Jen Sinkler is someone I’ve followed and worked with loosely over the past couple of years, and I knew she would be a great addition to the IFAST interview line-up. Here we go!
Jen, you’re an incredibly diverse person – anyone who follows you on Twitter or Facebook can tell that!
Could you start by just telling us a little bit about yourself?
JS: Hello! Thank you so much for asking me to do this interview – usually it’s me asking you for interviews! (And that is as it should be.)
So, a little bit about myself: I’m the editorial director of fitness content for Experience Life magazine, a publication I’ve been with for the past nine years(!). I really like lifting weights. And talking about lifting weights. And writing about lifting weights.
I played rugby for 13 years, so I know how to take a tackle. I’m 5’6”, but I often get accused of being taller. I’m a Leo.
How did you originally get started in the fitness industry?
JS: I went to school at Northern Iowa for professional editing. I originally thought I wanted to edit fiction, but instead, my first job out of college was editing direct mail for an insurance company. In other words, I made sure the junk mail no one reads was clean — but had they read it, they would have marveled at its error-free nature!
Around that time, I had transitioned from playing rugby on the junior U.S. national team to the senior U.S. national team for both 7s and 15s, and I needed to find a high-level club team to play for in order to keep developing. I decided the team for me was the Minnesota Valkyries, so I started job-searching in the Twin Cities in 2003.
The rugby community is as tight-knit as the fitness community, so when I circulated my résumé, one of the guys, Ryan McDowell — a member of both communities, since he owns Maxmead Fitness — spoke up, saying he trained the editor-in-chief of Experience Life.
As it turned out, the editor-in-chief was looking for an associate editor, and it was a good match. Over the years, as I took on more responsibility, I started gravitating more toward the fitness content — I was always training for rugby then, so it made sense. When I became senior editor in 2005, we made it official that I would head up the jock contingent.
Tell us a little bit more about Experience Life. Who does that magazine cater to/focus on, and what’s your role there?
JS: We’re a really unusual publication in that our audience is women and men (with about a 60/40 split), and they’re all ages. We’re necessarily that inclusive — our publisher is the health-club chain Life Time Fitness (LTF), so we have to be applicable to anyone who might be a member of a gym. (We do go to a large subscriber base outside of LTF members, so it’s not “just” a membership publication.)
We cover fitness, nutrition, and quality of life from a holistic, real-talk perspective. My favorite line that sums up our fitness content: “We won’t promise you six-pack abs in seven days, or tell you how to drop 10 pounds overnight. Instead, we’ll empower you to achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself.”
It’s my job to stay up on what’s really going on in the industry, and what really works, and make sure that stuff finds its way into our pages. To that end, I travel a lot, hitting conferences and workshops from Perform Better and NSCA to TACFIT and MovNat.
I gotta get out your way for the Midwest Performance Enhancement Seminar soon, though. That’s one of the biggies I’ve been missing.
Absolutely. We’d love to have you at our seminar, which is coming up in just two weekends! (Sorry, shameless plug there, but you did pitch me a giant softball on that one. 😉 )
Obviously, we share the passion of writing about fitness, and I get a ton of questions about this topic. How did you get started?
JS: I did it backwards and by accident. (Where am I???) I never had intentions of becoming a writer — I thought I wanted to stick to the editing side of things. But, you know, you train enough/learn enough/coach enough and you start to form your own dangerous ideas.
I do most of my writing now in the form of my column, Expert Answers, where I get the best and brightest in the fitness industry to answer our readers’ fitness questions. You can read the entire archive online!
And along those same lines, a lot of people now think you can just get started and write for big online sites and print mags. What advice would you give for someone just getting started in writing?
JS: I get this question a bunch, too, and I just did a 100-slide presentation on the topic for Robert dos Remedios’s Cougar Strength Clinic in June. Let me boil it down to these points:
1) Learn enough: You need to have a legitimate knowledge base and point of view. If you are a brand-new trainer, just shhhhh for a while. If you’re short on ideas for what you should write about, you are not ready.
2) Generate or translate: Once you’ve completed step 1, there are two routes you can go: a) Be an idea generator, constantly coming up with new training techniques (that are not just different for the sake of being different, but different because they’re better); or b) Be a translator.
Dude, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel — there are so many wheels that work in the fitness world — but there really aren’t that many people who can describe the pertinent details of the wheel, describe why it works and how to put it into motion.
3) Start a blog: And pretend like everyone is reading it (even though no one is…yet). This will come in handy for providing links to your body of work later.
4) Schmooze: If you’re a good trainer, chances are you are friends with other good trainers. Chances are those trainers know an editor at a print or online pub. Ask for an e-introduction, and then ask the editor how they prefer to be pitched ideas.
5) Do a good job: Know who you’re writing for and make sure the content is applicable to that audience.
Last but not least, what are some things people probably DON’T know about writing that might shock them?
JS: Writing for print magazines is very, very different than writing for online pubs. You can often pitch the editor of an online pub like T-Nation with a fully written article. That doesn’t fly with most print pubs — you have to consider things like the existing department format (which is often quite rigid), word count, issue theme, and timeline.
We often work four to eight months in advance — I’ll be sending out assignments for our March issue on August 1, which I realize sounds insane. It means we have to anticipate what’s gonna be hot then, but it also means we can’t talk about what’s hot right this second. (Why do people say print media is dying? Look how timely!)
You’re also an avid lifter. Could you tell us a little bit about your current training, and what you’re up to on that front?
JS: I like to play. A lot. It’s only been since I retired from rugby that I’ve followed a set schedule on a piece of paper with a program laid out in advance. I’m not training for any particular event, but I still like to see consistent progress and PRs, and last year I found a way to keep improving without the cage of an inked-out program that may or may not reflect my body’s capabilities that day.
Since last September I’ve been following a protocol called Gym Movement. It’s not really worth your time to Google it; it’s almost impossible to find clear information on the topic about what it actually is. It also sounds a little hocus-pocus when I describe it to people, but it has worked like a charm to resolve the pain I used to feel when I deadlifted, and it’s kept me moving in an unequivocally positive direction.
The guiding principle is, every single thing you do makes you better or worse, down to every single rep of every single exercise. So naturally, you only want to do things that make you better, right?
The simple version is, you use range-of-motion (ROM) testing to give you a picture of what “better” is in that moment and determine what your training will look like on a given day.
Say you want to squat (who doesn’t?). You would “test” your baseline range of motion with a tension-free toe-touch (meaning you stop at the very first sign of tension). You then “test” different tools (safety bar vs. straight bar, for instance), seeing which leads to a greater ROM. (Sounds wild, but your ROM will vary depending on which your body marks as “better.”)
You also test load, squat variations, and foot placement. You stop your set at the first sign of slowing down or struggling. This means you may do six reps the first set, six the second and five the third — but you’re going to skip the grind reps, regardless of when they show up.
You test again between each set, and when it stops testing well (that is, when your ROM shortens), you’re done with squats.
You know what, just watch this video on how to test:
This isn’t to say your training will be random; you test and train the things that support your fitness goals. I have a number of training goals laid out for the year, one of which is a bodyweight snatch. So I’ve been testing and training the Olympic lifts and accessory lifts more than anything else. The RKC Iron Maiden is a secondary goal, so weighted pull-ups and pressing show up often, as well.
Except for the times I just want to get back to the badminton net I have set up in my backyard — then I just do a few rounds of the bear complex and get the hell back outside.
The other exception to this body sychronicity is when you’re going for a one-rep max, or you’re competing. In that case, just go for broke.
You obviously practice what you preach, as you recently tweeted about a battle with a 32kg Turkish Get-up. Did you end up winning that battle? No pressure here… 🙂
JS: Indeed. The seccond try was the charm, though I need to clean up the foot and hand placement a bit.
Jen, you’ve been great but I want to finish off with one of my favorite questions.
What is one mistake you’ve made in either your career (lifting or writing) that you’ve learned from?
JS: There was a period of a couple years where I didn’t work out much, didn’t eat well, didn’t sleep well, didn’t live well, didn’t look well. I worked all the time, thinking I was making sacrifices that were making me better at my job. They weren’t.
A stagnant body leads to a stagnant mind, and once I moved self-care higher up the list, everything else improved, too. There will never be enough time to do all of the work that needs to be done, so make peace with that and call it a day when you gotta.
I couldn’t agree with you more. Glad to know we’re on the same page about that!
Jen, thanks a bunch for coming on here today. Where can my readers find out more about you?
You can also email me questions for my column at [email protected]; I’m always looking for smart fitness questions there.
Lastly, I’ve let my blog languish but I still crop up every now and then here, too. And thanks so much for having me on here!