“How’d You Get That Job?” is an Indy Maven series where we chat with women who have some of the most unique and fascinating jobs you’ve ever heard of.
Rachael Heffner describes her life before bodybuilding and training as empty. “I lost my mother young, lived with my dad growing up, did well in school, had great friends, but I always felt like I was missing something,” she says. “I lived depressed, which is a majority of how I ended up overweight. I emotionally ate.” At one point, she weighed 300 pounds.
But that was then. Now she’s a bodybuilding champion who’s slated to appear on the Dr. Oz Show next week (November 11) to talk about her fascinating journey. So, of course, we had a few questions for her first.
Here’s how she went from social media specialist to the fitness guru she is today.
What made you start on this fitness journey? When, along the way, did you decide it was more than just working out and something you wanted to pursue on a bigger stage as a professional bodybuilder?
I started my journey as a New Year’s resolution in 2011, after deciding that I just didn’t want to be sad anymore. I was rejected by a boy that I liked at the time and woke up one morning after looking at my reflection and decided to change it.
The moment I realized I wanted to take it further was in 2017 when I started working for the company I work for now, ARC Fitness. The owner, my boss, is an IFBB (International Federations of Bodybuilding and Fitness) Pro and was working with many different competitors. I helped him with his preparation and after my surgery [to remove excess skin after the weight loss] in the fall of 2017, I decided I wanted to give it a go. Now I work there full-time as the Director of Operations.
What exactly is entailed in a competition?
The “prep” for a show is very long and taxing. It’s a 20-week prep where you are slowly going through a caloric deficit to reach the lowest body fat percentage, all while maintaining and continuing to build muscle throughout. On the day of the show, you get up on stage for prejudging where you are flexed and posed amongst the other competitors and stacked according to placement. Then at the finals, later in the day, they give out awards.
What are some of the accolades you’ve won?
I hold the title of 2018 Miss Indiana Women’s Physique as well as the 2018 Best New Competitor award. I hold a Novice and Open Women’s Physique 1st place and then Overall winner. I also have a Novice and Physique 1st place and Overall for Figure.
“The moment that I stepped on stage for the first time, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be.'”
What does your training regimen involve?
I lift weights six days a week with one rest day from weight lifting. During prep, I complete cardio every single day (stairs and a mixture of HIIT workouts). During the off season, my cardio is limited to 20/30 minutes for heart health four times a week.
And what about diet—do you ever get to eat fun stuff?
During prep for a show, I eat on a very strict meal plan. During my off season, I absolutely do eat “fun” stuff. I have a huge sweet tooth and love cookies as well as salty treats like popcorn and pretzels! I just moderate my consumption of these things.
What’s the hardest thing about your job?
There are many people that rely on me at my job, so being their support system, being their role model can sometimes be hard. But I wouldn’t give it up for anything. I love being able to help people, to watch them reach goals they never thought they could.
What are the biggest misconceptions about body builders?
I think the biggest misconception is that we are always in the gym, always eating chicken and rice, which isn’t the case. Bodybuilding requires a lot of sacrifice, yes, but a majority of this journey and this passion is mental. You have to be disciplined to make it through a show prep—you have to want it more than anything you’ve ever wanted. Taking control over yourself and your decisions (instead of food having control over you) was the best thing I’ve ever learned about myself.
What has this shift in your life and your job taught you about yourself?
This shift in life has taught me that I can do anything I set my mind to. I used to laugh at that saying, but it is 100% true. Everything that I have set my mind to, 100%, I have accomplished. And I get to feel PROUD of that. That it is okay for you to brag on yourself every now and then, especially when you’ve worked extremely hard to get where you are.
Was there ever a time when you thought, “What am I doing?” and how did you forge forward?
Ha, yes! I think this thought quite a bit. Like I said, bodybuilding is all mental. I spend five months of my life in a caloric deficit, all for one day on stage, one moment. People think that is INSANE and sometimes, so do I. But stepping onto that stage, that feeling that you get to show off your hard work and inspire others around you makes it worth it. I get to inspire people every day to believe in themselves and that is what keeps me going.
On the flipside, when did you know you’d made the right decision about your path?
The moment that I stepped on stage for the first time, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. It felt like home—like I had been doing this my entire life.
What would you say to someone who is thinking about trying to start a new fit and healthy lifestyle?
My piece of advice would be to never give up. There are days where motivation will be high and things will be easy, but then there will be days where it takes all your effort to even get into the car to get to the gym—those are the days to push through. To remind yourself why you are doing this: for yourself, for your health—to be happier and healthier.
If I want to be you when I grow up, what’s the best advice would you give me?
Be better than me. That is my advice. Being you is the only thing that matters and never let anyone take that from you. Do what sets your soul on fire and then find a way to help people through it.
Images provided by Rachael Heffner. You can see more of Rachael’s prep and training on her Instagram @heffner365.
Abby Gardner is the Executive Editor of Indy Maven who once had a boyfriend take her to a bodybuilding competition on the Upper West Side of Manhattan as a (somewhat ironic) first date. But she’s actually more of a Pilates girl.