24-year-old Betsy Lane is, self-admittedly, not your typical bodybuilder. You won’t find most of her competitors doing heavy strength work or hill sprints. Nor will you find them in the classroom, studying to earn their Doctor of Physical Therapy. Yet with top-three finishes in both of her recent national level shows, Betsy’s dedication and somewhat unconventional methods are undoubtedly paying off. But Betsy didn’t always have a healthy relationship with food, exercise, and her body. Read on to learn about Betsy’s early struggles and recent big successes.
How did you get into bodybuilding?
Growing up, I never really worked out. I was always skinny, but I was not fit. I just kind of ate almost nothing to get skinny. Eventually, I started running, because that's what girls do. I ran a lot and ate very little. But then I started reading more and more about exercise and nutrition. I developed a healthier sense of food, and exercise came along with that. About 5 years ago, my ex-boyfriend took me to a group class at No Bull Training. I thought that weight training was really awesome after that, so I started to learn. Then I found that there was a network on bodybuilding.com of people who were weird like me and watched what they ate and cared about exercise. I was hooked.
In 2012 you were the winner of the I Am Juggernaut Challenge. What is the challenge, and what impact did it have on you?
The I Am Juggernaut is a challenge where you basically keep a journal on bodybuilding.com on the forums. I kind of just went on there and was like, “Hey this is me, and I love to work out.” I was just goofy. There were pro bodybuilders that would come by your log and help you. I thought that was so neat. It's the best form of support ever. The challenge changed my life. I learned so much. I made a million friends.
Part of the winnings was that they take you to Vegas with them to go to the Olympia. The Olympia is like bodybuilders trick-or-treating. You go around, talk to all these people, and you get pictures. It's totally socially acceptable to go up and grab somebody's front delt and be like, “Wow, that's great!” It's another whole world. I was very inspired by it.
What does a typical week of training look like for you?
I pretty much always do a body part split, but I like to switch it up. I might try to get in two leg days, two shoulder days, one back day, and a full arm day, but I never do the same thing twice. I don't have a set routine, because periodization is the essence of my life. As Newton said, an object at rest stays at rest unless external forces are added on it. You need to constantly change things, or else you will stay at rest. Sometimes, I'll just be like, it's D-day. I'm going to do dips and deadlifts, because it's fun! You have to love what you do. If it's on the schedule, but I'm not going to love it, I'll do it the next day, or I'll make another day for it.
I do strength work, too. If I do shoulders twice a week, one workout will be more for strength, and I might do 5 sets of my heaviest 3 to 5 reps. You can't continue to build cross-sectional area always doing the same thing using the same weight. I want to get stronger, so when I do my hypertrophy workouts, I can lift more. I'm a rare bodybuilder. I'm very functional.
For hypertrophy, what rep range do you use, and what are your favorite exercises?
I stay in between the 8-12 rep range. The 12th rep should always be a struggle. If I'm getting 12 reps, I'm going heavier on the next set. I want to be able to fail on the third or fourth set at that eighth rep. As far as exercises go, definitely squats. All kinds: back squats, front squats, goblet squats. For shoulders, seated barbell military press. Sometimes I'll stand up and push press at the end to really burn it out. For back, pull-ups. You can do back exercises until you're blue in the freaking face, but if you don't pull-up, you are so missing out on a whole world of hypertrophy. And everybody always asks about abs. Hanging straight leg raises are the greatest things for ab hypertrophy ever.
What type of cardio is best?
My philosophy is that you should do some HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and some LSD (long slow distance) all the time. And contest prep is just more of both. Get the fat-burning, metabolism-elevating properties from HIIT, and then just move more with the LSD. So I'll do 10 minutes of HIIT twice a week post-workout. Something fun. I love hill sprints. That's like my treat. Then, three times a week, I make it my goal to get on the elliptical, the treadmill, whatever it is, for half an hour and just move. Also, my new thing is to make sure I get 10,000 steps a day. That’s the recommended healthy daily dose. It’s helped a lot.
What supplements do you take?
I take creatine pre- and post-workout. Creatine really fills my muscles out. And it does increase my strength quite a bit. It's that one more rep. I also do BCAA’s (branch chain amino acids) intra-workout. I think they really help energy-wise, especially when you’re dieting. I cycle on and off a pre-workout. I actually just started taking it again recently because my energy was really low from school. I don't really do a lot of post-workout protein shakes. I prefer whole food because it's more thermogenic. It helps your metabolism, and it's more mentally satiating for me. If I drink a shake, I'm hungry! I'm a fat girl at heart. I want to eat. I also take fish oil six times a day. Fish oil helps with digestion if you take it with every meal.
How has your physical therapy schooling impacted your training and vice versa?
The way I'm learning about the muscles in such depth at school gives me a whole new appreciation for workouts. While I'm doing it, I'm thinking "scapular adduction, internal rotation, downward rotation." It's so funny because I really focus on it, and I feel like my mind-muscle connection has improved because of that. School has also given me an even greater health point of view. I’m in it for more than just aesthetics. More than ever, it’s about health and moving properly. On the flip side, my training background makes me a kinesthetic learner. Things in lab come very easy to me. Just moving people around and pulling on different joints. It just makes sense. It connects.
While in college, you worked as a personal trainer on the side. How does that experience help with school?
More than anything, it's really just helped me talk to people. If there were a job where I could just be a professional motivator, I would do that. That's huge in physical therapy. If you have a left hemi stroke patient, and they feel like they're never going to walk again, and they haven't moved in six days, you need to be able to encourage them, and tell them they're going to be able to get up again, and they're going to be able to use that leg.
What challenges do you face as a female bodybuilder?
People are constantly criticizing and scrutinizing, saying you look too manly and you shouldn't be doing that. Constantly questioning your health. I don't care. I like muscles!
What is your greatest strength as a bodybuilder? Biggest weakness?
My greatest strength is that I don't take myself too seriously. Hands down. And also, my back pose. My back pose is money. My biggest weakness is my size. I'm not as big as other girls. So I definitely need more development.
How does nutrition change during show preparation?
In the off-season, you want to eat a lot, optimize your metabolism, and increase your carbs. For contest prep, which can start anywhere from 8 to 16 weeks out, depending on how lean you are, you slowly start taking carbs out. So it’s mostly carb manipulation. I never change my proteins or fats, and I always drink well over a gallon of water every day.
Peak weak, the week before the contest, is very different from the rest of contest prep. About four days pre-competition, I gradually add in carbs while pulling out subcutaneous water with dandelion root, a mild herbal diuretic. What's neat is that your muscles fill up with all this glycogen because you've depleted them. And you're pulling out water at the same time, so the skin just kind of tightens over your muscles. The day of the show, I'll even eat burgers to fill me out. It's kind of fun. So that day, my energy is pretty good. I'm pretty happy.
How important is it to have a coach?
No matter what, we need coaches. I personally could not have done it without my own coach, Jamie Ibone, of Team Ironclad Physique. The best bodybuilders in the world have coaches, too. Because you can't look at yourself unbiased and say yes, I'm definitely leaning out. It's so necessary. Even the current Mr. Olympia, Phil Heath, has a coach.
How much time do you spend practicing posing, and how important is posing in competition?
I practice posing a lot, but still probably not as much as I should. 12 to 16 weeks leading up to the show, a lot of people will say 3 times a week, 20 minutes. I can’t. I'm so tired when I'm dieting. I have no energy. And it's a freaking workout! Execution of the poses is huge, though. You can come on stage and diet your ass off, but if you go up there and your poses look like crap, it doesn’t matter how great you look. It doesn't matter how great your tan looks, your make-up, your hair, which all come into play by the way. All of that matters, too. It's a beauty pageant.
What's the deal with the tan?
Oh god. First off, you don't box tan. People are so quick to jump on you, and tell you it's so unhealthy and you're going to die of cancer. I totally understand. I don't expect people to know what we do. I like to educate people as to the fact that it is not a real tan. It’s a spray tan. You get it the night before, the morning of, and sometimes between pre-judging and finals.
Who's the coolest person you've met on the circuit?
Jamie Eason. She's the spokesmodel for bodybuilding.com. She's a pretty big icon. She has an amazing free 8-week training/nutrition program on bodybuilding.com that I constantly refer out to people. And she makes all types of recipes with protein powder. So it was really exciting for me to give her my protein cookie, and for her to say, “This is awesome!” I was like, “Oh my god! Jamie Eason just ate my cookie!”
Also, talking about coolest people, I met my boyfriend because of bodybuilding, too. He lives in Florida and flies up every month. It's funny -- I was never into bodybuilders until I met him. But it brought us together.
Do you plan on getting your pro card any time soon?
Maybe one day, but I never put getting a pro card as the end goal. What do you get when you get that piece of plastic? It represent something wonderful, and the fact that you worked so hard to get to it, but there needs to be a balance. Bodybuilding does become your lifestyle, but there's more to life than just bodybuilding. Right now I just need to take an off-season and get a little bit bigger. In the future, I definitely plan on doing another national show.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Not to do too much too quickly. Because it's not healthy, and you're going to fall off. I've been guilty of doing it, too. Doing too much too quickly is short-term, not long-term. If you can't see yourself doing the thing you're doing now in a year, then don't do it.
Follow Betsy’s blog at http://infinitelabs.com/blogs/1/author/betsy-lane/.