STRONG Woman to Watch: Helena Sly

Helena Sly is a WBFF competitor, a blackbelt in karate, a women’s training and nutrition coach, oh, and she’s recovered from spinal fusion due to scoliosis. We sat down with this incredible woman to get some insight as to how her mind works and what her journey has been like with health and fitness over the years. What she said was more than inspiring, and we’re excited to share her interview with you here.

SFMA: How did your health and fitness journey begin?

SLY: I grew up active and l enjoyed a pretty well-balanced lifestyle in my early 20’s I spent two years working on a cruise ship while traveling the world and the lifestyle was very focused on short-term enjoyment, new experiences, and/or convenience. When I returned home to a lifestyle of eating well and training regularly I remembered just how good it feels to treat your body well and I haven’t forgotten it since. It’s been such a passion of mine to live a life that feels good and to share that with others, health and fitness coaching online is now what I do every day and I love it.

SFMA: What do you love most about competing in sports?

SLY: The personal growth you go through while preparing for a competition is something truly special and so transferrable to other areas of life. It also gives you the opportunity to surround yourself with and be inspired by a driven and goal-oriented community.

SFMA: Anything you dislike about it?

SLY: I think the only thing I would say is it’s not always understood by others to prioritise something so highly. I’ve been very lucky with the support I have around me, but I do see a lot of competitors really struggle with their support system having little to no respect for the boundaries and commitment required.

SFMA: What is your best piece of advice for beginners to sports?

SLY: Embrace the phase where you suck at it, everyone who is great now spent their time there. Just keep showing up.

SFMA: What has been your greatest challenge?

Helena Sly - STRONG Fitness Mag

SLY: My biggest challenge is also my biggest driver. At 19 I had major back surgery for scoliosis. I live now with a full fusion from T2 – L2 and 15” rods on either side of my spine. I had to sign a document that said I understood the risk of paralysis from the surgery and at that point, I had to create a mindset to be grateful for whatever ability my body had. It was a pivotal point for me around body image. I realised how crazy it is to be so emotionally attached to or triggered by how my legs look, for example when the fact that they work is a privilege.

SFMA: How about your greatest achievement?

SLY: In the years following my back surgery I achieved my blackbelt in karate (now a 2nd dan) and competed nationally and internationally at the world cup level with several podium finishes. I then transitioned to being a physique competitor. Getting on stage the first time blew the top off so many of my own limiting beliefs, I’m so excited to get back on stage again in a few weeks’ time.

SFMA: What does being a STRONG woman mean to you?

SLY: Being a strong woman to me means not feeling intimidated by other women’s success but to encourage it, and use it as inspiration. It means using self-compassion to move through growth areas instead of self-critique and it means placing my priorities forward because when I’m a better woman for me I can be a better woman for the people I care about.

SFMA: What’s your average week of training?

SLY: Currently I am leading into my show and I train 3x lower body and 2x upper body resistance training sessions in my home gym and I do HIIT sessions on my spin bike 3x/week. Most of the year I train 4 sessions/week and don’t train cardio.

SFMA: What’s your average day on a plate?

SLY: Breakfast is usually an omelette.
Lunch I have a huge salad or roast veggies with a protein source.
Afternoon snack is usually a protein smoothie or frappe (lots of ice).
Dinner I love my roasts and stir-fries.

Dessert is non-negotiable for me – especially if I’m in a cutting phase. Bulk Nutrients Protein oats or Protein cheesecake are my favourites and usually a hot chocolate before bed.

SFMA: What supplements do you take?

SLY: I use Bulk Nutrients Creatine monohydrate, AM burner if I need an energy boost, and I have a range of protein powders for flavour options. Occasionally I use BCAAs to help me drink more water through my workout. I also supplement with Vitamin D and Magnesium.

SFMA: What’s your favourite product?

SLY: I love Bulk Nutrients Thermowhey, a little caffeine hit to help keep energy up during my cut phase and the flavours are so good to make high protein smoothies and desserts. The Choc Honeycomb flavour is winning my heart right now.

SFMA: How do you support your recovery?

SLY: I keep my protein intake high, my meals colourful for a variety of nutrients, 3L water/ day and I prioritise having a similar sleep & wake time each day for more rejuvenating sleep.

SFMA: Is there a coach or fellow athlete you look to as a role model and why?

SLY: In the WBFF there are so many athletes I look up to, role models for me are all focussed on their own self-development and education and helping others in an earlier part of their health and fitness journey along the way. I admire when athletes are open about their journey and the challenges they’ve had.

SFMA: What are some random facts about you?

SLY: I’m one of 5 siblings.
I visited 42 countries in 2 years while working on a cruise ship.
I’m just about to get a hairless cat, I’ve wanted one for years.
My first job was as a Pizza Hut delivery driver.
I was diagnosed with ADHD at 29 years old – it did wonders for my mental health to learn more about the condition and understand myself better,
I met my fiancé on tinder! Also, I know more about cars than most people would expect – I sold them for 5 years before moving into my coaching business.

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About The STRONG Australia Team 39 Articles
STRONG Fitness Magazine Australia is a trusted source of cutting-edge fitness and health information for the resilient, modern woman. STRONG Australia’s sophisticated editorial voice and evidence-based articles, combined with powerful imagery and clean design, reflect the direction fitness has taken in the latest decade.