At times, being a T NATION journalist can be a real drag. There's daunting workloads, impossible deadlines, and having to keep tabs on coaches that aren't exactly known for their prompt and courteous email response times.
There's also the dreaded SSAotM (Soul Sucking Assignment of the Month), which I've been told (several times, in fact) always goes to the low man on the T NATION Totem Pole.
Fortunately, this month I actually caught a break. The regular scheduled SSAotM, steal a silver weather balloon and provide a bird's eye view of Biotest HQ in Colorado, had been mysteriously grounded, so by default I got to interview fitness model Pauline Nordin (pronounced nor-DEEN).
Born in Sweden in 1982, this 5'2" dynamo currently calls Los Angeles home, where the self-described "multi-tasker" earns a living as a trainer, writer, and owner of her company, The Fighter Diet. When she's not reading T NATION, she's also an in-demand fitness model whose rock hard image just recently graced the T NATION Powerful Images section.
But lest you think this is just another bubble gum interview with a (very) pretty face with and a sexy Swedish accent, think again. This beauty is as tough as they come. She never cheats on her diet and never trains light, but don't call her a bodybuilder!
And whatever you do, don't even think about asking her if she'd ever pose naked...
So what got you into training and when?
I started training back in 1999 when I came across a Muscle & Fitness magazine. The female cover model was so cut and muscular; at first I was scared to death! But I found myself fascinated by the cover model's perfect, lean, strong body.
What did you look like before you started lifting?
As a teenager, I struggled with five years of eating disorders and let myself get really skinny. I more or less stopped eating and punished myself with pushups, pull-ups, and sit-ups for a couple of hours a day in the morning and after school. My lowest weight was at 90 lbs on my 5'2'' frame. Although I knew I was on the wrong path, I just didn't know what to do. But once I decided to become a bodybuilder, I did a complete 360: I switched from being destructive with my body to building it and eventually beginning my career as a fitness model.
What are some mistakes that you made along the way?
When I finally started to eat to build muscle, I remember I gave myself a 1300-calorie a day diet plan to start with. I actually gained muscle at that calorie level, and ended up a soft 117 lbs.
But then I started to do what everyone else was doing in the fitness community: having "cheat days", a la eat all you want, all day. I gained weight fast from that approach, but a lot of bodyfat. It took me about another two years to accept that I just couldn't eat whatever I wanted, even though it was all healthy food, if I wanted to be lean.
In 2005, I landed a TV gig in Sweden [their version of The Biggest Loser] and realized if I was going to be on TV every week I needed to look my best! So I made a decision to be lean 365 days of the year. And that was my true turning point, where I really made up my mind and did what it took to get the results I wanted: being contest ready all the time.
Give us a snapshot of a typical day in your life.
I wake up at 5 AM, work via Internet with my online clients, write on my blog, go train clients, and do my cardio training. At noon, I run errands or go have a massage (I am a Thai massage addict), and then a lot more writing and business up until about 4 or 5 pm. Then, it's clients again and my weight workout, followed by couch and dinner. Sleep. Repeat.
You train pretty heavy and basic. Is this the best way for women to train?
Women in general have a much lower capacity to build muscle, and training hard and heavy is one of the golden rules to get results. I know sometimes women get confused that they don't "feel" the muscles working as much on the compound exercises, so they choose isolation movements instead. Big mistake. Women should focus on how hard the exercise is on the whole body instead of a local effect.
Every effective workout should include some of the "basics." I would never go in and train with say, just cables, even if it's just to "mix it up." I don't mix it up.
But I also do a lot of pre-hab exercises to take care of my joints, stabilizers, and small "forgotten" body parts that need a little bit extra attention in order to put up with the constant assault of heavy, basic training.
What I do NOT do though, is work through pain, such as aching joints or lower back pain. Training through injuries is just plain stupid. I'm a big believer in preventive care like trigger point therapy, bread pin rolling, stretching, and massage, so I don't need crisis management measures that you will need to do if you don't listen to your body's warning signals.
Give us an example of a typical shoulder workout.
I always start with my shoulder warm-up procedure, which consists of dynamic broom stick stretches, three sets of the butterfly exercise to stabilize the shoulder complex, and two sets of lying rotator cuff exercises. Then I'm ready to get to work.
I might do about 5 sets of standing dumbbell presses, then move on to some standing behind the neck barbell presses, just to go back to standing front presses again. I follow it up with lateral raises until I feel I've had enough, and rear delt raises. Again, nothing fancy or exotic: just basic, heavy, and intense.
What mistakes do most women in the gym make?
Most women just don't train hard enough!
I'm not surprised that's your answer.
Women tend to feel that they "can't do it," and they compare themselves to other women who aren't that strong. You should compare yourself to the elite so you get pushed, not with the average gym rat lady.
I'd say many women are scared to "get ugly" and work their butts off; the need to feel pretty while working out is an inhibiting factor because you're never going to look hot when you squat your max!
Some women also assume they'll bulk up if they train too hard and turn into the Hulk.
That's a personal favorite of mine.
It doesn't matter how often I tell them it won't happen; in their minds, they have these superb genetics light years ahead of regular women that will enable them to become very muscular. But really, it's more of an excuse not to work hard. It's laziness, pure and simple.
Let's change gears. You were involved in the Swedish version of The Biggest Loser. What was that experience like?
It was one of the craziest projects I've ever been involved with. We spent three months in Estonia, living in a castle in the middle of nowhere. I was the trainer, diet coach, and leader for the Swedish team. My protégé, Roy, won the whole show, losing 90 lbs during the time frame! The most amazing transformation I've seen.
How did you accomplish that?
I had these people work out for up to 8 hours a day to produce the incredible results I got out of them. I almost had to watch them like a military officer so they did the work. The biggest challenge was to first win their trust in me, then push them so hard they broke down mentally and physically almost every day AND then keep them motivated for the whole time. It took a lot of energy, but I'd do it again for sure. I actually met with the producers about being on the show [the American version] two years ago, but they chose to go with Jillian again.
So would you consider yourself a "no bullshit, no excuses, kind of woman"?
That's me, in a nutshell. If I'm not happy with a situation, I change it. I'm used to doing a lot more than what is considered the norm in order to achieve my goals. I don't complain if I want something, I just do whatever I need to do to get it. That, or I tell myself to re-evaluate my goals or priorities.
How is life in America different than life in Sweden?
Living here is like living my dream! I'm so thankful I was granted permanent residency. Moving back home would feel like dying. There are many cultural differences, especially in mindset, reasoning, moral values, etc. But that's what makes life here interesting, and it's up to me as the foreigner to go with the flow and not try to make my new home into a little mini Sweden with my Scandinavian traditions and views.
What do you miss about home?
I miss nothing about home... well, sometimes I miss a special brand of frozen veggies I used to buy, but otherwise, nothing. My heart always lived in America. I knew when I was five years old and I found a book about Los Angeles in the family library—there was a picture of the skyline in the sunset. It was so beautiful, I told myself I'd go there.
What do you have to say to people who find it tough to stick to a diet?
I can't stand complaining when it comes to dieting and training. People have to accept that there are rules that must be followed to reach their goals. As long as you are looking for an easier way out, you won't be loyal to your principles. It's all about the mindset. Instead of seeing something as "not being allowed" or "cannot have," you have to tell yourself that you can choose the foods that help you reach your goals and you can choose to avoid the ones that don't. In other words, you have the right to eat whatever crap you want, but if you do, it's just because you are not 100% committed.
You really are a hard ass!
Hey, we choose this lifestyle! Nobody told ME I have to be very lean and disciplined all the time so how could I complain? For me, that's a waste of time. Come on, people are starving in the world and you cannot stick to a healthy diet? Please.
Often men who start lifting are screwed up somehow and they're trying to get rid of some demons. Does that apply to women, too? Or, more importantly, does it apply to you?
Oh yeah, that applies to me. As a woman, I always battle the "want to be muscular, want to be leaner, want to be smaller, want to weigh less, want to fit into size 0." Sometimes when I feel bloated, I get the feeling of having created a monster, like "how did I end up this muscular?" But then I stand side by side with a normal person and I look very small with clothing on.
Come on, it's not like you're big!
No, I'm not big, but over the years I have managed to get pretty dense. My 121 lbs are solid. But some days I get angry because I feel like my body is weird and crazy when it doesn't want to weigh 117. And then when I have good days, when I am tight and pumped and feel proud of what I've accomplished. So it's both sides of the coin. I've managed to build dense, thick, feminine curves without a fat padding on top. I just assume it will take some time for me to accept my "big weight" of 121. So yes, you could say that I have issues — just like everyone else!
You must get a lot of questions about steroids. Have you ever used?
I get this question all the time. People who've never met me, much less had a conversation with me, accuse me of being jacked up. It used to really bug me that I couldn't convince people I was natural until I realized that I'd never win.
What is your opinion of other female competitors taking drugs?
I understand women want fast results. They want to be onstage yesterday, even though they've only been training for six months. But it's just not worth it. Sure, you gain some muscle, leanness and definition fast, but then what? Do you think it will make you win shows? Try training with the right trainer and competing for the right teams and you'll get a better chance of winning.
And what is it with this need to get results so fast? What's the hurry? What about enjoying the process? Where did patience, dedication and discipline go? Don't people want to earn the results nowadays?
So no temptations to use, despite so many other girls around you using?
It's funny, I used to think MY body was a mess because I never lost more than two pounds for a show and it took me months to do that. I would compare myself to obviously chemically enhanced competitors who lost 2 lbs a week for 10 weeks straight and wonder, "Wow, how can they do that?" But I didn't see what happened after the show was over: everyone blew up from abusing thyroid medications and then eating crap for days. I never did that. I never ate like a pig. I never turned to strong meds to get cut. It was never worth it and it never will be. So of course, that put me in the section of people who must be jacked up because I'm always in shape. Ironic, isn't it?
Bottom line is, steroids are just a short cut. For me, fitness is about being as healthy as you can while pursuing a very lean, muscular body. Add the nasty side effects to the mix and steroids just don't fit into the picture.
Although you have a very built body, you've said you don't want to be called a bodybuilder. Why?
Like it or not, in most people's eyes, bodybuilding is synonymous with taking steroids. I don't want to be called a bodybuilder because the drugs involved make me feel less proud of what I do. It's quite sad, but women will come up to me every so often and say, "Wow, I love the way your body looks, you are so muscular. How come you are so pretty? And you sound like a woman!"
God, it's because I AM a woman and I do NOT take drugs.
Many people don't believe you can look feminine and still bodybuild. And whose fault is this? All the female bodybuilders who choose to go overboard just to win a show.
When you can't tell if it's a girl or a dude in a bikini, it's gone way too far!
Works for me. So is there a "type" of guy that you find attractive?
Most men seem to believe that as a weight-training female, I must love male bodybuilders. No, I don't. My ideal man is not someone with an excessive amount of muscle mass. I like the look of male athletes because they're in shape.
If Playboy offered you a million dollars, would you pose naked?
I would never pose naked. I have too much integrity for that. I see no reason why I should show myself 100% naked for the whole world to see. I can see why women do it, but no amount of money will ever make me want to.
Not even for a million dollars?
Money is just money. I've got pride. And being fully naked for public display? That's all about selling sex. I'm not out here to serve as a regular jerk-off object. If people find my pictures sexy, great, that's part of the experience. It's creating art. But being fully naked leaves nothing to the imagination.
That's refreshing to hear; especially considering Nate Green tells me all the time he'd pose nude for a free tank of Premium Unleaded. So what are your business goals?
To keep working on my brand and my company, FIGHTER DIET. It's a lifestyle concept designed for those who want to be lean and mean 365 days of the year. If you want to look like you've stepped straight out of a fitness magazine photo shoot; ripped, cut, and ready to rock and roll, this is the program for you.
Any personal goals?
My drive in life is to inspire people to be all they can be and then some. When I make people feel like they're king of the world because they're able to stay true to their diet and training, I feel like a star! I love that feeling so guess what: I'll keep on doing it!
And I'm sure many people will enjoy watching you do it. Thanks for doing this today Pauline!
It's been my pleasure.
For more information about Pauline Nordin and the Fighter Diet, just go to www.fighterdiet.com