A while back, I was assisting on a photoshoot for the Bodybuilding.com Bodyspace Finalists… one of those finalists happened to be IFBB Figure Pro, Brooke Erickson. I was truly inspired by her friendly, positive attitude and her amazing physique. Following the shoot, I looked her up on Facebook to see if she had an “athlete page”.. as many fitness models and competitors do (thankfully, she did!). One of the ways I personally stay motivated is seeing successful, positive, athletes on my newsfeed every day! One day, as I was surfing my newsfeed, I saw an image Brooke posted of herself ‘before’ she decided to change her lifestyle… I was stunned to see the amazing transformation she went through! When I asked her if she would be willing to share her triumphs and tribulations with myself and my followers, she happily agreed! I’m sure you will find her story incredibly inspiring. She is living proof that it is possible to overcome even the most difficult of obstacles!
If you had to describe yourself in one word, what would it be and why?
Courageous- because I have known failure on stage and in life, but I have never been defeated.
What initially got you into fitness?
I hit rock bottom after I had my 3rd daughter. I suffered from depression, I was unhealthy in so many aspects and I knew that I needed to make a change…not only for myself, but as a role model to my daughters. I had been lying to myself for so long about what “healthy” looked like- I really had to change my entire perspective.
What mistakes did you make if any as a newbie?
Oh my goodness! I made so many! I think the biggest mistake that I made was putting limitations on what I thought I could do. I never bothered picking up the 20lb dumbbell because I thought it was too heavy. I never tried to use the actual squat bar because I thought unless I had weight on it everyone would laugh at me. I hid in the women’s weight room for at least the first 6 months.
What is your training like now?
My training now, is fairly intense. When I go to the gym I like to make the best use of my time and I know if my training doesn’t challenge me than it won’t change me. I am always looking to improve my physique, so it’s my number one goal to leave the gym feeling like I pushed myself harder than I did the time before. There are a few staples in my training that I won’t go without…pull ups, squats, and deadlifts. When I first started I could only do assisted pull ups, then I started doing unassisted and at the very beginning I was able to bust out 5. My goal was to be able to do 20 at one time and now I can. I have to be honest… the last 2-3 aren’t pretty.
My coach has me on a different kind of routine right now to add size in different areas. I am combining high reps with low reps and strength sets with speed sets. It’s hard and fun all at the same time!
Monday- Back, chest, and light arms
Thursday- Shoulders and back (hypertrophy day)
Friday- Quads, hams, and glutes
Saturday- Chest and arms
When you became pregnant with your first daughter, you gained over 80lbs… how did you lose the weight afterward?
I lost the weight by working out to an at- home- video called “The Firm”- I did it every day for 45 minutes to an hour and then I would go running right after. My daughter would sit in her swing and watch me while I jumped up and down (like a maniac) to the video and when I would go running she would join me in the jogging stroller.
What is your nutrition like?
My nutrition is very simple because I am familiar with the macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) in food. I don’t just eat chicken and broccoli- to be completely honest I don’t even like broccoli. I eat everything from steak, egg whites, cereal, protein bars (Quest are my favorite) to baked chips. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t eat cheeseburgers from McDonalds, but I would definitely eat a cheeseburger at home. The key to proper nutrition is understanding what you are eating, knowing what’s in it and what the macro nutrient does for your body. The amount of calories a person needs will vary depending on the goal. My goal is to maintain my lean mass- so, if I were to break down my daily calories by the macronutrients and then break the macronutrients into percentages I will then know how many grams of each specific macro I will need to eat in order to achieve my goal. My current calorie intake is 2000 and I am at a 35p/40c/25f split. This means out of 2000 calories- 35% is protein, 40% is carbohydrates, and 25% is fat. Some of my protein sources are: chicken, turkey, tuna, fish, turkey bacon, lean beef, flank steak, eggs, egg whites, protein powder, Quest bars, non-fat greek yogurt and cheese. Some of my carbohydrate sources are: whole grain cereals, Ezekiel bread, rice cakes, protein bars, baked chips, yams, and I love Tosca Renos’ brand muffins! Some of my fat sources are: Almonds, flax, avocado, salmon, flank steak, and almond butter.
I think one of the best and healthiest nutritional splits is a 40p/40c/20f. It’s easy to remember, easy to keep track of and very doable. The most crucial element to all of this is keeping track of your food. How you look and the weight that you want to lose or gain is all based on the amount of calories you are eating. If you don’t know what you are eating you won’t know where adjustments need to be made. I will break it down even further to make it super easy for someone to calculate.
1 gram of carbs= 4 calories, 1 gram of protein=4 calories, 1 gram of fat= 9 calories. If someone is eating 1800 calories a day at a 40/40/20 they would actually be eating: 180 grams of protein, 180 grams of carbs, and 40 grams of fat.
What are the biggest obstacles you have faced in your life… how did you overcome them?
This is where I ramble and maybe say too much, but it’s important to me to be honest. I feel like I am too familiar with obstacles, but I guess the saying is true- what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. I have experienced a lot in my young 33 years and I know that several of those experiences contributed to my eating disorder. My emotional obstacles are the most vivid and in all honesty I think that how we look on the outside is merely a reflection of how we feel on the inside. There are some specific experiences in which I can actually point a finger at and say- “that didn’t help” and they stem all the way back from my middle school days. I won’t candy coat it… I was a victim of female bullying. It’s not a topic that I usually talk about; as a matter of fact it wasn’t until recently through the encouragement of my coach that I even spoke of it publicly. The bullying was so bad (girls can be brutal) that I had to switch schools when I was 15. Don’t get me wrong and think that I had a miserable existence throughout my high school career because I didn’t- I actually met wonderful people at my new school and the friendships I made helped me pick up the pieces to what I would call a shattered self –esteem; And I will say that a few of the girls that participated in the bullying have contacted me via Facebook to apologize. None the less, a lot of damage was done and self-doubt was inevitable.
Although that was a very emotionally tough time in my life I think my biggest emotional obstacle was the loss of my son. I won’t go into too much detail, but it was definitely one of the lowest points in my life. I spent 36 hours in labor knowing that I would never have the opportunity to hear him cry. I can remember truly hating my body after he was born- there was a part of me that felt like my body failed him and I lived with an incredible amount of guilt. I have successfully had children since then, but I never really allowed myself to enjoy my pregnancies because I lived in fear that at any moment my body would fail me.
Overcoming my eating disorder was challenging and I definitely took baby steps. I know competing made a big difference in the process because I was able to use it as a way to keep my mind focused. The more I trained, the more I wanted to learn about nutrition and the more I knew about nutrition- the less scared I became. The gym made me feel like I was in control and when I finally made that connection with what food really did for my body, a freedom occurred and I was no longer paralyzed by the scale or the mirror.
I have grown immensely since that time and looking back I realized I never gave myself credit for how strong I really was. I was so caught up on what I wasn’t doing or what I didn’t have, that I lost sight of what I was capable of; I didn’t know how to believe in me. This goes back to what I said earlier about not even attempting to pick up a 20lb dumbbell; I think as women we are wired to think of what we “can’t” do rather than believing in what we “can” do. It’s tough to put my finger on how I overcame all of these challenging moments in my life, but then again I strongly believe in the saying- you don’t know how strong you really are until being strong is the only option you have.
My most recent obstacle has been the loss of my father. I was only 3 weeks out from my pro debut when he suddenly died of a heart attack. I still competed, but to be totally honest this is one obstacle that I am still trying to navigate myself through; it’s only been 11 weeks and living without him is still very unfamiliar to me. I am thankful for the mental and emotional strength I have incurred over the past few years… it’s a times like these that I rely on everything I have learned about myself.
What tips do you have for women wanting to have a physique like yours?
My tip would be to do research and become educated on nutrition. I wish it was as simple as going to the gym and lifting heavy, but there is more to it than that. It’s important for women to understand their body- everyone is different and what may work for me, may not work for someone else. I also can’t stress enough to have patience. It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting instant gratification, but as we all know, Rome wasn’t built in a day and results won’t happen overnight. I will leave you with my favorite quote that I remind myself of daily; “ You don’t start out by saying you are going to build a brick wall, you start out by saying you are going to lay each brick as perfectly as possible until one day you have a wall” – Will Smith
To keep up with Brooke, you can find her on her Facebook page! https://www.facebook.com/BrookeEricksonbeFIT