Body by Ava

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 L.A. 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 L.A., 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?

AC: 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.