Listen to this interviewThe Bulk Hackers robot can read Norma's interview aloud for you (playtime 22 minutes and 23 seconds) 🤖
👋 Hi! Tell us about yourself and your training
Hi. My name is Norma Reynolds. I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and I’ve lived here most of my life; minus college in Minnesota, and law school in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Fitness has always been a part of my life, and sprinting with track and field was the primary way I stayed fit up until college. When law school started, it was very tough to balance academics and fitness. I did what I could to keep somewhat active, and to manage stress.
Once I graduated law school, I had a bit more time, and I really wanted to get back into great shape. And I found an unexpected way to begin building my body – martial arts.
Growing up, my dad and brother took southern praying mantis kung fu classes. The dark cold winter nights leaving the office made me want to know how to defend myself.
As part of those classes, we would do 100 push ups and sit ups, as the warm up! It took me six months, but I finally was able to do it. That’s where those nice arms got started!
With three years of martial arts under my belt, I started seeing bikini competitors in my Instagram feed – and I absolutely could not look away. I started doing natural bodybuilding shows in 2015, as a feminine balance to the grit of the martial arts classes.
When I started competing in bodybuilding shows, I didn’t have a coach, a nutritionist, or a posing coach – something I do not recommend. However, it helped me to learn my body, learn the sport, and allows me to now appreciate the wisdom and camaraderie with the coaches I have now.
In 2015, I competed in two North American Natural Bodybuilding Federation (NANBF). In my first show – the Heartland Classic – in May 2015, I did not place in novice short or open bikini short. In my second show – the Greater Omaha Natural Championships – in October of 2016, I was grateful to walk away with fourth place in novice bikini short.
In October 2015, right after completing my second show, I decided to go 100% vegan. Instagram, again, is what really peaked my interest.
I accidentally came across vegan food bloggers, and I loved what I saw – but they were not athletes…
But could an athlete be a vegan? I was curious. So, I started researching. And what do you know!
I started finding vegan bodybuilders, and yogis, and powerlifters, and Olympians. It was awesome! I decided to try it for a month, and I ended up loving it. I was working out longer and recovering faster! Better yet, I had more energy during the work day.
It was so exciting to do two natural bodybuilding shows as a vegan in 2016. In my third show – the 19th Annual Open Pro & Amateur Global Gup Health Expo Championship – in September 2016, in Atlanta, I got third out of three amateur bikini girls. This was a majority pro show, and it showed me up front I had a lot of growing to do.
In my fourth show – the Greater Omaha Natural Championship – in October 2016, I improved upon the prior year, and on a vegan diet, coming home with fifth place in open bikini short. At this time, I was also keeping up with martial arts classes, so it felt like I was on top of the world!
On October 21, 2016, just two weeks after my fourth competition, I pickup truck ran into my car. He missed his turn, and was trying to skip over my lane. I was in the outside turning lane, with him on the inside.
As we accelerated through the turn, and his passenger side front ran into my driver’s side door, my car spun several times in the intersection. The tire marks were on the road for almost a year. Luckily, nothing was broken. However, I would feel the painful effects of the impact, for what felt like an eternity.
The car accident left me with horrible neck pain, all day every day, until about July 2018. I had horrible whiplash, nausea, dizziness, incoherence, and low energy, for about six weeks. And it just felt like I woke up “on the wrong side of the bed” with a horrible strain deep in my neck, everyday, all day.
The pain was so great, I would lay on the floor many mornings and nights, for the pressure and support, and just rest, with tears in my eyes. I stopped going to martial arts, and I could barely lift any weight.
The road to recovery of my neck was slow and painful. I began going to the chiropractor three times a week, and eventually to physical therapy. I went from being able to bang out 100 push ups, as a warm up, to not being able to do more than 1 or 2, on the rare occasion I felt up to trying.
While isolated lower body movements allowed me to use a little more weight – like 10 pound dumbbells for walking lunges, or a leg extension machine – upper body exercises were reduced to three-pound weights, stretchy bands, etc. Once I got up to five pounds, I felt so strong lol!
During this time, I focused on other things I enjoyed, like traveling, cooking, guitar, writing songs, and singing, to keep my spirits high. I even learned how to swim, after years of vowing to do so.
An added bonus was learning that the resistance of the water allowed me to PUSH my body again, without the pain and impact I felt while doing any other movements outside of the water. So, this period reminded me to enjoy every other aspect of life that I could, while coping with the pain and the loss of my former athletic life.
As my neck began to heal in July of 2018, I had just learned about the 1st All Vegan World Bodybuilding Championships in Fort Lauderdale, FL, on December 1, 2019.
I quickly worked to settle my car accident claim with the insurance company because I was determined to do EVERYTHING I could to compete in that show. I didn’t care if I came in dead last. I knew it wouldn’t be my best, and that I had a long recovery from the accident, but I didn’t want to miss out.
Through recommendations, I linked up with Team 3DMJ and paired up with the amazing and humble Jeff Alberts. A local bikini pro recommended the incomparable Alyssa Van Diest for posing. We only had 13 weeks, and I was starting prep after I just began to feel capable of training again after the accident.
I had only begun to perform light resistance training, and I did not have a dedicated bulking phase – just hope. It was a slow start with training and posing; but since I was starting from the bottom, I was able to just appreciate the journey.
I had realistic expectations of just wanting to participate, and this also made the coaching-client relationship work well for all of us; no pressure 😊.
With their guidance, and hard work, I actually ended up winning my class and winning bikini overall, at the 1st ever all vegan bodybuilding show!
I went home with a pro card from the Naturally Fit Federation (NFF)! This was amazing, because I had never placed in top three before in open, and the quality of the competitors looked like an overall, in each class! This was medium sized show, but with vegan athletes coming in from all over the WORLD, to celebrate ourselves, each other, and the sport.
I was just excited when it looked like I would medal in the novice category, let alone my class. Winning my pro card was a big deal because I have always wanted to be a great athlete. With track and field, I was always decent; but I never won at the biggest track meets, like “State” in high school, or “Conference” in college. I won, big. I made history.
In order to maintain the NFF card, I had to compete in a pro show within a year. So, if it’s not broke; don’t fix it. I kept the same coaches, and took as much time as possible to grow, before I would have to officially start prepping for my pro debut show.
This meant we would only have five months for growth, before I would need to officially start prepping again. So, I stayed extremely focused with that short time period, and I was determined to get any kind of gains that I could.
This second prep with my coaches went so much better than the first, as I now had a base of greater strength, health, and momentum, from winning the pro card. We had a lot more high carb days, posing was more second nature, and we had 29 weeks vs. 13 weeks, to get ready.
Miraculously, with my coaches by my side, I ended up winning my pro debut show! It is my understanding that this kind of thing does not happen, and I was absolutely shocked, and incredibly grateful.
In my mind, I was still the girl who was fit, but didn’t place well in shows, and who was still maimed by the car accident girl. This girl was now a two-time champion.
Winning the pro debut show qualified me for nationals with the International Pro Elite (IPE), in Liberty, Missouri, on November 16, 2019. This was my first national competition ever, and an absolute dream come true!
In addition, the IPE is the pro organization for the NANBF; the organization hosting the first, second, and fourth shows I competed in before, with humbling results. So, breaking the top five at nationals for their pro organization was truly an accomplishment. And with the glamazons I was up against, I could not be prouder.
My neck is still not 100% and still gives me a bit of discomfort on a daily basis. I use that as fuel and a reminder to be grateful for EVERY SINGLE DAY and EVERY SINGLE REP. And with such a miraculous season behind me, I’m currently building, bulking, and about to snack on some vegan ice cream lol!
⏱ Describe a typical day of training
My coach has recommended a four-day split for me, and we have maintained that since September 2018: Monday = legs; Tuesday = upper body / Thursday = legs; Friday = upper body.
During prep, having Wednesdays off was nice for posing practice, and then weekends off worked well for posing, errands, and maintaining a social life.
Now that I am in an extended off-season, there is the itch sometimes to train five for six days a week. However, sometimes more is not better. We all have to know our bodies, monitor our recovery, sleep, rest, stress, and nutrition, before adding more volume or loads into our training.
Typically, each session has six to eight exercises, for three to five sets, for anywhere from eight to 10 or 12 to 15 reps. So, I am putting in WERK. There is enough volume in my training that my deloading sessions take about an hour.
When I am really pushing it, and taking more time to rest in between sets, the sessions usually take about an hour and a half.
One idea is to move some of the exercises to a Saturday or Sunday, so that I can keep all sessions under an hour. But one thing I have learned is that I like the cognitive break on the weekends, to do things like bake vegan donuts (yes, I made them all through prep!), or catch up with friends.
The lifts I do are all very traditional and simple, with focus on progressive overload. Leg days will include lifts like leg press, calve press, glute pulls, and hip thrusts (i.e., glutes gotta pop for the bikini category 😉).
I also do abs on leg days. Upper body days will have exercises like bench, incline, row, and shoulder work.
👊 How do you keep going and push harder?
What keeps me going is two things:
- I want to always be grateful for my health, after that car accident, and some other health issues that have come up in the past.
- I am always curious of just how strong, how big, how lean, can I get….? I won’t know unless I keep going 😊.
Another thing that helps me to make progress is that I try not to set specific goals in terms of the loads I am lifting. I just try to get additional reps, or increase by 5 pounds, etc., each session.
The ability to make small improvements here and there keeps my ego happy, my body healthy, and my mind curious for how much further I can go.
🏆 How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I am on an extended off-season, which means I do not plan to step on a stage and compete for at least a year. It is possible that I could go two or three years. Yes, it is very tempting to see the shreds, the abs, the glitz, and the glam.
However, I am a 100% natural athlete, so growth takes time. I want my improvements to be so noticeable that even non-competitors can tell the difference. Moreover, competing is like a full-time job, and I want it to keep being fun.
For me, that seems to be doing a couple of shows every other year. It gives me the time to enjoy life, travel, EAT lol, and grow, so that by the time prep comes around, I am focused, productive, and hungry to be my best.
At this time, I’m slowly lifting heavier again, enjoying more of the foods I enjoy, and getting to spend more time on other aspects of life.
After 13 weeks of prep for the vegan show, five months of building, and then 6.5 months of prep for the pro debut and nationals, it has been great to have more time for family and friends. I was still able to keep active with folk during this time, but it is so much more relaxed when I’m not prepping for literally the biggest athletic events I’ve ever done.
One project I have more time for now is my clothing brand called, Doba Fit. I offer USA-made, sweatshop-free, tank tops and tees, from organic and premium fabrics, using water-based inks.
I launched Doba Fit right before I started prep for the pro debut. I wanted to offer more sustainable and eco-friendly fitness apparel, for others with similar concerns.
I noticed that the eco-friendly fitness gear seemed to be focused on the rock climbers, hikers, and yogis; not the gym crowd. So, my brand bridges this gap.
And it was also super fun to use my creativity, to make graphics and logos that meant something to me personally. The current shirt ideas are: “Vegan For My Gains”, “Shred Cred”, “Push Rest Grow,” “The Grind From Behind,” and “Doba” after the brand.
Another great thing about the brand is that I was able to donate some of the profits to an inner city community garden I was volunteering with this summer, during the first two months of my pro debut prep.
Community gardens in inner cities help people who have less access, and less resources, to be able to eat fresh produce, as a basic human right (i.e., food justice). So, without prepping for a show, this is the kind of thing I would love to be more involved with, going forward.
🤕 How do you recover, rest and handle injuries?
In the past, I used to take one week off a few times a year. But, since I have been working with my new coach, we have just been continuing the cycle of three rest days per week, along with deloading weeks.
Even though I don’t take full weeks off any more, I have made much more progress with my new coach. I think the three rest days have worked extremely well for my life. I try to maximize the relaxation and enjoyment on my days off, so that by the time I get to the gym, I want to be there, I want to train, and I want to get after it.
I also incorporate deloading weeks; typically every 5th week. However, we have moved it around a bit with how things are going during my month, if you know what I mean, ha. Now, there are a lot of opinions on deloading weeks. And, notably, if on a random day I feel the need to pull back on a work out (i.e., example is if for some reason I did not sleep well, cramps), then I definitely do that.
But even on a deloading week when I am feeling like I could still push it, I usually still take the deloading week. Why? There is no rush to make gains or get PRs in the gym.
I try to work on form and force during as many sessions as possible, so I find that by the time the deloading weeks come around, that my body is starting to feel a bit fatigued.
So, this approach has helped me a lot. I look at it like scheduling that massage, or that hot soak. You don’t have to do it, but you usually are glad you did.
🍎 How is your diet and what supplements do you use?
I’ve been following a 100% vegan diet since October 2015. I have not had any desire to eat meat or dairy since then because I have made sure to keep flavors high on savory meals, and to find easy substitutes for sweet dishes. I have not noticed any setbacks with my training; in fact, I’ve noticed a ton of improvements, with energy and strength.
That said, I do follow a high protein vegan diet. This means I focus on eating things like lentils, quinoa, oats, pumpkin seeds, tofu, seitan (I prefer homemade), faux meats, and vegan protein powder — The protein powder I use most often is Vega Sport Premium Protein Powder in Vanilla. As I follow a mostly whole food plant based diet, I try to keep my snacks to things I have baked myself, or fruit, or minimally processed pre-made items.
Meal prep sessions are fairly similar to when I was on the bro diet. I swapped seitan for chicken, tofu for fish, and faux meat for beef. I cook a ton of rice, quinoa, lentils, etc. for the week.
The faux meat sources are higher during prep, as the calories are dropping, and I don’t reduce protein as I get closer to a show. Now that I am bulking, the protein in many of the “carbs” I eat are making up a lot of the difference.
I keep snacks simple; like rice cakes with nut butter, or homemade, lower fat, lower sugar, vegan donuts, breads, or cookies. I always keep fair trade vegan dark chocolate bars in my pantry, along with things like granolas, dried apples, and plantain chips.
👍 What has inspired and motivated you?
I get really inspired by the many pro bikini ladies who are moms! These women have abs for days, amazing bodies, and little ones running around. I hope to have one or two kids someday, and these women are such an inspiration to me; that you really can have it all.
A pro bikini athlete and friend I admire, is a wife, mother, and also a vegan athlete – Jacalyn Costello. She won multiple pro bikini shows last year, showing everyone that you can thrive on a plant-based diet.
✏️ Advice for other people who want to improve themselves?
If you are wanting to get toned for the new year, start small. Do less than you think you want to do, until you have done that modified routine for two to three weeks. You can always add to it later. And if you live in a cold state, then you can add more on as it gets warmer and lighter each day 😊.
If you want to compete in a bodybuilding show some time in the future, start by researching. What was the most recent show in your city? Once you find out, look for posts on Instagram.
Start finding competitors and the coaches they worked with. Begin looking into the coaches, and try speaking with a some that resonate with you. Discuss with them your desired timeline, and be open to their feedback for how much time they think you need to be show ready – it’s likely longer than you think.
And yes, it costs money to have a competition coach and a posing coach, but it is SO worth it – even if you are a natural athlete. In no other sport in life would you compete for the first time without a coach, and the top Olympians have coaches; you should, too.
For most people, I actually don’t recommend doing competitions. My advice? Get a personal trainer for three to six months, book a solo fitness photo shoot, and then a beach vacation, taking all the beach pics you can!
This photo shoot + beach approach may cost around the same as competing; but the focus is on YOU! Not a line up of strangers, judged by strangers, in front of an audience of strangers. You won’t have posing practices. You will likely have way less cardio. You will likely also have more flexibility with the nutrition, macros, and free time.
If there is a desire to eat less meat, or adopt a pescatarian, vegetarian, or vegan diet, there are many approaches you can take. You could try changing one meal a week. Or perhaps you modify your breakfast, or your lunch for the whole week.
For some, you might update all meals for most of the week, except for when you go out to eat. And you can start looking ahead or calling restaurants beforehand, if you know where others want to go.
If you are cooking for a spouse and or kids, you make want to start making the meals flexible, where they are getting to eat what they enjoy, and you can just make one or two adjustments to fit your new dietary goals.
For example, let’s say you are going vegan, and your family isn’t. Let’s assume you are making pasta with oven roasted vegetables, oven roasted chicken, and tomato sauce. Buy some pre-marinated and cooked tofu or seitan, and let it come to room temperature while you make the rest of the meal.
After the pasta, veggies, and chicken are cooked, wait until the last minute to add the chicken to the mix. Take your portion out, first, place it in your serving dish, topping it with the now room temperature pre-cooked vegan protein, and then garnishing it with some fresh herbs.
🤝 Are you taking on clients right now?
I am a NASM certified personal trainer, with a Fitness Nutrition specialization. I am currently not taking clients, as I am using this time to let life settle a bit, after a year and a half focused on competing. However, in the future, I may look into online training and in person.
📝 Where can we learn more about you?
Instagram is where I am most active @normajreynolds. I love photography, so this is right up my ally. I typically have stories going daily, with my workouts, food, inspirational quotes, and things I am learning about climate change, living an eco-friendlier life, and other issues effecting and elevating human kind.
To check out the USA-made, sweatshop-free, eco-friendly, unisex/men’s and women’s fitness apparel I offer, visit dobafit.com.