Ana Banjavcic talks fitness, stereotypes, and being a female student-athlete in figure competitions

In the world of high performance sport and elite-level fitness, there is a common stereotype that certain events, physiques, and even training regimes are gender specific — lifting heavy weights, calisthenics centered exercises, and a focus on muscle mass have all, traditionally, been considered masculine goals.

However, the recent surge in popularity and accessibility of activities like CrossFit, Muay Thai and HIIT (high intensity interval training) has allowed for more women to not only participate in these traditionally male dominated activities, but to become serious and competitive members in the fitness competition circuit.

UTM geography and biological anthropology double major Ana Banjavcic epitomizes this shift in athleticism and stands as a testament to students that fitness is a discipline where women can not only participate, but also become fierce competitors while achieving life-altering results.

The Varsity recently talked to Ana about her training regime, stereotypes surrounding women in the fitness industry, and her involvement in the fitness competition circuit, where in her debut competition — the Ultimate Fitness Events’ spring bash — she took home a silver medal.

The Varsity: First of all, why did you become interested in fitness?

Ana: I wasn’t happy with the way I looked and I would go on diets or join the gym but I was never consistent and I would always quit after a few weeks. When I finished my first year of university, I decided that I was going to make a change for real this time. I committed to going to the gym every day and eating healthy for every meal. After doing this for about 3 weeks I lost a couple of pounds and I realized that if I continued doing this I could make huge changes.

TV: In April you won second place in the UFE Spring Bash, which was your first time competing in a show. Can you talk a bit about the overall experience?

A: It was an amazing experience! Not only did I get to accomplish my goal of competing, but I also got to meet so many amazing people and make lots of friends. The atmosphere was great — I thought that other competitors might be…unfriendly backstage because that’s what I’ve heard of from [other] competitors, but I was pleasantly surprised — I loved competing… and can’t wait for my next competition.

TV: Do you find that, as a female competitor in the fitness industry, there can be some negativity and stereotyping regarding your physique? If so, what do you think one of the most common misconceptions the public harbours regarding figure and fitness competitions?

A: I personally haven’t experienced much negativity regarding my physique but I know that some girls are called manly for having muscles, which I find shocking… I’m not sure why people find it acceptable to comment on a fitness competitor’s body. I think a huge misconception about fitness competitions is that the competitors starve themselves to get super shredded and lean, which is not true at all. The last thing competitors would want to do is starve themselves, because they don’t want to lose any muscle.

TV: Would you recommend that more women become involved in the fitness industry, and if so, what advice would you give an aspiring U of T undergrad who may be afraid or reluctant to take the plunge?

A: Yes, definitely! Getting involved in fitness helped so much with my confidence and self-esteem. I think most people are reluctant or afraid to get involved in fitness because they are not sure what to do in the gym (what exercises [and the] proper form) — they don’t want to get made fun of for doing something wrong. My advice: who cares what people think! You are at the gym to improve your body, not to please others… don’t worry! Just focus on yourself.

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