Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ms. Natural lifts way to title

June 11, 2007

BOLINGBROOK -- A Bolingbrook mother's quest to develop the physique of her dreams has led her to become an award-winning bodybuilder.

It's the natural way to become trim and strong, said Janet O'Hara, who recently claimed the title Ms. Natural Illinois 2007.

Anyone who puts his or her mind to a schedule of bodybuilding activities can become stronger, slimmer and healthier, she said, as she reviewed a list of about 25 clients she trains as an independent contractor at the Bolingbrook Recreation and Aquatic Complex's Lifestyles Fitness Center.

O'Hara, 49, is the winner of the Great Northern 2007 Bodybuilding Classic. She placed first in the recent contest in the Masters Division and placed third in the Open Women's Class, going up against women half her age, she said.

But she wasn't always a bodybuilding master. A few years ago she was clueless about getting in shape.

After her last child was born, she weighed about 163 pounds. She was a stay-at-home mom, part-time hair stylist and frequent visitor to the refrigerator.

Pregnant possibility

One day, while she was throwing out the garbage, a neighbor passed by and said: "Oh, you're pregnant again, eh?"

"Of course I wasn't. I thought, 'That's it. I've got to do something,' " O'Hara recalled. "I couldn't have said that was baby fat, because it was several years after my youngest child was born."

So she decided to give up her job as a hair stylist and try walking, weight lifting and learning about the nutritional needs of the body.

As soon as her youngest child stepped on the school bus each day she would begin her regimen of walking for 20 minutes. She walked briskly for 10 minutes away from her house, turned around and walked briskly 10 minutes back home.

"Then I started watching what I ate. I was eating snack cakes, ice cream and baking a lot, all kinds of goodies. I started watching what I was eating and walking for an hour a day. At that point I weighed about 148 pounds," she said.

When she began lifting weights she noticed a more shapely form revealing itself.

"I always tell people start out with small goals that you can do easily," she said.

Committed to results

Finding a balance of cardio training, weight training and good nutrition is essential to achieving optimum health and physical fitness, O'Hara said.

"Exercise and healthy eating habits don't necessarily come naturally. It takes planning and commitment to obtain the results we all desire. The rewards of living a fitness lifestyle are well worth the effort, and I am exited to encourage others to go for it. See what your body can do," she said.

O'Hara said her husband, Gary, and children, Kelly, 23, Keith, 20, and Cody, 15, have been supportive in her journey to better health. In fact, it was her husband who encouraged her to tryout for the contests. He assured her she could win over the 18- or 20-year-olds who competed.

Women sometimes worry about bulking up a lot by developing huge muscles, but they don't have to worry, O'Hara said.

"One of the biggest misconceptions that women, I think, hold is that they are afraid to lift heavy. Don't be," she said. "They will see magazines where the woman in the magazine is slim and she is lifting little 5-pound weights. They think that's what they should do. If you lift 5-pound weights you are going to get 5-pound muscles. Then you are going to have to go heavier," O'Hara said.

Reasons for regimen

Although, once built up, muscles stay around awhile. But strength can drop off quickly if lifting stops, she said.

"Muscles are very highly metabolically active tissues. If you don't have enough muscle on your body (and as we age we tend to lose it) then your metabolic rate drops. That is, how many calories you are burning when just sitting still. It drops.

"But we keep eating the same. Therefore we keep gaining weight," she said.

"Also, we can lose bone density as we age. There's a danger of osteoporosis. To build bone density it's a weight-lifting exercise," she said.

She advises lifting at home with dumbbells up to 15 pounds, provided there are no medical restrictions on one's activities.

"I want to have muscle on my body because that raises my metabolic weight. Every time you lift weights you are telling your body 'I need this muscle to be maintained,' " O'Hara said.

Her new clients often need education in the way the body works as well as guidance in using the machines that can help them reach their goals. She also offers guidelines on nutrition, although she is not a registered nutritionist.

O'Hara is a certified personal trainer with the National Council of Strength and Fitness and a certified group exercise instructor with the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America.

Client guidance

Some of her clients find the weight resistance machines can be rather intimidating. But she eases their minds about that.

"They have directions on them, but I give my clients orientation on the machines to start with. Then if they are kind of a self-starter, or they feel they can handle that, they will go for it.

"Some of the people feel like, 'Boy I really could use some guidance,' " she said.

There's a difference between using the machines and lifting free weights, she points out.

Although O'Hara has achieved a coveted place in the ranks of strength and fitness gurus, she is not entirely satisfied.

Her goals now are to add more muscle to her 122-pound frame and compete in more contests where age is not a factor. It's all about being fit.

But it should also be fun, said the fitness champion, who currently lifts 32-pound dumbbells, one in each hand, with ease. Challenges are fun for this Bolingbrook mother.

"I try to lift heavy. I don't think I build muscle that easily. My goal has always been to see how much muscle I could build on my frame," O'Hara said.

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