Talented stars, killer physiques.Read article
Renee Harshey had been competing in bikini for quite a while. She had done nine national contests and two international shows, but was unable to win her pro card. “My problem,” she says, “is that I tend to be denser in my lower body than the bikini judges are looking for.”
Renee points out that the female body in general tends to carry a disproportionate amount of weight below the waist. So, bikini competitors with more density in the lower half have to focus on losing muscle in the legs and glutes. “To do this,” Renee adds, “you have to stay in a catabolic state for a long time, which is not really healthy.” Plus, as a bikini competitor she had to avoid a lot of heavy leg training.
“I have a lot of lower body muscle,” she says, “and I LOVE training legs with things like lots of squats and leg presses. So, when I read the rules for wellness, I immediately thought that was a category practically designed for me.”
One of the things you most notice about Renee, aside from her fabulous physique, is her resemblance to Rachel McClish, a pioneer in Women’s Bodybuilding as Renee is in Wellness.
Given her genetic structure, Renee decided to try Wellness when the division was introduced in 2020. Renee had already earned her pro card at the Amateur Olympia in South America in 2019 where she won the overall award, but in the bikini division. There was a pro bikini event that next day, so she changed her travel plans to stay over and compete for the first time as a pro. “I placed ninth, which was great for me considering I had actually peaked the day before in order to earn my pro card, with all the stress and excitement, I didn’t really hold my conditioning for the pro show the next day.”
Renee doesn’t really consider that her pro debut. Instead, she considers that to be her participation in the 2020 Wings of Strength Tampa Pro, where the first Wellness division IFBB Pro League debuted. “This was a contest I was able to fully train and diet for, allowing me to be at my best.” And her best was good enough, since she won the Wellness division and became the first Wellness Pro in the IFBB Pro League.
One of the things that observers singled out at that event was the quality of Renee’s posing. “In bikini, you do mostly model poses. In wellness you do quarter turns and the competitor poses in such a way to call attention to the muscularity, definition and separation in muscles like the hamstrings and glutes as well as the quadriceps. In other words, to emphasize the things that cause you to be marked down in a bikini contest.”
Wellness, to Renee Harshey, is a great crossover opportunity. Competitors are attracted to it from other categories like bikini, physique and even figure. “I love the figure division,” she says, “and I coach figure competitors. But I don’t have the structure for it myself. My hips are too wide and my shoulders too narrow. Wellness is a kind of in-between category that suits a lot of women who don’t exactly fit the requirements of other types of competition.”
Renee actually got into bodybuilding-type training by accident. She changed high schools and wanted to enroll in a dance class, but it was full. Instead, she enrolled in beginning weight training, and like so many future muscle competition champions, found she really liked it and saw her body respond to the training.
“I continued to get more and more into weight training over time,” Renee explains. “Then in 2012 I gave birth to a daughter and gained 40 pounds during my pregnancy. Afterwards, I got back into the gym and managed to snap back into shape pretty quickly. At a certain point my body changed enough that I decided to get into competition, and I’ve been doing that ever since.”
Along with competing, Renee is also in demand coaching pro figure competitors. Plus, she has created a company called FitChoice Foods. “Our passion and dedication to living healthy and fit lives is what drives us to create nutrition packed meals to help you achieve your health and fitness goals, “Renee explains, “and we deliver them right to you. At FitChoice Foods, we make and prep a wide variety of made to order and portion-controlled meals daily, with only the finest ingredients available. With careful planning and design, each meal is balanced with your specific nutritional goals in mind to provide your body with the nutrients it craves.”
With all of her other life interests, Renee is still focused on continuing her career as a Wellness Pro and she is motivated by her successful appearance at the 2021 Wellness Olympia. “As the first IFBB pro Wellness champion, I feel I have moved my career up to a high level. But as they say, when you get to the top of the mountain, what you generally see is another mountain to climb. And I intend to keep climbing mountains as long as there is one in front of me.”