What does being a Girl Gone Strong mean to you? To me, Girls Gone Strong stands for purpose and action. Yes, we derive our physical strength from our hard work in the gym but that strength has a way of bleeding into all areas of our lives — the capability and empowerment we feel is just the beginning. It’s strength that means something.
How long have you been training? Three and a half years of dedicated strength training, but I’ve practiced Pilates since I was 20. (Which means I’ve been doing it for 18 years. Oy vey.)
How did you get introduced to strength training? Girls Gone Strong actually introduced me to strength training. I had been a personal trainer for about a year but they don’t teach the wonder that is barbell training in the NASM manual. I just knew there was more out there than BOSU balls and cardio equipment.
As a trainer, you do a lot of self-education – if you want to keep learning you have to seek it out. I was doing that, taking a winding path on the Internet and I came across a blog post written by Neghar Fonooni. (This was back when GGS was just getting off the ground.) She laid it all out perfectly for someone like me, someone who had never picked up a weight heavier than 15 pounds: that women could be strong, muscled, capable, and feminine. From there I found GGS and it’s not an understatement to say that the trajectory of my life took off in a whole new direction.
What does a sample workout look like for you? Right now, I train for powerlifting. (And I can’t see that changing anytime soon, except for adding in a little strongman competition here and there.) I have a meet at the end of July that I’m training for now, and I lift four days a week—two upper body and two lower body. Every session focuses on the competition lifts: back squat, bench press, and deadlift.
Powerlifting relies on the principle of specificity; to get better at the competition lifts you need to practice the competition lifts. Make sense, right? Because of that, every training session starts with either the squat, bench, or deadlift (when I’m the most fresh and ready to handle big weights) and from there moves on to accessory movements. Accessory movements train the muscles used in the competition lift, but in a smaller way, to build muscle but avoid excessive fatigue.
Here’s what an upper body bench day, typically looks like (reps and sets will vary each week, but as the meet gets closer, the reps decrease and weight on the bar increases):
A. Pause Bench Press
B1. Barbell Incline Press
B2. Barbell Bent Over Row
C1. 1-Arm Dumbbell Row
C2. Bodyweight Pause Push Ups
I just did this workout today and my arms were so swole when I was done that I walked around the gym and made everyone feel my biceps. Because they are wonderful people they took it in stride and humored me kindly: “Yes, JVB,” they said. “Your biceps are VERY strong.”
Favorite Lift: This is a tough call because I love them all, truly. Right now I’m loving the bench press the most – for such a stupid lift (sorry bro’s) it’s super technical and one little tweak can trigger immediate progress –and conversely, one little mistake will make your barbell move like it’s stuck in freshly dried cement. Bench press isn’t something a lot of women like to train because it’s so ding dang hard. Plus, when you own a 300+ deadlift and are closing in on a 300-pound squat, it’s just not as sexy when your bench hovers around 100 or more pounds less than that.
But. Ignoring a challenge makes no sense to me. Neither does having any chinks in my armor. Soooo, right now it’s me, flat on my back, looking up at that damn barbell and daring it to get the best of me this time. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s only getting better, and that’s the fun part.
Most memorable PR: I set the MN State record for my weight class in the barbell back squat in our last meet, that was pretty cool. But I would have to say that competing in my first powerlifting meet was my most memorable personal PR. I grew up with a different, super-annoying Big Three: allergies, eczema, and severe asthma. Being the rockin’ medically high-maintenance kid and teen that I was, I didn’t participate in sports.
This was my first time competing in anything, ever. (Besides choir competitions in high school, which yes you can medal in! Heyoooooo!) I was ridiculously nervous, but so excited because I knew, I just knew, that this was something I was supposed to do.
And here’s the cool thing about powerlifting meets: When it comes to medaling, it all depends on who shows up that day. I set PR’s in all three lifts and since It was a small meet I took home third place. I might have worn my medal for the rest of the day. Or weekend. And maybe now it lives permanently in my gym bag.
Top 5 songs on your training playlist: Jen Sinkler and I listen to Heart Radio on Pandora. Pat Benetar alllll day, every day.
Top 3 things you must have with you at the gym/in your gym bag: Lifting shoes, training journal, and lip balm
Do you prefer to train alone or with a training partner? Why? I definitely prefer to lift with a partner. I’ve discovered that I am a lot like 99.9% of other people: if I don’t have something or someone to hold me accountable to my workouts I will most likely spend the day tapping away at work on my laptop.
So, as a trainer I follow the advice I give anyone else who is experiencing trouble with consistency: I make workout dates with my gal pals who like to lift. Our time together is thick on laughs, snorts, and burps, constructive and actionable feedback on lifts, and 100% unconditional support in the gym — and on the platform. Plus, I spend so much time at the gym training clients and coaching classes, our training time feels like my playtime. With really big PR’s.
Most hilarious pick-up line you’ve heard at the gym: I’ve never been picked up at the gym (I blame a terminal case of RBF, otherwise known as Resting B*tch Face. I’m nice though, I swear!) but I did have a client tell me once, after I demonstrated an exercise, that I looked like “A rock covered in velvet.”
I think that was a compliment. I’m pretty sure.
Most embarrassing gym moment: Welp, okay. I was doing a barbell complex that involved a power clean. It was just me and a bunch of men in the free weight area. As a woman lifting, you wanna be cool, right? Show the dudes how strong you are and all that. Yep. So, I cleaned the bar with a little too much emphasis than was needed and lost my balance.
I tipped right over backwards and landed on my back with the bar clattering down on top of me. We didn’t have bumper plates so the iron made a hyoooooge ruckus that brought all activity in the weight room to a complete halt, with several men rushing over to “save” the strong lady who just clobbered herself with her own barbell. I’m turning red just typing out that story.
Favorite meal: Tacos. All day every day. (not just on Tuesday.)
Favorite way to treat yourself: Grabbing dinner with my girlfriends from the gym after class. There a many delicious places to eat close to the gym and getting the chance to sit and have a great meal and non-gym conversation with some of the best women I’ve ever met is a treat I will never get tired of.
Favorite quote: “If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. If not, you’ll find an excuse.”
To me, excuses are fine as long as I do something about them – they’re a really helpful way for me to determine if I really want something or not.
Favorite book: I can’t pick because I love to read so, so much. But I did just finish the book “All The Light We Cannot See,” by Anthony Doerr, and it was beautifully written. The author masterfully crafts the story and uses just the right words. That’s what I was thinking the whole time I read it: “This is the perfect word to say what he means to say.” It won the Pulitzer Prize so clearly I’m not the only one taken by this book.
What inspires and motivates you? My community of people inspire and motivate me. I work alongside some of the smartest people I’ve ever met; I don’t want to be lagging behind, dragging my knuckles, so that keeps me on my toes. I also coach the most badass women around. They are the best mix of ages, backgrounds, and life experiences and they do work – without skimping on the fun. I want to be the best coach I can be for them because that’s what they deserve.
What does a typical day look like for you? (From waking up to bedtime)
Wake Up at 5 am (ooof), make coffee, and head to the gym.
6 am to 1 pm is training clients and coaching one or two classes.
1 pm, is training time for me and the team (whoop!).
3 pm is school pick up and listening to my two children (10 and 12, girl and boy) talk over each other, bicker, and fight over who gets to pick the radio station. Snack time, then homework for them, emailing and other laptop busy work for me until I prep dinner for the family and then head back to the gym for the evening to coach our Women’s Only strength training class (alongside Jen Sinkler, have you heard of her?).
What’s the coolest “side effect” you’ve noticed from lifting heavy? My body shape has changed, I look like I lift. And I’ve noticed just how much my daughter has noticed this, too. I’ve never been a small woman, but now my curves and shape represent the work I’ve put in.
My daughter is always complimenting me on my thick thighs; she once called me The Goddess With The Golden Thighs after seeing a sculpture with that name at a park. She’s 10 going on 30 and it’s all I can do to set an example as the “Woman Who Gave Zero F*cks Over What Society Thinks She Should Look Like.” For her to not have to shoulder the burden of uncertainty and doubt (and sometimes shame) that can come along with being a growing, impressionable young lady would be the coolest side effect ever.
Next training goal: A 300-pound barbell back squat. I know the strength is there, I just have to convince my mind that the bar isn’t going to smash my face into the floor. There are no weenies in powerlifting! (That was my Tom Hanks from “A League of Their Own” impression. Did you get it?)
Three words that best describe you: Passionate. Strong. Excited.
How has lifting weights changed your life? My career, my social life, my work and most of my personal relationships are a direct result of my love affair with the iron; it’s the common thread that ties everything together. (You could say that lifting hasn’t just changed my life, it is my life, but that makes me sound very one-dimensional and I have layers, I swear! Do you know I can put my feet behind my head and scoot across the floor on my butt? It’s a great icebreaker at parties.)
What do you want to say to other women who might be nervous to start lifting heavy? I would say, what do you have to lose? (I already know the answer to this, and it’s that they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.) I would say, find your people. See who’s doing what you want to try, or even looking how you want to be looking and who are having fun with it, and do what they do. Join in. Once you’ve found your tribe, stick with it – it’s the consistency that will bring you the results you’re looking for. And it’s really not at all hard to be consistent when you’re having fun and enjoying the process.
And P.S. With strength training, you will gain muscle. “Toned” and “Gainz” mean the same thing. The really cool thing that happens when women start lifting is the mindset shift that happens: goals become more performance based and the aesthetics become a secondary, add-on bonus. But how will you know, unless you get started?
Are you feeling inspired by JVB? Read on to learn more about—and join—our community of strong, uplifting women!
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