Social media these days presents us with all kinds of body imagery. An average Instagram feed will be crammed with photos of people in amazing yoga poses, stories of successful and amazing body transformations and a myriad of ways you, the average person, can achieve them too.
Recently, I saw a claim whereby a popular Instagram guru with followers in the 6 figures was claiming you could get a ripped torso by doing 3 x 28 minute workouts a week. At that time I was running four times a week for a cumulative six hours, plus an hour of weight-based strength training. I was fit but not THAT fit.
I interviewed Purely B’s Health and Wellness Director, Marissa Parry, to find out where I was going wrong. Her response was truly enlightening.
So, Marissa is an ACE qualified Medical Exercise Specialist, crossfit and yoga enthusiast with a qualification in holistic nutrition. She looks amazing, toned, slim, bursting with energy and vitality. She can deadlift over 90kg and is regularly seen on my Instagram feed hanging from the ceiling in intricate but elegant yoga poses. Did I mention she has two children under the age of 4?
Yet Marissa tells me she has never had a six-pack like the one I was describing.
Back in 2010, as part of her own personal journey to develop her skills and experience for Personal Training, she entered the WBPF World, Asian, SEA Bodybuilding and Physique Sport Championships, entering in the Physique Sport category. In doing this, she wanted to understand, first hand what it takes to get to this level.
Notably, bodybuilding in Malaysia was banned for women in 1989 and since then the whole scene had been very quiet. When Marissa decided to compete, it took several emails and phone calls to get a placing but it was worth the effort as she was one of three women that year to represent Malaysia after all that time. Entering bodybuilding competitions is still banned for women in Malaysia, but now it is much easier for women to enter into sports/model physique categories.
As Marissa described to me the process she went through to get to the competition, those 3 x 28 minute workouts were looking more and more like a pure miracle.
Marissa’s starting point was one of an already fit and healthy woman. Her body fat measurement was approximately 26%. To walk on stage with a classic six-pack she would have needed to get down to less than 10%. On Competition day she had achieved 15%.
This reduction in body fat and muscle cultivation required large investments in both time and money. Marissa hired an ex-body builder to coach her and design her programme. There is an intricate science to achieving such a body requiring tough workouts six times per week. Alongside this, she needed to take a series of (legal!) supplements including protein shakes, BCAAs and towards the end, fat burners. The process starting with a bulking phase, followed by one known as “cutting” whereby the body was enabled to create muscle and then reduce the fat around it to make them more visible.
In the cutting phase, and leading up to the event, her diet put a whole new spin on the word clean, with meals such as dry wheat cereal and dry pasta. Right at the end, even water consumption was reduced to 500ml a day to ensure maximum visibility of the muscle. She didn’t opt to take the diuretics that some athletes resort to for ultimate results.
Even given all this, Marissa claims she only got to about 70% of what she really needed to achieve to be a serious contender in the contest.
And so, five years on, with no regrets, Marissa is pretty qualified to understand what it takes to look even some way to what the people in these photos look like. In my opinion she looked fabulous on that stage. She looks just as fabulous now based on a very different regime.
I aspire to be the Marissa I see today.
So, my conclusion is this. When you are flicking through Instagram, be inspired, be impressed and be motivated. But most of all, be realistic and just be the best you can be.
You’ll get my “like”.