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Fitness Modeling, The Industry, and Working Out with Nicolette Brignola

By: burgundy bug

Nicolette Brignola in the woods

Source: Founded in Fountains and Foliage with Nicolette | Penelope Peru Photography p3

Nicolette Brignola is a local fitness model who has been crushing it in competitions over the last year.

On Wednesday, we met up with Brignola to learn more about her career, goals, and pick up a few fitness tips.

What inspired you to get into fitness?

My inspiration from fitness came from gaining fifteen pounds at a job I had started as a teacher two years ago.

I was not happy with the way that I looked. My friend Colby was teaching me how to bench at the gym, and that got me back into lifting.

I had been into fitness, but I didn’t necessarily know what I was doing at first. I didn’t know the proper way to lift to build lean muscle, and I wasn’t eating right, either.

I saw all of these glorious looking people on Instagram in sparkling bikinis on Instagram, and I was like, “Daaaaamn, wow. They look so good. I want to try to do that.”

Afterwards, I started getting into nutrition, which inspired me to minor in it at Immaculata University. I’m majoring in a Pre-med track as a Physician’s Assistant.

Minoring in nutrition sparked my interest in fitness even more because I started to correlate school with lifting.

It was a big step and changed my whole life.

Do you ever get nervous during competitions?

Nicolette on stage in May 2019

Source: Finally it’s Friday we made it to the weekend | Nicolette

Yes. Oh my god, yes.

You are your own worst critic. I get so nervous because I put so much pressure on myself to practice and be perfect in every aspect of this; like measuring out my food, making sure I hit every single lift in the correct form, and doing all the cardio. I have to calculate my water intake, too, a whole week before the show, in addition to prepping my meals. It’s a lot.

Nicolette on stage in May 2019

Source: Stage shots are in | Nicolette

What does your workout routine look like?

Right now, I’m lifting six days a week and cardio five days a week, just ’cause we backed off of [on the cardio] a little bit.

I also have a coach who writes my plans, monitors my diet and workouts.

I do splits of shoulders and glutes one day, then another split of hamstrings, glutes, and calves for day two. The next day would be biceps and chest, then another day would be shoulders and triceps, then quads.

I split up the muscle groups each day and work them out ’till failure.

You want to break down the muscle tissue as much as possible while lifting so it can build.

Nicolette Brignola

For example, you might focus on two muscle groups one day, then you give it those three days it needs to rest and recover.

Each person is different, too, depending on their body type, where they want to put muscle on, and where they want to lose fat. It’s really about what their end goal is and what they want their physique to look like.

However, your physique is always evolving. It’s constantly going to be changing, so there shouldn’t ever be an end goal. You should always just want to improve based on your personal goals.


What is your favorite exercise to do? Which day of your workout routine do you look forward to most?

View this post on Instagram

Happy Tuesday 🤗 Here’s another video from Sunday 🤙🏽 * I loving seeing all the striations in my upper body 😍 it’s crazy how much process you can make in just ONE YEAR! * Since I started my journey last April it had been filled with highs and lows of just everyday life, but I’m glad I kept pushing myself, because I wouldn’t be where I am today without my ungodly determination.😂 * I may not be motivated every single day but I for sure do not give up even when things get hard. I pushed myself when things get rough, & looking back, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing all i have accomplished. I am super proud and can’t wait to continue to do what I love. This sport is amazing and your only competition is yourself. Never stop being the best version of you each and everyday 🥰 * * Officially 24 days out from my first competition this season!! So excited 😆 * Who’s going to the gym today?! I know I am 🙋🏽‍♀️ * * #npcbikini #strongereveryday #strengthtraining #mindset #bodybuilding #pushyourself #ocb #ocbbikini #lats #workout #latspread #backworkout #girlswithtattoos #girlswholift #bikinigirl #bikinicompetition #prep #lifestylechange #bestversionofyou #bebetter #happytuesday #bodybuildingmotivation #gymlife #gymrat #lift #fitnessmotivation #girlswithmuscle #girlsthatlift #gymmotivation #inspiration

A post shared by Nic_Brigss (@nic_brigss) on

Nicolette in the gym

Source: Happy Tuesday | Nicolette

I LOVE shoulders. Lifting shoulders is my favorite day.

My favorite exercise for shoulders are side laterals. Single arm, dumbbell leaning, side laterals.

Personally, I hate lifting legs. It takes so much energy out of you because you’re lifting one of these biggest muscles in your body. I normally split my quads and hamstrings because they’re such big muscles and I want to get a lot of definition in them.

The quad burn is the worst feeling in the world, which is why I don’t lift really heavy for quads. I want that definition, so I’ll squeeze that muscle to feel the burn, which is how you know it’s working.

Are there any simple exercise you could recommend our readers try out at home?

I like to do a lot of body weighted crutches.

You could also do body weighted step ups or calf raises on stairs. Walking lunges if you want to tone up your legs.

If you want to do something with upper body, you could literally grab cans or anything with a little bit of weight to do curls or hammer curls.

Then you could do an overhead press for shoulders with any sort of weight, like books.

How do you stay motivated?


Source: Obviously obsessed with these photos | Nicolette

I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s motivation.

I wouldn’t say I’m motivated every single day. There are some days that I really don’t want to go to the gym because I am physically exhausted; beat, done, over it.

I think being really stubborn helps push myself to get my butt moving and in gear.

At the end of the day, these competitions are based off the hard work you put into this prep and it’s all on you. It’s never about anyone else; it’s about what you bring to the stage. That’s what keeps me going.


It also really helps that I get a lot of awesome messages through Instagram. Many people follow my journey on there and everyone is super supportive.

It’s a whole lifestyle change, though. My entire life revolves around this now. It’s different from anything I’ve ever experienced before.

I’m so interested in being the best that I can be in this sport and it’s really helped me be a better person overall. Body building has given me insight on different aspects in my life in general.


It’s made me very goal oriented and I was never like that before.

What do you find most rewarding about being a fitness model?

I never really thought that I would ever be doing this, taking photos, or representing the industry that I’m involved in.

That being said, I like looking at the pictures afterwards because I didn’t realize I looked like that.

Nicolette on stage: Sept 2018 vs May 2019

Source: Wow | Nicolette

I’ll be completely honest, I’m still insecure on an everyday basis and I don’t think that’s ever going to change because that’s how I am. At the end of the day, though, I really like modeling. It gives me something to look back on.

It also gets me out of my comfort zone, which is a big part of growing.

What are your overarching goals as a fitness model?

I want to show girls that you can be strong and not skinny. You can constantly be evolving and be better.

I didn’t look like this two years ago, so I decided to make a change. I had never lifted upper body in my life. Now it’s my favorite thing to do.

I want to spread empowerment and enlightenment by showing I eat five to six meals a day. I’m constantly lifting in the gym with the guys.

I want girls to feel that they can do whatever they want if they put their mind to it.


I did it and I was recovering from a spinal industry a month after I signed up with my coach.

How did you injure your spine?

I was a teacher at a daycare with toddlers. I was sitting on the ground, putting this kid’s shoe on, and he kicked me donkey-style in the neck.

I fell backwards, hit my head, and I was out. I just remember waking up and saying to my boss that I needed to go to an urgent care facility.

The kid was only one and a half, so he doesn’t know what he did. I definitely don’t blame him or anything like that – he’s only a toddler.

I ended up having to go through a whole process because I had sciatic nerve pain down my whole leg, wrapping down to my toe.

I had to get a spinal injection. It was insane. A month before my show, I had to get an epidural in my T5 lumbar, which is right above your boot-aye.

It was the most painful experience of my life. It was horrible. All right before my first show.

I had to get physical therapy for four months, too. I was cut back to working five hours a week and kept training. Everyone kept telling me to keep lifting because I’m young enough that it would strengthen and push it back into place. The epidural also helped by reducing the swelling.

I had to do a lot of core exercises and lat pull downs to strengthen my back during physical therapy.

Additionally, I had a personal goal of competing before my 23rd birthday, so I kept going.

When I first met my coach, she didn’t know who I was. She told me not to have any expectations because I had no muscle on my upper body and we didn’t know how my body would respond to the plan.

Even though she told me not to expect for another year from then, I ended up competing after five months of training. I competed in my first show on Sept 29th last year, then Oct 6th, and my third show was in May.

Nicolette after her first competition in Sept 2018

Source: Reminiscing | Nicolette

How do you feel about the modeling industry as a whole? Do you feel like it gets a bad reputation, or do you think there needs to be more diversity, inclusion, and representation?

Nicolette in a truck

Source: Can it be Friday yet!? | Nicolette

There definitely needs to be more diversity.

I feel like they only look at one image a lot in modeling and a lot of it’s fake, too. Sometimes I look at these girls’ faces and I’m just like, “That’s not real.”

It’s hard because that shows young girls a false image.

I hate that everything is constantly photoshopped. I try to post unedited photos on my Instagram page. I don’t like to post the edited ones. Some of them are nice, but I’d rather show people what I actually look like. Not a false, doctored image.

I feel like Instagram is really fake, too. People only like to show the pretty side of things, but I like to show that this is real life. I don’t look great after coming out of the gym: I’m a hot sweaty mess, but I put my work in.

I don’t just wake up like this, all tan and in a sparkly bathing suit. It takes weeks and weeks of preparation.

Nicolette BRIGNOLA

I’ll do an 18 or 20 week cut for a show. No sugar, no dairy. Making sure my food is absolutely perfect to the T. It takes months of practice.

A lot more goes into it than I even thought when I got into competing.

What advice would you give to someone interested in getting into fitness, whether it’s for health and wellness or modeling?

Nicolette doing yoga

Source: Balance is the key to EVERYTHING! | Nicolette

Ask a lot of questions. Find someone that you know who is either involved in [fitness] or interested in it. It’s always fun if you have someone who’s doing it with you, too.

That’s how I got into it. My friend really pushed me.

Another old friend of mine from first or second grade and I also reconnected last summer while I was training and competing. He was helping me with form and showed me the Arnold Schwarzenegger guide to lifting. That was a really good motivator and pushed me in the right direction.

It also made me more knowledgeable about the sport in general. I hadn’t known much about it, but my friend had been into it for awhile. He told me to start the fitness Instagram, which is so important in this industry to get yourself out there. You’re not just building a brand. You are the brand.

Nicolette on a fitness ball

Source: Anyone else super tired today?! | Nicolette

What’s next for you? Any more photoshoots or upcoming competitions?

I have a show coming up on Aug 24th, which I’m super excited about. I’m on prep right now, started on a 12 week cut because I’m already pretty lean.

I’m building off the physique I have now to better it and hopefully get my pro card at this show. I won first place in my class and first place in the open at my last show in May, but I lost the overall by one point, the judges said.

I don’t necessarily have any photoshoots planned. I kinda wing those. I might be doing a photoshoot for a magazine cover, though.

The biggest thing coming up is definitely the show in Aug. My end goal is to go pro the day of the show and focus on bringing the best physique I possibly can.

Then I’ll take a year off and compete in the Yorton Cup in 2020, which is a pro show in Washington D.C.

It’s all going to depend on how I do in the show this Aug.

Nicolette in the woods

Source: Founded in Fountains and Foliage with Nicolette | Penelope Peru Photography P³

Keep up with Nicolette’s journey on Instagram!

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burgundy bug


A cynical optimist and mad scientist undercover, burgundy bug is the editor, graphic designer, webmaster, social media manager, and primary photographer for The Burgundy Zine. Entangled in a web of curiosity, burgundy bug’s work embodies a wide variety of topics including: neuroscience, psychology, ecology, biology, cannabis, reviews, fashion, entertainment, and politics.

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