Today marks the start of a new series that Chris and I will be running on the blog, 5 Questions with… During this interview series we will be talking with strength coaches and trainers all over the country so they can share their knowledge with you! For our first interview I contacted my graduate school classmate Chandra Jones, a fantastic strength coach and trainer based in Central Florida. She is a super-knowledgeable and motivated lady and anyone could learn a lot from her. Check it out!
Todd: Chandra, I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule for this interview. Let’s start by letting everyone know who you are. Tell us a little about yourself, and don’t be bashful!
Chandra: I’m a CSCS, USAW, PES certified fitness professional in Central Florida near Disney. My husband, Troy and I moved out here three years ago from Sacramento, CA when he accepted a job as a physical therapist for the Atlanta Braves. I recently obtained my Master’s Degree in Exercise Science & Health Promotion from California University of Pennsylvania (CALU), which is where I met you, Todd. Thanks for putting together this interview.
I got my first personal training certification through ACE while in college. I worked at the front desk of a tiny women’s-only gym close to campus that had aged equipment and an old set of chrome dumbbells that had seen shinier days. I had to put all of the weight plates in the entire gym on the leg press for it to feel challenging. My first (and only) paying client there was a woman getting ready for her wedding. I poured all of my energy into her. She trained hard for a few months, had a great transformation, got married and moved. The gym closed down and I graduated.
I initially went to a private college on a basketball scholarship, but ended up transferring to California State University, Chico to pursue a BS in Exercise Physiology and decided to try out for track and field as a walk-on. Although I’d never picked up a throwing implement in my life, I wanted to throw stuff because it looked like more fun and less drama than women’s basketball and you always got to play. Four years later I owned the school record in both and became the NCAA Div II National Champion in the discus and an All-American in the shot put. Still competitive in USATF master’s track and field in my division, I’m honored to be an inductee into CSU Chico’s Athletic Hall of Fame this October.
I’ve always loved a good challenge. Besides discus throwing, I’ve completed a few shorter distance triathlons and duathlons and have competed in Olympic lifting. Things had gotten stale. I was busy training and motivating others and wasn’t finding inspiration for my own training. Toward the end of 2010, two of my friends who are figure competitors and I were talking about our training and that’s when I decided that I needed a different goal that would get me fired up. I was committed enough to hire a coach to give me guidance and hold me accountable for trying to whine, pull any “age cards” or use any other lame excuses and began training to compete as a natural bodybuilder. I took third in my first show at the Orlando Europa and will be on stage again June 17-18 at the Musclemania in Miami. So far, it’s been an interesting journey training for pure aesthetics and competing as a physique athlete. I’m very happy with how I look now, and regardless of what we females say to others or our trainer, being happy with the mirror is still very important to us.
Todd: Wow, Chandra! You are definitely a competitor in every sense of the word, and you’ve made some HUGE transitions throughout your training career. Tell us a little about your transition from training for performance to training for aesthetics. What are the big differences that you’ve found?
Chandra: Although I have always emphasized maintaining my strength, moving well, and having a balanced program, aesthetics is the main goal of anyone who plans to step on stage…in a very small ensemble. Ultimately, the main goal is to keep the main goal the main goal. Although having a huge deadlift max is impressive, symmetry, proportion and making the most of your natural genetics is what gets you placed as a physique athlete. I am very much a novice competitor, having only competed in two shows since January. In my experience so far, the main differences between preparing for sports performance and points on stage are split routines, volume, intensity, rest times, and training to failure more often …all while maintaining a caloric deficit. Fat loss is usually the number one objective for the majority of the clients I train. However, for the athlete or prospective physique competitor that has a good base level of fitness and is already reasonably lean, the main priority is a bit different. That’s where the emphasis would be on improving on the whole-body picture and fine-tuning symmetry with the individual’s overall stature. I love the challenge of lifting heavy; it’s very empowering. However, before I began training for the stage 6 months ago my legs overpowered the rest of my physique and I rarely wore shorts in the gym. I needed to reduce the size of my lower body, bring out definition in my quadriceps and build my upper chest, lats and shoulders. I used higher rep sets for lower body workouts on a regular basis, sometimes up to 50 reps per set of squats or leg press for multiple sets or sets of 200 walking lunges. The leg extension machine hasn’t been a part of my training for years, but I began using it again for isolation work. Upper body training consisted of two tri-sets of 12-20 reps. That’s three exercises for the same muscle group in a set back to back with no rest. Whereas I rarely went to failure or did split routine workouts while training for the discus, I go to failure with certain exercises more often with an emphasis on one area termed “lagging bodypart” (which is an expression I’ve never liked).
Todd: Well, you look great, Chandra. Speaking of looking great, like we’ve talked about before; women really strive to look their best. Unfortunately, many of the magazines that they read provide misguided information from celebrity trainers. What is one myth that you would like to dispel for all the ladies?
Chandra: All too often I hear “oh, this is too heavy!” from a new female client when I select a weight for her. With a little encouragement, she then knocks out 15 perfect reps. One of the biggest mistakes women make in the gym is to not challenge themselves to see what kind of weight they can handle. Your body won’t change if you don’t challenge it; you have to force it to change.
Todd: I definitely agree that women all too often under-train themselves. Besides hiring a coach, what strategies could a women use to make sure that they are continually challenging themselves at the gym?
Chandra: In my experience, many women don’t understand the benefits or why they should challenge themselves, let alone how. Inexperience with resistance training coupled with feeling a bit intimidated in the free weight areas of their gym can stop a woman in her tracks when it comes to getting to the next level of her personal strength and physique development goals. Before my clients begin working out with me, many of them have gleaned most of their fitness information from reading Self, and Glamour magazines and their eyes glaze over when I tell them we’ll be going over the deadlift today. The cover models or the women demonstrating exercises in the fashion magazine’s health or fitness section usually don’t appear to be someone who would get asked, “do you work out?” Their physiques are quite different from those of fit women on the cover of Oxygen or Muscle & Fitness Hers. It doesn’t matter who you are–beginner or gifted athlete; some of us require someone other than ourselves to provide a little tough love in the intensity department. If hiring a trainer/coach or participating in a small group personal training session isn’t in the cards, focus on going for a personal best on something every time you walk into the gym. It doesn’t matter if it’s just one more repetition or an increase in resistance on just one set. The benefits of intense strength training for women are numerous. One of my clients pointed out that she would rather have a compliment of “you’re looking more fit” than “you look like you’ve lost weight.” To the casual observer the semantics might sound the same, but to my client the two have very different meanings. For a woman who values the numbers on the bar over the number on the scale, challenging herself in the weight room made a difference in not only how she fits in her jeans, but how she perceives herself. Change up your routine and learn a few new exercises. Using a TRX Suspension Trainer for rows, single-leg squats and push-ups challenges your whole body and core in a way that the selectorized seated row, leg extension and chest press cannot. Learn how to perform a single-leg deadlift. Not only will your glutes be really, really sore, your entire body from the ankles, through the hips and core to your upper back will get an incredible workout in one movement. Ultimately, your body is your laboratory. If you’re not experiencing the changes you’re after, try challenging yourself in new ways you never thought you could–one day at a time.
Todd: Those are all great ideas, Chandra. I think our concentration always has to be on learning, creating new challenges for ourselves and continually moving forward. Since we are talking about challenges, care to issue a challenge to all of our female readers?
Chandra: Nice suggestion, Todd. Each workout is an opportunity to evaluate your performance and reassess your progress on basic exercises such as the squat, deadlift, bench press, pushups and pull-ups over the course of your training. The US Military have their minimum standards and each coach will probably have their own standards as well. The book, “Practical Programming” by Kilgore, Rippetoe, and Pendlay present some basic strength standards for novice, intermediate and advanced trainees to strive for. The authors define a novice as someone who has been training between 3-9 months; an intermediate as someone who has up to two years of regular, consistent training, and advanced trainee as someone who has multi-year training experience with goals in higher-level athletic competition.
So what are some reasonable strength goals to shoot for and what should they be based on? Who is stronger; a 120 lb woman benching 100 lbs or a 160 lb woman benching 100 lbs? If you said the lighter woman, you are correct because she is lifting a higher percentage of her bodyweight. Therefore most weightlifting standards are based on percentage of bodyweight. According to Practical Programming, strength goals for a novice may be to squat about 80% of bodyweight, deadlift about 100% of bodyweight and bench press about 60% of bodyweight. An intermediate lifter’s goal may be to squat about 95%, deadlift about 1.2% and bench press about 70% of bodyweight. A reasonable goal for an advanced lifter may be to squat 1.20-1.3%, deadlift about 1.4-1.6%, and bench press-about 85-95% of bodyweight.
Pull-ups and chins are perfect displays of your strength to bodyweight ratio and can also be one of the most difficult to perform. The US Military, the YMCA, and the American College of Sports Medicine’s standards base the scores on age norms as muscle mass and strength tend to gradually decline each decade after our 20s. Most women, and surprisingly even some elite professional athletes, can’t muster just one pull-up. However, it’s not impossible to challenge those strength norm charts! After all, female readers of Beyond Strength Performance don’t limit themselves to some “flexed arm hang” standard or restrict themselves to the lat pull machine! Get to the next level by using an assisted chin/dip machine, placing your knee or foot in a band for assistance, or try jumping pull-ups with a controlled descent (a negative). Because mastering this exercise is so dependent on strength and bodyweight, most women will have to get stronger and/or lose body fat to perform a pull-up or chin-up from a full, free hang position. I challenge my clients to use lighter bands, a bit less weight on the assisted machine and perform either an extra set or additional rep each week. Practice technique by performing pull-ups several times per week.
Push-ups are a measure of chest and tricep strength as well as shoulder and core stability. To foster these qualities, I rarely allow my female clients to perform pushups on their knees. Instead, they use a TRX Suspension Trainer or perform incline pushups with their hands on a barbell in the power rack. The height of the TRX handles or bar depends on their core stability, current strength and the workout goal. I’m a total stickler to form; It really bugs me to see sagging hips and hanging heads during a sorry excuse for a “push-up.” I’d rather the movement be regressed to encourage proper form and save the shoulders, neck and back. I might have a 75 year old woman performing incline push-ups on a bar that is at about her waist-height and an advanced trainee performing push-ups on the ground in the same workout. Even though the exercise is appropriately scaled, The intensity level might be similar for each of them. I challenge my trainees to lower the incline, add a set or get a personal best in repetitions each week with the goal to perform a perfect, full range of motion pushup with their hands and toes on the ground.
The beauty of engaging in a strength & conditioning program, is that progress is based solely on breaking past YOUR personal records. As long as you are progressively getting stronger, feeling confident and surprising yourself with new personal bests, that’s all that matters at the end of the day. When you look back in your journal four weeks from now what have you accomplished and how do you feel?
Todd: Awesome, Chandra. Well, this interview has been great. I know I have learned a lot and I’m sure everyone that took the time to read it has, too. How can someone that is interested learn more about Chandra Jones? Is there a blog, email or website that you would like to direct everyone to?
Chandra: Thanks so much, Todd for your time in putting this interview together. I enjoy sharing ideas, methods and talking with other strength coaches and fitness professionals. There are many people (some unbeknownst to them) who have inspired me to become passionate in what I do every day and I like taking opportunities to pay it forward. I write for fun about lifting, life, fitness, nutrition and stair climb training my team for the American Lung Association’s Fight for Air Climbs on my blog at http://www.ChandraJones.com. I can be reached directly at ChandraJones650 at gmail.