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Life Time Weight Loss Interview | Jen Sinkler

Written by Tom Nikkola – Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

When you surf the internet, looking for nutrition and fitness advice outside the Life Time Weight Loss site, it can become a confusing, contradictory mess of misinformation. Some stuff is great, some is really bad. I thought it would be fun to do some written interviews to introduce some other experts and sites worth visiting. For our first interview, I thought Jen Sinkler would be a great place to start. If you read Experience Life, you’ve likely come across Jen Sinkler’s sections before. Jen has a question and answer section (Expert Answers) and also authors the Survival of the Fittest Experience Life section and Survival of the Fittest Facebook page. If you’re a Tweeter, you can also follow Jen on Twitter. Enjoy the interview!

TN: Could you give everyone a little background on yourself? Other than being a regular part of the Experience Life team, who is Jen Sinkler?

JS: I joined the magazine staff in 2003, and became senior fitness editor in 2005. The problem is, Experience Life is so far beyond just a magazine that I can no longer answer that question without talking about my job. What I find most enjoyable is finding and sharing great information; I’ve spent a lot of time the past few years hitting the lecture circuit, taking courses and learning all I can about what’s goin’ on in fitness land, and then translating that into content our readers can apply to their own regimens. Learning is my idea of a good time — does that make me a nerd? Oh well.

I was a longtime athlete, having spent my childhood playing softball, basketball and volleyball, and running track. In college I found rugby, and I spent the next 13 years playing on various club and territorial all-star teams, as well as for the U.S. women’s national team. I finally retired after the Sevens World Cup in Dubai in 2009.

Traveling is a passion, as is fine dining. I spend a lot of quality time with friends, my dog and books. I can’t stand missing the previews when I go to movies.

TN: How do you describe fitness for yourself? What does a typical workout week look like? How about nutrition?

JS: My fitness regimen is a constantly evolving thing. Up to a few years ago, my primary method of training was playing and practicing sports. Rugby involved practice twice a week and games every weekend most months of the year. I lifted (free weights, of course) a fair bit during those years, too, and sprint workouts have always factored in.

But I didn’t truly start enjoying training in and of itself until 2008. (I recently wrote a post for Nia Shanks’ website about my long process of falling in love with fitness, and the struggles I encountered along the way. That’s when I got into kettlebell training, and something finally clicked, big-picture: I started training anywhere from three to six times a week, and really enjoying it as a process rather than a means to an end. Since then, I’ve tried everything from yoga to CrossFit to Olympic lifting to powerlifting, and enjoyed every second. I even entered a couple road races, just to make sure I’m not into anything resembling endurance events (confirmed: I’m not, and I should probably amend the previous sentence to clarify that I did not enjoy those particular seconds).

Generally speaking, I lift three to five times a week with some sprint work and agility thrown in on a regular basis.

As for diet, I follow a diet that’s close enough to Paleo to categorize myself as such: lots and lots of veggies, whole eggs, meat and coconut oil (unrefined!), some fruit, nuts and seeds, very few grains and not much dairy. Though my diet is generally pretty low carb, sometimes a girl needs a cookie. Or a brownie. Or a cocktail. I don’t get too worked up about including some of that, too.

TN: Jen, you seem to do a ton of experimenting with different exercise protocols and programs. What were the two most valuable things you tried out in 2011? How have they changed your approach to fitness?

I consider a huge part of my job to be fitness experimentation, so I do a lot of investigating to find out what leading fitness professionals are doing, and then take their methods for a test drive. To me, sustainability and enjoyability are huge. Do you like the way you’re eating? Do you like the way you’re training? Can you sustain it or is it just a short-term solution? The short-term stuff isn’t even worth the ink to talk about.

One hugely valuable approach I came across this year was the practice of intermittent fasting (IF) for fat loss and mental acuity. I dug into Brad Pilon’s “Eat Stop Eat” method, and spent January through June doing a once-weekly 24-hour fast from Sunday night to Monday night. A bunch of people joined me, which made the experience really fun — some I knew personally, and others I met through Twitter and Facebook. I was surprised to discover my strength was actually better on days I hadn’t eaten; my endurance never quite adapted (but then, I’ve already mentioned it’s not my strong suit to begin with).

I decided to further tinker with the idea of fasting, and have since switched to 16-hour fasts four to five times a week a la Martin Berkhan, the guy who founded LeanGains. Really, it amounts to skipping breakfast and bumping lunch back to about 1 p.m. Outside of that time frame, you don’t eat any more or less than you usually would. Pretty easy to comply with, once you’re willing to release the marketing myth about breakfast kick-starting your metabolism.

I realized how long it had been since I’d experienced physical hunger; it had literally been years since I’d experienced more than the merest pang, and I ate automatically to head it off. IF helped me break the habit of eating when I was bored or stressed, and taught me to ask the question, “What is it I really want?” Now I eat when “food” is truly the answer.

The second hugely valuable approach to health and fitness I came across in 2011 was Gym Movement (GM). Unlike IF, it’s still almost impossible to find decent information on this topic -- what I know comes from hours of conversation and experimentation with Mike T. Nelson and David Dellanave — so let me try to synopsize without doing them a disservice. Or sounding profoundly wild, but hey, that’s a risk I’m willing to take, because all I can say is it’s working for me.

I was already on board with an alternative approach to general healthcare (craniosacral therapy and acupuncture are two of my faves), so I’d come across the concept of applied kinesiology. In fact, it was through AK that someone first suggested to me that I had a dairy intolerance (I later confirmed this to be true) — I couldn’t keep my arm up against resistance while holding a bottle of calcium, but I could while holding any other supplement.

Here’s the problem with AK, though: It’s still someone else applying pressure to your body. You can arrive at the same result through range of motion (ROM) testing: Holding a bottle of calcium, I can’t touch my toes; holding something more agreeable, I can. (See what I mean about sounding wild?)

Gym Movement applies this ROM testing concept to training: Does squatting test well today? Does pressing? Benching? Deadlifting? Using the guiding principles of biofeedback and testing different variations of these movements (or any type of training), you can guide your own programming to the best of your body’s abilities.

Up until a few months ago, I hadn’t been able to deadlift without lower-back pain. Now, I perform ROM tests with several variations beforehand, and do whichever one tests the best that day (if any of them do). I haven’t experienced pain since, and have made remarkable progress.

TN: Who were your three favorite health and fitness leaders you met in 2011? What made them your favorite and what did you learn?

JS: Awww, only in 2011? I feel negligent not mentioning those I met prior to this year, like Robert dos Remedios, Mike Boyle, Alwyn and Rachel Cosgrove, Jason C. Brown, Pamela MacElree, Mike Robertson, Bill Hartman and Josh Henkin. But the following three were highlights of 2011:

Pavel Tsatsouline: I got my second kettlebell certification this year; this time the prestigious Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC). Pavel is tough and charismatic, and places a great deal of emphasis on proper form and technique — a necessity when it comes to kettlebells.

Erwan Le Corre: Primal fitness was everywhere this year, and Frenchman Erwan Le Corre and his MovNat workshops led the pack. I spent a week in the woods of West Virginia working on skills such as climbing, balancing, throwing, running, swimming and self-defense. When it comes to fitness, Erwan emphasizes practicality above all else, which means you don’t just do a simple pull-up — you learn how to pull yourself up on top of something. He’s one of the few fitness pros who can claim to be doing authentically functional fitness.

Greg Everett: Last January, I attended (and passed) the senior-level USA Weightlifting (USAW) course in Denver. It had been so long since USAW had held a senior certification, however, that a slew of already-high-level coaches attended. One of these was Greg Everett, who literally wrote the book on Olympic weightlifting. He was a show-stopper/scene-stealer, and many of us in attendance struggled not to direct our coaching questions to him (or at least wait until the breaks to do so). While near San Francisco a few months later for a fitness convention, I stopped into his gym, Catalyst Athletics, for a fantastic workout session. If you’re interested in the Olympic lifts, he’s your guy.

TN: You probably have a good idea of what the coming fads will be in health and fitness. What do you expect to see in 2012?

JS: Here are three biggies:

Moving primally, even when you’re at the gym. Meaning, more compound, multi-joint movements such as squatting, lifting, climbing and carrying. I’m hearing more and more people ask, “What can I do with my body?” rather than “What can I look like I can do?” I was blown away by the positive feedback to the article I wrote about my MovNat getaway, “Naturally Fit.” I think Erwan is onto something when he says it’s because we, as human animals, feel natural doing these things because they were things we once did to survive.

Connecting. Connecting to our own nature, as I said above, but also to each other. The community aspect of every fitness program is absolutely blowing up right now — small-group training, bootcamp classes, weight-loss groups (like TEAM Weight-Loss at Life Time Fitness), running clubs, Zumba, and so on and so on. What exactly the group is doing doesn’t seem to me to be as important as the fact that you’re doing it as a part of something larger than yourself. Great for accountability and enjoyment.

Experimenting. We’re bombarded with so many dogmatic approaches, and many of them are at odds with each other: You must eat this to be healthy, you must do that to be fit, blah blah blah. It used to be that people wanted the magic bullet to health — and there’s still plenty of that — but pleasingly, I’m seeing more people reject the messages and imagery the media is trying to force-feed them (Experience Life excepted, of course!) and face their lives with a greater sense of experimentation and exploration. What works best for you? Do you get stronger if you do this? Do you lose body fat when you eat that? When do you feel great? The only way to find out for sure is to learn by doing, and 2012 is the year to play self-scientist.

Keep the discussion going: Share thoughts, comments and questions below.

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Reader Comments (1)

Nice blog...

January 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWilson

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