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Welcome to another edition of Fitness for All with Cam Jenkins, and sponsored by Lebert Fitness. In this episode, mother of four, Veterinarian, Fitness Trainer and Instagram Influencer, Jesse Benjamin talks about how her fitness journey started after seven years of inactivity when she realized that she was taking care of everyone else but herself. Jesse explains why setting realistic goals is important. Jesse also talks about her Indigenous heritage and the current conversation of racism around the world and in Canada.
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How did you meet Marc Lebert?
Marc and I originally met on Instagram. One of his friends was trying to get people to post something online to celebrate his 50th birthday and she had invited me to do 50 reps for Marc. It just so happened that his birthday is the same day as my birthday, so I thought, yes, I'll do that! From that point forward, we followed each other on Instagram and interacted with each other. He eventually asked me to help him manage the Lebert Fitness Health and Wellness Facebook group.
How did your fitness journey begin?
If I go way back to the beginning, I was always really active as a kid. I was in all kinds of sports which was a big part of my life. When I started my career as a veterinarian and started having more children, I just found it too hard to balance everything and to make time for myself. So, I stopped. I didn't do anything for probably about seven years.
I was really not happy with a few things in my life. I ended up leaving my marriage. It was around that time that I started working out again and decided to take care of myself because I definitely wasn’t. I promised myself I'd start working out again because I really missed how it made me feel and I missed that part of my life. So that's what I did. I started working out first at home three to four days a week. Eventually when my children started going to their father's when we started sharing custody, I joined a gym. Ever since, I've been pretty committed to it. I've been working out five to six times a week since then, which was about five years ago now.
Why is fitness such a good thing not only for you, but for everybody?
It has definitely changed my life for the better. Like I said before, I was really unhappy with myself, which is not good for anyone. It’s also not good when you're a mother and you're taking care of other people and you just feel drained and tired and and just sort of not very confident in yourself. So, for me, it's changed my energy levels. I was literally tired all the time before. It's definitely changed my self-confidence. And it's made me a lot better of a Mom. I am much more involved and active with my children now. We play basketball, we go to the track and we play soccer. We run or do things like tug of war which in the past, I definitely didn't do so much.
How did your fitness training business come about?
Going back a couple of years, I decided to take a personal trainer course just because I was sharing my story and what I was doing and how I was getting back into shape. I found I was getting a lot of questions from people and from friends. I didn't really feel comfortable answering them properly as I didn't feel like I was educated enough in fitness. I was doing it but I didn't know necessarily why I was doing it. I decided to take a course so that I could be more knowledgeable about it and also for myself to learn more. I became a personal trainer and then I did start initially taking on some clients. I found it a little too challenging where I already had a career. It was just too hard to fit it in, so I moved to just online. It is a little bit of a side gig, I guess you would say. I do love it and I love helping people. I love seeing people get stronger and be able to do things that they couldn't do before. It is really rewarding.
What's your philosophy on training?
My own overall philosophy is I don't believe in diets. I don't diet. I've never dieted, and I've never done a meal plan for any of my clients. I do believe in sustainability, both in nutrition and in fitness. I don't believe in anything too extreme. I want you to be able to take whatever I'm teaching you and be able to keep it up forever. I don't want you to just be able to do it for a short period of time or anything like that, because I think sustainability is the key to making it a lifestyle versus a short term diet. That’s probably my biggest thing. I don't really believe in weight loss, not that I don't want anyone out there to lose weight, but I believe in focusing on getting stronger and more functional and focusing on capabilities versus aesthetic goals.
Explain what you mean by capabilities compared to aesthetic goals.
That's personally how I've had success and my training is really focusing on what I can do. I'll set a goal for myself. For instance, pull ups. When I first started doing pull ups, I could barely do them, and then I set a goal for myself to be able to do 10 pull ups. When I reached that goal, I felt like a million bucks.
It really didn't matter what I weighed or what I looked like or anything like that. I was proud of myself. I felt confident and I felt amazing. I think why I really like functional goals is because it doesn't matter what you look like. At the end of the day, if you're hitting those goals, you're going to feel amazing, and your body is going to change.
As you get stronger, as you get fitter, your body will change, and you will like that. Many people set a target weight and get back to that weight and then they don't feel any different.
Absolutely. I think you have to work on the inside and you as a person to be able to reach those goals or to feel better about yourself as well, because as you had mentioned, you can diet and you can look a certain way but mentally you might think a different way so you have to work on the inside as well.
Strength is a big one for me. “Melgignat" means strong in Mi'kmaq (my Indigenous heritage). I chose that name for my Instagram and then ended up taking it as my business name because that was my goal when I started working out. I just wanted to get fit. I just wanted to get strong. That was it.
What are some of the exercises that you do that you like the most and is there a piece of fitness equipment that you like to use?
I like to switch it up, so I use a little bit of everything. For resistance training. I mix weights with body weight strength exercises. For example, for upper body, I'll usually do push ups or dips or pull ups or exercises that are more focused on your body weight. I also lift weights as well. I am loving the new Lebert HIIT System. I have obviously the EQualizer bars which are great for body weight movements such as push ups, pull ups, rows, etc. I love the HIIT system for the higher intensity type cardio. That's what I have the most fun with. It reminds me of my athletic type training that I did when I was younger.
What is the Lebert Fitness Health and Wellness Group?
It is a private Facebook group and everybody that has purchased any of the Lebert Fitness products is invited to join us. We have quite a few members. It’s a great community. Members are really supportive of each other and are positive. We post a variety of content. We share articles for those who are interested in that sort of thing, but also just little tidbits or little fun prizes and contacts. I usually post at least once a week a new move or a new workout on some piece of our equipment so whether it’s the HIIT system. EQualizers, Parallettes or Stretch Straps. The members are also contributing their own content, sharing workouts that they're doing. We have a lot of our ambassadors contributing as well and other trainers who are members in the group.
I'm starting my fitness journey again. What would you suggest for someone starting back into?
It was only five years ago that I was in the exact same position, so I would say:
Creating a realistic goal is another key to success. Don't say you're going to work out seven days a week. That's just not sustainable. Pick something that you can actually stick to and that's going to be different for everyone based on their schedule. If three or four days a week is realistic, then stick to that and then schedule it in and make a plan.
Some days when I worked and had to get the kids from school (back when they were in school) and then had to come home cook supper, I would plan for a short workout like 30 minutes - just a quick HIIT workout because I knew it was unrealistic to spend two hours working out.
Make a plan that's going to fit your life and then stick to it. You're going to feel better about it. Set yourself up for success is the big one.
I think that can be a bit challenging for some people, because at the end of the day, they find excuses as to why they can't get that workout in. A workout can only be 20 minutes or 30 minutes, and that can be good enough.
That’s right. Be flexible. Some days, I just don't feel good, I’m lethargic or I'm stressed out or maybe I'm sore. Instead of just saying I'm not doing anything this day, I'll adjust, and I won't feel bad about it. Maybe I'll just do a little bit of a yoga flow or a mobility routine or something that's low intensity or something that's short. Maybe I'll take my lifting workout and change it to, like you said, 20- or 30-minute workout and then I've done something. You’re staying in the habit, but you’re also giving yourself permission to not feel guilty that you didn't do whatever you had planned. It's flexible,
What's next for Jesse over the next few years?
There are a few functional things that I want to do. I've been really working hard, improving my pull ups. Like I said, that was a goal that I had quite a while. I had that goal of 10. I reached 10 and then I got stuck at 10 for a really long time. So, I've been changing my own training to try to improve that. Now I want 20. So that would be for me a huge goal, and I'm getting close. I'm at 16 or 17, so that would be amazing. I also really want to complete a muscle up exercise (full range-of-motion pull-up). I was practicing that at the gym before they shut down. I need a higher ceiling. I train right now in my basement and there's a really low ceiling. I've put that on hold but that's another one. I would really, really love to learn that technique.
What accomplishments are you most proud of up to now?
Once I decided to start working out again, I made that promise to myself and I have kept it. Ever since that day I haven't let myself down. That's probably the thing that I've been most proud of because it is easy to give up.
I've grown to appreciate how much better of a person it makes me and how much stronger not only physically, but mentally as well and how it's helped me meet people. I see all the benefits and I don't ever want to stop now.
That's awesome and good for you for keeping that goal. For the people that want to be able to train with you online, do you want to give a little shout out to your business and how they can get in touch with you?
Sure. You can find me on Instagram, which is @jesse_benjamin.
Can you talk a little about your Indigenous heritage?
My father is Mi'kmaq and my mother is Caucasian, so I grew up off reserve in Nova Scotia. Mi'kmaq are the Indigenous people to this area, so we were the first people to live here. That's my origin. I often get asked where I'm from or where my ancestors are from. I always say, “here”. I am the original Canadian. Growing up off reserve and being of mixed race has had its challenges. I have a blog on my website and have written a few articles about that. I just wrote one recently about racism and my experiences. Everything that's been happening in the world lately motivated me to write it. I will say that despite the many challenges of late, I've been really trying to make a concerted effort to get back in touch and educate myself more about my culture. I'm learning how to fancy shawl dance, which is quite athletic, lots of jumping and spinning. I'm absolutely loving it. I'm branching out fitness-wise. It's a new style of killer cardio. It's really, really intense and I love it. It's also proving to be spiritual and fulfilling. I'm learning a lot which is amazing as well.
It's always good to learn something new and to learn something about your heritage, because like you said, in today's world with everything going on, it's sad in 2020 that racism exists and we don't see that people are people at the end of the day They look at the color of their skin when I'm no better than you and you're no better than me at the end of today, or at least that's my philosophy.
Yes, there’s a lot of, I think there are a lot of subconscious things that are in our society that are ingrained that we don’t realize. It's going to take a lot of work to dissect it all out and change. I'm glad it's being talked about now. It's not just in the States. It's here in Canada as well for blacks and particularly Indigenous people. I find in Canada it's sometimes worse for the Indigenous here, but I am really happy that it's all being talked about and I think some people are finally listening.
Yes, it is happening all over the world and certainly here in Canada with the Indigenous people and I hope that the conversation keeps happening and people educate themselves and that hopefully one day we can have an inclusive society.
Jesse, thank you for being on the program. Fitness For All is sponsored by Lebert Fitness. We certainly hope to have you on the show again.
Contact Jesse Benjamin at: