Monday, September 12, 2011

Claire Booth: Sane And Healthy Bodybuilding (and Strength)

Claire Booth likes to lift heavy stuff; Claire Booth likes body building. Claire Booth also really cares about training folks to be sure they are able to train effectively, achieve their goals and not hurt themsleves. What's uncommon and intriguing about Claire's approach to BB and fitness training is that it's healthy all year long.

IF you've been around the BB culture at all, you may recognize the terms bulking and cutting - especially cutting to get ripped for competition; folks going into starvation and dehydration for long periods to be contest fit. Feeling like crap most of the time. Ironic to think of all these beautiful looking bodies feeling and functioning at crap levels most of the time, eh? So that's what i'd like to unpack a bit with Claire today - her sane approach to a gal's journey in putting on mass, shaping same, being strong and doing the happy dance.

By way of bone fides, though, let's get some of Claire's stats. Ok Claire, let's role. Tell us about your high start BB career:

2010 unanimous midlands win
I have competed for several federations, including English Physique Federation, Welsh Physique Federation, NABBA, WABBA, AIC, EFBB (now UKBFF)ANB (Assc of Natural BodyBuilding). I have won 20 competitions in total. Including National titles. I started competing in the late 1990's I got invited to the World Champs (after winning the Welsh WPF Champs  and the English EPF Champs) and placed 5th  and 2  years later placed 3rd, I stopped competing in 2003 and decided in 2007 I would go back and won the Stars of Tomorrow, I then competed 2010 and got 3rd at the Kent show, I was not happy I knew I could do better, I was holding a lot of fluid on my hamstrings, adjusted my prep and went back 3 weeks later and it was unanimous that I won the West Midlands. I was pleased that I decided to go back and see if I could do better, it is always a great feeling that all the judges agreed that I was the clear winner. I have decided to not compete this year I couldn't get the focus and I am just enjoying training without the pressure of a competiton! 
But before we get into that, let's set the context a little: if I may ask - you were telling me a bit about your childhood and how you dealt with a number of physical issues - that was very inspiring. Do you care to share some of that with b2d ?
I was born with hip problems causing my feet, especially the left to be extremely inverted, so I struggled learning to walk. Apparently I was a very lazy baby and didn't crawl much which doesn't help with development. Also I had problems with my left eyesight which caused problems with catching balls, playing tennis, badminton etc. I still struggle if playing tennis indoors to focus on the ball, so needless to say I stayed away from racquet sports.

My mum encouraged me to take up ice-skating which helped considerably, it strengthened all the right areas, and I have no noticeable left foot inversion now. I even won a ice skating competition & it certainly built my legs and glutes. I then decided to quit ice-skating and got a pony. My mum taught me to ride as she had horses all her life, and I went to Pony Club Camp, competed in cross country. It gave me lots of confidence and I have been very lucky to have had such wonderful opportunities. I got a horse when I outgrew my pony and continued horse riding for a few years until I left school.
If i may, having horses as a kid and through school sounds either rural farming or rather affluent - at least back home that's what the choices would be. What does that mean in the UK?
We lived in a small village, I think it is the same in the UK, most people who horses either live in a rural area or are from an affluent family. We were comfortable and I was lucky enough that we were able to have a horse and my Uncle had stables.
Perhaps you could say a bit about what are a couple things you can point to that you think lead you into physical culture? Has it always been working with weights?
I started to gain weight when I left school from lack physical activity. I always was in the hockey team, netball team, trampolining, cross country running, athletics as well as the ice skating & horses so was extremely active. When I went to college I stopped doing as much sport, but carried on eating the same volume of food, and by 20 could feel I was gaining a bit of weight. I wasn't huge - probably a size 12 - but I wasn't comfortable. I went to a gym at the local YMCA called 'Pumping Iron'; one of the guys was going to compete at a show and I went along to watch. I thought the women looked amazing and I was hooked. Six months later did my first comp and I won.

I love looking and feeling strong and I think muscles on women looks great and doesn't have to compromise our femininity. Admittedly some women have taken it to an extreme. I have always preferred weight training to cardio, and find I get results fairly quickly whenever I change my training. I have decided I wanted to gain a bit more muscle and in 3 weeks from training heavier for shorter periods of time I already have filled out.
You moved from being a hair stylist to a trainer? - how did that happen? were you also running your own shop?
I had a mobile hairdressing business which was very successful, but wow, having to listen to some of the mundane conversations everyday and listening to people's problems etc. drove me nuts! It got to the point I was disliking my day job so much and enjoying doing security work at a night club a lot more. I had started studying for my personal training and nutrition exams, thinking of changing careers once I had passed my exams. I chose PT as I loved fitness and was doing well in bodybuilding competitions and thought, why not earn a living on the back of my hobby?

It wasn't an easy thing to give up, having a good business that I earned a very good living at, but when you are not wanting to get out of bed to go to work in the morning, it is time to make that change! And I have absolutely no regrets. I love people getting results, from being pain & injury free, to feeling, looking and performing better. I had a client this week say to me "thank you so much for your help and advice, I feel so much better, I have energy and my blood sugars have been stable for the first time in years!". That is what makes my job so great and makes me so happy making a positive difference to people.
That's incredible. So i have to ask: hair dressing AND security? That's an intriguing blend.
Hairdressing was just something to do, it wouldn't have been my first choice, but I couldn't get into the Police force because of my eyesight, so it was a stop gap until I decided what I really wanted to do.

I got into working on the doors of night clubs, purely by accident, there was an incident where I was attacked outside a night club and I basically came off better, (the nicest way I could word it!;-) ) and I got offered a job I always preferred to talk people down from a situation but this isn't always possible. I love people watching and getting paid to do it was a bonus, if you watch people and see the warning signs you could prevent a fight before it started, peoples body language lets you know when trouble is going to start .

 I worked for a security company and then got promoted to run the doors when the head doormen left. I had a fantastic team of doormen to work with, and still keep in contact with most of them even though I left the area 7 years ago. In 4 years of door work and plenty of altercations I never got an injury. I enjoyed my time working nightclubs, but would never go back to it.
Professional Chops Ok i sense a lot of great stories there. And start to see the connection more with your transition to personal training and your own BB work. Let's look a little at what you did to get into the trainer space. You've done a number of certifications - what were you looking for in doing the ones you've done?
I found many certifications very disappointing, the poor attention to detail & the fact that anyone passes no matter how bad they are. I have studied Pilates, GS kettlebells, lots of PT courses, and the RKC and many more. I have even forgotten a lot I have done! Out of all the courses, I absolutely loved the RKC, especially the level 1; it was such a kick-ass course, it made you work but also they failed people that were not up to scratch.

I don't think it matters how many qualifications you have, you can look good on paper but that doesn't necessarily make you a good trainer. I think you have to go out there and read and practise on yourself and nothing will teach you more than working with people. Obviously you need to have learned the basics so people are safe, but you can sit in a park and analyse people and watch how they move. There is so much good info out there and some brilliant trainers that have blogs etc., Steve Maxwell, of course b2d, Phil Learney, Dave Whitley, Kenneth Jay to name a few.
Thank you for your kind words including b2d. Could you point to a few things about those particular blogs you mentioned that make them blogs you come back to? i'm sure dave and kj will be pleased to have been included, too.
The blogs and people that I have referred to are people that have been there, done it and are successful people in sport without the big ego's that so many others have. They talk the talk and walk the walk and have years of knowledge and wisdom to offer.
You do a lot of kettlebell instruction: what was the attraction to kb's - and how does that fit in with the more traditional barbell work in your gym?
A large percentage of people that come to us are desk workers who want to do the usual: tone up (I hate that phrase!!) and lose weight. The results that we get with kettlebells are much quicker than with barbells, mainly just because most people learn it much faster and can get straight into the cardiovascular side. The kettlebell lends itself to strength endurance but I do not exclusively use them; I train people on cables, barbells, dumbbells, ropes and just bodyweight, depending on the needs and goals.
A few years ago you and Roger opened Bodyology - that's a big move to start your own shop. What inspired the move and how's it going?
It was something we both wanted to do. I had worked for myself for years and run a team of doormen for 2 years and wanted to have our own business so we could run it they way we wanted to get results. In a commercial gym it is all about the money and sales targets, which I disliked. So again, it had reached the point 'if you don't like something change it!'. Luckily, all our clients from the previous gym came with us. The business is going really, really well, especially considering we started in a recession. Most of our new clients are via word of mouth, but we do have referrals from two GPs and an osteopath which helps too. When you get results with people and provide a excellent and professional service from the time your client walks in the door, you don't need sales gimmicks, the clients are your marketing tool.
Training for BB (with KB's)
With that context let's talk about bodybuilding, and the tools you use to build your body.
I use mainly kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells and bodyweight, depending on where I am in my training. For instance, I have started practising my pistol squats again, and wow, my quads are smoked afterwards and you don't need many reps! Throw in a few front kb squats, butt to the heels, leg workout done! That is what I like: short, sharp, intense, otherwise I get bored. 30 minutes for me is a max; too long and my mind starts to wander!
KETTLEBELLS I prefer kettlebells for shoulder pressing (kinder to the joints) and will use military presses, jerks, bottom-up presses just to vary it. I found pre contest using VWC snatches was an awesome way to strip body fat (b2d review of VWC here)
Since using kettlebells I have absolutely no joint pain. Before I became a qualified PT and was bodybuilding, my back, knees, hips, elbows, wrists all hurt at some point,.I dread to think what state I would be in if I hadn't changed my approach.
RKC II Claire Booth demonstrating shoulder work with
Andre du Cane at the UK's first HKC, June 2010.
Claire's gym, Bodyology, is hosting the HKC Oct 29

Self Aware My approach to training is very instinctive I go in with the intention of doing one thing but if I get
there and it doesn't feel right I change it. I know how my body feels and I hate having a program written in black and white that has to be followed. I know what my body wants and is capable of doing that day, and that is how I work. I run 3-4 times a week, but if it doesn't feel right I may run once.

INJURIES I have trained for 20 years and have no injuries so I must be doing something right. Most BBs I know all have underlying injuries, especially lower back, knees and shoulders. You only have to look along a line-up on stage and most cannot get their arms extended over head, postures are screwed up. But BBs usually train to failure & I never do. Most BBs will train bench press when it is chest night, it is chest night, even if their shoulders, elbows wrist are screaming, 'No!'. They do not listen to what their body is telling them, they will train through pain and very rarely get somebody to check them out. (I won't even get started on the Smith machines, pec-decks etc.! Lol
You are also a strength athlete and as some have argued bb is sometimes more endurance than power strength - how does your training change when your focus shifts from strength to bb?
I tend to train mainly for strength. I no longer train like a BB. I have enough muscle for what I want to do, and I enjoy being functional. I do not class Body Fitness as bodybuilding which I am sure will annoy a few people. Body Fitness is about a pleasing shape, athletic without too much bulk, so why train like a bodybuilder?
Example Cycle
Can you take us through your cycle of when you decide it's time to start prepping for a contest - what you focus on in terms of your workouts - and how you work the timing of these phases?
16 weeks out is usually when I start prepping. Better to be ready too early, you can always back off a bit if needs be. I don't really change my weights session much, though I will introduce more cardio/endurance. As I mentioned I loved the VWC snatches for this, as Body Fitness requires muscle but not too much and requires you to be lean but feminine. The timing of my training phases depends on what I am looking like - how I dieted in 2007 and 2008 was different to how I dieted last year. I started the same, but changed as my body was responding differently. Nothing is set in stone!
I plan on competing next year in a new category called Galaxy Universe and this is fitness drills (pull ups, box jumps, sprints, and many more), but then there is also a bikini round, which will be great. You have to be fit and functional, not just look it!
Would you give us an example - say you're thinking about the glutes and thighs - what will you focus on in terms of lifts and how to get these muscles to a place where you're happy?
This is where KB's are awesome! It is the best my hams have ever been since I started using KB's. On the side pose I was the only girl with a good shape on the hams! I use deadlifts throughout the year, front squats, pistols, lunges. And as I put more CV in pre-contest, the swing and snatches are giving the glutes, and hams a good blast with fat burn thrown in. Awesome! The squats and lunges will take care of the quads, and occasionally I may do some hill sprint work too.
Just to get into this example a bit more - say for your legs or upper body, if you blend barbells, kb's and db's - what would a session look like?
I would do a few light high rep dead lifts and then 2-4 working sets, depending on how I feel, then followed by front squats 1 light set 2-3 working sets, depending on how I feel, and maybe add in some lunges or pistols depending on how the legs are feeling.
Have you had areas you're trying to shape that are particular challenges? What do you do?
Always want to improve everywhere, but I think my quads are lacking, so deep front squats and pistols need to be the focus!  I love that ache from these!

Posing. Makes just about too much sense, Claire: not up to where you want, work them. Speaking of work, i've seen folks write about how demanding posing is - where does this skill fit into your practice schedule?
I would practice most days the month before the show, and I love doing a routine to music too. When you are dehydrated, carb-depleted & stood under stage lights, holding poses is an absolute killer! I was disappointed last year when they decided to stop the Body Fitness girls doing routines and poses! All they wanted was quarter turns, but at least for my show in August I got to do the routine and the poses before they changed their minds later on in the year.
With respect to nutrition, you say you're eating differently now than a few years ago, but does your eating change and some point in these cycles? How do you adjust?
My diet is always clean in the week, I just relax at the weekends, but coming up to contest I only relax for 1 meal at the weekend, and that stops about 3-4 weeks out, again depending on what I look like. I eat 5-6 meals, which all include protein, carbs and fats. The diet doesn't bother me. Don't get me wrong, it is hard, but it annoys me when people whinge and moan about it. They have a really bad attitude and can be quite aggressive. My take is "you choose to do this, grow up, get real, and don't take it out on everyone else".
What do you find are a few of the biggest challenges in these months of prep?
I try not to let it effect my lifestyle too much. Life is too short to hide away for 16-20 weeks pre-contest, as so many do. If I have an evening out planned then I go. Most restaurants will cater to any requests and I can judge roughly the portion size and Roger will always finish what I don't eat! I don't like make my friends feeling that they cannot eat sweets etc. in front of me, so I still keep my social life.

I think the hardest thing is the lack of energy. Some days it can be tough, but I just tell myself the girl who is going to kick your butt on stage is out there training and getting on with it. Feeling sorry for yourself does not win trophies - positive attitude and hard work does!
Some folks get quite into bf% tracking - do you know what your bf% is at a contest, or sounds like, do you just trust the mirror?
I tend to go by the mirror, I only use the scales as a guide. It doesn't matter what the numbers are it is what the mirro tells you.
I take it it's the same outside of comp: no idea on the actual number...
Haven't a clue, as long as my clothes fit I don't get hung up on it. If my jeans are getting tight then time to cut back a little
Wow, that is just too advanced thinking for me. Awesome. As said your philosophy seems more real food oriented: how would you say that contrasts with some of the other folks who are doing competition?
I like to vary my food sources more, rather than just the chicken for protein and rice for carbs. I prefer to eat my calories than use a lot of supplements and I no longer use vitamins, minerals or other supplements. Interestingly it has made absolutely no difference to my performance, diet or energy levels. Goes to show that all the supplement industry, especially the side marketed towards BB is just hype!  
There is no conclusive evidence that these supplements will build muscle any better than real food. Most of the research data is usually carried out by or funded by the supplement companies. They spend absolutely huge amounts on marketing, so what does that tell us??!! Sorry gone off on one! [Totally fine, Claire - mc]

Go into most BB's houses, especially pre contest, and there will be all sorts of weird and wonderful products, and before they can get out the front door they will have taken so many powders, tablets and liquids.

I suggest for the sceptics who think they have to take this powder or that tablet to go on Scott Abel's website. He has got numerous BBs ready for competitions, people ready for photoshoots for endorsing supplements and, you know what, he never used any of the products these people were endorsing. And worse of all, people like Jay Cutler, Ronnie Coleman etc. endorsing products, really??? They are not telling you how much HGH, testosterone etc. they are using! The supplement industry is a multi billion dollar industry and exploit people's insecurities and ignorance.
That's part of the gross side of the indusrty. On the more personal side, what are a couple things that satisfy you about competing?
That it is all down to me, nobody else. That was the part I didn't like about team sports, if there was a weak link or somebody not putting in 100% it really frustrated me. With BB comps it is the whole discipline and lifestyle that I enjoy and as the comp draws nearer you can see the changes in body composition almost daily. I always want to look better than the last time which is always what drives me, and the most satisfying thing is of course winning!
Do you see BB as a sport or something else?
More as a science: the muscle building, the fat stripping, the diet, the electrolytes, the water depletion, on the day before the contest you can really stuff up your condition. And it is knowing what works for you, everyone is an individual.
Science and Chemistry
Science - that' really interesting. Had not thought of it that way before. Science. SO considering the chemistry side of this science, plainly you've seen a lot of drug/steroid use in the gyms you've worked in and in competition: what are your thoughts on drug use to enhance performance in BB?
It is a personal choice and as with any drug there is use and abuse. It goes on in most sports, it is just that BB is more honest and open about it. If there is money to be made in sport people will always be looking for that extra edge. I don;t have a problem with people using as long as they are not going into drug-free comps. But my issue is with the 'steroid guru' in any gym telling young, ignorant people what to use. Most people get their advice from the person who is selling!!! In the age of the internet there is much better advice out there, and remember: your health is not the dealer's biggest concern.
Let's take a moment here. You don't mind if folks use drugs - that's interesting - why is that ok?
I think the most abused drugs are cigarettes and alcohol and this is seen to be ok and costs the NHS billions as does obesity, the danger of steroids are blown out of proportion by the media, like the 'roid rage etc and the liver and kidneys failing, if this was true then every BB gym in the country would be full of people kicking off every night or all on kidney dialysis. I know there are people abusing steroids, as there are people abusing prescription meds, if it is done sensibly and the person taking them is making  informed choices then that is up to them. ( And that doesn't mean listening to the local gym dealer!) Who am I to say it is wrong? People like to judge, but cynical as it sounds I think drugs are part of most sports, (just my opinion and I am sure not everyone will agree, but when money and endorsements are involved people will always want that extra edge, it is human nature) as I said before BB tend to be more up front about it. Just look at the Tour de France and how many cyclists have been caught for drugs. If people are entering drugs tested shows, then no, they should not take steroids.

 I knew a guy when I lived up North, who I will not name, he competed in drugs tested shows, there was no way he was drug free, it really annoyed me that he thought myself and others were stupid, he was winning lots of shows and he looked amazing, but he got caught when his test was positive! I am so glad he got caught and it was written up in the magazines and he was stripped of his titles! I hope he was ashamed of himself, he should have competed in non-drug tested shows, because all that he did win was through cheating, unfortunately a lot still do cheat, shame on them! Go compete on an even footing!

Just to say I do not condone the use of drugs, I think it is a very personal choice and it is not something I would recommend.
 That's a very cool, reasoned reply, Claire. Thanks for putting that into the mix.

So lets go to another hot button topic in BB for women: breast implants. What's your thinking on this prosthetic?
I think it is a personal choice, one that I would avoid, I think putting your body through any unnecessary procedure is worrying and for the sake of a worthless trophy. It was something that I thought about, but never went into, I have seen some horrendous implants and when the body fat is low they look shocking, they are not aesthetically pleasing at all, plus if I guy had pec implants he would be disqualified, so why should it be any different for the girls??? It is a BB show, not how good is your cosmetic surgeon!
It doesn't bother me if the girls that I am on stage with have them, I was at the WPF world champs in Italy and in a line up of 25 girls I was the only girls that didn't have implants and I still placed 5th.
If ladies choose to have them done then I think they need to ask themselves why they want them: is it just to look good on stage?  Make sure that they are proportionate to their physique, too big can massively affect the balance and symmetry of the physique and also cause back problems in the thoracic area from the weight, the same issues that larger breasted girls can get and they can alter the posture. Preferably have them under the muscle as this looks better when dieted down, and remember after 10 years they need taking out and new ones put in! And don't go to the cheapest surgeon! Check them out and can you realistically afford them? So many girls get them on credit!:-/

Think long and hard before you get them, going under anaesthetic unnecessarily is not something to take lightly
Again, very balanced reply Claire, thanks.

Thinking about BB Competition?
There are going to be folks reading this,  thinking about getting into bodybuilding or figure. What would your three top tips be for them?
(1) Manage your expectations. Get somebody to be totally honest with you, have you got the genetics for a figure girl: wide clavicles, narrow hips, and high glutes?

You cannot change these, this is the base you have to start from. It doesn't matter how hard you train, if genetically you haven't got a good starting point you will always struggle. Sure, you can make improvements, & with the last girl I trained for a figure show I was honest and told her 'your shape isn't what they are looking for & you need more muscle', but she wanted to go ahead. In that particular federation she had always placed last, then I trained her and she placed 3rd which was a huge improvement, but the girls that beat her just had a genetically more pleasing shape.

(2) Are you prepared to take it on as a long term project?
Rome wasn't built in a day, and even if you put in the hard work needed for the diet & getting out of bed early morning to train when your energy is low, most girls probably need at least 2 years to put enough muscle on.

(3) Can you take criticism?
You are getting on stage wearing next to nothing for people to stare and criticise and sometimes it isn't what you want to hear! It is harsh, it is years of work to stand on stage for maybe 10 minutes and sometimes the judging won't go your way. I've seen some very 'political' decisions, from local contests to world championships! If you aren't strong enough to take rejection or you are just seeking adulation, don't bother.

Is there anything else you'd like to touch on?

Health & fitness is a very wide spectrum & competitive bodybuilding is one extreme. There are plenty of other points along the way, so if you don't have the resources, time or desire to go as far as competing, just enjoy finding the right level of training & nutrition that's healthiest for you.
 Thank you, Claire. Inspiring (and thanks Roger McCarthy for the photos of Claire)

Claire Booth's and Roger McCarthy's gym, 
 is located just outside of London in Bracknel, easy to reach by car or train.

They occaisionally run stunning workshops, too. 
And as noted they'll be hosting the Oct 29 HKC
(if you're in the UK and want DD bells on site or before: Kettlebell Fever's your destination)

And you can also find Bodyology on facebook.
If you'd like to get some coaching or training with Claire on your BB plans, please give bodyology a shout.

Related Posts: b2d interviews with some other strong, dynamic folks:

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