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September 26, 2011

Interview with Fitness Pro & Beautiful Badass Nia Shanks

I admit it. I have a huge crush on knowledgable and competent women in the fitness industry. Maybe it’s because compared to the large amount of guys in the field as trainers, strength coaches, authors, etc, the number of ladies at the forefront is pretty meager. Or maybe it’s just because fit women are awesome :)

Once such fitness pro is Nia Shanks. I came across Nia’s profile on Twitter a while back through a mutual friend and immediately found her to be competent, her methods tried-and-true and a smarty-pants when it comes to training. I am excited to bring this interview to you about Nia, her background, her current methods (intermittent fasting anyone?) and how she’s climbed the fitness professional ladder among the guys.  I enjoyed getting her take on things and hope you enjoy it! ox Jill

Nia, you have a successful website and training program called Beautiful Badass. Tell us a little bit about how you got into the fitness industry and what your main specialization is right now?  

Becoming a trainer just happened naturally for me. My Mom was the first female personal trainer in our area, and so I credit her with introducing me to the weight room.

My main specialization is helping people who want to look, feel, and perform better by using simple, but very effective, strength training and nutrition principles.

My training and nutrition methods are all about being tailored to the individual’s lifestyle and personality. Never do I recommend something that he/she must revolve his/her life around. By adopting principles that fit easily into someone’s life, they are much more likely to succeed and not experience near the amount of stress as compared to “forcing” something unrealistic.

How would you describe your “training philosophy” and does it change based on your clientele?  Is this how you train yourself?

My basic training philosophy is keep things as simple as possible – from the exercises, program design, and everything in between.

The only things that change are maybe some exercises based on the individual’s abilities, limitations, injuries, mobility, etc. But even then the changes are small. For example, if someone is unable to properly/safely perform a barbell back squat, I’ll have them perform a goblet squat instead.  If their mobility prevents them from safely performing a deadlift, I’ll substitute a rack pull variation.

This is similar to my own training in that I focus on the basic exercises (squats, deadlifts, push-ups, overhead pressing, chin-ups, rows, etc). My programming is different because, right now, my main priority is getting my deadlift as strong as possible.

JillFit Physiques is all about female fat loss and physique development–can you give us an idea of a typical workout for an intermediate female client who wants fat loss?

When it comes to fat loss I definitely stress nutrition, first and foremost.

I’ve had clients (and myself) focus on nothing but eating real, whole, natural foods and get stronger in the gym on a few basic barbell and bodyweight exercises. They may also go for a few brisk walks first thing in the morning several days per week. A lot of times this gets the job done.

But some clients love to sweat, get out of breath, and have additional challenges beyond the weight room. For them I’ll recommend something like hill sprints a few days per week.

Fat loss is simple, but not necessarily easy. If people focused on eating real food and constantly improved their performance in the weight room, then they would get the majority of the results they are after.

How would you describe your nutrition philosophy, Nia? Can you give us your THREE hard & fast rules for fat loss nutrition?

Again, I am all about simplicity. People are too quick to demand “complex” methods and diets when in reality they couldn’t follow something so rigid for any appreciable amount of time.

In my experience, very few people who are just interested in looking, feeling, and performing better need anything more complex than the following guidelines:

  • Eat real food. If it doesn’t rot or go bad in a relatively short period of time, I don’t consider it real food.
  • Eat when you’re hungry. Too many people eat by a clock or just because “it’s lunchtime”. Learn to listen to your body.
  • Stop eating when you’re satisfied. Don’t eat until you are stuffed and uncomfortable.

Points two and three definitely take the longest to get used to. Most people simply don’t know what hunger feels like anymore, and many people are used to eating well beyond satiety.

As a personal example, I eat twice a day (some days this changes). I don’t get hungry until the early afternoon, and then I eat dinner several hours later.  I’m not saying everyone should follow my example, I’m suggesting they find what works for them and their lifestyle.

Where do you see your business in 5 years? How about your personal fitness/physique goals? 

Right now my business plans have changed. I can’t go into detail right now, but I’m working on some very exciting things with some other amazing fitness industry ladies.

In five years I plan on expanding my outreach to the female fitness world. It is my primary goal to help as many as possible and show them the proper and simple ways to achieve their performance and body composition goals.

My main fitness goal is to pull a triple bodyweight deadlift. My best deadlift to date is a 330 pound deadlift at 125 pounds bodyweight. I’ve still got 45 pounds to go to reach that goal, but once I do my sites will be set on a 405 deadlift.

Congratulations Nia, you obviously have experienced success in the fitness industry as a female training expert–what ONE pearl can you give to someone who wants to be successful in the fitness industry?

Be honest. The market is flooded with people who just want to make a quick buck and so they resort to regurgitating information from other people, when they don’t know a damn thing.

Train people, and then train some more. My first couple of years training people was completely pro bono. Even though I was constantly educating myself I didn’t feel qualified enough at the time to charge people for my services.

Once I was confident in my ability to properly coach the basic exercises and get people great results, then I started to charge for my services. I know this isn’t practical for everyone, but it worked for me.

I know you asked for one thing, but I have to keep going. My last tip is learn from the best people in the field. Some of my mentors are Mike Robertson, Tony Gentilcore, Bret Contreras, Eric Cressey, Jason Ferruggia, Jim Wendler, Mark Rippetoe, and many more.  You can save yourself a lot of time if you learn from people who have been in the fitness industry for decades. They already know things that would take you a damn long time to learn on your own.

Who are the mentors/inspirations you look to for advice, guidance and instruction (in the fitness industry or not)?

This is going to be a very long list. In addition to the fellows mentioned above, I am inspired every day from many of my fellow Beautiful Badasses like Alli McKee, Julia Ladewski, Marianne Kane, Jen Comas Keck, Molly Galbraith, Neghar Fonooni, and many other strong ladies.  There are dozens more I could add to the list, but that should be sufficient for now.

Thank you so much for taking the time to reveal some of your training and nutrition secrets! Where can we find you? Website, Facebook, Blog, Twitter, etc.

My website –
Facebook –

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