Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bodybuilder helps get others in shap

CullmanTimes.com, Cullman, Alabama
April 10, 2010
Fitness for Life
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By Benjamin Montgomery
The Cullman Times Connie Gardner

— Connie Gardner is 58. She has been the state lightweight bodybuilding champ three years in a row. Gardner has been a fitness specialist at the Cullman Fitness and Aquatic Center for those three years as well.

She creates fitness programs for clients, shows them how to use equipment, proper breathing and form, and helps them reach their fitness goals.

“I think fitness has to be a lifestyle. If you’ve got it, then it’s there all the time,” said Gardner.

Gardner started bodybuilding as a stress reliever in the 80s; she had a new job and the new responsibility of caring for a family, and the exercise was a release for her.

“I tell people who don’t want to lift to come in and beat the crap out of that dummy,” said Gardner. “There are days when you just want to put a pillow over your head and scream, and for those days I tell clients to head for the dummy.”

Four years ago her son Jeremy encouraged her to join him in professional bodybuilding, and she started dieting with him to see if she could pull it off.

And pull it off she did. In addition to being the lightweight state bodybuilding champion, she has won several other shows, including the prestigious Miss Alabama in August.

“Last year was my year. Everything hit right,” said Gardner. She has also competed twice in a national competition in Pittsburgh, winning seventh place one year and sixth in another. She hopes she will break into the top five next time. She said she is usually the oldest competitor in the state shows; the oldest local opponent she is aware of is in her 40s.

Competitions consist of contestants showing off a series of poses and flexes set to music. Her song at the national competition in Pittsburgh this year will be “You are the Light of My Life.” It has sentimental value to her and her husband, and she was supposed to use it at the last national competition, which coincided with their wedding anniversary. Unfortunately, she didn’t make it into the top five and didn’t get the chance.

Many members of Gardner’s family are bodybuilders, but Gardner said she doesn’t feel responsible for inspiring them. She has a sister who body builds and a grandson who “works out religiously.” She encouraged him to compete in shows, but he was starting baseball at the University of North Alabama.

“I inspire more people here than in my family,” said Gardner. “I think I inspire more people because of my dedication and discipline.”

Typically, her first step in working with a client is to set the equipment based on the client’s body type and fitness goals. Then she teaches them breathing techniques, first and foremost being to hold one’s stomach in while breathing. Next she finds out what kind of weight they can handle, and then create a detailed workout plan according to their goals. She doesn’t advise people on dieting or nutrition, but there are two other trainers at the center who are qualified.

“The only [dieting] I know how to do is what I do as a body builder, and nobody wants to survive on that,” said Gardner.

She sticks to a strict diet to burn fat and build muscle during competition season. Her diet isn’t as brutal during her off-season, but she still has to closely watch what she eats. She can cheat a little in the off-season, and when she does she goes straight for Mexican. She said the worst part of dieting is getting tired of eating the same thing over and over again. There are some things she can’t have at all, like sodas.

“I don’t know the last time I had ice cream,” said Gardner. “I’m glad coffee’s still there… I drink coffee all day long.” Her workout routine is equally thorough. She said she generally works a body part per day.

She said part of her attraction to fitness comes from her childhood.

“We played outside all the time…now kids sit around more, playing video games and watching TV,” said Gardner.

She and her husband, Daymon, have raised chickens for 20 years. They have around 44,000 broiler chickens. Daymon is a full-time farmer. Gardner said he once worked out as much as she did, but the farm takes up too much of his time, now.

Gardner said she is close to her co-workers, and that they are like a family.

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