I have a special interview for you with Jen Grasso of Renegade Gym in Watchung, New Jersey. You may recognize Jen from the many videos I have posted of her in my weekly For Your Viewing Pleasure posts. I actually posted her videos long before I even knew who she was just because I found them to be so impressive, but once I found out who she was, I knew I had to interview her. The fiancé of Jason Ferruggia, Jen really has it all. She’s smart, attractive, cool, strong, athletic—the list just goes on and on. Jason is one lucky dude. I wanted to pick Jen’s brain about how she got to where she is today and any wisdom or advice she might have. Here is what she had to say.
1. Jen, first off, thank you for taking the time to do this interview today. Before we really get into it, why don’t you take a minute and introduce yourself to the readers. Let’s start with how you originally got involved with fitness in the first place, what you are currently up tp, and a brief recap of how you got to where you are today?
JG: Thank you for the interview, Ben. I’m a former college athlete, playing four years of Division III Softball. I was lucky to have an opportunity to play every sport growing up (soccer, swimming, basketball, baseball, softball, along with all street games played outside) starting at the age of three when my parents put me into gymnastics. I competed early on as a gymnast until the age of 15 and always strived to be the best at whatever sport I was playing. In high school, I was a 3 sport athlete, running cross-country and playing basketball and softball. Off-season, during HS and college, I worked as a swim instructor and a personal trainer at NYSC to help pay the bills. I always loved sports and fitness so I thought there was nothing better to do than to teach our future how to play and be physically, mentally and emotionally strong.
I graduated from William Paterson University in 1999 where I majored in Exercise Movement Science with a minor in Health Education. For the past 11 years, I was a Physical Education and Health Teacher and had the opportunity to coach High School JV and Varsity soccer, basketball and softball, including being the Head Varsity Softball Coach for the past 5 years. However, times have changed; I saw a lack of interest in physical activity amongst young children with the increase in technology. The lack of discipline, commitment and respect for authority has all driven me out of the profession and driven me towards what I really love and desire to do on a daily basis. I retired from the teaching profession and live to help others get “strong” and am now putting 100% into our online fitness business and being a Strength Coach at Renegade Training Center. I now work with people in person and online who are serious about getting strong, who are athletes or former athletes and very competitive, and really care about getting results.
2. Wow, that’s quite the impressive resume Jen. Great stuff. Let’s shift now to your training. How do you train currently, and how has your training changed over the years? Do you currently have any specific training-related goals?
JG. I now strength train 3 times a week at Renegade Training Center or wherever we happen to be, with my fiancé and training partner Jason Ferruggia.
I am focusing right now more on bringing up my lower body (especially my glutes) with heavy squats, deads, and assistance lifts. I also do some type of conditioning on my off days, such as hills sprints, prowler pushes, battling ropes, sled drags or jump rope. In addition, I add in fasted morning cardio with a 30 minute power walk 3-5 times a week. I’ve always trained hard over the years, but this has changed from circuit type training and bodyweight exercises to more heavy Barbell Olympic lifts and a lot more advanced bodyweight exercises.
My goals are always to beat my previous PR’s, which I do every 12 weeks, and then I set new ones. I try to always have short and long term goals to chase. I guess you can say I am my very own worst enemy when it comes to this. I am now focusing on my lower body a lot because it will be two years this February since I tore my ACL in my right knee (we were on vacation playing basketball). Being an athlete and coach all my life, I was devastated and was down and out for 8 weeks. I never thought I would able to get under the bar again. I lost all muscle memory in my right leg and glute and had to relearn how to use these muscles again. After 8 weeks of rehabilitation and with Jay’s help and knowledge, I have been on a continual strength training program and have been able to hit some PR’s which I never thought were possible.
3. I know you are also interested in doing a figure competition. How, if at all, has your training changed now that you have that in your sights as opposed to when you were training specifically for sports? Do you plan to make any changes for your contest preparation?
JG. I am very excited to get into a figure competition as I live to compete. I’ve had to rebuild my lower body back up and this will be the perfect time to see my results and put it all out there on stage. I plan on keeping things the same as I did for my pre-photo shoot pictures with some minor changes to my diet pre-contest time.
JG. Over the years, I have been able to bring up my hamstrings and glutes with heavy barbell training and I have better separation in my shoulder, arms, hamstring and quads. Training heavier definitely helps me to stay lean and if I ever have to take some time off due to traveling or being sick I do not lose any size or muscle definition.
5. You mentioned diet briefly, so let’s get back to that since it is obviously extremely both for athletes and physique competitors. Could you please explain your current nutritional strategies and any changes you plan on making during pre-contest time?
JG. I currently follow intermittent fasting and an all natural, organic, high protein, low carb diet using carb cycling during the week and drink lots of water. I have great results with this so I plan on keeping things the same.
JG. I work with athletes and those that want to train like athletes, building real-world functional strength, both in person and online.
7. How would you summarize your basic training philosophy, and how, if at all, does it change when you are training women?
JG. My basic training philosophy is no machines, mirrors, and minimal traditional cardio. I train for functional strength and to be as strong as humanly possibly using barbell lifts, dumbbells, kettlebells, strongman type exercises and advanced bodyweight exercises. This does not change when it comes to training women.
8. What are the three biggest mistakes you see women making with regards to training and/or nutrition in their quest to look and perform better?
JG. The biggest mistakes I see women making is that they are afraid to or don’t train heavy, they do too much traditional cardio and they either eat too much or not enough of the right kinds of food which will all inhibit their quest to look and perform better.
Thanks again for your time Jen. I know I speak for the readers when I say that this has been great.