Fitness First Steps
I started martial arts when I was nine and never stopped, until I became a black belt at 16 and joined the military after high school. The military re-shaped my entire mindset of fitness because I joined a light infantry unit in the United States Air Force. It was made up of 210 men and only five women were assigned to this elite group. I had to conduct a ruck march with 65lb in my pack for six miles, fell back and couldn’t keep up with my group. This is a day I’ll always remember because it was the beginning of who I did not want to be. I wanted to be a strong asset to my male teammates and show them they could count on me in war. From that very moment I began to challenge myself in everyway from weight training, to cardio to functional fitness until I could surpass all objectives on the men’s scale. I didn’t believe in female versus male standards anymore, if I wanted to do a physically challenging job then I needed to match up next to my teammate’s standards and surpass them too. Later, in my military career I went through a tough divorce and felt I lost who I was. Luckily, I ran into an army girl who is now one of my very close friends and she talked to me about doing a bodybuilding show. This opportunity was always on my bucket list, but I guess I just never thought I could do it and was always insecure about my body. It was this new fitness journey which allowed me to explore a different side of fitness and helped me get through my divorce and learn more about myself.
Challenges That Matter
Most of my challenges have come from my career in the military as a K-9 handler and now as a firefighter. I love first responder careers, but along with these jobs comes physical and mental challenges that I wasn’t always ready for. I work in male dominated jobs and not being as strong or as fast as some of my male teammates always made it harder for me and I used to think, “Poor me. I am just a girl.” That said, as I failed in many tasks that were first asked of me, I began to learn that I can do what they are doing I just have to find out how I need to train to accomplish the task. In many cases I had to train more hours then the rest or train with more people to learn different tricks to help my body get stronger. Failing in multiple attempts would knock me down but wanting to show my teammates that I was just like them and that they could count on me, took over my “poor me” phase and I started to look at everything as an opportunity. I have been told by people my whole life “You can’t do that you’re a girl, you’re gonna get someone killed” and at times it did affect me. Fortunately, having close friends and my mom tell me to just “get out there and keep trying, don’t ever give up if this is something you want” always made me snap out of it and get back to the mission. If it wasn’t for the teammates, I had in my first unit yelling at me and telling me to just quit, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. They didn’t baby me, they treated me like one of the guys and I will always be so grateful to them for showing a side of me that I didn’t know existed. I don’t think I would have been leading infantry movements in Iraq and Afghanistan or lead an all-female combat mission if it wasn’t for that tough “brotherly” love.
My advice to others is to make sure the fitness journey is for you. Don’t do something for someone else. When you decide to work on something within yourself it should be for you and know that not everyone is going to understand. They may not even support you the way you need it. When I started to compete in bodybuilding my friends would get mad at me because I stopped hanging out late at night and my priorities began to change. They also made fun of my food because I would always bring plastic containers with me everywhere I went. However, it is funny now to look back at when I first started and I got weird looks to now, some of my friends are doing the same thing or just say, “That’s Jessie, she always brings her own food.” The other piece of advice that I would say is always in my head is be disciplined. Motivation is great but that will come and go, discipline to your goal is what makes it or breaks it. I don’t know how many times I was motivated to start something new and in two days I was like where did all that motivation go, but once I generated the habit and kept the end goal in my head I learned to make myself accountable for what I wanted and knew that discipline was the key factor.
New Way to Move
When training for bodybuilding shows, I learned I really liked to do my cardio in the morning. This became a routine I continued even when I wasn’t competing because it made my body wake up and after I completed my session, I just felt more energized to attack my day. I normally would do my weights session after work because that became like a stress reliever for me and I always like to have a couple of meals before I train for strength conditioning. I have used many types of training methods to keep my interest as well as to shock my body. When I get bored of traditional cardio on the Stairmaster, I take my training outside and run hills with my dogs or will do sprints. I can get bored quickly so by having different workouts or scenery will normally keep me going. When it comes to weight training, I do like to mix it up and add a HIIT type of session at the end of the workout or have a day that is plyos and High Intensity Interval training with light weights. I also like to throw in a group class or a Zumba class because I love to dance (didn’t say I was good at it.) When I catch myself getting tired, I try to do a group class so I know I can’t stop because of my ego and the same goes for me at work. I will workout with my teammates and that will always make me train harder because I love a friendly competition.
Do What You Hate
When I do legs, my mind must be ready for it. I don’t know why leg day is so much harder for me, but probably because I know it is going to hurt. I’ve started to use a phrase, “I get to do legs” instead of “I have to do legs” just by changing up the way I talk to myself on things I don’t want to do has made a huge impact to how I view my routines and everything I do. Instead of thinking I have to wake up at 0400 everyday to do cardio, I tell myself I get to wake up at 0400 and do cardio because there are people in the world that do not have the same opportunity. The mind will change your view on everything. I sometimes write down my goal on a sticky and place it on my mirror or my fridge as this keeps me focused when I feel myself getting off track. Dreams are great but they do not come true unless you put in the work. No challenge is easy so there is always going to be struggles and negativity, but it is all on how you look at it.
I am a vegetarian (been this way since I was 9), so my diet has changed since I was younger because I now understand nutrition and what it does for your body. My diet gets very precise when I am competing for a bodybuilding show but when I am not, I like to enjoy myself by eating what I want, but in moderation. I never really go too crazy on bad foods because my jobs are very physically demanding and when I eat too much sugar or too many carbs I don’t feel good. I get sleepy and lazy so normally I stay on a healthy diet off season and balance out some cheat meals because I love sweets oh and pizza.
Typical Day of Eats
Meal 1: ½ cup oats w/ one scoop of Dymatize chocolate cake batter protein with one scoop almond butter
Meal 2: 3 veggie patties from (morning star) with salsa and 1 cup green beans
Meal 3: 1 cup Quorn (veggie chicken) with ½ cup rice and ½ green beans
Meal 4: Protein pancakes (½ cup oats, one egg, 3/4 cup egg whites, one scoop Dymatize protein smooth banana) ¼ cup blueberries, sugar free syrup
Meal 5: 5oz tempeh, ½ cup rice and ½ cup green beans
Meal 6: Non-Greek yogurt (one serving size) with protein powder (usually Dymatize ISO 100 fudge brownie
It’s wise to find a way to prep your food so that it works for your schedule. Some people like to make all their meals for the next week on a Sunday and have them in the fridge, but I like to make my meals the night before or the morning of depending on how my days goes. However, you must find out what works for you. And you need to bring all your meals with you, because I’ve often not brought all my meals thinking I would be home at a certain time and I wasn’t and then I had to eat something that was not on my diet and mentally that would just throw me all off my game. A lot of people will normally say they just don’t have time, or their job doesn’t allow it but to be honest there is always a way around it. I travel a lot for the military and have deployed to combat locations and still was able to work a nutritional plan even living with local nationals with no kitchen. You have to want to change and stay consistent and really plan out your day. When I train military working dogs, I don’t get breaks to eat so I would keep protein pancakes in my training pants and would take a bite of one as I would switch out dogs. My team use to laugh at me, but I needed to eat but also still get the job done. Failure to plan is planning to fail.
Jessie’s At Home Workout
Tabata training Jumping Jack: Do Jumping Jacks for 20 secs then rest for 10 then repeat this process eight times which will give you a total of four minutes.
Tabata training Air Squat with arms out in front (if this is too easy you can add a dumbbell or kettlebell if you have one at home): squat for 20 secs then rest for 10 then repeat this process eight times.
Tabata training Push-ups: push-ups can be in plank position or on your knees, do as many as you can for 20 secs then rest for 10 secs and then repeat for eight times.
So, you’ve just completed a 12-min warm up
Workout 1: 15 min total
1 min forward lunges alternating each leg (can add weight to make it harder)
1 min burpee with a push-up
1 min sit-ups or crunches
Repeat five times
Workout 2: 15 min total
1 min shoulder touches in plank position
1 min princess lunge (can add weight to make it harder)
1 min bicycles
Repeat five times
Total workout time with warm-up: 42 min
Cool Down: 5-10 min walk followed by stretching.