Jessica Matthews by Jessica Matthews

Riana RohmannLet’s be honest—have you ever wondered how the men and women who rock the stage at competitions and grace the pages of fitness magazines get in such amazing shape? To uncover the figure competition training tips and tricks that a pro uses to sculpt a great physique, I chatted with ACE-certified Personal Trainer, Health Coach and National Physique Committee (NPC) competitor Riana Rohmann to learn her secrets for getting in competition-ready shape.

What does a typical week of training look like for you as you’re gearing up for a competition?

My plan changes weekly as I get closer to a show, but typically I keep to large muscle group circuit training. On Monday, I focus on upper body, with an emphasis on back and shoulders and I lift heavy, doing four sets of eight to 12 repetitions. Tuesday is lower-body day—I keep the weight as heavy as I can, but aim to complete 15 to 25 reps per set. Wednesday I focus on abs because training the core is so important, both for competition and for activities of everyday life. Thursday I train upper body again, but this time I use slightly lighter weights and bump up the repetitions to 15 to 25 per set to really solidify my muscles. Friday is another leg day, but I include more bodyweight moves like plyometrics (think jump squats) and exercises using TRX and BOSU. Depending on how far I am into my training, I will add arms and calves on Saturday. As for cardio, I generally opt for interval training, starting at 20 minutes per day and increasing the amount as I get closer to a show, depending on how I look.

What’s your favorite pre-workout and post-workout snack or meal?

I aim to eat every two to three hours, so I don’t generally have a designated pre-workout snack because I am always fed, but my meals always consist of a protein and a small carb or fat source, which generally is chicken or fish and brown rice or oats. I do, however, typically have a scoop of whey isolate either before or after I exercise, and I make sure never to train on an empty stomach. Your body needs nutrients to grow!

As a busy mom and fitness professional, what are your tips and tricks for making the time to exercise?

Get it in whenever you can—even if it is only 10 minutes! The key is to get your heart rate elevated, even if only for a little bit. There are plenty of at-home workouts that do not require equipment, and it’s also fun to get your kids involved! When you take them to the park, utilize the playground equipment as your gym, doing moves like step-ups on benches, elevated push-ups on the stairs—even a variety of jumps and other fun moves with your kids! Do not be embarrassed to break a sweat because you never know who you may inspire.

Are there any exercises and/or training techniques that you think our readers can do without? What can readers do to maximize their workout results?

I think most people can do without performing excessive amounts of high-repetition exercises using light weights and also long, slow, steady-state cardio. Now, of course there are always exceptions, but for individuals for whom it is appropriate, higher-intensity exercise—think interval training—will help them get the results they are looking for. 

To achieve your goals in the most time-effective manner possible, you have to step outside your comfort zone. If you are stuck in the rut of doing three sets of 15 repetitions on the weight-stack machines at the lightest weight, followed by walking on the treadmill for 30 to 45 minutes—and you’ve been doing this routine for months on end—then you’re not making the most of your time, and you certainly are not getting the most bang for your buck in the gym. For women, especially, this means you need to feel it and sweat it out! Lift some heavy weight and do high-intensity interval training—you’ll get great results.

My general rule of thumb is if you don’t feel it, it is not doing anything for you. When you are weight training—which everyone needs to be doing—by the time you hit that last repetition, whether it is 8, 10 or 15 reps, you need to feel the burn. You need to feel like you could not possibly do another repetition. Same rule with cardio. Whether you are exercising to lose weight or improve your fitness, exercise at an intensity that makes you sweat and breathe hard—even if for just a couple of minutes—then slow it down with some active recovery and do it again. The best part about this type of training, if it is appropriate for you and your fitness level, you burn more calories in less time and your resting metabolism stays elevated for up to 24 hours post-exercise.

As a health coach, what are some of the most common misconceptions that women have about working out? What information do you share with them to help set the record straight?

Riana RohmannYou will not get bulky!  I cannot emphasize that enough. Women, you need to lift weight to gain muscle, but you will gain very little size, if any. Weight training with heavy weights makes you stronger, your metabolism faster and, when combined with a proper diet, it helps you sculpt a leaner physique.

The very muscular women you see in bodybuilding magazines are not the norm. That kind of look is the result of years and years of training, eating a bodybuilder diet and supplementation—not to mention stage lighting, fake tan and oil, flexing and dehydration. It is a look only for the stage, and not a look we carry in our day-to-day lives.

I strive to lift as heavy as I can in my daily exercise routine. When I first started, I could barely lift 10-pound dumbbells over my head. Now that I have seriously trained for a few years, I can shoulder press 35-pound dumbbells for a set of eight repetitions. I perform pull-ups on a daily basis and I maxed out my bench press at 145 pounds. My body has significantly changed, but I have gotten smaller, tighter and stronger—not bulkier. The funny thing is, my weight hasn’t changed much since high school, but I am a size smaller. This brings me to my other point of not being concerned with the scale. The best way to measure your true body changes is with progress photos and circumference measurements. That scale can be nasty and is not always a friend to most women.

When you’re just a few days out from a figure competition, what workouts do you do to mentally prepare?

I envision all the food I get to eat when I am done—just kidding, well sort of. But honestly, I do envision myself doing my best because I am my worst competition. I am my only controllable factor, so if I cheat on my diet or workouts, it is myself I have let down. My one goal is to always appear better than I did at a previous show, because you cannot control who you’re on stage with. I try not to dwell on the competition or the judges, but instead focus on what I can personally do to make it my best showing ever, from hair and makeup, to posing and presentation. I strive to always give it 100 percent and I find that being on the stage is a great way to showcase all of my hard work!

Gearing up for summer? Check out more of the tricks Riana uses to sport her best swimsuit body!