By James S. Fell
Wrestling goddess Trish Stratus learned early in life that being fit would take her just about anywhere she wanted to go. And having her first child at 37, she’s discovering the same is true.
“The doctors say whatever you did before you got pregnant for exercise, you should be able to keep doing, so everything has stayed the same with my regimen,” she says.
Call it sport-specific training.
“I’m training for the big event. I’ve been doing yoga poses that are hip openers,” Stratus said in a July interview. Her baby’s due date is in September. “I’m preparing my body for what will happen when I give birth.”
Now a fitness spokeswoman for New Balance who runs her own yoga studio, Stratus counts 100 squats and 50 pushups each day.
“I’ve had the most amazing pregnancy. Going into it healthy has made all the difference.”
Stratus is a Canadian legend in professional wrestling. She’s the female Bret Hart. Actually, scratch that. She’s just Trish: an amazing athlete, who has never shied away from showing off her sexuality while being a champion for women’s equality. Like if Eleanor Roosevelt power slammed people.
“They thought I was just arm candy,” Stratus says of her initial experience in professional wrestling. “The fans looked at women wrestlers and would chant ‘Puppies!’” This was a euphemism for breasts; all the male-dominated audience seemed to care about. Stratus and her fellow female combatants would soon school them and change the way women’s wrestling was viewed.
Stratus studied biology and kinesiology at York University near her home north of Toronto. Fitness modelling helped pay her tuition and led to lucrative opportunities in the wrestling world. Initially in the then-named WWF, women were called ‘valets’ for the male wrestlers.
“At the time they just wanted women to walk the guys out and look good, but I knew I was an athlete.”
So she trained like she never had before.
“My training went through a complete overhaul,” Stratus says.
“I realized it’s more about keeping up in the ring. Conditioning became all-important. I dropped the split routines and started doing more circuit training and cardio. I still want to look good, but it was far more important to be able to perform.”
She was the star of the show, holding the women’s WWE title at various times between 2001 and 2004.
“Each match is a performance and you have to put a story together just like a Shakespeare play,” Stratus says. “We were under the radar, but rather than the hair pulling and slapping each other they expected we would actually punch each other. I had a gymnastics background that helped for coming up with a lot of great moves.”
And the “puppy” chants eventually changed to cheers.
“I’m so proud of what we did because we saw a big rise in the female demographic of viewers. People began to appreciate us as athletes.”
But that athleticism came with a cost.
“Wrestlers are some of the most conditioned athletes on the planet,” she says. “There is a gruelling road schedule and sometimes you don’t get a chance to recover. There is no off-season. It’s a continuous soap opera that never goes off TV.”
Stratus explains that while wrestling is scripted and “we know the ending of the story,” everything that happens to make that story unfold is real. And that often leads to injury.
Injury and inactivity means losing the limelight. She’s had a broken thumb and a broken ankle and was always sporting bruises, “which wasn’t great for my boyfriend (now husband).” But the worst injury was a herniated disc in her low back. Faced with surgery, Stratus explored other options.”
This was back in 2004, when she was the champion and after two months of physiotherapy she was distraught, because it wasn’t helping.
“I was getting desperate, so I went to my first yoga class. It wasn’t as popular as it is now. It sounds crazy, but it was the first time I had any relief. Sometimes you just have to listen to your body, so I fired my physiotherapist and just stuck with yoga.”
The yoga not only fixed her back, it improved her performances in the ring.
“I became so agile and my recovery time was so quick, I decided I needed to learn more about yoga so I did retreats all over the world and became certified as an Ashtanga yoga teacher.”
Stratus retired from wrestling in 2006, and opened her own studio, called Stratusphere Yoga, just north of Toronto in the city of Vaughan in 2008. And while she felt great, her physique changed.
“I’m one of those all or nothing people,” she says. After wrestling it was pretty much all yoga. “I got wiry and skinny and it wasn’t attractive.”
A starring role in the 2010 movie Bounty Hunters — where Stratus portrays “a kick-ass Krav Maga fighter” — made her realize she needed to get back into “regular, basic bodybuilding stuff.”
But this didn’t mean she headed back to the iron.
“I started to combine strength training with yoga,” she says. “It’s all body weight.”
Well, perhaps not all. “I invented these things called FitGloves, which is a one-pound weighted glove. You hold yoga poses with them and it makes it a lot harder.”
And the results? “The gun show came back,” she says, referring to her re-claimed biceps.
And now, motherhood ... I bet that baby will be born ready to body slam.
Behind the scenes photos
Trish shoots New Balance ad