Minna Pajulahti is a 25 year old fitness competitor from Finland. She has been competing in fitness for five years and is hooked on the sport in and out. Or what do you think – how many flight attendants do you see living such organized live that competing in fitness demands? When she’s not flying around the world, she also works as an aerobics instructor. Another dear hobby of hers is cheer dance, which includes jumps, pirouettes and dance moves. She competes at national and international level in a team called Dream Team Dancers.
Minna lives in a small town called Nokia with her two dogs. She likes to be around people and her family and says, “I have two brothers and two sisters. Two of them are younger than I and two are older, so I am the one in the middle. My family is very big part of my life so it is nice that also my mother and father live near me. I have met many of my good friends while doing sports and I mainly see them in practice or in the gym. My family and friends have been a great support during these years that I have been competing.”
At the age of seven Minna started gymnastics and before that she had taken ballet-lessons and done ice-skating, but didn’t find them amusing enough. She ended up competing in gymnastics for almost ten years. Minna’s’s team was a part of the National Gymnastics team. At the age of 14 she found an advertisement about cheerleading and got interested about it. During the years 2005 and 2006 her team, Dream Team Dancers, has won the Finnish Championships in the dance category. They also placed second in last year’s World Championships in Tokyo, Japan. Way to go! Minna says, “Gymnastics and cheerleading have been a great background for fitness training. It is fun that I can train dance moves and jumps with ten other women with my cheer dance team and then do weight training on my own.“
Minna’s fitness oriented life started early and when she competed in 2000, she was only 20 years old. “I started weight training when I was 19 years old, after I had quit gymnastics. I wanted still to compete and practice routines and I had always admired muscular bodies so fitness was a good choice for me. I found a coach and we decided that I would do my first competition in the year 2000, after I had trained one year. The first competition was exciting and I learned much about my body and nutrition. All and all it was a great experience and then I knew that I was going to do this for a long time.”
Her next competition was very successful and she won the Finnish Championships in the juniors category in 2001. She also got the opportunity to compete in Amateurs World Championships in Alicante Spain in the end of the year 2001. There she placed second. “It was the greatest moment in my fitness career so far!” It sure was, and it was a honor to Finnish Fitness as a whole. After that competition she took a break and concentrated to train since next time she would have to compete in the open class with rising Finnish fitness stars, like Marjo Krishi.
After her success in Spain everything didn’t go as planned. “My next competition was not so successful. My diet was too short and my body did not function the same way as it did before. I only managed to get to the final rounds. At first I was very disappointed, but after a few days I was back at the gym training again. I think that you can learn something from every competition you go to, and you just have to think how to turn your lost into victory. This is sport in which you can not always succeed and do your best, but when you do it tastes even sweeter. Fitness has given me many great moments and friends and also tears and sweat, but I have enjoyed every moment that it has given me.”
I asked Minna to describe a typical day of her life. Her job and dance workouts make it an interesting combination of careful time management and planning:
“My life is nowadays very irregular because my job as a flight attendant. Sometimes my workday starts at 03.30 am and ends at 16.00 pm and sometimes I work from 12.00 am till 01.30 pm, so my days are very long, and every day is different. I also fly long-distance flights to Asia and USA so I spend a few days in a month aboard.
But if I have a free day it starts about 8-9 am by taking the dogs out. Then I either make a breakfast or go and do my cardio. In the summer I like to tan so if it is a good weather I do it if I have time. In the afternoon I go to the food store and buy things that I need for my next work trip. At 5pm I usually go to the gym and three times a week I go to my cheer practice at 8pm. I instruct aerobics classes about 2 times a week, so some days they are part of my daily schedule. In the evening I relax by going to the sauna and watching movies. Usually I pack my bags ready for the next work day and prepare the foods I am going to need and put them in a cooler.
If I am aboard I usually do my cardio just walking around the city and seeing sightseeing and of course shopping! It is actually great to have the opportunity to train in a different environments, it gives more motivation to my training. But of course it is hard to plan every day as its own. Especially the nutrition requires more planning when you are always on the go. I also have to pay attention for the time difference and how it will affect to my body and training.”
What is your training split like? How often you do cardio?
I try to train with weights five times a week, and the days depend on my work. I keep two or three hard weeks and one light week in my training. This is an example of my training.
1. Back and biceps
2. Shoulders and traps
3. chest and triceps
I do 6 to 12 reps, and 3 sets. I use forced reps and trop sets in my training.
In off-season I do extra cardio when I have time for it, I practice three times a week our teams dance routines and then I keep those couple of cardio lessons. When I am on a diet I try to do my morning cardio as often as possible, because that really works me the best. I also like to vary my cardio when I am on a diet and one time a week I run stairs, do jumps, play tennis and go water running.
This year has been a different year for Minna when it comes to training and eating. Minna I broke her knee’s ACL in January so everything turned upside down in a blink of an eye.
“I was doing my cheer dance routine in January and I did a toe touch jump which ended in a split. I guess I hadn’t warmed up enough and suddenly I felt pain in my knee. In a moment, after ice and keeping it towards the sky, it felt better and I was sure that I’d be able to go to the practice next day, because our national competition was just one week ahead. In the morning I could not walk and the pain was worse so I went to see a doctor. The conclusion was that my left knee’s ACL was totally torn. My knee was operated in February and I couldn’t go to work in three months after that. The first month was really tough because I had to walk with crutches. After that I have re-learned how to walk. I still have to be very careful before doing any hard training for that leg.”
Minna has had to change her attitude towards competing and health as a whole: “This year has been very hard and different for me. The injury changed my competition plans and also affected my training. Now the knee has recovered quite well and I am really excited to be able for example run again. The injury really stopped me and I learned to appreciate more my health.”
Her cardio has changed the most since she still has to be careful and take it easy. Minna’s diet has changed this year also because of her injury. She eats clean food, mostly protein like egg whites, chicken breast, protein shakes for five days a week and then gives herself little cheats here and there for two days. When Minna begins her diet, she drops out the free food days and also makes some changes to daily meals to keep her metabolism working. When the diet begins, she will also add more cardio into her regime.
So when will we see this beautiful competitor to perform on stage again? Minna reveals her plans for her near future: “My next competition season in fitness is going to be next year. My goal is to compete in cheer dance in February and probably in fitness in the fall in Finnish Nationals, depending how my knee has recovered. I just can not wait to be in stage again, now after a long pause I am really looking forward to compete again!”