Body by Ava

By Steve Mazzucchi | June 10, 2010

Saying Ava Cowan works her butt off is like saying Beyoncé enjoys singing. Massive understatement. Chat with this rock-hard California native/Florida transplant for a moment and you’ll realize the girl simply brings it — and has plenty of no-nonsense tips for other fitness-fueled women. We’ll let her explain, in her own words.


M&P: What was your path to becoming a figure pro?

AC: When I was younger, I went to LA and studied acting — that was my No. 1 passion. I didn’t even go to the gym that much. I never trained continuously until 2005. I wanted a new career — acting wasn’t working out. I mentioned [a fitness career] to people and got a negative reaction. And I was like, “Oh yeah? OK.” It really catapulted me into training like a maniac.

I went to the Fitness Institute in Boca Raton (Florida) for 16 months, and I got certified with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. By the time I was done, I realized, I can do this. I applied my knowledge to my training, and I won my first show, the 2005 NPC Southern States. Self-belief … that could be the missing ingredient to making your life successful.  


M&P: What are your goals for 2010 and beyond? 

AC: In 2010, I would like to get a publishing contract, step onto the Figure Olympia stage, and appear on a reality show or have one of my own. My ultimate goal is to be on TV. A few years ago in LA, I wasn’t ready. I’m not the woman today that I was then. It’s not over yet.


M&P: What’s your advice to women trying to build a figure pro’s body?

AC: Do it in stages. A lot of women I train want to build muscle and lose fat. Usually you have to focus on one goal, then the other. With my clients, I focus on building muscle first. Not only to balance out the physique but also to raise the basal metabolic rate so they can burn more calories just existing.


M&P: You’re not afraid of heavy weights. Do more women need that approach?

I try to empower women to let go of the fear. Without heavy weights, getting this shape is totally impossible. If you want to be a figure athlete, you need the upper body to balance out the lower body. I had no biceps and shoulders until I started going heavy.


M&P: Is it also important to realize you don’t always look the way you do in contests?

AC: If there’s a perception I look like that all the time, that’s not true and it’s not healthy. Several months of the year, I put on some weight and I feel better. My body fat is 5 or 6 percent when I compete. It’s probably around 11 or 12 in the offseason. Our bodies are designed to hold fat to feed children. Plus, (as far as a six-pack), men don’t generally like that look, so don’t worry about it. Every time I gain weight, everyone at the gym says, “You look great!”


M&P: How big of a factor is diet and supplementation in a figure competitor’s success?

AC: Eighty-five percent. I can get lean without going to the gym, just from my diet. I can train like a maniac, and if I don’t have calories and macronutrients where they need to be, I won’t see the shape I’m getting into. It’s very taxing working out, so I also take in things like antioxidants, healthy fats and glucosamine for my joints.


M&P: What’s your best tip for staying motivated?

AC: Anytime I want to dog my workout, I picture the back of my thighs and how I don’t want them to look, and it gets me moving. Some people visualize how they want to look, but I visualize cottage-cheese thighs — especially with high-intensity interval training, where I think I’m going to die and they’re going to have to call my family and have a funeral right there at the gym. I picture my bathing suit with fat squishing out the sides, and I think, We will have none of that. That’s not just for figure competitors. All women want to look good in a bathing suit.


See what we mean? If you’d like to experience Cowan’s attitude in action, try the accompanying workout straight out of her playbook. “This is a great foundational routine that builds strength and tones up the body,” she explains. “You can do this for six to eight weeks, adding a bit of weight if possible each week. Once you have reached the limit of the weight you can handle on an exercise, add in an extra working set for added intensity.”

Given that a “light” day for Cowan might be considered excessive for an Army boot camp, we’re pretty sure intensity won’t be an issue. Do a couple of warm-up sets going into each exercise, and most important, have fun!


See more of Ava in Gaspari Nutrition’s six-part video series, “The Sport of Figure,” at — click on “Gaspari TV” in the menu bar at the top.




Begin with a “dynamic stretch.” Using just the bar, doseveral barbell squats through a full range of motion to get properly warmed up and ready for more resistance.

Exercise Sets Reps
Barbell Squat 4 8-10
EZ Bar Stiff-Legged Deadlift 4 8-10
Hack Squat 3 7
Single-Leg Hamstring Curl 3 8-10
Leg Extension 4 8-10
Glute Blaster (machine) 4 6-8
Seated Calf Raise 3 10
Standing Calf Raise 4 6-10


TUESDAY: Upper-Body Modified Power Training
Exercise Sets Reps
Weight-Assisted Pull-Up 4 7-8
Machine Row 4 9-10
External Shoulder Rotation 3 25
Dumbbell Shoulder Press 4 8-10
Cable Side-Lateral Raise 2 7
Incline Dumbbell Chest Press 4 7-10
Pec-Deck Flye 2 8
Alternating Dumbbell Curl 3 6-8
Triceps Rope Pressdown 3 7



Do 35 minutes of low-intensity cardio. (Cowan favors the elliptical machine, stepmill, treadmill and stationary bike.)

THURSDAY: Lower-Body Modified Power Training
Exercise Sets Reps
Hack Squat 5 9-12
Leg Extension 3 8
Stiff-Legged Deadlift 3 7-10
Standing Calf Raise 3 6-9
Seated Calf Raise 2 8

Do 25 minutes of high-intensity interval training. (Begin with a brief warm-up followed by 16 one-minute intervals — 45 seconds of moderate intensity, then 15 seconds of 100 percent intensity — on, say, a stationary bike. Finish with a 10-minute, low-intensity cool-down.)


FRIDAY: Back and Chest
Exercise Sets Reps
Assisted Pull-Up 3 10
T-Bar Row 3 10
Reverse-Incline Bench Dumbbell Row 3 10
Wide-Grip Lat Pulldown 3 12-15
Dumbbell Pullover 3 12-15
Do 25 minutes of low-intensity cardio.
Seated Dumbbell Press 4 8-10
Incline FreeMotion Machine Flye 3 10
Do 25 minutes of high-intensity interval cardio training.


SATURDAY: Shoulders and Arms

Warm up with some external rotations, three light sets of 25 reps.

Exercise Sets Reps
Arnold Press 4 10
Dumbbell Side-Lateral Raise 3 12
Machine Lateral Raise* 3 12
Bent-Over Dumbbell Lateral Raise 3 12
Standing EZ-Bar Curl 4 6-8
Low Cable Curl 3 8-10
Overhead Rope Extension 4 6-8
Reverse-Grip Cable Pressdown 3 8-10

Do 45 minutes of low-intensity cardio.


SUNDAY: Rest. Take the day off. You’ve earned it.


Pills, Powders and PlasmaJet

Cowan stays firm in the offseason with the following Gaspari Nutrition supplements.


SizeOn: one scoop during workout

SuperPump250: two to three scoops, 40 minutes before weight training

BCAAs: Four times a day — morning, preworkout and postworkout, and evening

Beta-alanine: 2 to 3 grams per day — 1 gram with breakfast, 1 gram preworkout and 1 gram postworkout

Fish oil caps: two in the morning and two in the evening

PlasmaJet: Four times per week, 90 minutes before weight training


Read more about Ava Cowan and score additional fitness and nutrition advice at and

About the Author

Steve Mazzucchi