Name: Yeon-woo Jhi | Age: 33
Hometown: Seoul, South Korea | Sport: IFBB Pro Women’s Physique
What is your back story? Any standout achievements?
Yeon-woo Jhi: I started lifting weights 12 years ago. At first, it was just a simple hobby, but in 2010, I was challenged to participate in the Korean National Bodybuilding Competition. I placed first, so I continued to compete.
I was very skinny and weak before I started working out, but I really wanted to have big muscles. First place was a burden and motivated me at the same time.
With legendary IFBB pro Chris Cormier’s help, I competed in the 2011 NPC Excalibur Bodybuilding Championships. When I went backstage, I felt intimidated because I was the smallest athlete competing. The announcer shouted, “Second place! Yeon-woo Jhi!” I was so happy to place second among the big sisters. When I competed in the Arnold Classic Europe Amateur in 2013, I won again and got my IFBB pro card. There were no IFBB pro athletes in Korea until then, so I couldn’t believe that I really won.
My pro debut was at the Vancouver Pro Show in 2015, and I am enjoying myself as much as I do now.
How did you get into fitness?
YJ: I was so skinny and frail, and I had serious depression and a panic disorder — I couldn’t get out of my social phobia. I felt that I needed to improve my weak body, so I went to a fitness club near my place with a big decision.
I didn’t mean to be a bodybuilder from scratch. Working out gradually improved my strength and stamina, so I aimed at competing. I was very happy and excited despite almost everyone around me telling me it was crazy and impossible. I was only thinking about competition for the first three years. I was not satisfied with my condition, but I won the first competition.
Is this your full-time job?
YJ: It is my full-time job and also a hobby at the same time. I can’t live without lifting if I’m not a professional athlete.
What do you think has set you apart from other athletes in your sport?
YJ: I can make various diet foods taste like normal food, and no one knows before I tell them it’s diet food for the competition. Also, I don’t eat the same food more than once a day. I don’t stress much when I prepare for a competition, so I can always smile and enjoy working out. Many people tell me my face is bright even while preparing for the competition — I think that sets me apart from others.
What are some of your training rituals? Post- vs. pre-competition routine?
YJ: I try to remember the basics, and I never forget the supplements. I always take preworkout supplements before exercise, and I drink amino acids during exercise. I drink whey protein isolate immediately after working out.
I lift heavy weights after warming up. I always try to use correct positions and the maximum range of motions — I rarely use cheating movements. There is no fixed plan — I always follow my physical condition of the day.
There are no big differences in between post- and pre-competition. I am trying to include more efficient movements now that I am doing more exercises. I check my body every week for the weakest part, and I lift heavier weight during the season. The intensity of the muscles and separations can be better represented on the stage.
Here is my routine example:
Day 1: Quads
Leg Extension 20 reps/4 sets
Squat 8-15 reps/4 sets
Leg Press 15 reps/3 sets
Adduction Abduction Machine 20 reps/3 sets (supersets)
Day 2: Pecs and Hamstrings
Incline Hammer Press 10-15 reps/4 sets
Flat Bench Press 15 reps/3 sets
Cable Pec Flye 15 reps/3 sets
Seated Leg Curl 12-20 reps/4 sets
Lying Leg Curl 15 reps/3 sets
Stiff-Legged Deadlift 20 reps/3 sets
Day 3: Deltoids and Triceps
Seated Barbell Shoulder Press 10-15 reps/4 sets
Behind-the-Neck Press 15 reps/3 sets
Multi-Press 20 reps/3 sets
Dumbbell Lateral Raise 20 reps/4 sets
Rear Lateral Machine 15-20 reps/4 sets
Rope Pressdown 15-20 reps/3 sets
Lying Triceps Extension 15 reps/3 sets
Dumbbell Kickback 20 reps/3 sets
Day 4: Back and Biceps
Wide-Grip Pulldown 12-20 reps/4 sets
Seated Cable Row 15 reps/3 sets
T-Bar Row 15 reps/3 sets
Cable Pullover 20 reps/3 sets
Barbell Curl 10-20 reps/3 sets
Dumbbell Curl 15 reps/3 sets
What is your favorite exercise?
YJ: I like back workouts the most, especially the standing cable pullover — I think it is the most effective exercise to make wide lat muscles. I always include cable pullovers at the end of the back routine.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
YJ: Be a person who lives for today. We too often regret the past and worry about the future. Twelve years ago, it was hard to say bodybuilding is a proper job. Being a professional athlete, especially living as a female bodybuilder, was a reckless challenge and there was so much anxiety from my friends and family.
Now, many people take part in the fitness industry. All my income is related to my workouts and appearance. There are numerous jobs that arise and disappear, and the world keeps changing and nobody knows what to earn. I think the happiest life is to live today and do what I like — we don’t know when we’ll die.
What is one thing you would tell your younger self when they were getting into fitness?
YJ: I can do what I set my mind to do, don’t be afraid and enjoy your life.
What does being fit mean to you?
YJ: I think being fit means always paying attention to your health. Eating healthy foods and training joyfully makes you feel better and more confident. I can tell you being fit means “smart management.”
How do you remain focused and driven in such a competitive sport?
YJ: Rather than thinking only about the results, the preparation is exciting and enjoyable to me. I’ve gotten more self-confidence naturally onstage, and as a result, I think I can play a better game than I used to. After I enjoy the workouts, diets and the competition, I’m satisfied for any outcome. I feel like a butterfly that doesn’t have regrets.
What’s the one thing you always have to have on hand?
YJ: I always carry my cellphone, and I don’t like carrying a heavy bag. There are credit cards in the phone case, so I can go shopping anywhere. Simplicity is the best.
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