Student success at MASS

University of Kent PhD student and Kent Sport staff member Cassie Mackenzie (pictured, centre) shares her inspiring success story at the 2016 MASS Student Physique Championships.

If someone told me I would be stepping onto a stage, covered in fake tan, in a sparkly bikini and heels I would’ve laughed in their face. I was the ultimate cardio bunny and while I had some experience with weight training, I much preferred going for a run. This was until I won 6 weeks free personal training from Kent Sport, through Fit 4 the Beach and met my coach, Mike Burrell. My goals at that time were to be fitter and stronger, which Mike took to mean “becoming a little powerhouse”! Mike introduced me to strength training and the next thing I knew, I was hooked. After the PT was done, I carried on training with continued encouragement from Mike. Eventually MASS was suggested and I thought “why not?”

MASS was unlike anything I had experienced before. You wake up on competition day, after months of hard diet and training, and catch yourself in the mirror, startled, because you don’t recognise the dark fake tanned person staring back at you. You put on your least attractive, baggy clothes, hungry and dehydrated, and trundle through an unknown town to find a location filled with other tanned, tired people. Once you register for the day, you’re bundled together backstage with a rough guide of times and categories and left to it!

The atmosphere backstage is incredible. Everyone, although utterly exhausted and nervous, is so kind and supportive. The staff were really approachable and friendly, in spite of being run off their feet. You then play the waiting game. Pretending to read books, while ignoring your nerves and hunger, getting to know your competitors and running through your posing, over and over again. Then you get the call to start pumping up, and the adrenaline really hits you. Suddenly, you’re not hungry or tired, but a bundle of emotions. Then next thing I knew I was lining up with the other incredible girls in my category, waiting for my name to be called. Even then, after all the training, diet and practice, I still wasn’t sure I was ready, but I was there, so I may as well try! The stage lights were blinding and hot, I held my head up high, strutted my stuff and before I knew it, I was backstage again. I felt incredible on the stage. It didn’t feel too competitive, more a case of likeminded people, with incredible dedication to training, showcasing their hard work. I was incredibly humbled by the people I met and shared a stage with. It really showed that no matter what your background, you can overcome anything with the right mindset. I was onstage a total of three times over the course of the day and left victorious!

Categories won
I won my category, placing me as National Champion 1st place Bikini Short, and took 2nd place Overall National.

Fitness/diet required
My days are quads and calves, back and biceps, hams and glutes, shoulders and triceps. The importance with my training is not to just lift heavy, but to go for volume (lower weights, higher reps) and really focus on isolating muscle groups. On top of this I train core twice a week and do as much cardio as I can fit in, from daily runs and rows, to cycling to work. Every bit of training counted.

I’m a vegetarian with Coeliac disease, so diet has been my biggest struggle. It is true what they say, exercise is 20%, and diet is 80%. I suffered with bouts of illness and stomach ulcers, which hindered my bulking season. I tried to do it clean, but even dirty (ALL the ice cream), I was still very unwell and losing weight. After a couple of month’s recovery, I finally reached an all new high body weight and was happy I could start dieting to strip back the fat and expose the muscle. This wasn’t exciting, it was hard and tedious; involving lots of egg whites, cottage cheese and green veg, but it worked. I dropped ~6.5 kg and hit my target stage weight. I had invaluable support from UKBFF competitor and coach Nikky Ricks, from diet and training to bikinis and posing, she was vital during prep.

Tips/advice for others
Go to a show, see what it is all about, before you invest all the time, money and energy into training for it. I went to Kent Klassics and it definitely sparked the flames of passion I have for bodybuilding. Also, if you can, talk with someone who has competed. They have invaluable insight and advice, from prep to show day. Finally, pose… all the time. You can never practise the poses too much. Book a room with mirrors for dedicated posing, but also go through it in any spare time; during rest periods while training, cooking dinner or doing Uni work. Get it done. It’s much harder than you think and it counts for a lot on stage. It can cost you a winning position.

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