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Body of Discipline

By Silvia Rueda; Photos by Sonja Revells

As she stands on the stage, 22-year-old Karen Jimenez notices only two things: the bright lights on her and her lip quivering as she eagerly awaits the sound of her number being called out. Karen Jimenez is a competitive bodybuilder, personal trainer and sports nutritionist who has placed in two bodybuilding competitions and won her third—the 2014 National Physique Committee Southern USA competition, held in May in Panama City Beach – qualifying her for her first national competition this November._SJR7748

Karen was born in Iowa and moved to Panama City five years ago with her mother, Maria D’Isernia. She is currently studying at Gulf Coast State College and majoring in exercise science.

Karen became an NPC athlete after straying from her regular fitness routine by enrolling in a rigorous workout program. “I was like any other female in the gym–only concerned about the cardio machines and the occasional aerobics class,” she admits.

Her trainer was convinced that Karen would make a great competitor and after a few months, Karen decided to give it a try. “I was inspired to be my best self physically, mentally and educationally in the body building industry.”

A regular training day for Karen consists of high impact cardiovascular exercise for 45 minutes to one hour. Karen’s go-to cardio is usually spinning , cycling, or treadmill intervals . “I also weight train for about 45 minutes, focusing on one muscle group.” The most intricate part of the training process, she says, is the diet.

Because of Karen’s height, a small but powerful 4 foot 11 inches, heavy weight training is the best training method to reach her goals. She competes in the bikini division, which she describes as the most feminine in competitive bodybuilding.

Nearing the competition, her diet becomes very strict.  Karen eats lean proteins six times a day, as well as essential fatty acids five times a day . Her vegetable of choice for each meal is spinach. “Depending on my body, how it looks and how I feel, I determine whether or not I need to refuel with carbohydrates.”_SJR7702-2

Maintaining the necessary diet can become increasingly difficult as competition day draws nearer. “I begin to crave absolutely everything– even foods I don’t normally eat during a cheat meal,” Karen admits. She said this includes donuts, even though she doesn’t particularly like them and can’t remember the last time she actually had one. “I just want it because I can’t have it.”

Karen keeps her water intake level up until the last week before a competition, when she slowly decreases how much water she has and cuts off sodium. Doing this makes her skin tighter and helps her muscles show better and more defined. The process is all about self- discipline.

“If you want good results bad enough then you will resist those cheeseburgers and chips,” she says. Often people will think “one piece won’t hurt you” or “you can afford a carb,” but during contest preparation, every single factor will make a difference–a big difference. She emphasizes that the preparation is an exact science, which results in the best performance. She adds, however, that the physique the competitors present at a contest is not something that can be permanently maintained.


In order to prepare for the pageant aspect of the competition, Karen watches videos on YouTube that give her some ideas on how to do her “model walk.” Her trainer, JT, initially suggested that she hire someone who was familiar with teaching how to walk, but Karen decided it was one more expense that she didn’t need. By taking a little bit from what she’s seen online and putting in her own style, Karen has really done a lot to make her model walk her own.

The day of competition, Karen gets the deep tan that is so characteristic of bodybuilders. The competition often hosts the tanning, so she doesn’t have to worry about finding someone to do it. “ Because the lights on stage are very bright, the tan helps to bring out the lines and texture of the muscles competitors have taken months to build up.

Karen will be headed to her first national competition in November, which will be held in Miami. She hopes that she can eventually earn her Pro Status as a bikini competitor for the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness.


Silvia Rueda

Silvia is a recent graduate of the University of Florida with a degree in journalism. She was born in Barranquilla, Colombia and moved to the U.S. when she was seven-years-old. Silvia hopes that she can use the skills she has learned in journalism to tell interesting stories and learn more about the world every day. She enjoys playing the guitar, spending too much time on the beach and dabbling in photography.

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