’m always going to recommend it for people who are serious and want to take it somewhere that means something.
Q. What’s the worst display of sportsmanship you’ve seen backstage? Do the girls try to sabotage other competitors? Has this ever happened to you?
A. I’ve been fortunate enough to not witness too much of it. I remember, though, when I went to the Arnolds and I was meeting a famous fitness pro for the first time. I’d met her on Facebook, asked her a bunch of questions, and she was mostly very helpful. But then backstage she was telling me, “We all do a shot before our fitness routines! What do you want: tequila or vodka?” And she was just really trying to get me to believe it. She’s always doing and saying things like that, apparently. I’d ask her how the flight was, and she’d say, “I have a really hard time staying away from airplane food.” And she’ll really make you try to believe that she means it. I’ve heard from the other girls that she’s done things like that to them.
Q. How much politics are involved behind getting a contract or sponsorship at your level?
A. I don’t know. I really try to separate myself from politics. I told myself when I was going for my pro card, “I really don’t believe in politics.” It’s not the right attitude to have, so I don’t think it’s always the case.
Here's the routine that helped Danielle win her IFBB Pro Card at the North Americans in 2011.