Jennifer Phillips poses at the NSABBA East Coast Bodybuilding Championships.
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Building a body, building confidence

A glimpse into Jennifer Phillips’ journey as a new bodybuilder

In 2017 Jennifer Phillips felt like she was in the worst shape of her life.

“My physical health took a huge toll, I got bigger and had a second baby,” Phillips said. “Next thing I knew I was 325 pounds and didn’t know how I got there.”

Fast forward four years and she’s competing in her first Nova Scotia Amateur Bodybuilding Association (NSABBA) East Coast Championship.

Three women pose on stage
Jennifer Phillips competing in natural figure novice division.   Will McLernon

The 37-year-old began working out in her early 20s. It started as a weight loss journey but quickly turned into a passion.

Phillips, a veteran of the Canadian navy, had complications during her first pregnancy and also had to deal with underlying PTSD. Fitness was put on the backburner until she decided to change her life in 2017.

Phillips believes feeling physically healthy is directly correlated to mental wellness. She knew she had to get mentally fit before trying to get physically fit. She went through cognitive therapy, energy healing and acupuncture, which allowed her to resume her fitness journey with the goal of competing in a bodybuilding championship.

Phillips returned to the gym right before the first COVID-19 lockdown. The closures slowed her progress, since she didn’t have the same motivation to work out from home.  She continued doing bodyweight exercises at home such as pulldowns, presses and push-ups but it came at a cost.

When gyms closed during the lockdown, Phillips had to work out at home.   Will McLernon

“Since I was still heavy at the time a lot of the interval training hurt my joints, so I was a little turned away from it,” Phillips said, “But once gyms reopened, I was all in.”

Phillips sweats at O2 Wellness or the Lower Sackville Goodlife six times a week. She starts off with a five-minute warmup on the treadmill or stationary bike, then dives into her set workout plans provided by her coaches. She stares down the weights, then goes on to dominate them for an hour and a half.

O2 Wellness owner Santana Anderson says her transformation has been amazing.

“She’s completely changed her physique; she also seems a lot happier and more outgoing,” Anderson said. “Her competing in the NSABBA competition is a huge accomplishment, I think she’ll be really happy of what she’s done.”

Anderson, far left, says Phillip’s transformation has been incredible.   Will McLernon

Throughout her training, Phillips has been using a photo of herself from her 20s as inspiration to get back in shape.

“I know that I’ll never be that person again because it was 10-12 years ago, but it was just there to inspire me a that I was capable of pulling it off,” Phillips said.

Phillips used the photo she’s holding as motivation to get back in shape.   Will McLernon

During the week leading up to the competition Phillips had to do something she’s never done before: adjust her water intake. She’s been used to the discipline of weighing all her meals for more than a year, but the unusual water intakes depleted her energy. From Monday to Thursday, she downed three to four gallons per day, but she was limited to half a litre on Friday.

Phillips with her gallons of water.   Will McLernon

Phillips was the first athlete to arrive at Halifax West High School for the competition on Saturday. It was her first show, but it was impossible to tell. She smiled as the spray tan was lathered all over her body, warmed up confidently and didn’t hesitate to take part in the bodybuilding tradition of pre-show fireball shots to calm the nerves.

Throughout the day Phillips had many tanning adjustments.   Will McLernon


Phillips gets a final pump in before heading on stage.   Will McLernon


It’s tradition in the bodybuilding community to do a fireball shot before heading on stage.   Will McLernon

Phillips’s story has been inspiring to many in the Nova Scotia bodybuilding community. NSABBA co-vice president Teresa Demmings has been working with Phillips throughout her introduction to the bodybuilding. She says Phillips’s dedication is incredible, and the hard work paid off.

2017 IFBB World Fit Model competitor Teresa Demmings, right, says Phillips’s body transformation has been inspiring.   Will McLernon

“Jennifer absolutely rocked it, I actually teared up for her because she completely deserves to be up there,” Demmings said. “I wish we had the transformation challenge we normally do because she definitely would’ve won it.”

The crowd cheered Phillips on as she showcased her defined physique to the tune of pop hits. After the show her boyfriend and father met her with flowers, hugs and kisses. Her grin expanded as the magnitude of the accomplishment started to kick in.

Phillips’s father and boyfriend were among multiple friends and family who came to see her first show.   Will McLernon

More than 30 athletes from across the Maritimes took the stage Saturday evening. Phillips came third in the female natural figure novice division. Novice divisions are for first-time competitors.

“I always knew deep down I’d get back in shape,” Phillips said. “I’m so proud of myself and am ready to take on the next challenge.”


Will McLernon

Will McLernon is a journalist with The Signal. He is currently finishing up his Bachelor of Journalism (Honours) degree with a minor in International Development at the University of King's College.

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  1. So proud of you and your perseverance to achieve your goal!!! Continued success to you ❤️

  2. Fabulous!! Congratulations on your accomplishments Jennifer! It was so nice to see you on the NSABBA stage! All the best with the continuation of your fitness journey ❤️

  3. You are an absolute role model for all thinking they can’t do it. I adore your confidence, your courage and your saucy little attitude. Congrats girl, you made it and im sooo fricken proud of you and cant wait to see where the future leads you.

  4. So incredibly proud of you Jen . You are such an inspiration to everyone !
    Keep doing you !!!!! You’re living your best life ❤️

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