This interview is part of the Real Talk Real Women interview series, where we bring you the life-changing, heart-warming and inspirational stories behind the most successful women in health and fitness. Make sure to follow us on Instagram for the latest interviews! For this installment, we are joined by Johanna Hess.
Let’s start off with a general introduction. How would you describe yourself, what are you all about and how did you get involved in health and fitness?
That's a kind of longer story... Hi, first of all my name is Johanna. I am German and have been living in Germany all my life... until I decided I need to live somewhere else and see the world a bit. In 2011, when I had just completed my legal education in Germany, I moved to London to further my education in English.
After I had completed my Masters program I was so in love with the city that I had no choice but to stay. During that time I also fell in love with fitness. I had been lifting weights since 2009 but I took my training to the next level and in 2014 I decided to take part in my first competition with the WBFF. 3 shows and lots and lots of hard work later I became the first female German WBFF Pro. Around the same time I met the love of my life and again, I moved countries. I am now living in Kansas City, MO, USA and next to my training sessions I started my American legal education.
Where does your motivation come from?
For me having a certain goal was always very important and it was always the one thing that was driving me. From the day I decided to compete I knew I wanted to become a WBFF Pro. I also knew that I would have to work very hard but once I have made my mind up about something I am willing to do everything necessary to make it work. Having said that, once I have set myself a certain goal I don't need much more motivation.
Everything that comes with achieving that, becomes part of my day. I don't question whether I will work out today because it's part of my daily routine. During prep I don't question if I can deviate from my meal plan because it's not an option. This is how things have always worked for me and it's the only way how I can combine my two careers as a lawyer and a professional fitness athlete.
As you decided to make a career out of your passion - what were your biggest stumbling blocks along the way?
That's pretty easy: time management and prioritising things and people who are part of my life. During my first 3 preps I was working full time and also studying to become a qualified lawyer in the U.K. Between 2 and 3 training sessions a day meant that certain things had to step back in order to handle everything I had to.
Besides that - the bodybuilding industry is not the "cleanest". Many athletes take performance enhancing supplements. Being one of the natural athletes means that I have to work even harder but it also means that I have to accept that there are certain things that are almost impossible for me to achieve (it is for example really hard for me to get my legs really lean). But for me my health is so much more important than winning a show so I just deal with the consequences.
What’s your perspective on the importance of self-care?
Being a professional fitness athlete can’t be compared with being a professional athlete. We don't get paid for competing, we don't very often have high calibre endorsement deals and we usually can't live of competing.
Therefore putting your health at risk by taking illegal supplements is not worth it. The body is dealing with enough when it goes through the process of cutting to get ready for a show. Anything more than that is not an option. So for me self-care is one of the most important things.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about women lifting weight?
That's pretty easy-people think women who lift weights will get big and bulky and as the final outcome will look like a man. But that myth is only due to so many pictures being out there that show professional female bodybuilders who have been on certain drugs for a very long time.
But then I think those misconceptions are in the change right now, more and more women are starting to see the reality behind lifting weights-being more toned, having a better metabolism and being more fit, healthy and therefore more happy.
Many young women who want to lose weight believe that not eating is the way to do it, without realising the consequences of that kind of behavior.
Why do you think this is and what’s your perspective on educating society on healthy nutrition habits?
I believe that this is another misconception that has been out there for too long. So many magazines for women make their readers believe that (for example) cutting carbs is the only way to lose weight. And while it is not a lie-if you cut out all of your carbs from your diet what is gonna happen is that you will see the numbers on the scale go down. But what those women don't realise and that's mostly due to lack of education and those mentioned magazines not revealing the truth, is that your body will get adapted to not having any carbs.
And after a certain period of time they will not just stop losing weight but they will have also messed up their metabolism. This means that it will become harder and harder to lose weight and once they are getting back on their "normal" diet, they will gain all the weight back (and even more). It is so important to get educated on how the body reacts to certain eating habits and what kind of regimes to avoid. And that's when professionals like me and my colleagues comes into play.
What are the most unexpected lessons you’ve learned on your health and fitness journey this far?
There is nothing that comes to my mind straight away: I always knew that it would take a lot of work and sacrifice to transform my body from a skinny, 1,80m and 57kg girl to someone with an athletic body (I am currently weighing in at around 72kg).
But I think that when I started lifting weights I didn't know how good it would make me feel, how much happier I would be and how much more food I would be able to eat :-).
What do you do to maintain balance in your life?
I don't have to try that hard - having two careers at the same time makes sure that I don't spend too much time in the gym. But I am really enjoying that. Each part of my life is a little down time from the respective other part. I couldn't wish for more... another thing I don't do when I'm not in competition prep is counting macros.
I love eating healthy but I know that my body needs a break from time to time. Eating when I'm hungry and not worrying about the scale so much gives me a much needed balance.
How do you stay productive?
As long as I can remember I have always been pretty busy, I have always had more than one goal I have worked for. Being busy means having to organise your day pretty well because only then you can actually do what you're supposed to do. My days are therefore very structured and planned which makes me being pretty productive. Sometimes only because I have to, but usually I am pretty happy about how structured my days are.
Can you give a breakdown of your current diet, training and supplementation regimen and the thinking behind it?
As I'm currently not in competition prep, I do not count my macros. But I try to eat healthy and a balanced amount of protein, carbs and fats most of the time.
I am lifting weights every day, with an off day here and there. I split my workouts and train one body group at a time (back/chest/shoulders/arms and legs). I am training legs every 2-3 day and the remaining body parts at least once a week.
When I feel like it, I do 30 minutes of cardio in the morning.
Regarding supplements: I am only taking BCAAs during my training sessions and a protein shake from time to time.
What are your biggest goals for 2017?
At the beginning of the new year I will focus on getting ready for my second Pro show in LA in April. I will also graduate from law school here in the US in May and am going to take the bar exam (in order to be able to practice law in the US) in July. Those will be my two priorities and goals during 2017.
If you could only choose one thing, what would you tell your younger self?
Something like "look how far you've come, putting the work in which you thought would be too hard and almost impossible from time to time, has paid off... those obstacles which you once thought couldn't be defeated are now just another part of your day. Nothing to worry about any more. If you keep going, you can achieve even more because you now know how to stop yourself from saying "I can't"!"
Where can people go to learn more about you online?
Stay tuned for the next interview of Real Talk Real Women!