Monique Ricardo Talks Jiu-jitsu, Bikini Competitions, and Motherhood

Ricardo burns out her shoulders with 25 minutes of sparring with gloves and mitts, focusing on a basic jab-jab-cross-hook sequence.

Monique Ricardo's Delt Blasting Shoulder Routine
Ian Spanier / M+F Magazine
Ian Spanier / M+F Magazine
Equipment Yes

Wanna hear a funny story? In 2009, while working a BSN booth at an expo, that year’s NPC Bikini Class F Champ wandered next door to a North American Grappling Association competition.

“I’m pretty sure my opponents didn’t take me very seriously,” Monique Ricardo recalls with a laugh. “They were probably like, ‘I’m gonna beat this girl with a full face of makeup and lashes.’”

Ricardo promptly won a gold medal—then went back to her booth gig. All in a day’s work for a woman who’s made a career out of defying expectations. Now a four-time IBJJF (International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation) World Champ, Ricardo is also an instructor at husband Eddie’s Cobra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Plano, TX, a Better Bodies fitness-apparel model, and a devoted mother to two young sons, Max and Michael.

Monday through Friday, she’s taking the kids to school, hitting the weights, picking the boys up, taking them to class, teaching BJJ, practicing it herself, cooking healthy homemade meals, and, because the whole family’s so active, doing multiple loads of laundry. Throw in photo shoots and competitions, and it’s a heckuva hustle. But with proper prep, routine, psychology, and recovery, Ricardo thrives. And ever since she got into BJJ 11 years ago, she’s been hooked.

That’s because it’s a story of love—with a man and a sport. She and Eddie (a black belt and later the 2015 Super Heavy Weight World Champ) were just friends when he invited her to check out the sport in 2008. “I did some classes, and he’s like,

‘You have some natural talent, the way you move. I can make you a world champion,’ ” she says. “And I thought, ‘This guy’s just trying to hit on me.’ It ended up working every way.”

Ricardo found herself drawn to BJJ for two reasons. It doesn’t require freakish athleticism, and it’s great for women and kids because smaller people can beat bigger ones with superior technique. The sport has taken her and Eddie

all over the world, where they’re an integral part of a like-minded community. That and continually striving for gold is what keeps Ricardo coming back for more.

“They say it’s like a human chess game,” Ricardo explains. “I love the adrenaline you get in the competitions, and it’s just a different feeling whenever you win.”

She knows that feeling well—dominating even as female participation has grown dramatically over the past several years—and recently became the IBJJF’s top-ranked Master 1 black belt female. The keys to her success? Hard work, persistence, her husband’s mentorship, and a champion’s mindset.

“I visualize how I want a match to go, how I’m gonna step on the mat, how I want it to end,” she says. “So it’s like I’ve been there before, and my body just follows.”

Of course, to stay on top, that body has also had to step away from figure and bikini competitions. Ricardo last hit the stage in 2014, but she still loves and follows bodybuilding, and not only because sister Janet Layug—who placed third in bikini at the 2018 Olympia—is a top talent.

“I don’t miss eating dry chicken. I don’t miss the tan,” she says. “But I do miss being supershredded.”

Then again, Riccardo hasn’t exactly let herself go, Her diet’s clean, packed with shakes, vegetables, and lean protein like egg whites, chicken, salmon, and steak. And she relishes her bodybuilding-style workout, like the shoulder workout that follows.

Kinda figures, if you’ll pardon the pun. One can’t exactly do all the amazing things she does without an equally amazing physique, no? 

Exercise 1

Dumbbell Rear Delt Flye You'll need: Dumbbells How to
Dumbbell Rear Delt Flye thumbnail
4 sets
8-12 reps
-- rest
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and keep your feet somewhat close together. Keep your torso upright, brace your core, and then lift your upper arms are parallel to the floor. To add more tension to the muscle, rotate your pinkies up until your entire deltoid

Exercise 2

Front Raise How to
Front Raise  thumbnail
4 sets
8-12 reps
-- rest
Hold a dumbbell in each hand, with a slight bend in your knees. Lift one up, arm extended, until your arm is parallel to the floor. Then slowly lower it and lift the other arm

Exercise 3

Overhead Dumbbell Press You'll need: Dumbbells How to
Overhead Dumbbell Press thumbnail
4 sets
8-12 reps
-- rest
With feet shoulder width apart, hold a dumbbell in both hand behind your head and extend your arms fully overhead. Then bend your forearms to lower the weight below your head, without letting your upper arms move too much. You should feel a stretch in you

Exercise 4

Shoulder Press You'll need: No Equipment How to
Shoulder Press  thumbnail
4 sets
8-12 reps
-- rest
Hold a pair of dumbbells at shoulder level and set feet shoulder width apart. Brace your core and drive the weights up and overhead until your elbows are fully locked out.

Exercise 5

Upright Row You'll need: Barbell, Dumbbells, Kettlebells How to
Upright Barbell Row thumbnail
4 sets
8-12 reps
-- rest