Jen Widerstrom's Shape-Up Secrets
"There are two places that people operate from," trainer Jen Widerstrom told the TV audience this past fall when she first appeared as Jillian Michaels' successor on the 16th season of The Biggest Loser. "It's either fear or love. And if you're able to stop living in fear and operate from that place of love, that's when your life changes." The contestants loved the idea so much that, when they were given the chance to choose their trainer, Jen's team filled up first.
But this Chicago-area native is no stranger to kicking butt. Raised by two coach parents, Jen, 32, trained in gymnastics and competitive diving and earned a scholarship while at the University of Kansas for the hammer throw. At 25, Jen was spotted as a fitness model by the competition show American Gladiators and received an email about trying out. "I thought it was fake!" Jen says, laughing. "I'd been a gladiator for Halloween multiple times, so I was like, 'Who's messing with me?'" She was soon playing badass, pink-haired Phoenix on the program, which led to a call soon after to try out for season 12 of The Biggest Loser; Anna Kournikova ended up getting the gig. "You kind of have to trust that when a door closes," Jen says, "a door opens." Now, three years later, she's killing it on the show, working on a book and dedicated to the opportunity to change people's lives—on the air and off. So when we asked Jen to fill in the blanks about how we can stretch to new fitness heights, she was raring to go—with love, of course.
If you could convince us to make one shift in our diets for the New Year, you'd say...
Be more prepared.
Preparation is like flossing your teeth. It's integral to your success. Nobody wants to do it, because "it takes forever," but does it really take forever? It takes two minutes to floss. And it takes 10 minutes to prep your week. Sit down for 10 minutes on Sunday and look at your lunch schedule for the week. Just say, "What three things do we need? Do we have it in the house? And do we have plastic containers for it?" Maybe you can see that on Monday and Wednesday, lunch is at a work meeting, so Tuesday, Thursday, Friday we'll pack lunch. Otherwise your animalistic urge will take over. Know yourself. Prepare for those scenarios.
The smartest way we can kick-start our workout plan in the New Year is to...
Establish a buddy system to create accountability.
That may mean telling a spouse or meeting a friend. If I'm at three, four days, five days where I haven't been able to go, I call my core people: "Are you working out? Where are you going to be? I'm meeting you."
The biggest mistake we make in our workouts is...
Taking on too much too quickly.
Because two things are going to happen. One, let's say you say, "For the month of January, I'm going to the gym five times a week." Well, what happens when you miss your third day because your child is sick? And the next day something else happens, so you're like, "Ugh. Forget it. I'm failing.Or two, you'll actually accomplish it, but you can't keep it up, so you feel a deficit, like, "I worked so hard, and now I'm lazy." Let it be a crescendo. Develop your rhythm. Say, "What I can do today is different from what I could do yesterday—sometimes better, sometimes worse, man. It's just what it is."
"I'm not looking for dramatic results. I'm looking for consistency. Don't sprint. Just be stable.
When you're so not feeling up for exercise, your trick is...
To let yourself off the hook in advance.
I give myself permission to cut a workout short.Sometimes I'm like, "OK, Jen, if it's a hard workout or you're out of it, you can leave after 30 minutes or you can walk the runs." But you know what? I don't think once have I ever left early. Once you're there, you're there. Let yourself off the hook and I guarantee you'll rise to the occasion.
Your best strategy for staying motivated is...
Keeping your progress measurable.
There's something about saying, "Run a mile," and you're like, "Oh my God. I haven't run a mile since I was 10 in PE class." Try one today. Let's say you do a 15-minute mile. After two months of training, we're going to try again and you run it in 12 minutes. Now we have accomplishment. Now we've gotten confident. Now you are tied to your success. If you say, "I want to be better. I want that measurable difference," when you see it, there's something empowering about it.
The one workout move you dislike the most is...
I hate it. Passionately. But I'm doing it. I just get bored, and I'm not good at it. I'm, like, 140-something pounds. I'm not meant to run. I'm meant to lift heavy things and move them! It's the Swede in me.
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The key to bouncing back after overeating is to...
Ask yourself, Why did I slip?
I had an experience where I was working on not having desserts, but at my dad's birthday dinner, I finished two desserts. I felt so shameful. I was like, "I've ruined it! I need to work this off now. Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God." It was kind of a weird breakdown. But before I let it go forward, I thought, Why did you slip? I went to dinner starving. My dad and I split a martini, and we had an extra one. And I wrote down what I could have done better. Now when my parents come into town, I'll be like, "OK, I'm not having any bread, because I'd rather have the cake at the end." If you have a slip, ask, OK, how did this happen? Then redirect next time.
The best thing we can do for ourselves is...
Put power behind your word.
It's easier for me to keep commitments to everybody else—like, if I'm meeting my friend, there's no way I would stand you up. But if I'm like, "I'm going to the gym today," I might be like, "Oh, I'll sleep in." I've got all these excuses why I won't go. There's power in saying, "I said I would go, so I'm going."
The worst thing we can do for ourselves is...
Go into "f--k it" mode.
It's a dangerous neighborhood up here [points to her head]. A woman's mind is very powerful, and it can either take you to a good direction or the very opposite. Like, when you're not moving, your meal choices aren't as good because you're kind of getting into "f--k it" mode, you know? Like, "If I missed the workout, let's order pizza!" And then let's see that storyline through six months, when you've put on 10 to 15 pounds, and now you've got the shame, you've got the pressure and you've got the beginning of that slippery slope.
Your biggest health regret is...
Not giving myself permission to be human sooner.
Women are really hard on themselves. And how many times do you see someone take a bite of cake and be like, "Oh, I really shouldn't." I give myself permission to be confident that I will show up and do the best I can, and if I want a piece of chocolate cake, dang it, I'm going to eat it! I'm not burying myself with guilt.
Do you train yourself or go to trainers?
Go to trainers.
I need the help. I need the love. I need you training me! I don't want to think about the workout. Just show me what my arms should be doing!
The one celebrity you secretly wish to train is...
Dwayne Johnson, The Rock.
He's like a real-life superhero! I would make him move in interesting, complicated ways. And he just cracks me up. I feel like if you're not laughing, you're missing the whole point of this journey.
If you had time for only one move, you'd make it...
You work your upper body, your lower body and your cardiovascular system. You have to be coordinated and balanced. You can do them fast and slow. You can do them in sets. And you can do them anywhere. I used to avoid burpees. I was terrible at them. Instead, I would do 100 walking lunges down and back in the hallway of the hotel. But now I'll do 10 walking lunges, five burpees, 10 of those lunges, five burpees. Add a burpee in—they change your life.