The Truth About “Fitness”

I am a 100% natural competitive female bodybuilder. I have been in the fitness industry for my entire professional life; going on 8 years now. In my experience there are many things I have come to “know” to be true about fitness. However, we all tend to “think” these truths don’t apply to us. I am definitely a guilty of this, and probably more so than most as I have a habit of pushing my body to the limit.

So you think you know what fitness looks like? Let’s play a comparison game:

Girl #1 vs. Girl #2

In order to remove as many conflicting variables as possible… both of the girls represented in the photos are me. So don’t try and argue genetic superiority from one girl to the next. Also, as a bodybuilder, there is an obvious “building” and “cutting” season. Both pictures represented are equally emerged into an intensive strict training program for cutting and show preparation.

Who is Leaner?


Girl #2 is ridiculously leaner… in case that wasn’t already obvious…

Who does more cardio?


Girl #1 was doing anywhere from 3-6 times as much cardio as Girl #2.

Who lifts more weights?


Girl #1 spent more time lifting weights 1.5-2.5 hours 5-6 days a week. Girl #2 never lifted for more than 1 hour 3-6 days a week.

Who has better endurance?


Girl #1 had great endurance she could run circles around Girl #2 (who honestly got out of breath pretty easily…)

Who eats more?


Trick Question; Girl #1 & Girl #2 technically ate about the same quantity of food. However, Girl #2 ate considerably more calories compared to her energy expenditure since she was working out so much less.

Who doesn’t eat fruit?


Girl #1 never ate fresh fruit. True Story. Girl #2 ate it 3-4 times a day.

Who eats more carbs?


Girl #2 ate anywhere form 50%-100% more carbohydrates than Girl #1. (Almost twice as many carbs!)

Who is stronger?


Girl #2 was considerably stronger and even has a greater lean muscle mass.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” and my intention of that exercise was to get your brain turning. Maybe some of those answers surprised you. I fully intend on giving an explanation but I want to begin by defining fitness; It is the measurable level of which an individual has strength, endurance, agility, flexibility and a healthy body composition.

Strength:  The amount of tension or force your muscles are capable of resisting or more simply put “how heavy you can lift.”

Endurance:  The duration at which your body can maintain a consistent range of motion (either muscular or cardiovascular). “How long you can go?

Agility:  The speed and efficiency in which your body can respond to a change. Can be considered either “how fast you can move, change positions or directions” or even “how high you can jump.

Flexibly:  The bodies capable range of motion from a desired joint or “how far you can bend or reach.”

Body Composition:  The components of your body that are either lean body mass or fat body mass. What your body consists of better known as “your body fat percentage.”

I hate to shatter everyone’s hopes and dreams… but if you are already a conditioned natural athlete then your chances of growing in all these areas at once are slim to none. It’s best to leave getting “Bigger, Stronger, Faster” all at once to the performance enhancing substance user.

For example:

The more you work on increasing your size and strength and consistently tighten and flex your muscles under extreme force the harder it becomes to stretch your muscles back out to great lengths and you become naturally less flexible. In addition to gaining excess muscular hypertrophy and mass you will weigh more, it will be harder to move as quickly, jump as high or run as far.

If you want to decrease your body fat (assuming you are already a healthy body composition) your body’s energy/fuel stores will have to be depleted. Besides this making you naturally weaker, it is nearly impossible to gain significant muscle mass while losing fat. In fact, low body fat compositions cause your body to burn muscle tissue as fuel. As a result extreme fat loss often equates to muscle loss. This means severe strength loss as well as endurance.

For these reasons and many more it’s best to create more realistic expectations for yourself and narrow down your goals.

Once again I would like to reiterate myself and say that these factors may not all apply to an unconditioned, out of shape or overweight person. In their case continually increasing their workload and limiting calories (to a point) they may see success in all these areas. I am addressing an already conditioned athlete, who exercises regularly, monitors their eating habits, and has a generally healthy body composition. What do they do to improve? They just do more right? And then more and more and more in order to keep seeing success?


One of the primary reasons fitness doesn’t work like this is because of a stress hormone called “cortisol.” Cortisol increases fat storage and is triggered by over-training, under-sleeping, irregular schedules, high stress and going too long without eating. Your body has limits and if you push it beyond those limits your body will stop working for you.

For example:

If you work out for hours on hours each day, your body thinks it has to store more fat from the food you eat just to have enough energy to fuel all your workouts.

If you lift weights for too long or don’t give yourself adequate rest time your muscle fibers will start to break down faster than your body has time to rebuild them.

If you don’t eat enough your metabolism will slow down in order to make your limited fuel source last. Your body goes into “starvation mode.” Basically it thinks there is a famine or limited food supply so it slows everything down and stores more food that you do eat as fat in order to “save it for later.”

My Experience as Girl#1:

I literally worked my butt off. I trained harder than most people and I was still not reaching my goals. I honestly thought I just had “bad genetics” so I had to work twice as hard. Girls that I saw eating more carbs I felt could just “get away with it” because they were just gifted better bodies than me.  I felt so restricted in my diet and what I couldn’t eat. I was at such an extreme calorie deficit that I had a lot of bad food cravings. I had almost no life outside of training because I was spending 2-4 hours a day working out.  I was tired and my body hated me. I had a lot of joint problems and over training symptoms. I was taking so many supplements to try to make up for what I was not taking in for food, and also, in an attempt to counteract all the damage I was doing to my body. My cortisol levels must have been so high because my body completely stopped responding to my extreme attempts to get leaner. Nothing is worse than being the girl who worked the hardest but was not even close to being the leanest.

  • Lifted Weights for approximately 1.5-2.5 hours 5-6 days a week
  • Every type of High intensity cardio you can imagine 45 minutes -1.5 hours; 6-7 days a week; Often two a days.
  • Had to take a sweat rag with me and would be drenched after workouts.
  • Paid a lot on Protein Powder and COUNTLESS Supplements that I took Daily!
  • Ate twice as much Protein as Girl #2

My Experience as Girl#2:

It was hard at first cutting out so much of my regular workout routine. I really had to fight against my workout addiction. I had to set a timer to make myself stop lifting and I never felt totally fatigued. I had a lot more time to focus on my family, friends and growing my business; Health and Fitness Meals. I was also in heaven eating so many carbs, especially on the fresh fruit that my diet used to always be voided of because of all the “sugar.” I was happier and felt like I had so much control over my body. I had almost no cravings and had more energy to spend doing other things throughout the day. I was much leaner and had higher body satisfaction. I felt confident that I was eating more and working out less than the other competitors I stepped on stage with.

  • Lifted Weights no more than 60 minutes 3-6 days a week
  • When I did cardio it was never more than 15 minutes; HIIT or 40 minutes; easy low Heart Rate (0- 5 days a week max)
  • Hardly ever broke a sweat.
  • Didn’t drink Protein Powder, hardly took any supplements (mostly just what I had leftover and out of habit).
  • Ate twice as many carbs as Girl#1


This article has hopefully been able to expel some of your misconceptions of fitness. Aesthetics is probably the most sought after fitness goal of all because everyone wants to look better and this means being leaner. I could probably write an article on each individual component of fitness, however, I wanted to focus on body composition.  Most people make that fatal mistake of OVER-TRAINING & UNDER-EATING in an attempt to reach their fat loss goals.  In the end I was able to reach my body composition goals not by lifting more weights, doing more cardio, orcutting my carbs, but by limiting my training and balancing my diet.  So I hope that when your pursing your future aesthetic fitness goals that you are the one “training smarter” and not the individual “training harder.”

For more information on how to “Train Smarter” contact me at or


*About the Author: Ashley Edward-Hansen received her associate’s degree in Exercise Science, then transferred to pursue nutrition and currently holds a bachelor’s degree in Health Education at the University of Utah. Ashley holds over seven years of personal experience, education, and certifications in personal training and nutrition.  Ashley is a Certified Food Safety Manager as well as the primary Personal Trainer, Nutritional Adviser, and Manager for Health and Fitness Meals.  Her personal interest is in competitive bodybuilding.  She has competed and placed in 6 different NGA and NPC Shows.  She is currently a Nationally Qualified NPC Figure Competitor.