There are some people, that I have never met in person, but with whom I feel as if they are my best friends! Today I have the honor of introducing you Jen Sinkler! She is one of the most amazing, beautiful, passionate women, that you will ever get the chance to meet! Everybody that has the privilege of meeting her or talking to her, will tell you that this women has something really special… she has a purpose in her life, a passion and a never ending will and desire to be great and help others become great! She has the power to set the fire in your heart and help you dust off the ashes of your broken dreams, and then build your world again, filled with more enthusiasm, hope and positivism! And no matter what I tell you about Jen, it would just belittle the great person she is, so I will let her do the talking! Before that, just don’t forget to join my Facebook page (HERE)
Ines Subashka: Introduce yourself.
Jen Sinkler: First of all, thank you, Ines, for asking me to do this interview — it’s an honor to be included on your site! For those of you I haven’t had the pleasure of e-meeting yet on my Facebook page, Thrive as the Fittest(HERE) , it’s nice to meet you now! My name is Jen Sinkler, and I’m the former editorial director of fitness for Experience Life magazine, a publication I worked at for the past nine years. There, I assigned, wrote, and edited stories on the best training methodologies the fitness industries has to offer.
Just recently, I branched out on my own and started a website called Thrive with Jen Sinkler — there, I cover intuitive training, Olympic lifting, kettlebell training, sane nutritional strategies, easy recipe prep, dressing well in the gym, and living life as your best self. I’m also sharing fabu messages that others to have to offer via guest posts — I can’t shake the editor in me, I like to share! (If you’re interested, you can sign up for my email newsletter at www.jensinkler.com(HERE)
IS: How did you start lifting weights? Have you played any other sports before that?
JS: I was a four-sport athlete in high school (softball, volleyball, basketball and track), and although I have a few sporadic memories of bench-pressing on a rusty old machine in the boys’ locker room during basketball season, that only happened a handful of times. I didn’t start lifting in earnest until my senior year of college.
I’d been playing rugby for a few years by that time, and had even made the Under-23 U.S. National Team. Up until then, I tended to use whatever sport was in season as my primary training vehicle, but I knew that couldn’t last forever — I had designs on making the senior-level team next, and it wasn’t going to happen without hitting the iron. Not to mention, some of the tryouts included strength tests in the gym — the first time that happened, I’d hardly ever lifted, but I wanted to look like I fit in, so I decided to squat whatever starting fullback and supremely fit player Ashley English did, which was 185 pounds. Looking back, I’m still not sure how I pulled that off, but I’ll bet it was ugly.
After that, I started hitting the gym a lot — it was a slow process to learn to love it, but eventually I did. The secret, for me, is to work out with others. I like to be in it together.
IS: How did you pick rugby? What did you like about the sport?
JS: I found rugby on a date, strangely enough — for one of my first outings with a college boyfriend, he asked me to come watch him play rugby. There was a women’s camp going on at the next field, and right away I could tell I’d rather play the sport than watch — it just looked like too much fun to resist. Of course, my idea of a good time was fouling out of basketball before then, so I had a tendency to like physical contact already.
IS: When you first started lifting weights, were you afraid of getting bulky and too muscular? What would you tell all the women there that are afraid of lifting weights?
JS: One of the great blessings of my life is to have been involved in the rugby community. In my experience, it really is singular in its vast acceptance of all types and sizes of bodies, so becoming too bulky wasn’t a concern — I wanted to get faster and more powerful, and that was part of the path to get there.
What’s more, as I started to develop some muscle definition, I really liked the way it looked! I’m pretty sure I didn’t wear sleeves for the first couple years I lifted. That said, the fear of becoming bulky is a real thing, as unfounded as that is (no one has ever, in the history of time, said, “Oops, I became a bodybuilder!”). When it comes up with my clients, I ask if they are happy with the results they’ve gotten on their exercise program before they came my way. The answer is usually no, so I ask them to give lifting a try for a while and see if they like what happens to their bodies. When they experience the physical changes that come around, they’re thrilled. Even better, I love witnessing women fall in love with being strong — that often overcomes any remaining fear of bulk.
IS: Have you had a moment in your life, when you weren’t content with yourself and your body image? How did you manage to overcome that?
JS: Yes. Yes indeed. It turned out that I had been doing too much of the same stuff in the gym, too often, and my natural tendency toward quad-dominance manifested itself. In 2003, I developed chondromalacia in my left knee (that oh-so-pleasant condition where your kneecap tracks out of whack and grinds out painful new patterns in your cartilage). It was the first time I’d ever been injured, so I hit physical therapy hard and tried to get right again by focusing on VMO and hamstring development, as well as loads of eccentric exercises (the latter two, especially, plus glute development, is where it’s at now for treatment; VMO development was, to my understanding, somewhat overblown). But my cartilage was still crunchy, I wasn’t used to playing with pain, and my gait was sufficiently altered that two years later, in 2005, I developed chondromalacia in my right knee, as well.
The result was, I decided I didn’t really want to lift very often anymore. By this point, I was a good two years into my time at the magazine. I loved my job, so I did that. Just that. I would leave the office at around 9 p.m. each night, grab a rotisserie chicken, some goat cheese, and a pack of pita chips on the way home, chow down, then go to bed and repeat it all the next day.
My weight started to creep up from that lean, mean 145 to a rather puffier 150. Then a somewhat marshy 155. I was still playing rugby for my local club team, and still on both of the national teams…kind of. I was selected only as an alternate to the 2006 Women’s 15s World Cup in Edmonton, Canada, and didn’t see a minute of playing time. Nor should I have: I wasn’t the same player I’d been a couple years before. I didn’t even bother trying out for the U.S. sevens team in 2007.
By this point, I was miserable and weak. I felt sick to my stomach after almost every meal. My whole face and back broke out in a terrible acne-like rash that a dermatologist told me was rosacea, and caused by hormonal changes. I was regularly having what I thought were muscle spasms in my midback, for which I sought help from sports medicine specialists, general practitioners, acupuncturists, chiropractors, and two ER docs. Finally, I was correctly diagnosed with gallstones. Like a little old lady, at age 28.
The moment everything changed followed shortly, when I put on a dress I remembered as being flattering. It really, really wasn’t anymore. I remember touching my midsection, trying to figure out if that bulge was me or material. (Verdict: me.) And I realized that that there was nothing stopping me from a long, slow decline unless I completely overhauled my outlook and approach. Immediately. It was May of 2008, and I was so very tired of myself, of the excuses I made to myself and others about why I was so rarely working out, of feeling terrible both physically and emotionally, of dressing to try to hide my body when I’d always been the most naked and body-confident of my friends. I felt like an imposter, calling myself an athlete when I was clearly not training like one. Nor was I acting like one. I was finally, suddenly ready to take full responsibility for my own health.
First thing was figuring out food. In working for the magazine, I had an incredible holistic nutrition resource at my fingertips. So, I started with a month long elimination diet. I cut out all grains, dairy, soy, and other common food allergens, adding each back in one at a time and taking note of how I felt. Guess what: I’d eaten such a tremendous amount of cheese over the past few years that I’d managed to make myself allergic to dairy. And once I permanently removed milk products from my diet, my “rosacea” cleared right up, too. Huh.
I worked on discovering work-life balance for the first time. Or rather, I started redefining what was work. I decided it was unseemly for a fitness editor to have to beg, borrow, and steal ideas off friends, books, and websites, and I went in hunt of fitness for myself. It was going to become part of the job, and I vowed to be in the best shape of my life by my 30th birthday, a scant 3.5 months away.
Here’s what I discovered: a great gym, and a group of friends willing to work out with me. I joined Urban Athlete, the renowned training facility in Philadelphia then co-run by kettlebell aficionados Jason C. Brown and Pamela MacElree (MacElree now runs it on her own).
I tuned in to my body for the very first time, and I paid attention to how what I ate made me feel. Without yet having a name for it, and based on feel alone, I transitioned into a Paleo-esque type diet full of high-quality meats, good fats, lots of veggies, few grains and very little dairy. During those months leading up to my 30th, I also cut out all alcohol. (Since that time, occasional alcoholic beverages are welcomed.)
In the span of three months, I shed a little over 20 pounds, settling in at 143 and, much more importantly, completely changing the way my body looked. Disclaimer: I would normally say the scale ain’t a great gauge of fitness, but from years prior, I knew what my body weighed when I carried the amount of muscle and fat I wanted to.
IS: Do you follow a nutrition plan? Do you meet the disapproval of your friends or do they understand why you do it? Would you share what you eat in a day?
JS: I’ve stuck to that same sort of Paleo-esque plan over the years. I don’t crave bread or pasta, but I have been able to add dairy back to my diet with no ill effects. And, since I like a sweet here and there, I call my plan Paleo + Cupcakes.
IS: You are a pretty experienced writer and I truly love what you do. What inspires you to write and how did you find that passion?
JS: Thank you! I used to think I wanted to stay behind the scenes and edit other people’s writing, and in fact, that is what my college education focused on. But, years passed with my being totally immersed in the fitness industry, and I found myself forming more and more of my own opinions. I started not being able to keep them to myself, so I had to write as a way to express them. It became less of a choice.
IS: I really like your page “Thrive as the Fittest”! There is just something so mighty and powerful in that name! How did you come up with the idea and what is your mission with the page? What is the message you’d like to spread to the world?
JS: My old page was called Survival of the Fittest, but as I made the transition out onto my own, I realized my priorities had shifted away from merely surviving, and into thriving — because ideally, we can do better then simply surviving, right? Why settle for good when you can have great? While fitness definitely plays a large role in a happy life, I wanted to be able to incorporate food, overall health, fashion, fun, and other ways to live life as your best self. So, Thrive as the Fittest was born. I think the word “thrive” reflects more accurately what the community I’m lucky enough to manage is all about. We talk about everything — it really is a thriving community, with lots of interaction and ideas. That was my vision for it all along, and my website reflects the same messages — it, too, serves as a playground for happy people.
IS: And because I do not want to get the readers disappointed, for somebody as fit as you, I am sure that they’d like to know what your workouts look like? Would you share your training philosophy?
JS: Sure! It’s important to note that I like to play. A lot. It’s only been since I retired from rugby that I’ve stopped following a set schedule on a piece of paper with a program laid out in advance. I’m not training for any particular event, but I still like to see consistent progress and PRs, and I’ve found a way to keep improving without the cage of an inked-out program that may or may not reflect my body’s capabilities that day.
Since September 2011, I’ve been following a protocol called Gym Movement at a gym called The Movement Minneapolis.(HERE) It also sounds a little hocus-pocus when I describe it to people, but it has worked like a charm to resolve the pain I used to feel when I deadlifted, and it’s kept me moving in an unequivocally positive direction.
The guiding principle is, every single thing you do makes you better or worse, down to every single rep of every single exercise. So naturally, you only want to do things that make you better, right?
The simple version is, you use range-of-motion (ROM) testing to give you a picture of what “better” is in that moment and determine what your training will look like on a given day.
Say you want to squat (who doesn’t?). You would “test” your baseline range of motion with a tension-free toe-touch (meaning you stop at the very first sign of tension). You then “test” different tools (safety bar vs. straight bar, for instance), seeing which leads to a greater ROM. (Sounds wild, but your ROM will vary depending on which your body marks as “better.”)
You also test load, squat variations, and foot placement. You stop your set at the first sign of slowing down or struggling. This means you may do six reps the first set, six the second and five the third — but you’re going to skip the grind reps, regardless of when they show up.
You test again between each set, and when it stops testing well (that is, when your ROM shortens), you’re done with squats.Here’s a brief tutorial about how to test.(click HERE)
This isn’t to say your training will be random; you test and train the things that support your fitness goals. I have a number of training goals laid out, one of which is a bodyweight snatch. So I’ve been testing and training the Olympic lifts and accessory lifts more than anything else.
There are still times I still don’t test my movements: namely, when I’m competing in something. In that case, I just go for it.
IS: How would you finish the sentence “I work out, because…”?
JS: I think physical power has a way of transferring into every part of your life.
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