This article was first seen on the Huffington Post. For this installment, we are joined by Yulia Kravchenko.
Let’s start off with a general introduction. How would you describe yourself, what are you all about and how did you get involved in health and fitness?
I work actively as a certified personal trainer, fitness bikinI coach, posing coach, professional bikinI competitor and a fitness model. I have experience working and competing in 2 very different countries. Saint-Petersburg (Russia) and Washington DC (U.S.).
I won 3 Pro Cards in the US starting in 2014 with 3 natural bodybuilding organizations. I became nationally qualified with NPC (IFBB) in May 2016. And I won the Bronze medal in Saint-Petersburg in 2012. In 2012 I was featured on a fitness reality show “Fit Fashion Girls”.
I started as a ballroom dancer when I was 6 years old and did this professionally for about 8 years. This included dancing every day for about 2 hours. After which you simply cannot feel any of your muscles from exhaustion. From becoming that active as a child it was a natural transition into fitness.
In my early 20s I was a very skinny person. I weighed about 110 lbs (50 kg) being 5,7’ (170 cm) tall. And I wasn’t active back then, so during my college period I gained about 22 lbs (10 kg). This was a lot for me and it was all extra body fat. This made me feel very uncomfortable and I could not fit into my regular clothes. So I decided to fight it. I started running every day and I shifted to a low calorie diet.
Which worked, I lost all that weight, but I was still that skinny girl 110 lbs, when I looked into a mirror I wasn’t happy about it. My solution was to get more muscle and curves, the stuff that’s not made out of fat! Where and how? By going to the gym and lifting weights!
So I started to lift weights when I was 22 years old and at the time Bikini/Bodybuilding Competition was my motivation, I wanted to look like that girl, I wanted to have curves, proportional body and small waist line, I wanted to wear those high heels and get back on stage where I spend my time as a child.
But nothing is as easy as you think. To gain muscle for a skinny girl require a lot of eating the right food and deduction, giving up your alcohol on the weekend when all your friends just started to enjoy it etc. I progressed slowly and at age of 24 I stepped on a stage for first time. This was the biggest bikinI competition in Saint-Petersburg (Russia), I had not placed even in top 15 the first time. That just made me keep going.
Where does your motivation come from?
My motivations have changed since my college years. Back then I only cared about aesthetics. And to have that Bikini Fitness model look that we all see in the fitness magazines. After my 2nd show, I placed 3rd in the national level show and I got a job offer as a personal trainer.
From knowing a lot about nutrition, exercise and how it benefitted me, I started to study how it could also benefit other people. And how it could be adjusted depending on the gender, age etc. I was excited from the results that you get by using simple science.
Our body is like a machine that needs the right fuel and good knowledge of exercise. Through anatomy you can even change the way certain areas look on your body. Everything I learned for myself, I now wanted to implement on other people.
My motivation is driven by health. For some people it’s losing weight, for others it’s gaining muscle or becoming healthier. It’s fascinating how many diseases you can prevent by eating healthy and exercising. I have found the balance between aesthetic looks and being 100% healthy.
As you decided to make a career out of your passion – what were your biggest stumbling blocks along the way?
I had only one obstacle, after moving from Russia to the US. About 3 years ago, I had to get certified in English. Because I had to communicate with my clients, as well as being able to answer all of their questions. So getting certified in a different language was tough. I remember studying every day to be able to translate muscle groups, bones etc.
What’s your perspective on the importance of self-care?
I think it’s more important than anything else in your life, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is key for a long and healthy life. Eating well, exercise, sleep/recover, drink enough water and taking vitamins would be my top 6.
First of all you will be surprised how much money you save from not getting a lot of doctor visits and drug prescription, even on your medical insurance.
I get a natural stress release from exercise and feel good afterward. I feel happy by being able to get up everyday and exercise, run or simply being able to be active, move. Anytime you get sick and have to stay in bed you appreciate being healthy more and more. So, prevent getting sick or not feeling well by taking good care of yourself and your body will appreciate you for that.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about women lifting weight?
The biggest misconception is that women are afraid of getting big muscles. I hear that every day. I always explain to my female clients that women don’t have a high level of testosterone, as men. That’s the main hormone that is responsible for developing big muscles.
It’s the opposite, lifting weight makes women lean and fit. Even if you want to gain muscle (like I did) it will take you about a year to gain 1-2 lbs of natural lean muscle mass.
To gain weight, you’ll need to eat 500 to 1500 calories more than you normally would to maintain your weight. On top of that, you’ll need to follow a special workout routine for hypertrophy (muscle gain). It’s not as easy as it seems.
Many young women who want to lose weight believe that not eating is the way to do it, without realising the consequences of that kind of behavior.
Why do you think this is and what’s your perspective on educating society on healthy nutrition habits?
By not eating, yes you will lose weight. Because of a calorie limit. But eventually you will hit a peak, where your body will start saving body fat as an extra energy in case if you become hungry again. The body has a fuel (fat) reserve to keep working. It’s a natural mechanism, made for survival. Starvation is the biggest enemy in any weight loss program. The more you starve, the more weight you will gain later on. The key is to eat often and control your portions. The more often you eat, the faster your metabolism will become.
Another downside of not eating is that your body is not getting the right nutrients, needed for a healthy and great skin, nails, hair, women’s health and more. You need to eat a balanced diet for healthy looks. No single vitamin will do it for you if you’re not eating fruits, vegetables, grains, protein etc.
To give you an example, to maintain a good looking and elastic skin you need natural collagen, which is mostly found in foods rich in protein. But to absorb protein you need fiber, which is found in vegetables, and grains. You also need to keep regenerating your skin, your skin will get new cells that you can gain from exercise.
So focus on eating natural food. Eat everything that nature gives you. Ask yourself “is a cake natural?“ no! “is an apple natural?“ yes!
What are the most unexpected lessons you’ve learned on your health and fitness journey this far?
I was surprised by how strong I got! I can now move most of my furniture by myself. Exercising also helped me control my mood and stress levels. I’ve always known it, but when it actually happens it’s still a pleasant surprise. I can even see this with clients. Often times they would come to the gym feeling stressed, but after a workout they are smiling and happy!
What do you do to maintain balance in your life?
Just keep a detailed schedule and try to stay organized.. Competing in bikini/bodybuilding have taught me a lot. Being on a food/workout schedule makes you fill in the blanks with other things very quick. When you know that your meeting is at 10 am, then your breakfast is at 8:30 am, you have to wake up at 7 am etc.
Also once a week I have an evening when I try to enjoy time going out, socializing and dancing. And one day a week I try to relax, and recover by doing nothing. All of this helps me maintain balance despite a busy schedule and life.
How do you stay productive?
Once again, scheduling is important. And planning ahead of time. I try to book my clients 2 months in advance. By clearly knowing my work schedule, I can plan other things around this. Another great thing that saves a lot of time in my life is meal prep. I spend maybe 2-4 hours a week on it. But it saves me a lot of time and money. And I don’t have to worry about what and where I will eat today or whether I’ll overeat.
If you could only choose one thing, what would you tell your younger self?
I would have started lifting weights as soon as I could have afforded a gym membership.
Can you give a breakdown of your current diet, training and supplementation regimen and the thinking behind it?
My diet has been the same since the day I decided to get ready for the first show. It’s contains natural and healthy foods such as grains, protein, vegetables and fruits. I only adjust my macros, which is the amount of protein, carbohydrates and fat. And this depending on whether I have to gain weight or cut my body fat for the show. Or just to maintain my current physique. I eat often, about 4-6 meals a day. My friends say that all I do is eat.
I train about 4-6 days a week. Because I am a professional, my body adjust very quickly to a workout program. So I have to change it every 2-4 weeks to a new routine. Supplements have a very important role in my life. And as much as I like everything natural, it’s impossible to get 1000 mg of Vitamin C from a fresh natural orange juice. Because you will have to drink too much juice! The same goes for other supplements, like workout drinks that load you up with amino acids. Your body does not break down muscle while you are working out. When it come to supplements I always pick the natural ones. That is my priority.
What are your biggest life goals for the year?
I want to educate people about fitness and health as much as possible. I would also like to do more interviews and engage the press. I am also working on my writing skills. Which is a challenge because English is my second language. Right now I am using my social media to practice and polish my writing.
My other goal is fulfilling my duties with helping to plan a fitness event in my city. I also want to expand my modeling career beyond the fitness industry. Like editorial, fashion, beauty, skin care and some bikini. I am excited to be working on my 1st calendar!
I volunteer from time to time at a homeless shelter. And I plan to offer a free boot camp for volunteers, in the hope of attracting more people to join in a feed the needy at the shelter.
I will be offering my meal plans and training routines online through a great website. You can find my profile here. I get a lot of request from people in other cities and countries to purchase my products and services.
I will soon bring out a new workout routine for females, “The Power of 30 with Yulia”, which is going to be for free. And I will do a posing seminar in Washington DC for fitness, bikini models and competitors.
Where can people go to learn more about you online?