Posted on 22 Jan 2014
8 min read
The UKBFF Bikini categories have witnessed a surge of interest in recent years, attracting record numbers competitors and increasing media coverage.
Last year, Emma Howie became one of the industry’s brightest female prospects after netting a victory in the coveted UKBFF Bikini Stars of Tomorrow 2013.
We recently sat down with Emma to talk about her career in bodybuilding, training and nutrition, public perceptions of bikini modelling, and her goals for the future.
Hi Emma, thanks for talking to us today.
Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself – background, profession, how long you’ve been competing for.
I’ve not been involved in the competitive industry long.
I’ve been training properly with resistance weights for the last two years and have competed once for the UKBFF at Stars of Tomorrow last November, when I won!
I am now through to the British Finals 2014 and have an invite for the Panthers Gym IFBB Summer Show in July 2014.
In my professional, day-to-day life I work as a Media Consultant for a designer in the wedding industry.
It’s a far cry from the fitness industry, but I like that. I can switch off from training during the day and then after work I head straight to the gym!
What’s been your inspiration for getting into bikini fitness competitions?
I used to be one of those girls who starved themselves, thinking it will give you the perfect body.
But then I met my PT and boyfriend Sam (@Zeus_Fitness).
I’d never picked up a dumbbell until I met him.
I was one of those cardio bunnies who turned up to the gym, spent an hour running, cycling or plodding on the x-trainer, expecting to see results over night.
I expected so much from my body, but in reality I was so lazy and cruel to myself.
I started to join Sam in the gym to spend more time with him and gradually I went more and more and worked solely with resistance weights.
I got hooked!
I started to feel happier, my skin cleared up, I had more energy, and my body started to look more toned and how I’d always wanted it to.
Girls like Andrea Brazier, Melissa Haywood, Michelle Brannan, and Amanda Latona are all girls I became obsessed with.
They were my inspiration to work harder in the gym and they fueled my flourishing obsession.
Wanting to compete started off being just something I thought I should do because genetically I’m suited to it and it’s what everyone else said I should do.
But as the weeks passed and the more I buried myself into my training, the more I realised the true reason I was doing all of this: for me.
I wanted to prove to not only the people I knew, but to myself that I could push myself to the limits.
I wanted to make myself proud and do something that no one else could do, and win!
For years I was a ‘no’ person, burying my head in the sand and letting life pass me by.
One day I stopped and decided that I couldn’t bare the thought of looking back on life and having regrets.
So I became a ‘yes’ person and I just did it.
Did you have an athletic background?
Swimming was my thing from the age of three, when my family and I lived in South Africa.
My parents wanted me to learn as we had a pool.
I kept it up for 18 years, swimming weekly.
During that time I became a county swimmer for Brighton (UK) where my coach tried to persuade me to train for the Olympics, but I chose not to.
I didn’t think I was good enough.
Sometimes I think, “Why didn’t I just go for it?”
But then I wouldn’t be where I am today!
You’re a UKBFF Bikini competitor.
How does this differ from the other classes like Physique or Fitness?
Bikini Fitness is a much softer look compared to Physique and Fitness.
It’s about creating a healthy, feminine look with fuller, defined muscles and womanly curves.
Physique and Fitness focus more on an athletic build and physical strength and ability.
Although I could probably lift as much as some Physique girls, their genetics are built more for their categories.
My hips are too wide and I’m too petite for that Physique look.
In bodybuilding, it’s all about size, shred and symmetry.
How do you (so successfully) stand out from your competitors during competition?
The requirements for Bikini Fitness are still to build defined muscles, enhance symmetry, and shred a certain amount of fat without looking too grainy.
There is a fine line, so it’s quite difficult to not come in too lean.
It’s a lot harder to compete in Bikini Fitness than you think. You have to know your body so well and time things perfectly!
When it comes down to it, it’s all about creating that enviable hourglass and strutting your stuff on stage confidently and gracefully.
A lot of work goes into stage presence; an even tan, hair and makeup styling, bikini, accessories, shoes and above all the routine.
We practice for months on end to get it right and when you appear more confident and well presented than the rest, you stand a good chance.
It’s a lot of fun and you get to meet a lot of lovely girls!
What does your training and diet look like in the off season?
I’m talking reps, sets, cardio, calories, protein, carbs, etc.
Right now I’m well into my off season.
I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life, going from 53kg on stage to 63kg (a 22lb increase in weight).
This added weight is a little scary, but it’s doing wonders for my strength in the weights room.
I’m smashing PBs left right and center, week after week.
I have my workouts split into the following at the moment:
My diet is full of carbs right now in order to build up my muscle.
I live on a strict diet of 7-8 meals per day, written up by my boyfriend Sam and we review it all monthly along with my workouts and progress.
An average workout day will look something like this:Meal 1: Meat, 30g nuts green veg.
What suplements are you currently taking?
Omega 3, multivitamin, vitamin c, vitamin d, DIM.
When you’re on holiday at the beach, do you find yourself, like a chef going out for a meal, sizing everyone else up, finding faults, looking for tips, etc?
I’m constantly comparing myself to other girls.
I don’t think I’ll ever be 100% confident with my body and my looks and so I often find myself admiring others.
Backstage at my show I was convinced I had no chance of even placing.
But Sam said I had it in the bag before I’d even stepped on stage.
I see my body so differently to how it actually looks.
I guess I’m still finding my feet with it all and building my confidence as I go along.
I’m just winging it really!
If you type ‘female gym motivation’ into YouTube, the results are tantamount to softcore pornography.
How do you react to people who see this sport as a glorified peep show?
To be honest I’m not naïve to it at all.
I know that’s why they put the bikini girls on at the end of the shows now – to make sure more people come to the shows and stay to the end!
At the end of the day it works and it’s bringing so much money into the sport, which gives the girls who really work for it the recognition and support they deserve.
People will always view things in the way they choose to view things: softcore porn or a gathering of high standard athletes.
I think you have to take the good with the bad and make something so positive out of everything you can.
Is it possible to make a living from UKBFF bikini modelling?
I think it is if you can combine something else you’re good at with a well-publicized image of yourself.
With female modelling it’s about creating a self-brand and then making a career off the back of it.
Like Michelle Brannan, for example.
She loves to compete but is a PT and bikini girl coach.
She’s made her own business successful off the back of her successful competing career.
And what better way to make a career than out of something you love to do?
At the moment I have plans brewing away in my mind, but I’m just waiting for the right time to implement them.
It’s all about timing and patience (which I have none of!).
What are your long term goals in this sport?
To make it to the Olympia stage.
There’s no other goal in my mind.
Right now I’m just making mini goals that are like my stepping-stones to achieving my dream.
Good luck with everything, Emma.
It’s been a pleasure talking to you and we’re looking forward to watching you compete this year!
For more from Emma, connect with her at:
That’s all for now, stay tuned for more Gymtalk interviews coming soon!
Hi Emma really interesting read.
How have you coped with the weight gain?
As a Bikini athlete it must be hard going against your ‘competitive’ image?
Hi Steve, thanks!
Honestly it is really tough mentally.
As a girl who has always tried to be the skinniest with the smallest waist, adding 22lbs within two months was devastating, with the added pressure of being in the public eye more through Bodypower and other events.
But you have to be realistic and suck it up and deal with it.
I let myself cry and then I look at the bigger picture.
I want to be healthy and I want to be a success.
So I just breathe and get on with my day.
Emma you are an inspiration.
I love your positive attitude.
I also have always lived with the “take the good with bad” mentality.
I never knew how much work goes on before a show.
I would love to see how busy it gets behind the stage as everyone is not only getting their bodies ready, but also makeup, hair and costumes.
It must be stressful.
I hope you can keep achieving your goals.