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Tammy Strome, IFBB Pro
One-on-One With Canadian IFBB Pro Tammy Strome
2005 CBBF Canadian National Figure & Fitness Championships - Figure Overall
Q. You got your pro card in 2005, and according to your website, you’ve been your own trainer, nutritionist, and choreographer for all your shows. How do you separate assessing your physique from a professional versus an emotional standpoint? How can you tell when you’re on track? Where is the objectivity?
A. Just to clarify, in 2010, I did use Mike Davies. I saw a lot of my fellow pros working with him, and I started working with him in 2010 because I had been off, and getting back in, I wanted someone who was intricately involved in the IFBB, and could give me honest, objective feedback as to where my physique stood. Also, there’s a political aspect there in the IFBB, so I thought it would be wise to align myself with someone who’s a bit immersed in it. Up to that point, I’d always done everything myself because I have that skill set. That being said, even prior to that point, I would always use someone who I trusted as a second set of eyes as show day came near. Even prior to going pro, I’d run into Laura Binetti at the gym and have her take a look at me. You do need another set of eyes. My clients hire me because of my experience and skill set but also for a second set of eyes and the mentoring that comes with the coaching relationship. I can be brutally honest with myself, and I am quite good at that, but I still like to have a backup. In 2010 I hired Mike’s services, and I will probably hire him again for this competitive season. We have a pretty common philosophy, and he gets me. He knows the illness that I have. I believe his philosophies are similar to mine, and I don’t think I’d be able to work with someone who didn’t get me and my hectic life.
Q. It’s been several years since your last show (2010), so competing again next year in Physique would be a “redebut” of sorts for you. Why the comeback? And why are you coming back to Physique instead of Figure?
A. I was planning to compete in 2011, and I ended up pregnant with my second child, so I had to sit the season out. My pregnancies have a high risk component, and I have to be very careful afterwards because of the autoimmune disease I have. After having my children, I commit a full year to them as I feel it is a crucial time for them and you don’t get that quality time back as babies. Competing has never left my mind. I knew I was going to get onstage again, and as long as I didn’t experience any major flare-ups with the disease that threw me a new curveball, I’d be okay. Things were planning out okay. I have to always take it one day or one week at a time as my SLE targets my joints, muscles, connective tissue, and mildly the nervous system. You never know when you will be affected, and I always have some degree of pain that I live with daily. I have to be prepared to adapt.
Physique was what I was looking at. Even in 2010, Mike was urging me to switch to Physique in the future. The IFBB judges were saying, “You’ve got a lot of muscle. You have to bring down your abs. Your abs and your legs are too big for figure.” And Mike basically said that if I wanted to switch over, I could do really well in this category. I gave it more consideration. But if they weren’t going to let you wear nice suits and jewelry, I wouldn’t have done it. So I thought I’d give it a try because I think I’m more built for that category given what the current trends are. Figure changed a lot; I was Top 10 in my pro debut, and had I been able to roll with that, I’d have done better. But the trends changed. I’m not a stranger to routines, because I used to compete in fitness and do gymnastics and dance. So showcasing my body for 30 seconds in a routine of poses isn’t a big deal.
Q. How do you think the new Physique category has changed the sport, if at all?
A. Every time they add a new category, I ask myself what it is, even when they added Figure. Then you see all the opportunities for women who couldn’t do routines. And then when Bikini came out, you saw them give even more opportunities to women, and open it up to more girls who don’t want the structure that Figure has. When Physique first came out, and I looked at it more closely, I said, “This is coming at a good time because it’s filling the gap where some women were getting pushed out of Figure. They showed back up in Physique because they found that home.” I was told that if I moved into Bodybuilding, I could do well, but aesthetically, that’s not a look I find appealing. But Physique is middle of the road, and it’s pretty much the package I already possess. It’s perfect. It’s a good place for individuals who are getting pushed out, but still want to take the stage. I will miss those heels though.
Q. How come you always chose to take two to three years off between shows? Was this more of a mental, or physical break for you?
A. It was more a physical break and also to have children and devote the time that they deserve. I was diagnosed with SLE after my son was born, and the issues with that extended my absence. I was pretty much forced out of the game. When I was diagnosed with SLE, my son was a year old. It was devastating to be told I had something that could alter the course of my life and forever change the pace that I like to operate at. It took a long time to deal with that mentally and physically. You could call it a break, but really, I didn’t know if I’d be able to compete again. I didn’t know if organs would be affected. I didn’t know what was happening. It was scary. In ‘08 I tried to compete again because I love to, but I was sick that year, and I really shouldn’t have. I got lean, but I had muscle wasting. My disease targets muscles, joints, and connective tissue. So if I’m ill, that’s where it manifests. So I shouldn’t have competed that year. Competing is a time investment, and first and foremost, I want to be there for my little ones, because they need me.
Q. What do you think some of the biggest mistakes of your career were? What would you have done differently, looking back?
A. I have mixed emotions regarding my pregnancy. In ‘06 when I had my son, we thought I was going to be pregnant after my competitive season, and I was hoping to do shows after. But I had a little bump in health, and then I got pregnant. So that basically kind of cut off a couple other shows that I was planning on doing later that season. I sometimes think about what would’ve happened had I done six or seven shows that season. The IFBB likes when you a lot of shows in a year. It would be great to go to the Olympia, but it was never a primary goal at that time of my life. I just wanted my IFBB pro card to add to my list of credentials. That means a lot to me. I recognize that in ‘05–’06, had I applied to compete at the Arnold, I would’ve likely gotten in. So I don’t regret having my son, but I wonder, “What if…?” In ‘08, I wish I could’ve erased that year because I’m used to bringing my best package, and I had a new diagnosed autoimmune disease that I was still keeping secret. I didn’t look good in those pictures. I looked sick.
Q. Where do you think competitors go wrong in their approach to training, diet, supplement, lifestyle, etc.? Where do you see it in the IFBB and with your own clients?
A. There really are three big mistakes that people make:
1. Diet: The biggest mistake I see people make is not investing or recognizing that they have to nourish their body. We know in contest prep there are certain foods you have to eat to maximize the body’s ability, but that being said, you see people trying to do this with limited food scopes and limited nutritional support. That’s a big problem, because there’s no way you can train that intensely and diet hard, and not come up short on various micronutrients that are vital to muscle maintenance. You need adequate nutrition and natural food supplements when you’re training that hard and your calories are ultra-low. You really can’t go wrong with having a program customized to your goals and lifestyle. It will show in your physique every time!
2. Training: The “more is better” attitude—people training harder and harder and doing more and more cardio. Cycling training and cardio is very important; if you just keep doing more cardio, you’re teaching your body to adapt, and it’s going to require more and more and more to get leaner. Overtraining is a huge issue, and it can have long-term metabolic consequences. And you see this in the competitors that gain 60 pounds after a contest. It’s a combination of dieting too strictly without nutritional support, and overtraining. Injuries and burnout from overtraining will take you out of the game completely.
3. Lifestyle: The biggest issue that I see is people just going full-speed ahead all the time. Immersion is necessary for a period of time, but too long and too much, and you will physically and mentally burn out. There’s more to life than just having a competitor’s body. It’s about having a healthy body. You see a lot of people getting hooked on going hardcore, and they just live a superficial life, and they don’t grow from experience or emotion. You want to be a whole, complete person by the end of this. I believe that you can look good on the outside, but you have to grow and be a better person on the inside. I work that philosophy into all my client/coach relationships.
Bonus: When it comes to working with a coach, working with someone who doesn’t have experience will make a negative impact on your physique. You can destroy health and bodies.
Q. What’s your diet like in the weeks leading up to a show? How far do you stray from a meal plan in your off-season? Is it more a matter of changing quantity, or do you also change the quality of foods?
A. When I transition after a show, I give myself six to eight weeks to bring my calories up to a healthy level, to reintegrate more foods in. I gradually phase in a wider variety of nutrients. That takes about six weeks. For me, it’s just expanding my repertoire, taking about two weeks off from training after a show. I don’t really call it off-season; it’s more just my lifestyle. I do recognize that I’m under a constant degree of mild pressure from being a role model in the industry, so I have to balance that too. I make sure to monitor myself, but I keep it flexible. If I want something, then once or twice a week, I have it. For me, this has been great. It’s about keeping a real balance. I also work with clients with binge behaviors, so part of my method is helping them know the boundaries and teaching them to listen to their bodies. Problems arise if It’s too stringent all the time; we’re not hard wired that way as human beings. I just go with natural rhythms and listen to my body. There are days I listen and won’t go to the gym, and it’s kept my body in check. It’s a very instinctive approach. The twelve to sixteen weeks before a show, I am 100 percent on, though, and focused and committed. But in everyday life, moderation is key, and competitors sometimes distort that. For my clients, I watch them closely to make sure they don’t move into the scary domain of “body dysmorphia” or “bigorexia”; I’ve seen it happen where they try to stay too lean too long or distort how much muscle they actually have. There is that dark side to the sport that we have to be careful of. People with those tendencies are natural attracted to this sport.
Q. How has your physique changed, matured, and grown over the years? What created “the perfect storm” to achieve that look?
A. Definitely from Fitness to Figure, I had to lose some of the density that was there from fitness routines, because your body tends to build more density from stabilizing moves. So there was a bit of a shift there. I really just notice my body maturing over the years, and I’ve settled into a really good spot where I feel my density is good and my muscle bellies are great. If I look at myself from 2000 and now, I see the difference, and I really think it’s muscle maturity. I think that the years of training and repetition, and living a lifestyle that I keep consistent overall has made the difference. I have to be more mindful now because I live with chronic pain, and I just deal with it. Even though I suffer from chronic inflammation, my body is holding well and I know how to manipulate to get it back if I feel myself start to slip. Definitely the muscle maturity and shape are the biggest changes.
Q. What’s your favorite body part to train, and what’s your protocol like for that body part?
A. I love training back. I mainly focus on my lat-building moves like wide-grip pull-downs, and wide-grip T-bar rows. I’m one of those people that have rhomboids and traps that grow quickly, so I have to watch mid-back rows and dumbbell rows, so I cycle those guys. That might change as I move into Physique, but in Figure they don’t like when the rhomboids get too prominent. So I cut out mid-back training and focus on keeping a nice taper. I also do back extensions as part of core work. I also cycle the type of training. I do reverse pyramiding, drop sets, supersets, negatives and other methods. It all depends what I’m working on and what shock I want to provide for my body at the time.
Q. What is your mental outlook like leading into a show? Is it ever affected by your placing?
A. I’ve always been very optimistic, focused, and confident going into contest prep. I’m like that normally. I stay very realistic about where I would place. I believe that there’s a self-actualization component, but within the scope of reality, I realize that there’s a bit of a political element going on in the IFBB, and then there’s the fact that I took some time off. I was always very excited and positive when taking the stage. I never let that disappoint me. As an amateur, I knew first or second were very doable and went in with that mentality. As a pro, in my head, I’d say top five would be awesome, but I also recognize the limitations as the criteria change. I don’t beat myself up about it, and I always compete with myself. I do always want to hold that trophy. Who doesn’t that takes the stage? I just stay positive and realistic. I look at each show as an opportunity to meet people and make connections, too. There’s always a door that opens up at each show.
Q. How do you train a Fitness class competitor versus Figure vs. Bikini? How does a Fitness class competitor’s physique differ from Figure and Bikini from a visual standpoint?
A. It depends on the foundation that they have going into it. We know that there are very clear distinctions for the categories and what’s required. But if you have someone in Figure who has an awful lot of muscle density, then I’ll modify her training completely and focus on a lot of high-rep work and maybe more circuit work and not doing heavy loads. You have to remodel the body, and it’s so diverse depending on what the person looks like to begin with. It’s very individual. Characteristically, with Fitness, they can get away with a little more bit thickness and density because the nature of their routine component can cause that. Whereas with Figure, there’s a lot more of the athletic structure, but not too much definition. Just all the muscles in the right place, but no density. Figure girls will focus on shoulders and back mostly, to get that wider taper and development and then focus on conditioning the package as a whole so it flows. Reps and sets will vary depending on the person. I call the Bikini the “tight and toned” body. Some of them are doing more crossfit work and plyo work, or just cardio emphasis with lighter weights. But it depends what they’re coming to you with in the first place. People who’ve never competed before need to build a foundation first, so ideally, I like to spend a year working with them first.
Q. Do Figure and Bikini competitors really train hard, or is it just a class for glamour and beauty?
A. No one is slacking. Even in Bikini, you can’t get a tight and toned body without adhering to a proper diet and working hard. That being said, they have a little more laxity than someone in Figure. Bikini girls can get away with a little more, and you can manipulate more, and she might have more scheduled cheat days or higher calorie days. Or someone moving from Figure to Bikini might have to put down the dumbbells altogether and just focus on diet because she might have too much muscle for that category. It really depends on the body she has going in. A curvy girl aspiring to compete in Bikini will have to work her tail off with the diet and training to look her best.
Q. What rep range should a women train for Figure? Physique? Bikini? Fitness?
A. There’s no cut and dry answer for that. I wouldn’t want to convey that I think there’s an answer. It really does cycle for all categories and goals. Characteristically, in the Bikini domain, most women are going to be doing higher volume, higher rep ranges (12 to 25). In Figure, you could have rep ranges cycling between 8, 10, 12 and other times at 15, 20, 25, 30 depending on the body part, what their development is (too much muscle in one area versus another). Sometimes you have to take out training a body part completely. In fitness, they do get a lot of fast-twitch muscle fiber stimulation if they have a lot of gymnastics in their routine. They have to balance low and high reps, depending on their strengths, but also if they’re short or tall. Shorter girls can look too thick if they go overboard, for example. All the genetic components are important to consider.
Q. Has women’s bodybuilding gone too far? How would you save it if you were in charge?
A. I know that they work extremely hard and live a very rigid lifestyle. They work their butts off. That being said, women’s bodybuilding doesn’t get the love that it used to, and is being viewed as a dying category. I think a lot of it has to do with the extreme level of muscularity. And I recognize that for the women in this category, that’s what they love, and they’re willing to do what it takes to have that look. But in terms of viewership, it’s dying off. If you look back at Cory and Rachel, when there was still the component of beauty lines, it was different. I look at what the women are doing to themselves from the health standpoint, and the long-term effects of what they’re doing to themselves. It just disturbs me. But at the same time, if that’s their passion, then who am I to say anything? It’s just too extreme for me. They work damn hard and diet more intensely than anyone. I wish they still got that love from the sport to support the passion that they have for it.
Q. Can women use creatine? If so, how do you recommend they take it?
A. I never understood why people say that women shouldn’t take it. It doesn’t affect the hormonal system. It regenerates ATP in the body, so you can train longer and harder. It also enhances the environment for muscle building, strength, and power. This is perfect for men and women. Some women complain about water retention, but that’s mostly just because creatine monohydrate is water-loving, so it sucks water into the muscle cells. They need to drink a ton of water to prevent this, as dehydration will cause water retention and it can cause gut bloat as water is redirected from the GI tract. People also get bloated from taking creatine with way too much sugar. Excess carbs will lead water to spill into the skin and cause a water retention look, so they may need to back down how many carbs they are ingesting. A lot of new creatine formulas are now low sugar and contain insulin mimickers to assist in transport and uptake.
Q. What are the top two most effective exercises for women for each of the muscle groups?
A. There are a ton of exercises that are great, and again, selection depends on category and/or body strengths and weaknesses.
Chest: For most of the female categories, you’re not going to see a lot of heavy chest training, so it’ll just be stuff like incline presses flyes, crossovers, and pullovers. But no heavy, heavy work, because an excessively muscular chest is marked down. This is different for women’s bodybuilding.
Legs: Walking lunges, 45 degree leg press.
Biceps: Hammer curl and bicep dumbbell curl.
Triceps: Rope pressdown and tricep dumbbell kickbacks.
Shoulders: Smith machine or DB shoulder press to build the foundation. Smith machine is great for a beginner, and dumbbell lateral raises are great for isolation, because those are usually a problem for those looking to get that “capped” look. You need a foundation before you go crazy on isolation moves, though.
Back: Wide-grip pull-ups and seated V-grip rows (because most individuals do need to fill in the back).
Abs: I believe in deep core work, like planks. And then depending on the category, some kind of crunching movement (like rope crunches with resistance, or just Swiss ball crunches). Everyone should be doing planks because they’re great for the transverse abdominal movement, and won’t thicken the waist. If you want a tight waist, then work the transverse abdominal muscle. It is a band that just cinches in that waist and will showcase the taper.
Q. With all the crop of professionals popping up in Canada and the US (due to the number of pro cards the IFFB hands out at the NPC level) every year, does your achievement of winning an IFBB pro card seem watered down? It seems like every day an amateur calls themselves a “pro” after winning just one show! Comments?
A. I’m not going to argue with the NPC. That being said, I do think they should maybe try to limit the number of pro cards. In Canada, we don’t do that. The year I won, it was one for figure and one for fitness. At most, it’s one or two in each category, and it’s for winning the overall title. I think they should tighten the reigns a little, and make it more competitive. It seems there are a lot of pros entering in. I kind of think that in the NPC it should be more prestigious like what they do in Canada. I get what they’re doing from a business standpoint, but if they do that too long, I think it’ll decrease the caliber, which is why I think at some shows, we see athletes who don’t look as good as we’re accustomed to seeing them. The NPC should be aware of it, and if they start to see an erosion in the caliber, they should reconsider their approach. Giving away so many cards could have an impact on the sport down the road.
Other organizations’ pro cards and professionals don’t hold a candle to the IFBB. I have respect for what they’re trying to accomplish, but the IFBB is the IFBB. The history and the caliber is well established in the IFBB. It was founded by individuals who are renowned worldwide for their contributions to the sport of bodybuilding. You just can’t compete with that in the grand scheme. Again, I respect what other organizations are doing, and they can certainly grow on their differentiation.