Here is the Girls Gone STRONG interview for March with Jen Comas Keck! She’s a former National Bikini Competitor, aspiring Powerlifter, Fitness Coach, and all around bad ass who co-founded Girls Gone Strong! Follow her at her website (www.jencomaskeck.com), on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube!
#1- You wrote an amazing article for EliteFTS called “Strong(her) University: The Female Psyche, by Jen Comas Keck” that gave a little of your background and why women NEED to lift! What was your real ‘aha!’ moment where you realized that strength training was the route you needed to go and stick with?
I was a group fitness instructor and cardio junkie for many years. I taught Spin, kickbox, bootcamp, yoga, pilates… you name it, and I’ve taught it! I was doing about 5 hours of cardio per day for about a year, including a short stint where I tried, unsuccessfully, to be an endurance runner. Throughout the duration of that year I only lost 2 measly pounds, and I’m pretty sure those two pounds were muscle. I was getting flabbier, could barely do push-ups and still couldn’t do a single pull-up. I was confused and frustrated. It was very disheartening to put in so much hard work and not get any closer to my goals. I knew an aerobics instructor at the gym that had completely transformed her body – she went from flabby to muscular and tight in just a few months. I asked what she was doing and she informed me she was training for a Figure show. I contacted her trainer, made an appointment and picked a show date for myself. The first thing my new trainer did was eliminate all of my cardio; every single last drop. She changed my diet and had me strength train hard and heavy 4 days per week. My body changed so much in that first month that I could barely believe my eyes! She educated me on the detrimental effects that too much cardio and not enough strength training will have on a physique. I was an instant believer because I was living proof! That first month was my “Aha!” moment and I’ll never forget it. I fell madly in love with lifting and haven’t looked back. The only form of cardio I do now is either low intensity cardio like walking, or high intensity & short duration intervals like hill sprints, Prowler pushes, Kettlebell swings, etc.
#2- You’ve have competed in Figure competitions. What type of mental challenges did you have about exposing yourself to that type of scrutiny about your body did you face and how did you get past them?
Competing is a bit of a double edged sword. I completely transformed my body over the course of 18 weeks, which was great. But along with this transformation came scrutiny and criticism like I’ve never experienced before. When you put it “out there” that you are doing a show, many people take it upon themselves to offer their opinion and feedback on your decision and that can be very tough to handle. Packing tupperwares of food to every event and restaurant often elicited remarks from my friends and family – both innocent and curious questions, to downright snarky remarks. There were so many people that were supportive of my decision to do a show, but there are always the ones that claim to support you but talk behind your back and hope to see you fail due to their own insecurities. From the physique side of things, it can be very difficult to pull on your bikini and have your coach look you over with a critical eye and tell you, as nicely as possible, that you are “still holding fat in your legs” or “you are slightly behind schedule.” When you make the decision to compete you have to basically detach emotions from your physique. If every little comment makes you self conscious or you are constantly comparing yourself to others, then competing is definitely not for you. You have to learn to let those comments roll off of your back as you focus on bringing your own personal best package to the stage. There will always be people that think you’re too muscular, too skinny, too fat, too tall, too whatever… and that is okay! Everybody is entitled to have their own opinion but it took me awhile to come to terms with that. I’m thankful for those experiences though because they have given me a pretty tough skin and I’m currently the most comfortable I’ve ever been with my body… but I’m only human and I’d be lying if I said certain things didn’t still get to me 😉
#3- I’ve been following you training log over at EliteFTS for awhile now and I noticed you’ve been you’ve switched played around with a gluten-free style of eating. Can you describe your experience with that and what effect that has had on your body composition and gym performance?
I am not a huge fan of breads or pastas, so my wheat consumption was pretty low to begin with. However, I started working with my nutrition coach, Carter Schoffer of Body Transformation, back in September of 2011 and he eliminated all gluten out of my diet. The biggest thing I noticed was my skin – it completely changed and is crystal clear. My stomach also never feels bloated anymore and I haven’t taken an afternoon nap in ages, when I used to need them almost daily. I ate some pizza and a cookie (or 3) back in November after eliminating gluten for 2 months and my stomach was in awful pain for 2 days afterwards. I felt sick, bloated, and lethargic. The reaction to the wheat was palpable! I read the wonderful book, “The Wheat Belly” by William Davis and was further convinced that my body functions best gluten/grain free, so that is the lifestyle for me!
#4- As a trainer what types of challenges outside of the gym do you find you clients need to address in order to fully realized their goals? You wrote a great article on your site about reducing stress. Is that something you specifically address with your clients?
There are so many factors that block people’s goals when they are outside of the gym! I’d say the biggest one is lack of proper nutrition, followed closely by too much stress, not enough sleep, and not enough recovery time. Nowadays, it seems like everybody is trying to out-train a poor diet; everybody wants to be the exception to that golden rule. The problem is that you simply can’t. It’s been proven time and time again that training without proper nutrition will do next to nothing for physique changes. Eating right is serious business and you need to be fully committed to it. If you are serious about changing the appearance of your body and your health then you need to be ready to log some time grocery shopping and prepping plenty of healthy foods each week. When I put together meals I always think of which foods will give me the most nutrients possible. Ask yourself, “What does my body NEED right now?” (and no, it doesn’t need ice cream. That is a want!) Another thing that blocks people from meeting their goals is stress. Everybody seems to be stressed due to the rushed lives that we all lead. Stress leads to increased cortisol & belly fat, along with less sleep, which increases your appetite and zaps your energy, leaving your training sessions nearly worthless. It’s crucial that we all take time to relax, unwind, and meditate daily even if it’s for just 5 minutes. Give that gift to yourself! An out of control stress response will absolutely stand guard between you and your goals!
#5- If anyone does any digging on your site they’ll find all kinds of delicious recipes that you’ve whipped up. What are some steps people can take in their kitchen to be able to make nutrient dense, high quality foods without making it a huge hassle? Are there any pantry items you find as staples to always keep on hand or any pieces of equipment you highly recommend?
Cook in bulk! Taking an hour or two each week will save you the time and headache each day of having to prepare individual meals! Your meats should have no added hormones or antibiotics. Look for free-range chicken & turkey, and choose lean cuts of grass-fed beef and wild caught fish. Bison is a recent favorite of mine! Load up on organic veggies – anything goes. Aim to put at least one serving of green vegetables and one serving of colored vegetables on your plate at each meal. Cook everything in bulk. Choose your favorite seasonings, coat the meats and fire up the grill or put it all on a baking sheet and slide it into the oven. I slice all of my vegetables and throw them on a baking sheet and roast them in the oven. Being prepared is the key and like anything else, this takes practice. Once you do a big food prep a few times it becomes a no-brainer and it takes less time each go around. When people aren’t prepared we make poor choices.
As for pantry staples, I don’t have many. All of the foods I eat are perishable so our pantry is quite bare! Three items I basically can’t live without these days that do live in our pantry are Dr.Bronner’s Organic & Unrefined coconut oil, raw almond butter from Trader Joe’s, and unsweetened organic cocoa powder that I add to my coffee, my shakes, and even my tablespoons of almond butter if I need to kick a craving!