When a tan, toned, California blonde placed fourth in the Figure International at The Arnold Sports Festival on March 5, it triggered a dual shock. On one hand, how could a rookie who’d entered her first show only four months earlier beat out dozens of seasoned competitors? On the other, why couldn’t a phenom who’d won her first three contests (2009 NPC Sacramento, 2009 National Figure Championship and the 2010 IFBB Phoenix Pro) just go ahead and capture the second-biggest title around? Either way, Mindi Smith is the talk of the figure world. To which she humbly responds: “So many girls have dreamt about competing in the Arnold. So it’s an honor just to be a part of it.” Not bad for a Midwest girl who started out in real estate.
Say what now? Yup, as tempting as it is to imagine this shapely siren grew up on the shores of Malibu, destined to don a bikini and heels, Smith’s story actually traces back more than 2,000 miles east of the land of sun, sand, and Jamba Juice. And it begins in a little town called Saginaw.
“I was accidentally born in Michigan,” Smith jokes. “I should have been born in California. I hate the cold, the weather, the snow.” And while she’s since swapped those inclement elements for the west coast’s beaches, mountains, and valleys, she’s quick to point out a positive. “I definitely like the midwestern vibe, the good-hearted people.”
After an athletic childhood — while her friends waved pompoms, she starred in cross-country, volleyball, and track — Smith found a new outlet for her active gene. “I went straight to the gym after high school and caught on really quickly. It makes you feel good to be healthy and eat right and have people look up to you and ask for advice,” says the woman now certified as a personal trainer. “I love it.”
She also loved the notion of getting the heck out of Michigan, so at 20 she packed up her car and moved to Florida. Friends were making money flipping homes, so she scored a real estate license and moved around selling high-rise developments while modeling part-time. “In 2001, the Florida market was ridiculous,” she explains. “When it started to go downhill in 2006, I thought about trying California out.”
FROM SAND TO STAGE
Little did Smith know this move was not just a geographic shift, but also a career one. “I got my real-estate license here, but I just got a lot more fitness opportunities,” she says. “I can always go back to real estate when the market improves.” Maybe so, but why flip houses when magazines, websites, and Hollywood types are flipping over your physique?
Perhaps inevitably, gym rats asked why she didn’t compete. And Smith had an honest answer. “I knew I could probably pull it off, but I didn’t know if I wanted to be that strict with my diet.” Working out with a competitor friend, Smith got curious, and after dipping her toes in a WBFF contest, she discovered the NPC. And, too new to know any better, started kicking butt.
“It happened so quickly,” she recalls. “I was still a baby in the whole competition world. It’s a lot more enjoyable when you are there to have fun and not paying attention to all the nonsense behind the curtains. Winning is just the icing on the cake.”
Now she’s a baby no more, and that means hours in the gym, a disciplined diet, and a figure that sometimes seems too dialed. “I had a tank top on in Ralph’s [grocery store], and this guy goes, ‘Oh my god, you could totally kick my butt.’ Not the first thing I want to hear out of a guy’s mouth. But a week after competing, you add some sodium and you’re back to normal.”
Normal for Smith still means a bikini-ready body, but it’s one you can mimic with the right fitness plan. And Smith is happy to share part of hers in the form of a killer arm workout. “You can do it as a circuit,” she explains. “Do one set of each exercise, moving exercise to exercise without stopping, resting 30 to 60 seconds between each circuit. You’ll get your heart rate up and burn a lot of calories.
Follow the workout with a half-hour to an hour of moderate cardio — elliptical, treadmill, stair-stepper, jump rope — whatever you prefer, Smith adds. Whether you’re heading to California or not, you can at least have sculpted arms worthy of a day at the beach.
Dumbbell Lateral Raise
START: Hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides with your eyes straight ahead and your feet set shoulder-width apart.
MOVE: Lift the dumbbells out to your sides until your wrists are parallel to your shoulders. Lower and repeat.
Smith says: “To isolate the shoulders, keep your arms slightly bent, and raise the dumbbells no higher than shoulder height.”
START: Sit on a bench with your legs apart and grasp a dumbbell with your right arm. Lean forward, placing your right elbow against your inner thigh and your left hand on your knee.
MOVE: Contract your biceps to lift the dumbbell toward your right shoulder. Lower and repeat. Switch arms after 12 to 15 reps.
Smith says:“Rather than using momentum, control the weight. Move very slowly coming up and down, and really focus on squeezing the biceps.”
Standing Barbell Curl
START: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and grasp a barbell with a shoulder-width underhand grip.
MOVE: Keeping your elbows at your sides and your upper body steady, contract your biceps to bring the barbell up under your chin. Lower and repeat.
Smith says:“Move the weight at a slow pace, and squeeze at the top. If you’re form is slipping or poor, lower the weight. Proper form is more important than the amount of weight you’re lifting.”
START: Place your right knee and right hand on a bench, lean over so your torso is parallel to the floor, and grasp a dumbbell in your left hand. Bend your elbow 90 degrees so the weight hangs near your thigh.
MOVE: Contract your triceps to extend your arm until it’s completely straight. Lower and repeat. Switch arms after 12 to 15 reps.
Smith says:“Keep your elbow to your side to isolate the triceps, and squeeze at the top as you extend your arm. Make sure not to swing the weight.”
START: Place your hands on the edge of a bench so that your upper body is straight, your butt is level with the bench, and your legs are extended straight out in front of you.
MOVE: Keeping your legs straight, lower yourself until your elbows are bent 90 degrees, then contract your triceps to lift yourself back up and repeat.
Smith says: “To make this exercise tougher, put your feet up on another bench or chair, or place a weight plate on your lap.”