Bikini bodybuilder Ashley Kaltwasser has won 41 pro shows as of Sept. 2023, including three Olympias (2013-2015), making her the winningest IFBB Pro athlete in history. The second most decorated athlete in the sport is the 2008 Mr. Olympia champion Dexter Jackson, who has at 29 pro shows victories. How does Kaltwasser stay at the top of the sport at such a consistent clip? Well, she views longevity in competitive bodybuilding from two angles: mental and physical.
The mental is a little bit more important.
On Sept. 25, 2023, Kaltwasser took to her YouTube channel to share a presentation she delivered regarding longevity in competitive Bikini bodybuilding at the Stage Ready Bikini Seminar at the Bucked Up supplement store in American Fork, UT. Check it out below:
According to Kaltwasser, the most significant drop-off among competitive bodybuilders occurs within the first year of their careers. This is primarily caused by unrealistic expectations. A novice competitor should focus on incremental improvements to their physique each year. Aiming for a pro card in one’s first year is skipping over the learning phase, typically the first several years, of their competitive journies.
Kaltwasser ranked 14th in her height class in her debut amateur show — the 2011 Arnold Amateur. This motivated Kaltwasser to study competitive bodybuilding’s intricacies and learn how to improve her physique. She returned to the 2012 Arnold Amateur and clinched the overall Bikini title. She won her pro card at the National Physique Committee Team Universe contest later the same year.
Bodybuilding is a highly competitive sport, and athletes seldom achieve breakthrough success within their first year. Kaltwasser believes success in the sport takes a long time, so prioritizing longevity is non-negotiable.
You have to have a level head…realize it’s not always going to be your day. Prepare as much as you want, but sometimes, the body does what it does.
Kaltwasser suggested that amateur bodybuilders quit competing after failing to replicate their initial successes. Like any other domain, the level of competition is more challenging as one progresses to more advanced shows.
Regardless of the results, a bodybuilder should be grateful to pose on stage. It’s Kaltwasser’s view that prepping for a show makes an athlete headstrong and offers many takeaways that are applicable outside the sport as well. Some people suffer from greed after initial success, expecting additional titles and new sponsorship deals whenever they compete. However, that’s a path toward dissatisfaction and likely harmful to one’s mental well-being.
Kaltwasser stays in stage shape year-round, so she can enter any show she wants. However, there is a thin line between staying in stage shape and being stage-lean. Maintaining low body fat for extended periods can hamper overall health. (1)
Kaltwasser stays within 10 pounds of her stage weight. Anything more than that during an off-season can lead to undue stress on the body during the next cutting phase. Repeating a weight-gain-to-weight-loss cycle multiple times per year could be detrimental to one’s health.
You cannot have a transformation every time you prep for a show.
Competitive bodybuilders should determine their ideal off-season weight range. Kaltwasser feels that the show prep is often more important than the off-season and should be handled as such. Allowing the body adequate rest can aid recovery and improve longevity. For example, Kaltwasser takes weeks-long breaks from the gym and from her strict diet after each season.
Kaltwasser advised young bodybuilders to listen to their bodies and take breaks whenever they feel impending burnout. She doesn’t push herself to compete if she feels her progress is stunted. “If I look worse with each show, that’s a sign to take an off-season,” concluded Kaltwasser.
Kaltwasser is expected to compete in her 10th Olympia on Nov. 2-5, 2023, in Orlando, FL. She won bronze at the 2021 and 2022 Bikini Olympias and is of the biggest threats to reigning Olympia champion Maureen Blanquisco‘s throne.
Hulmi JJ, Isola V, Suonpää M, Järvinen NJ, Kokkonen M, Wennerström A, Nyman K, Perola M, Ahtiainen JP, Häkkinen K. The Effects of Intensive Weight Reduction on Body Composition and Serum Hormones in Female Fitness Competitors. Front Physiol. 2017 Jan 10;7:689. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2016.00689. PMID: 28119632; PMCID: PMC5222856.
Featured image: @ashleykfit on Instagram