Staying on Track: Bodybuilder Ashley Kaltwasser’s Lessons for Success

by | Jul 8, 2021 |

Watching someone put in the work to achieve her dreams can inspire us to ambitiously reach our own by showing us what is possible. Three-time Miss Bikini Olympia, Ashley Kaltwasser, is one such person. With no sign of slowing down, Kaltwasser is swiftly approaching the record for the highest number of professional wins in the history of bodybuilding. Kaltwasser has already won twenty-seven professional shows, leaving her three wins away from the record. 

To achieve her success, Kaltwasser maintains a rigorous diet and exercise routine to keep herself close to “stage shape,” meaning she’s ready to compete nearly all year round. This level of consistency is rare in bodybuilding, where athletes adhere to  some of the most restrictive diet plans of any sport, and most competitors take long off-season breaks. Kaltwasser forgoes these breaks, however, out of a desire to achieve the highest level of success she possibly can.

I’ve been following Kaltwasser’s journey through her YouTube channel and podcast, and what I find most impressive is not just her ambitious goals, but her ability to sustain the motivation, focus, and work ethic required to achieve them. In response to the mental and physical demands of her regiment , Kaltwasser brings every ounce of effort to the table, while maintaining one of the most positive and benevolent attitudes I’ve seen. How does she achieve this?

Despite her decision to avoid long off-season breaks or major departures from her plan, Kaltwasser takes short, rejuvenating ones. Her coach pointed out that many competitors begin working at a diminished capacity and often fall off track in other areas because they are afraid that a short break will derail their progress . When it comes to her goals, Kaltwasser aims to “be fearless” and not let negative emotions impact her choices. She finds that by taking a day or even a week off from the gym, she comes back stronger, more focused, and more productive.

Even with occasional breaks, Kaltwasser finds that there are times when she’s low on motivation. She never lets this feeling linger, however. She actively works to reignite her spark and cultivate motivation, such as by connecting with others who share her love for bodybuilding. Kaltwasser also watches videos of her past competitions to find something specific that she can improve on, giving her the energy and drive that comes from having a purpose.

To handle the toughest aspects of bodybuilding, such as the restrictive diets and long hours of cardio, Kaltwasser finds ways to keep things fun and varied. Rather than spending hours on the treadmill each week, for example, she often takes her training outside. One year, she hit the trails and stairs of southern California; another, she ran marathons across the country. Today, she regularly attends her favorite fitness class, Orange Theory. Kaltwasser never views dieting as deprivation and finds creative ways to make her meals exciting by incorporating different flavors and textures.

She notes that learning to deal effectively with setbacks, uncertainty, and failure is another critical part of staying on track. For example, when she went through periods without competing, such as during the COVID-19 shutdowns and after an emergency eye surgery, she struggled with uncertainty about upcoming competitions. But even with this doubt, Kaltwasser continued to execute on her goals by reassuring herself that the feelings would pass. Recognizing that her concerns stemmed from her love of bodybuilding and desire to succeed, she channeled these nerves into creatively improving her physique and stage routine. Kaltwasser also reframes failures and losses as lessons, reminding herself that she’s on a journey, working as hard as she can, and will continue to improve.

Lastly, Kaltwasser bases her expectations on factors within her control. For example, she asks herself, has she put in her full effort? Has she improved from her last competition? Has she accomplished a specific goal? Does she perform her routine as practiced? It’s only when she falls off track in her preparation, makes a careless mistake, or generally fails to make strides towards her goals that she is disappointed or upset.

Kaltwasser avoids focusing on factors outside of her control, such as who shows up to compete, how they look, the judges standard for evaluating competitors, or her final placement, as this can lead to needless disappointment and frustration. Kaltwasser has said that she’s felt incredibly proud, even when she hasn’t won first place, because of her effort and improvements. 

Kaltwasser’s fun and benevolent spirit, along with her serious ambition and work ethic, have made her a joy to watch and root for. No matter what field you’re in, her approach can inspire you to consistently work toward your goals, even in the face of challenges.

To help apply Kaltwasser’s advice to your own endeavors, here are some questions to get you started:

  1. Do you ever avoid taking breaks, even when you know it may help you? (I certainly do this with writing!)
  2. How can you connect with others who inspire you?
  3. What work can you review to find a specific goal or skill to improve on? 
  4. What aspect of your work do you find most challenging? When do you find yourself stuck, bored, or demotivated? How can you add some variety or fun to make these activities more enjoyable? 
  5. How do you respond when you feel unsure of yourself? How can you help yourself through this feeling or reframe the context in a productive way?
  6. What expectations do you set for yourself? What alternative expectations might you set for yourself? What are the implications of each standard, if you fail or if you succeed?

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