Susan Arruda with Marco Girgenti
Images by Arsenik Photography, Bernard Clark Photography and CS-I.
It’s two days following her double title wins at the 2009 WBFF World Championships and the newly crowned PRO is still at it.
As the sun kisses the horizon late in the afternoon on this crisp autumn day, Susan Arruda is still pushing herself to the max and finding new limits to conquer. Running uphill backwards while dragging a 20 lb. bag, lunging around the oval track with the occasional sprint, it’s easy to forget that this is a 40 year old mother of two (natural child birth), who juggles a full time job, extra swimming and personal training clients on the side, along with a full time relationship.
Susan has the distinction of 5 consecutive first place finishes in her last four shows as a competitor in the Figure category. How, you may ask? Well, this year she competed in the 35+ and Short Figure Categories at her first WBFF World Championships, won both respective titles and earned her PRO card. In 2008, Susan clinched her third consecutive FAME title by performing what has now been dubbed a “legendary” Figure routine, which incorporated “never before seen strength moves on a Figure stage” on a BOSU™ Ball. That she did so costumed as Wonder Woman® (her favorite childhood superhero), is really no “wonder” at all to the people that know Susan. “Everything’s a workout with you,” her fiancée is fond of saying. You might think that such a fierce competitor would have spent most of her life on stage, but nothing could be further from the truth. Susan decided to “give it a go” by competing in a show at the tender age of 19. Following that, she would be absent from stage competition for 17 years, but not from the competitive stage of life, where we all vie for victory. When I had the chance to interview Susan for this article, I wondered how much of that fitness “persona” would emerge. What I found instead, might come as a surprise to some.
M.G. Obviously, you work very hard at this. Why do you keep training at the intensity you do, if this is not a profession for you?
S.A. Fitness is not a “one day” or seasonal thing for me, it’s a lifestyle. I remain in the same condition pretty much year round, so I don’t really have an “off season”, so to speak. I continue to do this to challenge myself, strive to be the best I can be, and to feel good in my own skin.
M.G. Describe your training these days.
S.A. Dynamic, fast paced and always highly instinctive. I don’t repeat workouts or get stuck in a “must do” number of reps or sets. Many times I will get to the gym and not know what I am going to train until I actually get on the floor. I love to train outdoors with bands, against my own body weight etc… Even though I have a lot of muscle, I do not train with heavy weights anymore.
CHALLENGES and SEASONS OF CHANGE
M.G. Some people might look at a person in your physical condition and think “she’s got it all together”. Would you say that’s true?
S.A. I don’t know if anyone has it all together! (laughs).
M.G. You mean, there have been challenges? (Writer laughs in kind).
S.A. For most of my life I battled low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence and I had major anxiety issues. I know this might be surprising to some, considering the title wins, my appearance etc…
M.G. Did exercise help you to overcome those challenges?
S.A. It did, because it contributed to a sense of accomplishment, which yes, can help with raising someone’s image of self. It also played a strong role in helping to provide respite from dealing with all of my challenges. Sure, you could call it escapism, since that’s what I wanted to do at that point in my life, however it did not solve all my problems. I eventually had to face those challenges head on and it was a terrifying experience for me. When I train, I am in my own world and that time is strictly for me. I don’t socialize at the gym, I am there to train. Even now, training still helps me to keep stress and challenges at bay. I would rather expend energy training, than waste it in being angry or stressed out. It was not always like that for me. I was not a person that was looking forward to her future. In fact, I would go as far to say that I did not want to be on the planet, at all. Thankfully, my faith in God, being with the right man and some positive changes have given me strength and more reason to go on. Now, I can honestly say I have never been happier. The man whom I now share a beautiful relationship with is extremely supportive, but again, it wasn’t always like that for me. I found the courage to leave a damaging marriage and start all over again. It was scary leading up to that moment, but when I made that change, I instantly knew it was the right move for me and I never looked back. Even though I may not be where I want to be, thank God I am not where I used to be. I am flawed, just like everyone else, I heard Marco once say; “you can’t “Photoshop” life,” so true! All I can do is strive to better myself and hopefully help others to do so as well.
M.G. You have two teenage kids. How did the pregnancies affect your training?
S.A. Well, for starters there was severe sleep deprivation. My first child was very alert and not a “sleeper”. Less than one week after giving birth to her, I tried to go back to training, but that did not go very well. I would be up six times per night on a regular basis. I guess you do what needs to be done and somehow I managed that schedule for the better part of four years since my two children were 14 months apart. During that time period, I was lucky if I managed three workouts in a week. For someone who had spent so much time training consistently and intensely for years and hours on end, this marked a major shift. I had to get out of the thinking that if I could not train for two hours, then it would not be worth training at all. I had to come to a realization that something, no matter how little it may have seemed to me, was better than nothing at all.
M.G. How far into your first pregnancy did you train?
S.A. I was in the gym until the night before delivering my first child, doing weights and cardio.
M.G. We have all heard of some women gaining a lot of “baby” weight in their pregnancies. How did you manage to stay in shape during/after your pregnancies?
S.A. I was already fit prior to my pregnancy. I have heard a lot of women say things like “I want to get in shape before I have my baby”, which on many occasions becomes a temporary state, as many times after the delivery, they retain too much weight. I trained hard and was always active, especially at key times such as puberty and in the third trimester of pregnancy, which are hot zones for fat gain. Being in shape prior to the delivery is a key factor in how your body will react to pregnancy.
As far as weight gain, though everyone is different, I had set my expectations based on the following loose equation: factoring in the placenta at roughly 5 lbs., an average baby weight of 8 lbs. plus fluids, the common sense estimate for me was a 20 lbs. total gain. I was very keen about not exceeding that number, especially having a petite frame. An extra 5 lbs. would likely be more noticeable on someone my size, than perhaps on someone who is 5 foot 7.
M.G. What advice would you give to women who have kids and full time jobs?
S.A. If you can only find 20 minutes to exercise, then make them 20 quality minutes. Actually, during my second pregnancy, all I had time for would be 10 minutes here and there to follow an exercise video. Even if it’s 15 minutes in the morning and 15 at night, whatever you can do is better than sitting on the couch just thinking about it.
M.G. What’s the question people ask you the most?
S.A. How do I get abs like yours?
M.G. And your answer?
S.A. Well, it’s a loaded question. Let me put it to you this way; let’s suppose I wanted to build a car from scratch. Could you tell me how to do it along with all of the variables involved? What I can say is that I engage the transverse abdominus (TVA) in everything I do, I always lock the core. I incorporate a wide range of exercises to target my abs, but core comes into play in everything I do. Whether you know it or not, your core IS involved in everything you do, from sitting to standing and everything in-between. I do hanging leg raises, which I think are a substantial part of my development in that area. As for crunches, I never load, as I believe that can make your abs protrude.
M.G. You have won several titles and your popularity is growing. What do you hope that “celebrity” will enable you to do?
S.A. I hope to be an inspiration to other women, especially moms; to believe that it is never too late to remain fit for life. I hope to help them understand that it is possible to remain consistent, all natural and perhaps challenge them via my own story. I have a realistic everyday life and I probably deal with a lot of the same issues that other women deal with. It all boils down to how badly you want something. I had to find a way, and sometimes I had to take from other areas in my life to make it happen, I skipped the clubs, the social outings, the whole party scene, but I believe it did payoff.
M.G. Favorite body part to train?
S.A. There have been phases throughout the years. I think that accumulatively, I have probably had “training infatuations” with all the different major body parts at some point. I must say that legs have always been a favorite of mine though.
M.G. What’s next for you?
S.A. Tomorrow morning! (laughs).One day at a time. I can’t see myself doing a lot of shows though, life is pretty full at the moment and I am striving to maintain balance. I did contribute a chapter in a book I am very proud of called… “Starving to be Fat” which is available through Amazon. I am also very excited that my first DVD, “Elite Water Training” is about to be released! It’s a water workout like no other that promises to challenge even the most seasoned athlete. I have recently been named an “Advanced Genetics” Elite Athlete www.advancedgenetics.ca by the company of the same name, which I feel very honored about, since their products are second to none.
I would also like to thank the gym that sponsors me, Xtreme Couture, a top notch facility with a no-nonsense training environment. A huge thank you to IFM, which has been so gracious, and Arthur “Arsenik” Kwiatkowski, for the amazing images you see before you.
Article by: Marco Girgenti
Marco Girgenti is a freelance writer, elite weight loss coach, and author of the book “Starving to be Fat”.
Article featured in Fit & Firm Magazine – July 2010 Issue