The local amateur stage is the natural stepping stone for most ladies who want to get a taste for the glitz and glamour of the competitive fitness industry, but not for Melissa Press.
This Switch instructor and personal and group fitness trainer at GO Health Sandton decided to leapfrog the conventional progression from the local to the international stage when she competed for the first time ever at the WBFF UK in London in May.
But the risk was worth the reward for Melissa as she won her division and secured herself WBFF Diva Fitness Pro status. We caught up with her to find out about her unprecedented experience.
This was your first stage comp, why did you decide to do it internationally?
I always say, go big or go home. In all seriousness, I thought competing on an international stage is more exposure and my hubby and I were looking to travel to Europe for a holiday, so it worked out perfectly to combine the two.
How long did you prep for the comp?
Training has always been a daily part of my lifestyle. I perform both HIIT and weight training and I eat 80% clean all year round, so that formed the foundation of my prep. Then, when I worked with my coach, Sarah Lotter I stuck to a specific training plan and diet for 12 weeks prior to the comp.
You’re a mom of 2 and a fitness professional. Where do you find the time?
You will always make time if something is important to you and if you want it badly enough.
I’m fortunate that I only work half day, although the second half of my day with the kids is harder and definitely busier than the first. My mom helps me out a lot by watching my kids in the afternoons. I’m very thankful to have her.
You’re best known for your rocking classes at Switch. How did you balance your personal and group training and your own training required to compete?
Near the end of my prep taking Switch classes and giving all my energy to the clients, which is what I do in every single class, was exhausting. I burn a lot of calories during a Switch class so that helped during my prep, but in the final week I stopped giving classes to conserve my energy to get through the week’s training and posing practise, while also organising the last few things for travelling overseas and show day.
What type of training did you do for your prep?
Heavy weights and strength training mixed with HIIT. I would usually train back, glutes and legs with my coach as I trained with her 3 days a week. Near the end of my prep, roughly 3 weeks out, I did a heavy weights session in the morning and trained the same body parts again that evening but with lighter weights and higher reps.
How much posing practice did you do?
I practiced with my coach once a week for about 20 minutes from about 6 weeks out. I found it hard to practise at home with my kids around as it felt a little bit weird for me, but I would practise for 10 minutes every day while the kids were in the garden. I also spent time watching posing videos from previous World Championships.
Did you watch any local shows before heading off to the UK?
I went to the local WBFF show last year at Carnival City. It was there where I made up my mind up to compete. I initially planned to compete in the local show, until the idea of travelling to Europe for a holiday with my husband came up and I saw that the UK show was scheduled for a similar time.
Was it hard to adapt to a competitive nutrition plan?
I found it hard constantly shopping, cooking, and preparing food. That was constant and I found the food prep more taxing than sticking to the actual diet. In saying that, some days were harder than others. I compared it to pregnancy when friends asked me what it was like: you don’t know what to expect. On some days you wake up and it’s really easy, whereas other days are harder and I was hungrier. I was very strict with my diet, though, and my coach only allowed 2 re-feed meals a week. I definitely found weekends more difficult when I was around my family or went to restaurants.
Who were your mentors through this process?
Sarah Lotter is my coach and mentor. She guided my every step of the way with regards to training, diet, posing, supplements and even strict instructions of ice baths. I put all my trust in her hands and I’m so thankful I did. Her husband Jack also shared a lot of his expert advice with me and made me feel very confident along the way. My amazing mom was my biggest fan, though. Even though she didn’t help me with training or diet, she helped with everything else.
What were the major lifestyle changes you had to make?
Not seeing friends and not attending social events, especially near the end of prep, was a huge change. I had to stay in the ‘zone’ and not get sidetracked in any way. Not going out for dinners or eating meals with my best friend, who is my husband, and not being able to have a few social drinks was also something big I had to adapt to.
During the week I worked in the gym and at Switch, so I was constantly surrounded by people who are focused on fitness, which was fine, but on weekends I almost felt lonely as I couldn’t join in on the ‘fun’.
Did you learn any major lessons from the experience?
There really aren’t any excuses. If you want something badly enough, you’ll make it a priority and focus on it, day in and day out with every bit of you. If do that, I believe anything is possible. I made this my priority and I went to UK, not only to get up on the stage but with my mind set to win. I wasn’t coming home without my Pro Card.
What’s next for Melissa?
I’m focusing on my personal training business at Go Health Club in Morningside, Sandton. That’s where I help other women change their self-image and feel better about themselves by achieving their body and fitness goals through a balanced diet and exercise. I have also established the Melissa FitPress brand (Facebook: Melissa FitPress) and I’m going to keep rocking my Switch classes at Switch Playground in Sandton because I’m so passionate about them. There is also something exciting I’m working on with another fitness enthusiast and friend, so watch this space!
Long, steady rate cardio: NAY. It’s boring and I prefer HIIT
Oats in the morning: YAY, that will always be my staple diet.
Training in a crop top: YAY. Why not. If you have it, flaunt it!
Burpees: Yay. I love a burpee. It’s a great way to get that heart rate up, too.
Gym selfies: Nay & yay. I’m not a huge fan of them, but whatever works for you.
Pre-workout nutrition: YAY. I use my pre workout from NPL, or a double espresso also does the trick (with half a grape fruit).
Intra-workout nutrition. YAY. My drink of choice is cherry flavoured NPL BCAAs, mixed with Game or Energade and 5g creatine monohydrate.
Post-workout nutrition: YAY. My favourite is a Cookies n Cream NPL whey protein shake and either rice or sweet potato and some pineapple.
Grilled hake: YAY. It’s a great source of protein and is low in fat.
Fat burners: NAY and YAY. Thankfully, I didn’t need fat burners for my competition prep, but I don’t see anything wrong if they’re used properly with the correct training and diet.
Deadlifts: YAY. This is most definitely the KING of the compound exercises for the entire body.
CrossFit: Nay. I’m a HIIT freak and I work at Switch. It’s not really my thing, but to be fair I haven’t given it much time, so who knows? Maybe one day.
Sports massage: Yay! Bring it on! I love a good sports massage and have them regularly.
Cheat meals: NAY. I eat clean 80% of the time. The other 20% of meals include foods that I enjoy and feel like. I don’t believe in cheat meals because it creates a bad relationship with food and I believe it is impossible to eat strictly and then have a “cheat” . Obviously, when prepping for a competition a cheat or re-feed meal is necessary and can be beneficial for both body and mind, but in normal everyday life I don’t promote cheat meals to my clients. I’m all for balance and a healthy way of life. Flexible eating is a more realistic long-term approach. I promote lifestyle changes rather than staying on a permanent diet that is characterised by restrictions and cheat meals.
Early morning training time: YAY. I love training in the morning so that it’s out of the way. It also leaves me feeling energised and good about myself for the rest of the day.
Training partners: YAY. I have 2 amazing ladies who I train with. We push each other, and we laugh a lot too.
Running: Nay for me. I’ve never wanted a runner’s bum. My aim is a squat booty.
Social media. YAY and NAY. I have my moments. It’s a great way to market and promote in this industry, so I should probably use it more often than I do.
Active rest: YAY. It’s called running after my kids.
EMS, tried it? NAY. I honestly can’t comment as I haven’t tried it. I enjoy working out and sweating, so I haven’t tried EMS yet. I think it definitely has its place, though.
And final thoughts? Life is short, so do something that scares you and takes you out of your comfort zone. I had a great experience prepping for the WBFF UK show. I pushed my mind and body and challenged myself to achieve my dreams. It taught me that to gain something you want, you have to give up something else in return. It’s called sacrifice. I’ve been trying to tell my clients who are struggling to lose weight that they too have to make sacrifices. It may be not attending every social event in their calendar, or giving up drinking wine during the week, but these lifestyle changes are key. I will never be able to maintain the body I had that day on the stage to win my pro card, because it is just not realistic. I believe it is more important to wake up daily feeling healthy, strong and confident with myself, which is what I think every women should want to feel. It’s a lifestyle, not a quick fix.
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.