Name: Jessie Hilgenberg
Occupation(s): IFBB Figure Pro, Team Bodybuilding.com Athlete, Fitness Model, Competition Coach, Graphic Designer
Being fit and living healthy is what I know and love. Fitness has always been a part of my life. I grew up in a fit family—my dad ran marathons, we had a home gym, and my parents always had gym memberships. Still, I never really caught the training bug until I began playing sports. When I started playing softball, I started hitting the weight room.
But I didn't always feel at home at the gym. I was never really a cardio person. I just wanted to lift, but I didn't want to do it alone. I always had to go with my mom, my dad, my brother, or a friend. I didn't want to use the squat rack because I didn't want to set a pin wrong. I didn't want to use a machine that had to be set up because I was worried I didn't know how to undo the last person's weights.
Now that I've gotten past those feelings and made the gym my stomping ground, I want to do my best to make sure women don't ever feel like I did.
Using my fitness modeling, fitness coaching, and figure competitions as a platform, I hope to inspire as many people as possible. I'm here to help you change your life. I'm Jessie Hilgenberg.
Body By Jessie
When I was 19, I was a typical college kid. I smoked cigarettes, drank beer, and didn't give fitness a second thought. It was a phase in my life where I ate ramen noodles, drank, hung out, and partied.
After college, I came home and knew it was time for a change. One particular event sparked my journey. I actually met my current husband Alex back then, and he was competing as a bodybuilder in the National Physique Committee (NPC). I was in the audience with a beer and a hot dog, and then these figure girls walked on to the stage in their amazing, sparkly suits. I had heard of men's bodybuilding, but I had no idea that women were involved or that there were any sort of divisions.
There's something in me that needs to have my own story and goals—my own journey to get to where I want to be. When I saw those figure competitors, I knew that my goal was to compete on that stage. That one moment became my driving force.
So, I made an investment: I signed up for a figure show, paid the registration fees, and spent the $800 on a suit. I knew I was going to do a show, no matter what. I tracked my progress and stayed motivated by meeting like-minded people and joining motivational communities like BodySpace.
But I was still really self-conscious in the gym. I started working out with Alex, who was my boyfriend at the time. Initially I followed him around and did everything he told me to do, but after I competed in my first show I caught the fitness bug. I fired Alex from telling me what to do, found my inner beast mode, and went from there.
I wanted to look healthy, I wanted to look full, and most importantly I wanted to set a good example for the sport of figure and for women everywhere. I read more articles, did more research, and learned more about what worked for me in the gym. That takes time. Not everybody can have the same workout or diet. What works for me doesn't necessarily work for the next person. It's a lot of trial and error.
I was OK with my fitness journey taking 10 or 15 shows over 3-4 years to learn from every single mistake along the way because I knew I'd eventually figure out what works for me. I'm 33 years old right now; I have a better physique, I'm healthier, and I feel better than I ever did in my 20s. It's incredible, and I want to keep that going for as long as I can.
I want to feel even better at 43 than I do today at 33, and I know the only way to do that is to have a healthy diet, to stay consistent in the gym, and to live the lifestyle.
BANISH THE MYTH
These days, I'm very excited about a huge shift that's happening in the world of fitness, and even in mainstream culture. Gone are the days of "skinny is inspirational."
Women want to have shapely arms, a shelf on their butt, a quad sweep, and great hamstrings. I love that things are changing. A large part of what I want to do is cultivate that change.
Still, ladies who are newer to fitness often believe the myths that come with lifting heavy. Multiple times a day, women walk up to me and say, "You look amazing. How did you get like that? I want to know what you do in the gym, but I don't want to get too bulky. I don't want to look like a man."
Let's dispel that myth now. Not a single woman on this planet is naturally going to "look like a man" if she lifts heavy. We simply do not possess the levels of testosterone in our body to get that way.
No, squats are going to turn you into a man in the gym, but they are certainly going to give you a nice butt.
BUILD YOUR IDEAL BODY
If you're just starting on your own fitness journey, the amount of information available can be overwhelming. Start with these simple tips:
If you want to build shapely muscle, you need to eat. I don't think most women eat enough. I eat 2,200, 2,300, sometimes 2,400 calories a day. Sometimes that's 1,000 calories more than what many women are currently eating.
So, where should you start? Start by calculating your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which shows how much energy you expend while at rest. There are plenty of calculators on Bodybuilding.com, and you can always do research to find out your maintenance calorie levels.
If you're losing weight from that maintenance amount—and your goal is to build muscle—you can probably tack on a few hundred calories. You don't have to overcomplicate nutrition in the beginning. Just keep things simple.
You can lift heavy all you want but, if you aren't feeding your body enough, you're not going to get the full benefit of hard work.
A lot of women don't know exactly what to do when they're trying to lift heavy. Does that mean biceps curls? Does that mean calf raises? Does that mean lunges? With all the machines and free-weight options, it's understandable if you feel overwhelmed. Once you're armed with a little knowledge, it all becomes easier to manage.
Know this: If you're looking to get the biggest bang for your buck, do compound lifts. Compound exercises recruit other muscle groups within the body, allowing you to burn more calories and build muscle faster. Your go-to exercises should be the squat, deadlift, and bench press.
If you're squatting, for example, you're working on your balance, your core, your quads, your glutes, your hamstrings, and your calves—all while holding a barbell on top of your shoulders. Think of how many different muscles you're recruiting with this one exercise!
Never underestimate the importance of rest—it's essential for your body to grow, and when you lift heavy, the benefits extend beyond the gym. Lifting heavy breaks down muscle, so the magic really happens after your session.
When you work at a high intensity, you'll actually burn more calories at rest. This happens when you're sitting at home on the couch channel-surfing. You can train cardio like crazy, but the true benefits of calorie-burning and body-shaping only come from lifting heavy.
One of the most challenging things women often face on their fitness journeys is a lack of support. Sometimes their significant other doesn't even get on board with their new goals!
Form friendships at the gym and join a community like BodySpace. These simple steps will help you for the long haul.
Find Your Long-Term Motivation
You need to get ready for a long journey. Some days are going to be better than others, and you need to prepare for both PRs and plateaus. If you're new to the gym, your first five weeks are going to bring quick results. You're going to look and feel better, and that's going to be a huge motivator.
But then, at some point around the 6- or 7-week mark, your progress is going to level off. You're going to wonder what happened, what you're doing wrong, and what's changed. That's when you really have to dig deep.
When you hit plateaus, you have to find a way to change up your program, whether that means integrating different exercises, mixing up the number of sets and reps, doing an outdoor workout, going to a different gym for a change of pace, or even just taking a few additional rest days. There are so many options.
Track Your Progress
Working out isn't easy, and at times your progress may be discouraging. One week you can do 30-pound overhead shoulder presses, and the very next week you may not be able to push up one rep with that weight. So many factors go into your day-to-day performance.
This is why it's important to keep a training journal. You might feel like nothing's happening, but glancing at your training journal and seeing how heavy you squatted today can be a big motivator.
Keep Lifting Heavy!
No matter how hard things get, just keep lifting with intensity. Lifting with intensity in the gym is the only way to change your body and give yourself the curves you get from strong muscles. To me, intensity is giving each workout your all—striving for those two extra reps after you stop to take a deep breath.
The magic happens when you push yourself to go further than you thought possible. Intensity happens when you don't give in, and instead say, "I can do this. I can get a couple more reps." And you always can.
FIT FOR LIFE
I'm a huge believer in doing what makes you happy. Do what you love, just add a few days of heavy lifting to your regimen and you'll see a change in your physique and life. If you love running, keep running, but schedule a few extra days in the gym to lift.
If you're a total yogi, be a total yogi; just make sure you do a couple yoga classes a week and take a couple of days to lift. You'll be pleasantly surprised with the results.
Nobody comes up to me complaining that their six-pack looks too awesome, or that they aren't really into their quad sweep, or that their shoulders are looking too carved out and amazing. It doesn't happen. Strength training only brings about positive reactions.