Andrea is the perfect blend of nature and nurturing. Bodybuilding greatness is very much dependent on genetics (as in all sports) but there needs to be a lot of nurturing combined with nature to succeed. In other words, success takes a lot of hard, disciplined, and consistent effort over time. Andrea Shaw has an amazing physique that is tall, muscular and aesthetic. She owes that in part to her grandparents and great-grandparents. But it also turns out that she works as hard as anyone, hitting the gym every day for relentless, super-intense workouts. Since it takes both nature and nurturing to be successful in sport, Andrea makes absolutely sure that she takes care of the nurturing part.
In everyday life, people know Andrea as sweet, soft-spoken and pleasant. But in the gym, she's a machine. As I followed her with my camera, I was amazed at how much weight she was using and how many reps she was doing with such heavy resistance. The last bodybuilder I saw using both very heavy weight and high reps was Ronnie Coleman. When I asked him how he could do so many reps with so much weight, he told me he started out with lighter weight and high reps and then added more and more weight over time.
In other words: PROGRESSIVE RESISTANCE TRAINING.
HEAVY WEIGHTS AND HIGH REPS
The same goes for Andrea. "I want to build as much solid muscle mass as possible," she told me. “And that means working with heavy weights all the time. But I want shapely muscles, not the kind of flat muscles you see in a powerlifter. So I always kept the reps high.”
While most bodybuilders stay in the 6-12 rep range, Andrea keeps going. “My goal is sets of 20 reps with a heavy weight. But I never settle for less than at least 12-15 reps.”
As a result of this intense effort, Andrea has grown much larger than it first appears. But she's so symmetrical and aesthetic that fans are often surprised to find her competing at around 180 pounds. Consider that Lenda Murray, who Andrea is often compared to, was at her best on stage at around 145 pounds. That's a 35 pound muscle difference!
Another important characteristic of Andrea Shaw's training is how many days she trains. A key difference between bodybuilding today and about thirty years ago is that successful competitors tend to train less and rest and recover more than they used to. But that is not the case with Andrea. Until recently, she trained seven days a week. And though she's recently reduced that schedule, she's still in the gym six days a week.
"I started out with a more conventional approach to training," she says. “It was only after many years of training that I developed my individual approach. It took me a long time to learn my body. I am very good at making changes to my routine in the future. I'll go by how I'm feeling and the progress I'm making."
Andrea cautions others not to copy her approach to training, but to start with a more conventional approach and progressively make whatever changes your body seems to respond best to. Both she and Ronnie Coleman are naturally exceptionally strong. But there have been great champions who have had very different approaches with success - for example using lighter training and styles ranging from HIT to super high volume.
ANDREAS 7-DAY TRAINING CYCLE
Andrea Shaw, unlike almost everyone else in the sport, has maintained a consistent 7 day per week training cycle. Recently she has reduced training to 6 days a week. But below is how she approached her training for her Ms. Olympia wins.
- MONDAY - CHEST
- TUESDAY - SHOULDERS
- WEDNESDAY – BACK
- THURSDAY - LEGS
- FRIDAY - CHEST
- SATURDAY – BACK
- SUNDAY - LEGS
WHAT, NO ARM WORKOUT?
Another notable aspect of Andre Shaw's training is that she has perhaps the best arms in female bodybuilding history. BUT SHE DOES NOT WORKOUT ARMS. That said, she doesn't do any specific biceps and triceps training, instead relying on her heavy pressing (chest and shoulders) exercises to build triceps and pulling (back) movements for her biceps.
I'm reminded that the top champions in any sport are usually genetic geniuses. For example, I've written articles about forearm training that turned out to be the bodybuilders with the best forearms who didn't train them at all. This is another one of those "nature" factors.
Some bodybuilders are simply gifted with the ability to build calves, abs, or forearms. I once wrote a calf training article about a bodybuilder who developed great calves by doing nothing but calf raises leaning against a wall. I did a back workout video with Lenda Murray who had a great back where I had to correct her technique in a lot of movements because what she was doing worked for her because she was genetically gifted but probably for most viewers of the video wouldn't work.
On the other hand, Arnold always built great biceps with no problems, but had to work very hard to pump up his triceps appropriately before each competition. He had the genetics for triceps, they just needed a lot of extra work to catch up. Arnold recognized which body parts needed extra work and organized his training accordingly. Genetics is always a factor to consider. If you don't believe in the limits of genetics, then grow taller.
A SERIOUS WORK ETHIC
So what should be emulated for aspiring bodybuilder champions is Andrea's work ethic in the gym, not her specific training. She's in and out in an hour and does 5 to 6 exercises, but this hour is devoted to intense, relentless work. She completes her sets at maximum intensity, transitioning from one set and exercise to the next with minimal rest in between. Again, she explains that you shouldn't expect this level of intensity right off the bat. As with heavy weight work, you need to work your way up to it over time. Everything is "progressive".
PATIENCE IS A KEY
And it also takes time to get close to your potential in developing a muscular, aesthetic physique.
Andrea Shaw remembers what it was like when she started. A gymnast and cheerleader, aged 18, Andrea's training consultant told her mother that she didn't think Andrea would have the heart to keep training. This encouraged her to focus on working hard to get in top shape. One day while working out at the Powerhouse Gym in Detroit, she came across an issue of Oxygen Magazine and saw that the magazine was full of athletic fitness and sports models. She decided that creating that kind of fit and shapely body would be her goal. Her body responded quickly to strength training, however, and once she began intense strength training, she was soon asked if she competed in muscle competitions. She did not consider herself sufficiently tall and developed to compete as a bodybuilder, but liked the way the figure competitors looked in the magazines.
In 2008, she entered two figure contests and placed 3rd and 4th, but she didn't feel like she was on the right track. At this point, Andrea was taking eight years off from competing, earning a college degree while continuing to train hard. "This time was crucial for my success," she explains. "It takes about 10 years or more for most bodybuilders to develop to the pro level - both male and female. In the early days of women's bodybuilding, women often competed after only two or three years of serious training. t only are you nowhere near your potential at this point, but disrupting your development by dieting for competition slows you down even more.”
Because of this, she points out, we didn't see many professional female bodybuilders with truly impressive muscle size and development until the 1990s. That's how long it took most potential champions to develop and mature. In her own case, Andrea attributes her eight-year hiatus to the level of development she has achieved. “During that time, I just trained hard. I didn't compete, so I didn't have to go on a competition diet. That means nothing disturbed and slowed down the development of my body.”
In addition to advising would-be champions to train at maximum intensity, Andrea Shaw advises them to be patient, take your time to build quality muscle, and not be too quick and eager to compete. And when they do, she says, don't compete too often. Certainly not two or three times a year like some do.
"You don't really climax that often," she advises. "And if you try, it means you're slowing down your path to ultimate genetic potential. You can't really grow if you're on a strict diet all the time."
"Train hard," she says, "train smart and let your body evolve at its own pace." For some this will be faster and sooner than for others. It depends on individual genetics. As the old commercial says, MOTHER NATURE CANNOT BE FOOLED.