Interview With Jennifer Searles

Fitness Model, Pro Figure Competitor & Personal Trainer

Recently, I had a chance to chat with pro figure competitor, fitness model and personal trainer, Jennifer Searles.

Jennifer picked up her pro card in 2004 when she nabbed first place in the National Figure Championships.

Her pro figure and fitness career includes three second place finishes in 2005, as well as a top ten finish (9th place) at the Fitness Olympia.

In 2006, she grabbed a second place finish at the New York Figure Pro before winning the Motor City Pro Figure Championships.

She finished 2006 with another 9th place finish at the Figure Olympia.

Gregg: I know you were a competitive figure skater growing up. And yet you didn't transition directly from that to figure.

How did you get started in figure and fitness competition?

Jennifer: I actually moved to New York after college in order to pursue an acting career.

In going to audition after audition, and seeing that I needed to step up my game a little, and become more "noticable", I decided to get my physical self into top shape.

I joined a gym and started working out. I would always have people telling me that I should try competing, but I never took them seriously.

At the time, there wasn't any such thing as figure, and I didn't have enough of a dance or gymnastic background to do a fitness routine. PLUS, I was an actress, not a fitness competitor.

The more I thought about it though, the more interesting it sounded. I figured it would be a great way to carve a niche for myself in the acting world.

Learn some gymnastics, do well in a couple competitions, maybe do a little fitness modeling...

I thought it could segue way nicely into an acting career and give me the opportunity for increased exposure. I hired a gymnastics coach, and began training for my first competition.

I ended up placing 18th out of 96 at my first fitness show, and winning the overall at my second and last fitness show.

After that, figure was born, and I had been bitten by the bug, so I traded in my fitness routine for some quarter turns. It's all history from there!

Gregg: How long did it take you to get to where you are now, and what would you say to our readers who are already tired and frustrated and just want to finally "get in shape"?

Jennifer: I competed for 2 seasons before I put myself on a National stage. During my second National season, I won the E class at the 2004 National Figure Championships (and came second overall) and earned my pro card.

I had been training seriously for about 4 years before winning my card, and only about 1 1/2 years before my first competition.

I used to get INCREDIBLY frustrated in the beginning! I wanted to look like the girls in the magazines SO badly, and felt like it was never going to happen.

People used to tell me that I just needed to be patient and keep training hard, and the muscle will come.

I wanted a quicker way of doing things, but realized that they were right. I just kept at it, and eventually was able to reach my goal.

Setting small goals for myself really helped. Instead of jumping right onto a National stage, I spent the first few seasons warming myself up at the local shows, where most of the girls were just starting out.

Everyone was on a similar playing field. Each show I did gave me the drive to keep going, and work harder. I also saw improvements at each show, which was motivating.

SO, my best advice to those that are frustrated with the process is, BE PATIENT, and LEARN TO LOVE THE PROCESS! If you do the work, the results WILL come!

Gregg: Most people, when they see pictures of someone like yourself in the magazines, can't relate and they think you've always looked like that, which is discouraging for them.

Preparing for a figure or bodybuilding contest, or a fitness modeling photo shoot is a completely different world from regular old training and eating "right." Let's face it, you look nothing like a typical model.

You're not rail thin. You look fit, in shape and healthy, not starved.

Even the most motivated and disciplined people can struggle to stick with their plan.

A lot of people look at athletes and think it comes easy to them but even you (and I!) can struggle with our motivation at times.

What tips keep you motivated through contest preparation that the everyday person can use in their fight to get and stay in shape?

Jennifer: Honestly, what keeps me motivated during contest prep time is envisioning myself winning first place.

I see myself getting the first call-outs, and being placed in the middle, then I hear my name being called when first place is being announced.

I imagine what that feels like, and how I'd react. I get CHILLS thinking about it sometimes.

There are times when I'll be on the stair master ready to start crying because I'm so tired. I'll simply envision myself winning, and will be able to press on.

I think that when people see themselves reaching their goals in their mind's eye, it is a very powerful tool, and can help move you through some very difficult times. It certainly saved me enough times!

Gregg: One thing I'd like for you to address because I feel it's a big one with women, is weight training. Even nowadays, a lot of women shy away from weight training because they don't want to look like Arnold.

If they train at all, it's with the tiny pink weights and they never even break a sweat.

You've developed a gorgeous, sexy, lean hard body and you couldn't have done it without weights.

What do you say to these women to get them to start training with weights?

Jennifer: First of all, women aren't capable of looking like Arnold from weight training alone.

In order for muscle to grow to that proportion, very high levels of testosterone must be present in the body.

Women just don't have and cannot naturally make enough to grow to that size.

With that being said, a woman needs to lift VERY heavy in order to get their musculature to change AT ALL.

When a woman has a "toned" body, what she really has is shapely muscle without a lot of fat on top of it. When a woman does nothing but cardio in order to slim down, what she's left with is skin and bone. In order to create shape, weight lifting is a necessity.

Without the weight lifting, all that's left is jiggle and wiggle. Also, muscle is MUCH more metabolically active than fat, so the more muscle one has, the more calories the body burns (and needs) at rest.

Ladies, YOU CAN EAT A LITTLE MORE WHEN YOU HAVE A LITTLE MUSCLE!! Not a lot more, but you can indulge without quite as much guilt LOL!

Gregg: In your experience, what's the best way for someone to get started with a new fitness lifestyle?

Jennifer: READ THE MAGAZINES!!! and join a gym. When I was first starting out, I read every magazine under the sun! Some of the info you'll read is not super accurate, but there's a lot that is.

Also, it's incredibly motivating to read about other success stories, and to see pictures of other women who are in great shape. Joining a gym is the best way to surround yourself with others that share your fitness interests.

When you join, ask about personal training. Oftentimes, gyms will offer a free session or two to new members so that they can be put on an appropriate weight training program for their goals. This can help get you started and can give you a chance to ask questions.

Gregg: What's the biggest mistake you made when you started and how did you correct it?

Jennifer: For my first few shows, I had NO IDEA what I was doing with my diet and training. I basically starved myself for a few months and then got up on a stage. I ended up losing quite a bit of muscle that way.

I decided to hire a trainer and educate myself in preparation for my next season and it made a WORLD of difference! I ended up going National and winning my pro card. Don't be afraid to ask for help, it can make things much easier, and MUCH more enjoyable!

Gregg: What do you think is the most important thing or skill you've learned with regard to health and fitness?

Jennifer: The most important thing I've learned is to do it for myself. Even though I'm being judged by other people on that stage, it's MYSELF that has to live with my body, so do what's right for me!

Also, through doing so many shows, and dieting down so many times, I've been able to really learn my body, and what works and what doesn't.

This is very valuable to me - I've learned to really be able to focus on my body and mind and be able to assess what it really needs in order to feel and function at it's best.

Gregg: Moving forward and knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently, if anything?

Jennifer: Not a thing! No regrets. Everything happens for a reason, and has its own natural process. You can't get from A to C without crossing B... events are cumulative - certain things would never have happened if I didn't make certain choices.

I'm very happy with everything I've done so far! (except the entire cake I ate on Christmas day....)

Gregg: LOL! See that? Even the pro's fall off the wagon! Jen, do you feel that ongoing feedback and motivational tools would help in maintaining a fitness program? I always encourage my clients to take pictures periodically.

Jennifer: Absolutely! I like to keep a journal of everything I eat, and all of my training when I get ready for a show. It helps me stay honest, and keeps me on track.

It makes me feel more organized and as though I'm taking the proper steps in order to reach my goal. Without my journal, I'd feel a little lost.

Looking at my journal and just writing in it motivates me to stick with the program. I get to look back and see how hard I'm working.

Gregg: If you were to advise a close friend or family member how to follow in your fitness footsteps, what would you tell them?

Jennifer: DON'T GO INTO IT BLINDLY!! There's nothing worse than playing a guessing game with your body. Get some help with the process. Hire a trainer or nutritionist to help with the diet and training. It makes things SO much easier and less stressful!

Before I sought out help, I wasn't having as much fun because I was always wondering whether I was on the right track or not. It got VERY stressful for me. When I finally got help, I simply followed the formula, and was able to relax and enjoy my training.

I would also advise them to pick a figure/fitness pro that they really admire and emulate them. It really helps to have a role model/mentor in this sport!

Gregg: The most common excuse I hear from people who don't eat right or train is that they don't have the time.

What's a typical day for you when it comes to training and nutrition? How are you able to consistently fit them into your busy schedule?

Jennifer: Being a personal trainer, it's a lot easier for me to fit my workouts in... I'm already at the gym. I DID take a year off though from personal training the year that I turned pro, and was working in a real estate office.

Looking back, I don't know how I did it, but I DID IT! AND EARNED MY PRO CARD DOING IT, so you know it's possible!

I would wake up at 4:30am and head to the gym to do an hour of cardio. I would be in my office by 9am. During my lunch hour I'd go to the gym and lift.

After work, I'd go back to the gym and do another 30-60 minutes of cardio. I'd usually get home around 8pm. Then I'd prepare and package up my meals for the next day. I would usually get to bed around 10:30pm.

It was definitely a tough schedule to keep, but I WANTED MY PRO CARD and made it happen. If you want something enough, YOU JUST DO IT and make it work. ANYTHING is possible if you want it enough. Look at Lance Armstrong....

Gregg: What do you think are the keys to becoming successful, whether it's competing or just losing 15 pounds?

Jennifer: I believe that the keys to becoming successful are knowing what you want, knowing what it takes to get you there, and having the desire to get there.

It helps if you have the resources (obviously) but even if you don't, as long as you want it, you can figure out a way.

For me, I wanted to be a successful pro in the IFBB. I knew that I needed to work hard, know my body, and network. I needed help at first, as I didn't have the proper tools (knowledge of body), but I got the help I needed and worked my way from there.

Gregg: What's one of the things you find most challenging about what you do?

Jennifer: DEFINITELY the sacrifices that we have to make when in season. When preparing for a show, I pretty much have to give up having as full of a social life as I'd like. I can't go out to dinner, or have a few glasses of wine (which I LOVE) as much as I'd like, and that is difficult.

Also, you're so exhausted all of the time from all of the training, that going anywhere becomes almost impossible! It's always so nice to be able to be normal again at the end of a season!

Gregg: What are your future fitness and modeling plans?

Jennifer: I plan on coaching other girls to be successful competitors and remaining a spokes model for the sport. As for the modeling, I'll hopefully still be doing some things for the magazines for the next few years.

I've thought about reviving my acting career when I stop competing... I'll have to see how I feel when the time comes! I am pretty certain that my competitive years are winding down.

I've accomplished a TON during my run in the IFBB, and am happy to help other girls do just the same.

Gregg: Figure competitions and modeling are extremely competitive and very difficult fields to break into. You have to be very dedicated and a real go getter. What can you share from that experience that people can use in their own battle to get in great shape?

Jennifer: I have been made into a much stronger person as a result of this sport! Such raw determination and guts are required in order to excel in the fitness industry.

With all of the dieting and tough training, it's very easy to want to give up and "just be normal".

I can't tell you how many times I would want to skip that third hour of cardio, or eat "just one piece", but determination and drive prevented me from it.

I wanted to do well, and in order to do well, I had to stick to the program.

I knew that as long as I was doing well at the shows, it would keep me on the map, so-to-speak. I am a firm believer that hard work reaps rewards. The louder you are, the better you're heard, so BE LOUD!!!!

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Check out Jennifer's site at www.JenniferSearles.com

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