HEALTHYLIVING: Barb Server - finding a lifestyle that FIGURESA trainer works with Server and the other women at 24-Hour Fitness Express in Hermantown for the North America Natural Body Builder Federation’s (NANBF) Mr. and Ms. Minnesota Natural Bodybuilding figure and fitness competition, which will be held in Bloomington on May 16.
By: Dana Kazel, Living North Magazine
It’s 5:15 on a recent Friday morning. Four women, ranging in age from 19 to 48, gather in the back room of 24-Hour Fitness Express in Hermantown. They’re working on their shoulders, calves and abs: four different exercises for each muscle group. Ten repetitions. Five times. Their laughing banter quickly turns to heavy breathing and, at times, groans of exertion. Twelve hours later, they’ll return for a cardio workout.
And this is one of the easy days.
The women are training for the North America Natural Body Builder Federation’s (NANBF) Mr. and Ms. Minnesota Natural Bodybuilding figure and fitness competition, which will be held in Bloomington on May 16. For Barb Server of Duluth, this will be her second competition, making her the most experienced in the group.
“Right now I’m in the gym seven days a week, spend about one-and-a-half to two hours a day,” said Server, describing her workout. “I weight lift every day. I hit every muscle group at least once a week, and two groups twice a week, legs and triceps. I do at least one cardio a day and sometimes two.”
A trainer works with Server and the other women twice a week. The group also spends time at a dance studio during the final weeks of training, where they can practice posing in front of large mirrors.
Call it an irony of the sport. After spending months in the gym lifting weights and challenging their bodies to grueling workouts, athletes forget about the tennis shoes and gym clothes on competition day, wearing instead the tiniest of bikinis and stiletto heels.
“In figure competition, it’s a two-piece suit with all the dazzle and jewelry,” said Server. “Judges look for symmetry, from top to bottom and front to back. They want to see evidence that you’ve been in the gym. They want a nice, soft, very feminine look.”
But it’s not all glamour. On stage, contestants may have to hold a pose for up to 25 minutes as judges review all the athletes. “Muscles cramp up and you begin to sweat,” said Server, “so you have to be prepared for all of that.”
Server is quick to point out that for all the weight training involved, she is not a bodybuilder. Her trainer, Karen Johnson, explained the difference. “Figure competitors strive to show a graceful, healthy and strong look. The figure competitor shows her extremely fit body in her beautifully embellished posing suit and high heels, but must also emanate confidence, poise and gracefulness on stage,” said Johnson. “Bodybuilding is all about muscle. Bodybuilders get extremely lean to portray a muscular, symmetrical physique on stage. We have 14 mandatory poses - in bare feet without all the fun jewelry and embellishments the figure competitors have.”
Server may seem like an unlikely competitor. A hair stylist by day at Bladez Salon in Hermantown, she only began weight training 15 months ago. And when she struts her stuff on the stage in a few weeks, wearing that tiny bikini, she’ll be just three days shy of her 49th birthday.
“I wish I’d gotten started 20 years ago,” said Server. “I feel so good. I have so much more energy than I had before. I look healthier. I feel great.”
Server’s path to fitness started simply enough. She embarked on the Body for Life 12-week challenge and admits, “I didn’t have the greatest results. I only lost nine pounds, but I lost seven and a half inches total, mostly in my waist.”
At the same time, however, the program helped her gain something invaluable: an understanding of how to take control of her diet and exercise. “It taught me how to use proper proportions, six meals a day,” said Server. “It also taught me when I went into the gym, what different muscle groups were and what different exercises worked for that muscle group.”
A trainer at her gym approached her about the idea of competing, and Server decided to go for it. That started an intense 12-week regimen, leading up to a competition last November in which Server placed third in her age category.
Her performance inspired two of the women who now train with her: Angela Sayler, 39, and her daughter Kayla Sayler, 19.
“We watched her transformation in the gym,” said Angela. “We didn’t really know her yet but wanted to support her, so we went down to see her competition. And then Karen (Johnson, Barb’s trainer) told us about the Body for Life book, and so we got it that night on the way home.”
Kayla laughed at the memory. “We stopped at like six different exits. We’re like, ‘we’ve got to get this book’.”
The Saylers started the program the next day, and later, with encouragement from Barb, began training for the figure competition.
Barb’s trainer isn’t surprised by her success or her ability to inspire others. “Barb just has this drive to improve her physique,” said Johnson. “She wants to learn how to eat right and be healthy at the same time. Barb doesn’t just want to get skinny. She wants to get fit and strong
Barb motivates others in the gym, inspires would be a better word,” added Johnson. “She’s fun to train because she gives 100 percent during our hardcore sessions. When others give up, she doesn’t. And that’s what has transformed her body, made her a great competitor and a fun gym member.
Server’s passion will remain long after the competition. During what she calls the off-season, the months in between competitions, she’ll again follow the Body for Life plan, which calls for exercising six days a week. Following that plan, she’s lost 21 pounds. For competition, she’ll lose an additional six pounds, dropping her body fat percentage into the low teens.
“I can see myself having this as a lifestyle,” Server said of Body for Life. “Not necessarily what you do to get ready for a competition. Your body can really only do this twice a year because it’s so intense what you put your body through.”
She also has big dreams for the future, hoping for a first place finish in the Master’s category, which would earn her a pro-card and sponsors. She’s also studying to earn her own personal training certification.
“That’s what I get the most out of this,” said Server, with her typical enthusiasm. “To inspire women to get healthy and show that it can be fun.”