Interview by Ron Harris
Dana Linn Bailey, known simply as DLB to her millions of fans and followers, forged a unique path for herself in our industry as an athlete who became an entrepreneur and ultimately an icon who transcended our little world and gained mainstream appeal to millions of young women over the world whom she inspired. Though she only competed briefly as a professional, Dana embraced social media and YouTube from the start and used those platforms to spread her messages of female empowerment and loving your body whether or not you fit the cultural ideals at the time. I sat down and spoke with Dana about why she retired, if she will ever compete again, the never-ending “natty or not” debate that’s always surrounded her, and her recently joining the team at supplement powerhouse Redcon1.
Dana, you were the first woman to earn a pro card in Women’s Physique, and you were also the first Women’s Physique Olympia champion. But after taking second place to Juliana Malacarne the next year at the Olympia and then second again to her at the Arnold the following spring, you never competed again. Why did you walk away from the stage so soon?
Most people don’t realize I had been competing for 10 years at that point. As an amateur I would do four or five shows a year. That slowed down once I turned pro. I won the first Olympia, got second at the second one, and getting second place was the best thing that could have happened to me. I know it sounds weird. I love winning and being first was awesome, but I started putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself. Ironically, I looked better at the second Olympia when I took second. After I lost the title, I thought everything was over, my whole world was going to fall apart. I assumed everyone would follow the winner, that everything revolved around being onstage and winning. Rob and I were both like, now what? What do we do now? We went back to the expo and there was a five-hour long line to meet me, and I saw no one gave a fuck that I’d lost. That was a great thing to realize. People weren’t there because I had been first place. They were there for me long before that. They enjoyed watching me compete and watching my journey on YouTube, not because I’d won. It was almost a relief knowing that.
The evolution of bodybuilding is a natural thing. I was getting better, but everyone else was getting bigger and harder at the same time. I got second again to Juliana at the Arnold, and she looked amazing. After that, Rob and his brother Drew sat down with me, and we had a meeting. Bodybuilding changes you, for the good but also in other ways. I don’t have an eating disorder, but it can make you think about food and training differently. After 10 years of competing, I felt like a robot that only cared about the gym and eating. We would go on vacation, and I’d be worried about training and eating clean the whole time. Rob said Dana, you’ve got to live a little! He told me he wanted his wife back. He wanted to be able to take me out to dinner without me having to jump up on a StairMill when we got home. I did eat a healthy, balanced diet, but there was still a little bit of crazy going on. He asked me to take a break and see what happens. It was only going to be about a year. The year after that, I just couldn’t get my head back in it. We already had Flag Nor Fail, and then I started my own business DLB Daily, where I give out different workouts and programs every week. We have them for dumbbells only, bodyweight only, full equipment, etc. We do challenges, and I give substantial amounts of money away. I’m able to help change people’s lives because I’m not engulfed in competing. After I’d been away three years, I saw I couldn’t go back. The division had changed so much in that time. Here we are, almost 10 years later. I’m in the best shape of my life, healthy and happy. I feel very fortunate. Eventually I realized the stage isn’t where you make your money. It’s just a platform. I’m very grateful to the IFBB Pro League for that platform, but it’s what you do offstage that sets up your future.
I honestly feel that had you kept competing, you never would have become the “DLB” phenomenon that you did. You traveled the world and had thousands of fans waiting to meet you everywhere you went. You opened up a gym and did so many things. I think you would have missed out on so many opportunities if your life had purely revolved around your workouts, cardio, and meals. The irony is that most people think competing and winning is the holy grail, the only path to success.
Competing was a great experience, and I always say that bodybuilding has taught me so much about myself. I can tap into and go places that not many people can. Every show you do, you’re like, I don’t think I can do this. Then you come out the other side and it’s, holy shit, I did it! I learned so much about training, dieting and nutrition and now I’m able to share all that with people.
Have you ever been tempted to compete again?
I’ve never used the word “retired,” because there’s a silly part of me that always thinks, maybe. I do look at myself now and I’m in better shape now than I’ve ever been. I kind of would like to see what I’d look like. I’m turning 40 in a few weeks and I still think, maybe just one more time.
You would be eligible for the Masters Olympia in August. Did anyone reach out to you from that event?
No, but for me, I would need about 30 weeks to prep for a show.
Seriously? You always look pretty lean to me. I’d guess you’re never more than 12 weeks out in terms of condition.
It takes a long time for me to get my legs dialed in. We can talk about the “natural or not” subject later, but I’ve been competing naturally my entire life. I don’t start seeing the deep cuts in my legs come out until I’ve already been dieting for 25 weeks.
All the divisions change and evolve over time. Men’s Physique pros now are three times the size they started out at. The difference between you and the best women in Women’s Physique like Natalia Coelho and Sarah Villegas is enormous. If you wanted to do well today, that’s the type of look you would need to bring to the stage.
There’s just no way I could look like that. I’m very realistic with myself. Part of me would love to go up there and not even care that I’d be the smallest and far from the most shredded. I’d just have to get past knowing I would be standing next to them and how I would compare. I’d just have to have the attitude that it’s fine, who cares? I’m qualified for life as a past Olympia winner. But the old ego would probably feel a little inadequate.
It also begs the question, is it better to focus all your time and energy for months to look great on one day, or have a more balanced and productive life and look really good all the time like you do?
That’s the greatest thing about not competing. I never did the bulking thing anyway. You’ve seen me at all types of events over the years and I’m always in shape. I didn’t even do bodybuilding the “right way” by taking time to add a lot of size. Once I turned pro in 2012, I felt I needed to look professional at all times. I never wanted people to see pictures of me onstage and then meet me in person and say, “she doesn’t even look like that in real life.” Competing is extreme. You’ve going down to the lowest body fat possible, then you turn around in the off-season and gain a bunch of weight. I never did that. I’ve seen girls who gained 30 pounds within a month or two after competing. Going up and down in weight like that isn’t healthy. Staying in shape actually got easier for me once I stopped competing, because there was no more fluctuation. I used to diet for 30 weeks and then lose that peak look in a few days after the show. I’d rather look good and be healthy year-round. At 5-4, I stay right at 135 pounds.
OK, here we go on the “natty or not” debate. You’ve been accused of using PEDs and being a “fake natty” for many years. I defend you even though you don’t need me to just because I’ve been around so long and know the telltale signs. You’ve looked the way you do for well over a decade now, and your look doesn’t change much. You post new photos and video content all the time. I’ve never seen any drastic changes in muscle size or strength in all these years as you would expect with anyone who cycles on and off PEDs. And had you been on even moderate doses of drugs this whole time, there would be changes to things like your voice, hairline, skin texture, and so on. I’ve known many women whose voice and appearance changed over time due to PEDs. Honestly, if I thought you were a liar or a fake natty I wouldn’t have even brought this up. I don’t take pleasure in putting people on the spot or making them feel uncomfortable. So, does this whole subject annoy you, amuse you, what?
It makes people so angry, and I used to get really upset about it because I knew I wasn’t lying. People literally hated me because they thought I was. It bothered me until I thought, you know, I must be doing something right if I can look like I’m on steroids without being on them. The reason I’m so vocal about it, I don’t care what anyone does. I really don’t. You can do all the drugs in the world if you want. They just don’t make sense in a female body. You’re putting a bunch of male hormones into a woman’s body, which isn’t supposed to have more than a miniscule amount. You will start morphing into a man. I don’t care who gets upset hearing that. You can do what you want with your body, I don’t care. I don’t like when I hear that coaches tell women, if you want to look like Dana Linn Bailey, here are the steroids you will need to use. False! How about working hard for 10 years? I’ve been an athlete since I was 5 years old. I played six sports and played soccer in college. Then I got into lifting, and I’ve been training hard for over 17 years now. I trained a minimum of six days a week, often seven, and my diet was consistent. If I can change one girl’s decision to start using PEDs, then cool. I’ve done my part. I’d like to change more minds than that. Doing it naturally just takes longer. You have to be more consistent and patient. It’s not something you do overnight or in a couple of months. It’s years and years. It’s been 17 years and I’m still only 135 pounds!
I think a lot of people get butthurt seeing great natural physiques and assuming they’re liars because they don’t understand that there are people like you who are more genetically gifted than average. Then when those people train very hard for years, they look incredible. I’ve seen you train in person a few times, and very few people, men or women, can keep up with you in the gym. I’ve seen you hit what I thought was failure on lateral raises, and the damn set goes on for another five minutes!
I’ve trained with most of the top bodybuilders in the world. Jose Raymond quit on me halfway through the workout! Kai Greene was one of the few who could hang. Generally, the women could hang with me because we generally have more endurance. I love training and I thrive on volume and intensity. I think if I even touched a little bit of drugs, I would have been on the same stage as Iris Kyle. Again, I don’t care what guys take. These are male hormones. And I want to see the freaks up there in bodybuilding, like Ronnie Coleman and Kai Greene. I’m also glad we have Women’s Bodybuilding for them and for those who are fans of that. I just never wanted to go that route.
Let’s move on to some new, exciting news. You were recently signed by Redcon1 which I honestly thought would have happened a couple of years ago. I know you and Rob have been friends with Aaron for a long time, so how did you finally get on board with his company?
That’s funny, we keep saying we should have done this a long time ago! Back when he had Blackstone, we started our own supplement line called Run Everything, and he was a part of it in the beginning. We bought him out a couple of years later and we had that company for at least eight years. A couple of years ago, we realized that even though we had great products, it was still just another supplement brand. We did a whole rebranding to focus on women in sports. The supplement industry has always been focused on men. I remember long ago trying to get a sponsor, and we weren’t paid the same as the men. Why not have a brand dedicated to the female athletes, to give them a platform and share their stories. It was great, but over the past year Rob and I had to admit we had too much on our plates and we couldn’t give the company the love it deserves. We’ve known Aaron for 15 years. I wanted to see Run Everything in Target and Walmart, but I don’t have the bandwidth. Aaron has a huge staff and all those connections. He offered to buy Run Everything and make it grow. At the same time, he wants Redcon1 to grow, so he brought me in to help in that area. I love all their products. They have a much bigger line than Run Everything, and I’m excited to be part of such a big brand. I was with a big brand a long time ago, but they didn’t know what to do with me. They complained people were having a hard time getting to their booths at expos because there were too many fans waiting to meet me! I’m pumped to be part of a really big brand that “gets me.”
What are your favorite Redcon1 products?
I love BIG NOISE, their non-stim “pump” pre-workout. I already drink way too much coffee, so I don’t need to add any more caffeine on top of that. The MRE RTDs and bars taste so good. I want to try their greens product, GI JUICE, because I’m all about health. Their protein powders are amazing, and if you haven’t tried their MRE PROTEIN MUFFINS yet, you don’t know what you’re missing. They are fucking fantastic! The only thing I have to go easy on is their pre-workout, TOTAL WAR. I do half a scoop and it’s insane. Even opening up the can, the vapors that come off the powder make me cough! But for anyone who wants a real kick for their workouts, TOTAL WAR would do the trick.
To wrap this up, let’s talk about your future. You’ve already done and accomplished so much in less than 40 years on earth. What do you still want to do before it’s all said and done?
I’ve done plenty of seminars and interviews, but I’ve never done a professional, hour-long presentation or speech with just me onstage. I did my first one about a month ago at Coach Con in Atlanta, where coaches from all disciplines come to learn. They asked me to speak, and I was like, what? Just go up there and talk? I was so nervous that I broke out in hives a couple of days before. It’s weird because I’m so comfortable in front of people and on camera. I’ve done seminars all over the world. Q and A? Easy-peasy for me. For some reason, this scared the shit out of me. I thought I was just gonna go up there and freeze. But I went up and told my story. I had my talking points, and I got through it. When I got home, I thought, maybe this is my next thing. Maybe this is what I do now. I do have an inspirational story that people can relate to. I went through a lot of self-doubt and body dysmorphia and hated my body for so long. Then I threw myself into a sport that’s all about my body being judged! Not getting breast implants was a huge part of that. I made the things I hated most about my body into the things I am the proudest of. I want to teach people how to get there. I feel I have something to say that can help others, and that’s my new journey. Over the last nine years since I stopped competing, I felt like something was missing, that there was a void in my life because I am a competitor at heart. That’s what I am, that’s all I know. After doing that speech and people coming up to me afterwards, I felt that same fulfillment the stage used to give me.
Dana Linn Bailey’s REDCON1 Stack
MRE PROTEIN BROOKIE
‘I love all their products. I’m pumped to be part of a really big brand that ‘gets me.’ -Dana Linn Bailey
For more information, visit redcon1.com
Ron Harris got his start in the bodybuilding industry during the eight years he worked in Los Angeles as Associate Producer for ESPN’s “American Muscle Magazine” show in the 1990s. Since 1992 he has published nearly 5,000 articles in bodybuilding and fitness magazines, making him the most prolific bodybuilding writer ever. Ron has been training since the age of 14 and competing as a bodybuilder since 1989. He lives with his wife and two children in the Boston area. Facebook Instagram