Bodybuilder pretty pumped

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:00 AM ET

Tammy Strome waits until she sits down to unsheathe them.

She slips off a jean jacket to reveal arms like slabs of sinew.

People, both men and women, start to linger near us in the Sun cafeteria and it's not because I changed my aftershave.

Strome won the title of Canadian figure champ at the Canadian bodybuilding championship in Winnipeg this month. She is the only woman I've ever met who knew her measurements in such detail: Waist, 24 inches; hips 34; chest 37 ... thighs 21; biceps 13; calves 15.

That's when she's in show shape, of course. Right now, she's at a relatively frumpy 130 pounds or so, poor kid. Her and Rene Zellweger should talk.

Strome lives in Oakville. She began bodybuilding in high school and started competing while at the University of Western Ontario. She's 27 now but still not quite inured to the staring.

"I always wear my jacket to cover up. I really don't enjoy all the attention," she says over her mid-morning drink of nothing. People just besiege you all the time. You've got a lot of men hitting on you. A lot of men and women are asking you for training advice."

Tammy Strome is an athlete and bodybuilding is a sport. Or maybe it's some loony extension of a culture obsessed with perfection and appearance.

"There are a lot of individuals who are in this sport because they are seeking esteem," she says. "By working on their physical flaws, it keeps them from addressing their internal flaws. This sport definitely emphasizes what society deems important. Obviously, it's all about body image and superficiality."

Then again, any sport, if broken down to its root components, seems ridiculous. People do it all the time. It's the old "How can you care about something where the object of the game is to hit a stupid piece of frozen rubber into a net, or a little white ball into a hole?"

One of the answers is that people started playing games about the time they went upright. But zealous weight training, the removal of body hair, the deprivation of water and food to fully showcase muscle groups under bright lights while crowds of people gawk and cheer, well, that's relatively new. Same goes for the sports training business (you can find Strome, a nutritionist, at www.tammystrome.com), and the breast implants. "You need them, otherwise you only have pecs where your breasts ought to be," she says. "Almost all the female competitors have had breast-enhancement surgery."

TRAINING REGIMEN

Strome's training regimen leading up to a competition brings her from 16% body fat and 143 pounds to 128 pounds and 8% body fat over nine weeks. The change to her body is so profound, Strome stops menstruating.

In a training cycle, Strome will do interval work on a treadmill in the morning and work the bike at night. She only will weight train 45 minutes, five times a week. The muscle mass already has been gained. By bringing her body fat down and limiting her carbohydrates, Strome rids her body of water and fat.

"It's hard to do because when you limit your carbs you become very tired," she says. She also rides through intense cravings, often for pizza and cheesecake. Supplements help provide basic minerals and nutrients but the people who look so hulking under the lights often feel as powerful as kittens.

Strome began lifting when she was a high school kid in Perth, Ont.

"From 12 to 16 I was showing some anorexic tendencies," she says. "I was a very high achiever and I would be running seven days a week and eating very little. When I was 14, I was 5-foot-6 and I only weighed 93 pounds."

She noticed a muscle mag in her high school gym. "I liked how the women looked. They were feminine but very powerful. That appealed to me."

Her Canadian championship brought her an International Federation of Bodybuilding card. Strome's first pro show will be in June but the IFB standing will be a boost to her consulting business. She never has finished lower than second in any show.

There's no denying the work involved. I don't know if it's a sport or not but Tammy Strome does and who am I to argue? And that's not just the fear talking.

"It requires a tremendous amount of dedication and focus," she says. "It's no different than an athlete training for an Olympic gold. It's the same process."


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