Q&A: Fitness expert Jennifer Cohen swaps ‘skinny’ ideal for stronger one
Skinny? That’s so 2014.
We asked Los Angeles fitness expert Jennifer Cohen about her predictions for health and fitness. The author of “Strong Is the New Skinny” says savvy women, especially savvy younger women, are ditching extreme diets and endless cardio sessions. “Society has done a real number on women, where if they’re not a size zero … they feel fat,” Cohen said. “But 90% of us will never, can never, no matter what we do, achieve that.”
But take a look around, Cohen said. More women are after something else: health — and sleek, toned muscles.
That’s a catchy book title. People stop by my desk, see it, pick it up and the reaction goes from “Wow!” to “Yeah!”
I love that! But that reflects what I’m finding. There’s been a real cultural shift in what is considered to be aspirational, or beautiful. It used to be that people wanted to be these skinny little waifs. But now they want to be toned. Really, truly healthy. Athletic. Badass, so to speak. They want to be superhero kind of girls. The starving to get skinny? That’s over.
Who gets the credit for that? CrossFit? Michelle Obama’s biceps?
I think it’s a natural evolution. Not everybody can be skinny. But everybody can be strong. No matter how tall or short you are, no matter how wide you are. It’s a more realistic approach to health and fitness, but it’s also more empowering. When you can do the push-ups, a pull-up — and you can do all that when you train for it — it’s just a matter of time before that translates into real life.
You say this is not just a diet book, or even just a fitness book.
There’s a strong connection between feeling physically strong and feeling self-confident. When people start to take their fitness level seriously, it makes them more successful. It builds self-discipline. The ability to set goals and meet them. Self-confidence. And that gives you the self-confidence to achieve other things. When I say “strong,” I mean inside and out. I mean powerful inside and out. People try to pidgeonhole this as a fitness book. But the bigger, more powerful message here is that you will create success and power in other aspect of your life when you start to take yourself seriously.
What do you mean by starting out your fitness journey with “achievable wins”?
I really believe small wins lead to major, big changes in life. We give ourselves these lofty goals — I’m going to run five miles every single day — and then we don’t achieve them. And, really, who can do that? It’s demotivating. It doesn’t give ourselves confidence. But the reality is that if you want to run a marathon, you start by trying to get to half a mile. You may not even run the whole way. But if you give yourself easy, achievable wins, that is the inspiration you need to move to the next level.
You have a workout called “load your guns.” Is this emphasis on muscles and weight training a tough sell to some women? You also encourage women to train to do — yikes! — a pull-up.
It can be intimidating to some women if they don’t know all the facts. The majority of women won’t be building muscles. It just doesn’t work like that for women. When women start doing strength training, they see that it tones, defines and melts fat. And everyone wants that.
I like the pull-up for precisely that reason. People are intimidated by the pull-up. But it’s the No. 1 sign of real physical strength. It means you have an exceptionally strong core, and you have to engage every single muscle in the body. .