Meet Jennifer Van Barneveld
President: Strong Fitness Magazine, Team Strong Girls
Jennifer van Barneveld is a fitness powerhouse. Not only is she Coach JVB, but the female entrepreneur and mother is also president of Strong Fitness magazine and Team Strong Girls. We spoke to Jennifer about her journey and evolution and her advice on fitness, particularly for busy moms out there.
Thanks for chatting with us, Jennifer, for those who don’t know you, can you tell everyone a little about yourself.
Yeah, of course. So I’ve been a body transformation coach for over 15 years now. I started the movement Team Strong Girls. We'll get into that a little bit later. I help women transform their bodies and minds using fitness as a vessel because I believe that fitness can really pour down into all aspects of our lives. I'll get into that a little bit more when I talk about my story. I help women to just come out of their shells. We always celebrate with a fitness photoshoot, which is always exciting.
Last year, I became the President of Strong Fitness Magazine. So that's been really exciting. I've been in this role for a year now. And I'm also a mom of two little boys, one who is six and one who is two. They're just the light of my world. They're back to school right now, so things are a little bit crazy, but it's been good.
How did you get started with fitness, and what challenges did you have to overcome along the way?
I started at a young age. I became a personal trainer at the age of 18. I started working in our local gym while I was going to university. That's really when I started getting involved in the fitness industry. I had a lot of trainers that were helping me and giving me advice, and a lot of them were in the competition world. So looking back now, I know I was getting a lot of really aggressive advice. I was trying numerous things like cutting out carbs and doing a lot of cardio like double day cardio, and I started becoming a little bit obsessed about my own body in the way that it was changing. I did actually develop an eating disorder at one point.
I remember specifically one time I was training a client and I ended up passing out on the gym floor. And at that point, that was like my aha moment. It was my wake-up call because I knew I wasn't healthy. I felt like a total fraud because I was actually preaching health and fitness and eating right and taking care of my body, and I was probably the unhealthiest person there. I was overdoing cardio, I wasn't eating enough, I was eating probably around 800 calories a day. So when that happened, they had to call an ambulance. It was like, “If I keep this up, I'm not going to be alive much longer.” I knew that. That's sort of when I sought help.
What happened after you decided it was time to change?
I went back to school for holistic nutrition, which was a blessing because it really taught me how to fuel my body properly. It taught me how to not be afraid of food, and why I should be eating all different food groups. I shouldn't be cutting out carbs. That's also when I began to train smarter and not harder, I began to lift weights to get stronger. Instead of doing all the cardio, I was doing it just to lose a few pounds on the scale. It wasn't just in a couple of weeks, it was years.
I call this finding my strong. And at this point, when I found my strong, I didn't want any other woman to feel the way that I had felt about myself. That's when I started Team Strong Girls. I just wanted to empower women with fitness and stop talking about weight loss, getting on the scale, and trying to lose pounds. I wanted to actually make a change. That's when Teen Strong Girls was born and here we are today.
Tell us more about Team Strong Girls. How many women have gone through the program? What's it like? What's it like for a beginner?
We have had thousands of women that have gone through the program. I initially started with just eight women. It was my boot camp class. I offered them a transformation program to get stronger and feel their best. Then after 12 weeks, we ended up doing a little photoshoot.
My husband used one of his old cameras that he had. We got some lighting, and we really made it a special day for them. I just wanted to capture their “before and after” and just show them how far they've come. But that day, there was just so much more than that. The women that did this little photoshoot were just beaming. They just lit up.
They couldn't believe what they’d achieved. It was just such a powerful thing. I thought...I want to do this for everybody. So that's sort of how what we do really stands apart. We always celebrate with a photo shoot at the end. We’ll do whatever photo shoot that you want to do, but we always celebrate your journey.
Where do you begin with your clients who might be new to fitness?
So of course, we start off very slow, it's not like you're doing this photo shoot right away. When you come in the door it's just about really listening to what they want to achieve. Most of the women that come in are moms, and they want to feel good. They want to have energy, and they want to look into the future and know that they're going to be there for their children and be thriving and have energy for them. A lot of them come in the door and they do want to lean out a little bit. They've gained a little bit of weight and that's okay. We don't really focus on that.
But that's one of the main reasons why people come in the door. We start with their nutrition and with training and where they currently are. It's a very personalized approach. It's not really about the program, it's really about the coaching.
What would you like women to know about that beginning? Because usually, the first step is the hardest to make. What advice do you have about getting over that intimidation and maybe getting more motivation? What's your advice for newbies?
Just start. I know that might sound a little cliche, but every action step that you take lie big things behind it. Don't expect everything to go perfect because it's not going to. I tell all my clients this is a journey. One of my favorite quotes is; the journey is the reward. They don't really get it until their sort of past some of the obstacles that they’ve faced. But we're all supposed to get over the obstacles because that's really our teaching along the way.
I meet with a lot of women that come in, and they’re very type-A personalities. They say... “I want to do this. I want to get there. Just tell me the quickest thing that I need to do to get there as fast as possible.” So it's almost like pulling them back a little bit and telling them that it's not going to be perfect.
One of my favorite things is; correct and continue, and not dwell on a slip-up. If you know, your child's sick, and you can get your workout in or you completely fell off plan… It doesn't matter. Correct and continue, and move on. Because the more you correct and continue, the more you're going to get to your result in the end.
Are there special considerations or special challenges that moms face on the fitness journey?
Yes, absolutely. It’s usually time. When I was in the fitness industry way before becoming a mom, I used to have all the time in the world. I used to go to the gym and just work out, and then I would sit in a sauna just like them before becoming a mom. So it's definitely about time. As a mom, you never really have downtime.
Especially if you're working long hours there's really no downtime even on the weekends. you can get crazy, especially if you have young kids. So in my opinion, you have to train for that. You have to keep your body and your mind at an optimal level to perform because you're taking on a lot. So I’m very aware of mom's schedules, especially if you're a working mom.
I don't ever prescribe a workout any longer than an hour. It's usually between that 30 to the 40-minute mark. We're also eating foods that the entire family can enjoy. So you're not eating separately from your family. It's a program that can really be integrated into your life.
Of course, any change takes a little bit of extra time because it's new. But as soon as you start the food prop and start to get those workouts in and realize that you're feeling so good, you're going to keep it up. You're going to start to realize that you're having more energy, you're having better sleep. And these are things that you need to do for yourself when you're a mom.
You mentioned the idea of cardio heavy workouts, and then integrating more strength training. How do you describe your coaching and your workout regime?
I'm a big believer in strength training first. So whenever I prescribe a program or do my own program, I always have strength training as the main point. So I typically will strength train four times a week for 30 to 40 minutes, and then I’ll do some cardiovascular work like heading outside. I don't love cardio machines. I don't know who does. I think they're sort of a big waste of time.
But I like heading out for a walk or doing 12 minutes of HIT (high-intensity training) to get a lot out of those in the least amount of time. Usually, my programs are around weight training four times a week, followed by some cardio a couple of times a week, and then active rest days. So getting outside with your kids doing something fun is a good cardio exercise.
Do you still encounter some resistance to that, particularly with clients that are motivated to lose weight? Maybe they say, “I don't want to bulk up. I want to lose weight. I need cardio heavy workouts.”
Sometimes people will still say that. My team and I do a very good job of setting the tone before someone works for us. So all of our social posts are very much information about why weight training is actually better for weight loss.
When you weight train, you're gaining lean muscle, and the more lean muscle that you're gaining, the more fat is naturally burning on your body all the time. It's also really a case-by-case basis because if somebody that is over 250 pounds hasn't really worked out before, then we would get them doing some cardio just to get the blood flowing and that sort of thing. But we really always want to move towards weight training, because that's really where you're going to see the most results. You're going to see your body tighten up the most.
What is your approach to the nutritional component? And what supplements do you like to work into your routine and also that of your clients?
Food is always first in my book. So we always work with the food first. If somebody is coming into our world and wanting to lose some weight, we will do a caloric deficit, but not an extreme one. So I'm figuring that a caloric deficit is either around 10 to 12 times their body weight, we always get them to follow the nutrition protocol for two weeks, and then they're checking in with their coach. So we can get their biofeedback and see how they're responding. I'm a big believer in whole foods.
About 80 to 90% of your diet is whole foods. We believe in all food groups. So carbs, good fats, and protein, of course. Most people are under-eating protein. So as soon as we raise that macronutrient, they do feel full, even though they're on a caloric deficit, because they’re are not eating all that whole food.
But the diet is always composed of a very even split of protein, carbs, and fats, which are mostly whole foods. Then we have a lifestyle approach. So they have a couple of free meals per week that they can use on their families. Anything that they want that they're craving. We usually say to save it for a family get-together, barbecue, or wedding.
But like I said before, our plan is whole food-based, so the entire family can enjoy it. It's not just shakes, or food that you have to buy from somewhere else. It's food that you're preparing for yourself that's a whole food that your entire family can enjoy.
For supplements, I keep it pretty lean. I love a good protein powder because most people are under-eating protein. So it's a really good supplement to have as a convenience item, especially after a workout. You're going to get roughly 20 to 30 grams of protein there that's drinkable and easy. When you're starting off on a plan, you're not used to eating a lot of protein. I love omega 3’s. It's my secret weapon for healthy hair, nails, and skin. It's also very good for brain health.
So it keeps your moods at a good level. Then you just eating and getting brain nutrients. I always do vitamin D in the wintertime. I'll usually do either a multivitamin, or I get my levels checked like my blood work done. They work with a natural path. My physician will let me know whatever I’m lacking and add a little bit more in supplementation. I do suggest that my clients do the same, especially if they're feeling really fatigued and there are other issues going on. I always get them to have some blood work done. So we can help supplement them from there.
Is there a common mistake that you see often with clients in terms of nutrition, or maybe a belief system and an approach to food that you just wish that everyone could learn and just stop doing?
Yes, that's like the no-carbs diet. We really need carbs for fuel. I see a lot of people doing very low-carb diets. Then they're also trying very high-fat diets, and they don't really have any reason behind it other than fat loss. In my opinion… can you see yourself eating this way for the rest of your life? If you can't, why are you doing it now? There are special cases, where if you're working with a natural path and if you have a food sensitivity, or if there's something else going on, you have to do something like that just to discover what's going on.
But people just saying, “I'm going to cut out carbs because it's a really quick way to lose weight” And it can because it does put you in that caloric deficit. If you’re going to commit to this for the rest of your life, that’s fine. But if you're not, and you start eating carbs again, you're going to blow up. You're not going to feel good. You're basically going to rebound. I wish the no-carb thing would go away. Especially if your weight training, you need the energy.
Can you talk a little bit about the emotional side of maybe your fitness journey? In particular, the pressure to be in shape? Social media, comparing ourselves. Constantly seeing fitness inspiration that makes us maybe not feel so good? What do you tell clients about getting over all that stuff in your head tied to fitness?
Social media does not help this at all. One of the things I often see is that when somebody starts on my fitness journey, it's just a natural thing to start looking up fitness things. You'll probably Google something we all know. If we're scrolling on Instagram, we're going to see these fitness people, or we're just more aware of it. What I often see is, a woman comes, they start their fitness journey with me, it's a couple of weeks in, and they're newbies. They just started and then they're looking at a fitness person's body on Instagram. And they ask “when am I going to get there?”
When they look at this person, it makes them feel horrible because they feel good. They feel like they’re losing a little bit, or they’re getting some energy back. But then when they see this person, it just makes them feel really crappy. They’re comparing themselves to somebody that has been in the game for 15 to 20 years. You don’t know how many years they've been training for. Also, you don't know what they're doing. They don't know how many hours they're putting in, or what kind of lifestyle they live. You're just seeing that image.
The worst thing you can do is compare yourself to someone else's journey. Take that seriously. Stop scrolling. If you like following certain people because they make you feel good and they give you that motivation, and you love learning from them, then make a note and go on to their pages and read their stuff. But if anybody makes you feel like crap, then stop going on their page and stop following them, and stop scrolling.
Just give yourself that amount of time if you want to interact with people, but stay in your own lane and concentrate on your own journey and take it day by day. I always like to say, action beats anxiety. So if you're taking the action steps, that's going to hopefully make you feel good to continue on. Get off the scrolling train.
You have so much going on. I can only imagine that there's probably more in the works. So what are your goals for the future?
At Strong Fitness Magazine, we have strong camps running. Obviously, we had to take a break last year. That was actually going to be our biggest year. We had about 16 camps running across the US and Canada. But they're back on now, which is amazing. I really hope to be able to travel and get out there. As you know, travel restrictions are still a little crazy right now. But my hope is that we keep growing this camp, and one day have a huge camp with thousands of people with speakers, making it really interactive, like a physical side, like a mind-body entire weekend.
I've already thought of the name Strong Games. We would have a CrossFit part of it. And we would have different speakers to join us. So that's something I really want to do. We're sort of putting the work together now, but we'll see if we can do that in a few years.
You mentioned the fitness photoshoots. Is that part of everyone's coaching on the journey that they take and to track their progress?
Not everybody has to do a photo shoot because when you're starting your journey with us, thinking of doing a photoshoot could be really overwhelming at that point. But I always just say, put it on the back burner. That opportunity is always there for you. Usually, most of the girls want to do a photo shoot because they either see one of their friends do one or, that's really what brought them into our world in the first place.
Seeing another image of somebody else that did our program. So it really is a celebration of the journey. It can be done around the six-month mark. It's usually around this point after working with a strong growth coach, where we'll ask you if you want to do something like this.
Most of the time, they all say yes at that point, because they feel so good. They feel confident, they've seen the changes in their body, but not only that, they're confident with their food choices. They love the lifestyle, and they just feel good, and they want to celebrate themselves. So at that point, we’ll book them a photo shoot, and then celebrate together. It’s fantastic.
I've been there crying because women have seen themselves, and they didn't know that they could ever look like this. So many moms, you know, you’re a mom, right? After you have kids, you sort of lose a little bit of yourself. Maybe that sexy side or the confidence dwindles a little bit because you're putting so much into your kids all day long and you forget about yourself.
We have a lot of moms that come in, and they do it for themselves. When they see themselves in the camera that day, it's just very emotional. It's pretty awesome. They're just so proud. They leave with thousands of images that they're showing their kids and their family.
What is something that would surprise us to learn about you?
That's a good question. I'll talk about something that we're doing right now. We've decided that we're moving to Florida. I can’t believe I'm saying this out loud. Our family's all here. But my husband's always wanted to move to the States.
I think after COVID and all the challenges that went with it, I finally just said, let's do it. So we’re in the process of getting our E1 Visa right now and seeing where that goes. I know it could take up to a year, but I’m fine surrendering and just taking this adventure with him. We have two kids and it's crazy that we're going to just get up and move. But you know, we've talked to our families about it, and they're going to come and visit and we're always going to come back for the holidays. I'm really excited about this new adventure. It's another opportunity to grow strong camps as well.
It sounds very exhilarating. It's probably very scary. There's so much to do.
Yes, super scary for me. And I love my family. And I think any change is scary. But we're going to do it.
That’s great Jennifer. So what is your favorite cheat day food, if you do a cheat day?
I'm a very balanced person. I don't really measure my food that much or make sure I hit my protein requirements at the end of the day. I really have a flexible approach and that's really my goal with all of my clients to get them to a point. Obviously, we have to do structure first, especially if they do want to lose weight and then learn how to maintain it. So you're not always deprived or counting or measuring your food. You don't want to do that.
If I’m dialing it in for a photo shoot, and I have a free meal day, I would have to choose. My family had a restaurant. It was a Dutch and Indonesian restaurant and I grew up on Indonesian food, and I love it so much. So we have this noodle dish called bakmi which is sauteed noodles with vegetables, and chicken with peanut sauce and a fried egg on top. Also, chicken satay would be like egg rolls with peanut sauce on top. That would be my cheat day meal.
That sounds amazing. You even picked something that sounds pretty healthy. It had vegetables in there too.
But I love tacos and Mexican food. And I do love pizza too. My family has pizza at least once a week.
Nice. I need to counter that. Do you have a food you're just super passionate about and love? Something that’s very healthy as well that you can recommend we try.
I love avocado. I put avocado in my protein shakes all day long. In between my sons, and I'm very open about this. I had two miscarriages in between my sons. I knew when I had those miscarriages, I knew that there was probably something else going on. So that's when I started getting my hormone levels checked. I started working with a naturopath. I started eating more high-fat foods. It helped me and I was eating an avocado every day. I still put it in my protein shakes to make it almost like a milkshake. But putting high-fat foods and keeping them in your diet can really help with hormone levels, balancing, and sleep.
Thank you for sharing that. Because I think so many women out here have experienced miscarriage and infertility issues. And so, you being open about it can help so much. That's something with diet and especially high-fat foods that aren’t often talked about.
It wasn't just that obviously. Other stuff, too. But it made me really look at my nutrition. Being a nutritionist, and thinking of eating, while I was actually looking at my diet, I was actually not eating enough fat. So that's when I started using good quality MCT oil and avocado, my omegas and even good healthy saturated fats like grass-fed beef and that sort of thing.
Once I started doing that, I started to feel better and saw my hair and my nails improve. So I really did feel the difference after adding more good fats into my nutrition protocol. If you don't know how to do it, I would definitely get a nutritionist to help you add that in, because you could go a little bit overboard, and then find yourself that you're either on a plateau or gaining weight you don't want. It definitely helped a lot when I started adding in more healthy fats.
Where can people find you and follow you online?
I have a website. It's CoachJVB.com. And then on my Instagram, it's coach_JVB. You can also find it @teamstronggirls and then @strongfitnessmag. We also have strongfitnessmag.com as well if you want to go to that. You got the bases covered there.