Teacher is body-building her way to success


Monday morning, 4:35 a.m.: the dreaded ding of the alarm clock.  

5:00 a.m.: arrive at the neighborhood gym. Lift.

6:00 a.m.: get back home, proceed to complete motherly duties and get self ready for work.

8:15 a.m.-4:15 p.m.: work, work, work.

8:30 p.m.: cardio time (40 minute treadmill walk.)

Repeat through Friday.

Above is Mrs. Reina Johnson’s daily schedule, and by her Dec. 1 fitness competition, it will have been for 28 excruciating weeks characterized by stringent dieting and strenuous workouts. Evidently, Johnson’s preparation for competition is no simple task; it is rigorous, both physically and mentally. Put in modern terms, the grind never stops for this fiercely dedicated woman.

“On vacation this summer, I had to eat right,” Johnson recalled, reminiscing on the past few months. “I gave up my whole summer getting up in the morning at 5 A.M.”

Working full-time year-round, raising two children, and maintaining a healthy marriage is hard enough in its own right. Summer vacation is Johnson’s only refuge from the stresses of teaching, and to have that flooded by diet plans and strenuous workouts? The notion is nauseating.

Johnson is a wife, mom, former theater geek, and self-proclaimed shopping addict — and if all goes as planned, she will also have been declared the winner of her debut fitness competition this Saturday.

Her journey toward physical wellness began as merely a cosmetic endeavor; she played sports in school, but around the time of her engagement, she found that she was overweight for her height.  As many people do, she wished to slim down before walking down the aisle. In the nick of time, she was able to lose 28 pounds, assisted by Weight Watchers and consistent, two-a-day cardio workouts. She notes that during this time period, though her physique was thin, she possessed “no muscle,” a trait she would soon remedy.

Her wedding ensued, and all was well and beautiful. She and her husband soon gave birth to their first child. At this point, distracted by the hustle and bustle of life as a working-family-woman, and despite her initial success in regards to fitness, Johnson found that her workouts hit a plateau. She began to see the excess weight inch back, slowly but surely. Without an impending marriage to motivate her efforts, she found it difficult dedicating herself to an exercise routine that was both efficient and enjoyable. Her attitude toward exercise began to veer further from “take it,” and closer to “leave it.”

“With Pilates, I was like, ‘Eh, I won’t do it today — everyday,’” she remembered, laughing.

Johnson knew if she wanted to mirror the results she saw before her wedding, a search for motivation was absolutely necessary.

She found her cause in a rather unlikely place: the world of weightlifting.

“I had all these friends who had competed in fitness competitions, and I watched them,” she said. “I had hit a point in my life where I started making a bucket list.”

Naturally, her intent to become the friend participating in physique contests rather than a spectator secured a spot as the top endeavor on that bucket list. With that determination, a brutal (yet joyous) excursion began.

For the first two months, Johnson worked out daily with her trainer at her neighborhood gym. However, after a decent stretch of time, she was left to her own devices.

“She’s sometimes there because she lives in my neighborhood, but she might be doing her own workout,” Johnson said. “At this point, I have a workout that she gave me, and I do it. I’m supposed to increase weight and go as heavy as I can while still being able to do the workout … You should be at a weight that you can do consistently.”

Despite adopting a hands-off approach, her trainer and personal friend has certainly not been absent from the process. In fact, she and Johnson devised a clever way to maintain incentive: a pro-bono.

“I put money in a jar every week at her house,” Johnson said. “If I make it, I get the money, and if I give up, she gets the money. And I’m a teacher, so I have to watch everything I spend.”

The duo’s plan has certainly worked thus far, despite Johnson reaching a potentially devastating setback in the form of an injury. Currently, in addition to fitness training, she is undergoing physical therapy to soothe the three bulging discs she’s developed in her neck as a result of aging. Obviously, this pain in her neck has an impact on her form when lifting, and improperly lifting heavy weights may lead to a whole new set of complications. This snowball effect could very well have incited the perfect storm for failure, but Johnson has turned the inconvenience into a learning opportunity.

“At physical therapy, everyone noticed that I was over-engaging my traps, so they started taking me into the gym after physical therapy to show me how to lift correctly,” she said. “Lifting incorrectly was just going to make the problem worse.”

A strict workout routine can sculpt an impressive physique, but in Johnson’s own words, nutrition has been the most important aspect of her journey toward peak fitness. She eats seven small meals a day in order to keep her metabolism running as efficiently as possible. Though that may seem radical to an average Joe, this approach is fairly common amongst modern-day fitness junkies. However, the method through which Johnson’s coach determines her next weekly meal plan is fairly unorthodox.

“On Friday mornings, I put on a borrowed competition suit, and I take pictures in four different poses and I send them to my coach,” she explained.  Based on that, she decides what I need to eat for the next week. She lets me know by Saturday.”

Johnson admitted the foods she’s “allowed” to consume are not particularly exciting: meats usually remain the same (white fish, shrimp, turkey, lean beef, etc.), complex carbs like green vegetables are always allotted, and non-complex carbs are cycled. She describes herself as “the kind of person who eats the same thing for lunch everyday, no matter what,” so she doesn’t necessarily mind being told what to eat — especially not by someone she respects as much as her coach.

“I don’t know how she does it,” Johnson said, speaking highly of her trainer. “The nutrition part just blows my mind, that she can look at my body and decide what I should eat.”

Johnson’s rigorous workout routine and diet have been unwavering since she made the commitment to fitness, and they will remain so until her competition date.

The morning of Dec. 1: wake up at the hotel where the competition takes place.

Tanning. Hair. Makeup.

Drink a Solo Cup of water.

Right before the competition, drink a Solo Cup of black coffee to make muscles pop.


If all goes well, win.