20 Questions with Cover Model and NPC Fitness Heather Skaar
1) Please introduce yourself? What makes you special? Who is Heather Skaar?
I am a very driven and goal-oriented woman. I expect a lot from myself and once I set my mind to something I don’t quit until I achieve it. I am both a procrastinator and a perfectionist. I’m definitely not perfect…but I’m inspired to live my life to the best of my ability and to the fullest.
2) Please tell us a bit about your family, friends and surroundings?
I have a younger sister and brother. We grew up in a little town outside of Bismarck, ND. Looking back, it was the best childhood anyone could have asked for. We spent a lot of time outside and being active. We would hunt, fish, ride motorcycles, and snowmobiles…so I’m not afraid to get a little bit dirty J
My dad taught me to stand up for myself and my family, to work hard, and never sell myself short. I still to this day remember when my grandparents said women couldn’t be engineers, my father responded that his daughter could do anything she set my heart to…and he was right.
When I was 13 my father had a massive stroke and never fully recovered, so from then on my mother was the head of the household. She taught me to be independent, strong, and caring.
My sister and brother both currently live in AZ. My sister has a 5 year old son and 4 year old daughter – both of which love that their aunt competes. My brother’s son just turned one. Both my siblings are also very career oriented and I am proud to say that we are very close and supportive of one another.
I also have some of the most supportive friends anyone could ask for. They raise me up when I am down and would do anything to help me out. I am truly blessed to have them in my life.
3) How did you start competing in figure?
After college I needed a physical outlet, so my boyfriend at the time (now fiancé) encouraged me to start training with him in the gym. I loved the results I saw and wanted more. After we moved to Oregon I went to a local competition to see him compete, and the figure girls inspired me. I knew that’s how I wanted to look so I committed to a competition 16 weeks after his and went for it! It’s the hardest thing both physically and mentally that I’ve done, but the only thing I have found that the amount of work that is put in is directly equal to the results at the end…and I’ve been hooked ever since.
4) What is your personal policy (not what the judges want) about conditioning and muscularity when coming into a show? Soft or hard?
My personal preference is hard and lean. For me, I believe a more conditioned look is best because I carry the majority of my fat in my glutes and hams, so if I come in too soft I look thicker and less streamlined. It’s a constant battle to keep the muscle in my upper body while having a well-conditioned lower body. But I do acknowledge that it varies from person to person some look great with a softer look and some look better with a more conditioned look. I am a firm believer that you should just come in looking the best you can look, otherwise you will drive yourself crazy trying to “chase” what the judges are looking for from show to show.
5) What is your idea of what judges want in a figure/fitness competitor? Do you think judges are clear enough with competitors about how they want you on stage? It seems in Europe they are very clear unlike in the USA.
Over the years I feel the NPC has tried to make it clearer, in terms of what they are looking for in the physique rounds, but spectators and competitors can still be left guessing from show to show or class to class. I understand it’s a tough job because there are so many different physiques which is why I feel it’s best to prepare a package that you like and represents your “best“.
For the routine round I’ve quickly learned that most judges look for a certain “impression”, because often times things move so quickly it’s difficult to really remember the “actual” moves the competitor did. This bodes well for me as I am still improving as a fitness competitor but also makes sense since I believe that someone can have a great routine but if they are not having fun or really “performing” then it’s not enjoyable for the spectators or judges to watch.
6) For the next shows what do you think you need to work on physique-wise/conditioning-wise? If anything!
I always have things to work on…I’m never satisfied. Physique wise I don’t have the smallest waist so I continue to work on my back to make it wider to give my waist the appearance of being smaller. My legs are also dominant so I always struggle with bringing a fuller upper body to the stage in order to look balanced. For Team U’s I will continue with this approach but will also come in harder and leaner, similar to the look I presented in 2008.
7) What is your typical training routine in the gym (per day, include sets and reps!) How much cardio do you do before a show?
Since switching to fitness I train two body parts each workout, weight training 3 days per week. I typically do 3 sets of 10-15 reps, throwing in supersets, drop sets, etc. just to keep things interesting and completely exhaust whatever muscle group I’m training. The other three days I do gymnastics practice, routine practice, and fitness team/boot camp style workouts. On the seventh day of the week I rest (well, I guess its resting if you don’t count the cardio).
In the off season I still do 3-4 days of cardio per week and cardio everyday when preparing for a competition. As the weeks go by for contest prep I incorporate pre-breakfast cardio and cardio after my workouts, increasing time as needed. There have been times where I’ve only needed 30 minutes per day, up to as high as 3 hours per day…all depending on how my body is responding. I do pre breakfast cardio 7 days a week with 30 min following my weight workout as well.
8) What is your pre-contest diet? (per day, 1 week before the show)
For the 2009 Emerald Cup I tried something different than I did in the past. I used the Dave Palumbo keto diet; eating 5 meals per day of 35 g of protein and 10 g of fat per meal. A few weeks out from the competition I incorporated 1 day of protein/fat to 1 day of protein/veggie.
My diet one week out of the show always seems to change depending on how I look. This last contest prep I kept my diet the same as the previous weeks, rotating protein/fats and protein/veggie days. The day before the contest I remove salt from my diet and stop drinking water that evening. I find the human body amazing with its ability to adapt so quickly, so over the years I have found that what worked “last time” may not work “this time”, which is why working with a nutritionist is so important.
9) How do you go about dropping your water before the day of the show? How much water do you drink the day of the show. Please be specific.
I typically start drinking two gallons of water per day on Sunday thru Wednesday, then taper off each day until stopping on Friday night. I drink 4 ounces of coffee the morning of the competition and then 8 ounces of water between prejudging and finals.
10) What motivates you to train/diet and compete? Are there any competitors you look up to?
The challenge and the drive to always be better than I was last time motivates me. I also love the thrill of performing on stage. The physical and emotional journey has taught me how strong and dedicated I am. Because of competing, I really feel like I can do anything I set my mind to.
There are a ton of pro competitors I look up to, just like I’m sure every other figure competitor does, like Monica Brandt, Gina Aliotti, and Valerie Waugaman (even though she’s retired). In terms of fitness I really admire and love Tanji Johnson! I’ve been fortunate enough to work with her as part of her Save Fitness Team. She’s a very talented, beautiful, self-less, and strong woman that really loves this sport and gives so much back to it. I owe her so much and I’m honored to be part of her team and to also call her my friend. I also have always been a fan of Kelly Ryan and Jen Hendershott’s routines and am excited to see the growth of the new additions to the pro ranks, like Trish Warren, Oksana Grishna, Sue Romano, Michele Mayberry, and Safiya Johnson.
11) Please tell us an interesting experience you had at a show recently, be it a fun thing or something rather not so fun?
I remember my first figure competition my nutritionist at the time told me to drink 4 ounces of wine and eat some oranges before going on stage. So a few minutes prior to going out I did as he said only to have my vision start going blurry from all the sugar. I thought for sure I wasn’t going to be able to see anything and walk right off the stage. Luckily it subsided and I didn’t make a fool of myself, but I haven’t used this “trick” since.
But I’d have to say that the 2009 Emerald Cup will always be special. I was able to compete with some wonderful ladies and fellow team mates from Tanji Johnson’s Save Fitness Team. We were all so supportive of each other and it was one of the few shows that I can say I had a great time and it was not contingent on how I placed. It was also inspiring and touching when fellow competitors that I’ve competed with/against over the years told me how excited they were to see me compete in fitness and how I have inspired them.
12) What is your personal opinion about the figure, fitness, bodybuilding industry we are in? Anything you would like to see changed?
I love the challenge, dedication, and sacrifice this industry requires. It takes a special kind of person to be a part of this sport and I’m proud to be a part of it and love the camaraderie within it.
At times I would like to be more understood by outsiders rather than being looked at like freaks. It’s unfortunate that it’s more acceptable to be obese than to be healthy, fit, and concerned about your diet.
I guess the only changes I would like to see are more benefits for the professionals, similar to other professional level sports such as health care, retirement opportunities, etc. They give a lot of time, money, and body wellness into promoting this sport so hopefully in the near future there will be an opportunity to give back to them. I would also love to see more girls competing in Fitness and making the Emerald Cup a pro-qualifier, I believe it definitely has the caliper of athletes needed to do this.
13) What has been your hardest challenge to overcome either in your personal life or competing career?
Time management and learning what I can control and what I can not. I try to be everything to everyone and often times can’t do it all. Life goes by so quickly so I struggle with trying to find a good balance and having good quality of life. I often times miss out on spending time with family, friends, my dogs and my fiancé because of the demands of competition or my career, but fortunately over the years I have surrounded myself with people who are understanding and are supportive of my goals in life.
14) Did you make any changes to your contest prep for your last show? Water intake, carbing up, etc... any changes for your next show?
For the 2009 Emerald Cup I used Dave Palumbo’s keto diet. I had anticipated doing carb cycling like I did the previous year but after a few weeks, I had completely hit a plateau most likely due to the long amount of time I had used that diet last year (I dieted from January 2008 thru October 2008). I was a little worried with energy level due to only having incidental carbs in my diet, but I felt great, was less bloated throughout the prep, had less cravings and enjoyed those cheat meals every week.
For Team Universe I will probably use the keto diet again but try to refuel during my short time off so my body continues to respond to dieting and then incorporate more protein/veggie days and/or increased cardio to come in leaner and harder than I did at the Emerald.
15) Why did you change from figure into fitness?
I had always wanted to compete in fitness from the first time I saw a competition, but didn’t think I could do it. After being disappointed with some of my placings in figure competitions and establishing a relationship with Tanji Johnson, she suggested that I should try my hand at it. I trusted her so I thought why not and signed up for the challenge. It was grueling work, but I loved the new training style and how much stronger and flexible I was becoming. After my first competition, I was hooked. I love the thrill of performing on stage, the energy from the crowd, and the satisfaction of nailing a routine.
16) How do you balance your family life with competing and dieting for shows? Do you have a support system around you (family, etc...)?
I owe a lot to my fiancé! He picks up a lot of the slack around the house, with the dogs, and cooks all the meals. My friends and family are also very supportive. It’s definitely important to me to surround myself with friends who are in the industry themselves or understand what is required during contest prep. They join me during my cardio sessions and give me feedback on things like suit decisions, hair, routine critiques, etc. They also are very understanding in terms of me missing special events or the reduced amount of time we spend together due to my diet requirements or lack of energy I may have. And of course they all make every effort possible to attend my competitions both in Oregon and in other states.
17) Please tell us about how you were raised and did you have any interesting experiences while growing up?
Growing up in Stanton, ND allowed me to always be outside and active. Even when it was -20ºF we were still outside building snow forts or sledding. ND was a great place to experience my childhood in…we didn’t worry about locking the doors or wandering the town for hours on end. I remember helping my dad in the garage, planting the garden with my mom and then getting yelled at for eating the peas before she could pick them, helping my dad clean/gut the fish and deer we killed for food, camping as a family, and the list goes on...
In 1989, my dad’s diabetes had gotten worse and was affecting his circulation so he and my mother decided to move to warmer weather. We ended up moving to the Phoenix, Arizona area. Talk about one extreme to the other in terms of town environment and weather. I had a great time in AZ, was active in sports and band in high school, and ended up graduating as valedictorian. Then I went on to get a degree at ASU….Go Sundevils!
18) Do you have an athletic background? Gymnastics, soccer, volleyball or what?
I have always been very active in sports. I was such a tomboy while growing up and did everything my dad and the neighbor boys would do like fishing, hunting, climbing trees, baseball, snowmobiling, etc. But there were times that I also did more feminine things such as being the high school cheer mascot when I was 4 years old or so and also gymnastics for a short time. During grade school there were not a lot of options for girls in terms of competitive athletics in North Dakota so I played on the school basketball squad, was part of the cheer squad and also performed on the drill team when I was in 7th grade. When my family moved to Arizona I started to become more involved in sports and lettered in softball, volleyball, and basketball in high school. My favorite sport was, and still is, volleyball but unfortunately it took a toll on my shoulder so I don’t play any longer.
19) What is a typical day in the life of Heather Skaar? From waking up to until going to bed?
I normally wake up around 6AM. If it’s “on season” I will do my pre-breakfast cardio, pack my meals and get ready for the day. I’m usually at work from 8AM – 6PM then I head to the gym to weight train and either do more cardio or routine/gymnastics practice depending on the day. I’ll get home around 8:30PM or 9PM to relax with my honey and spend time with my dogs before going to sleep and starting all over again.
20) What is your current occupation? Please tell us more about it, what do you specifically do in your job?
I am a supply chain manager. Over the last few months my job description has changed quite a bit due to the economy and the restructuring my company has done to adapt to the environment. I have a mechanical engineering degree and an MBA so my most recent job experience was in project management in the semiconductor capital equipment industry. I am excited about the new position because of the new working relationships I am establishing with suppliers (I enjoy meeting new people with different backgrounds, cultures, etc.) and having the opportunity to keep my technical skills current.