Jessica Spieker is a Toronto-based personal trainer and owner of Full Swing Fitness, who offers fun and effective in-home personal training sessions to a wide variety of clientele of all fitness levels and ages. She also teaches kettlebell and barbell classes at the Cooper Koo and Central YMCA. Though all clients offer their own fun challenges, Jess especially loves working with fitness beginners, helping them unlock their potential, improve their health and reach their goals. There is nothing more rewarding for her than hearing a client say “I never thought I could do that!” or “I never thought I’d be this size again!”
Along with kettlebells, Jess is a certified specialist in upper body joint mobility and movement, and loves bringing this expertise to her clients to make them strong and injury-resistant. She also has a strong interest in using her own background of serious injuries sustained in a bike crash to help clients who are working on injury rehabilitation.
- When did your athletic career begin?My athletic career began unusually late in life, after I finished a Master’s degree and started a PhD. I was 27 the first time I went to the gym with serious weight loss intentions. Before that I was generally non-athletic and could be found with my face buried in a book, and the only sport I did long-term as a kid was swimming lessons. No team sports and nothing that involved running around a field for me! After about a year, my performance at the gym improved to the point where I was invited to start instructing a class, and from there the rest developed organically. I got all the necessary certifications and a few extra besides, and I ended up dropping out of my PhD in order to be a full-time personal trainer – best decision I ever made!!
- What type of adversity have you had to overcome as an athlete?There are two main ones, an internal and an external one. First, I had to overcome my own self-image, and start to believe that it was possible for me to be fit, slim and strong. I had grown accustomed to being 30lbs overweight, and after I lost the weight I could walk past a mirror and not recognize myself immediately. I had to work hard to convince myself that I’m physically strong and capable of doing a lot with my body. It’s way harder than it sounds and I still struggle with it most days. For example, on my way to teach a class at the gym, sometimes I have to remind myself with every step toward the door that I can do it, because it was so ingrained in my mind earlier that I could NOT do it. The second adversity was a serious bike accident where I was t-boned at high speed by an inattentive driver (I am an experienced cyclist and I had the right of way). My spine was fractured and I sustained a serious concussion, along with plentiful damage to my left side – tendons in my left shoulder and the MCL in my left knee were partially torn, as was my left calf muscle. There was nerve damage and other internal damage as well, and all of this gave rise to a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in my left leg, which in turn gave rise to a near-lethal massive bilateral pulmonary embolism. In short, I almost died twice. Healing from the crash was a consuming task and I was thirsty to get better and back to all of my beloved activities (training, biking, running, teaching classes at the gym, etc). Part of healing was just sitting still and waiting for things to knit back together while playing the mental game of trying not to be too frustrated, and then once I could walk semi-normally again I could build up from there. Each time I’m at the gym I try to do something beneficial for the areas where I have residual aches and pains, whether that’s some strength work or mobility work. I think these two obstacles put together make me a very effective trainer. Most people who hire a personal trainer are in the shoes I used to be in before I started working out, and need someone to encourage them who understands how much self-image can hold you back from striving to reach your goals. I have also gained a ton of experience with physical rehabilitation which is useful for my clients in almost every session – if something hurts, I can often massage it back to normalcy or find a way to strengthen it over time to eliminate the pain.
- How has working out impacted your life?Working out has changed my mind as much as my body. It has changed my conception of myself entirely: I believe in myself and my own capabilities much more now. Physically, I’m vastly more healthy and have higher energy levels, and have internalized the importance of taking care of my body because I only have one. Keeping a healthy and strong body is very important for the general health-related reasons I mention above, but it also can be invaluable during an adverse health event such as a major injury or a heart attack. Working out might have literally saved my life in the crash. Having dense bones and strong muscles and tendons surely attenuated my injuries greatly when I got hit – by all rights, some combination of my pelvis, femur, humerus, radius and ulna should probably have been fractured as well, but they came through intact. Which isn’t to say you should work out solely so that you can survive getting hit by a car, but it sure does help.
- How often do you work out and for how long?I do the toughest strength training I can manage 3X per week at a minimum. To be maximally efficient with my time, I work out after I finish teaching a class at the gym since I’m already there – I get a tough workout leading the class, and then work on some more dedicated/targeted training afterward. On top of that, I spend as many hours on my bike as I can (often 7 days per week), depending on the distances I have to travel to reach my clients and other destinations. On a good week in the summer I can rack up 400km on my bike (roughly 20 hours of city cycling). I also throw in 5-10K runs whenever I have time. I’m not a physique athlete and I’m not training for any sport performance in particular, so my routine is less rigorous than some, I find it great for keeping me functionally very strong, injury-free, able to lead a butt-kicking personal training session or gym class at the drop of a hat, and it also maintains my weight.
- What is your #1 workout tip?I’m not a big fan of dietary supplements that come in bottles. First, they’re often lower-quality than many people realize, and worse, for many supplements the body doesn’t absorb most of it, so you end up producing some very expensive urine. A lot of what you might be encouraged to take you can find in a varied and healthy diet that includes lots of fresh vegetables and some fruit. I always steal Michael Pollan’s line: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
- Any specific recommendations on how over 45 athletes over 45 can minimize the likelihood of injury?Naturally, I’m a big believer in being coached by someone knowledgeable about technique, who is familiar with your fitness and strength levels. Beyond that, I believe that overall strength and joint mobility is key to injury resistance. With all my clients, we work on these two points in every workout. In my personal experience, I have found shoulders and knees become particularly vulnerable with age, and that working on stability and strength for these two joints does wonders for overall injury reduction. Also, don’t skip your warmup!!! The warmup portion becomes more important as you age, whether you feel you age or not. Take the time to do some dynamic movements and get your heart rate elevated before you dive into anything else. It’s worth it, I promise!
- What is your number #1 fitness tip?My favourite fitness motto is: “Stay in the suck!” Meaning, work so hard you feel the burn and you’re getting tired and you’re telling yourself how much it sucks, but don’t stop when you feel that way. Don’t be afraid of exerting yourself hard and keeping it up, despite the voice in your head yelling at you to stop. (That voice doesn’t know what it’s talking about – it’s an evolutionary holdover from the days when humans barely survived by hunting and scavenging, and conserving energy contributed to survival. Now we have fast food and supermarkets, so the opposite is true: we must expend energy to survive.) Bottom line: push yourself a little further, and it will pay off!
Lorne’s Take – Jess was recently featured in the Toronto Star and I really liked what she had to say. Jess makes a good point about post 45 athletes focusing on stability and strength training for your shoulders and knees.