Bullz-Eye interview with Lena Johannesen, IFBB fitness pro and model
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Lena Johannesen was born a Capricorn on January 2, 1971. "The Nordic Knockout," as she is called, has excelled in sports for most of her life. Progressing from learning how to swim at the age of five, Lena has become a world-famous fitness competitor and model. The following interview allows us to get a little personal with her to find out where she's been and where she plans to go.
Q: Lena, they call you the "Nordic Knockout." Besides the obvious, having been born in Oslo, Norway and being a "bombshell," how did you get the name?
A: I got the nickname just a few weeks after I moved to LA. I did an interview with Muscle & Fitness Magazine and the writer actually came up with the name. But, I didn't knock him out though -- at least not physically.
Q: You began to swim competitively at the young age of nine and went on to join the national team in a short period of time. With all the success you had swimming, why did you stop at age 16?
A: I did pretty good nationally as a swimmer. I swam for seven years total. The last few years when I reached the top level it became more and more training (as in any other top sport). I swam every day of the week and usually twice on Saturday and Sunday. Every vacation we spent in some camp swimming twice daily for a total of 10,000 - 12,000 meters per day! So, I guess it just took a toll on me. I got bored and tired of the same thing over and over, and was at an age where other interests got my focus…like boys. I just didn't stop working out, because I loved that it was a big part of my life. The very next day after quitting swimming I joined a gym in my hometown. I guess I just felt like being my own coach and working out when I felt like it. I didn't like the feeling of having to be there at a specific time, and usually there was no excuse good enough to NOT show up for practice. I wanted to be independent.
Q: When you stopped swimming, how did your parents react after seeing their daughter do so well?
A: My parents never pushed me to do anything. My mom couldn't even swim (and still can't), so that's pretty funny! My parents have always been supportive in what I do, and the fact that I joined a gym was very much in there interest. My mom and dad were training at the same gym. My mom used to be a personal trainer, and worked at a gym for some years. She even competed in a few bodybuilding shows in the early eighties. Both my mom and dad still work out today. They're up at 4:am and hit the gym at 5:am, 4 times a week.
Q: I have a five-year-old daughter who is in Karate and has a strong interest in the sport. What advice would you give me to help her along without pushing too far?
A: You say you have a five year old into Karate. How cool is that? I think that you should just support her and give her good advice. If she loves it she will continue. If she feels pressure she will either quit or be unhappy. Just let her grow and develop at her own pace. You can teach her small stuff and show that you are interested in what she is doing. You can take her to practice if she needs a ride, etc. But, don't ever push her to go if she doesn't feel like it.
Q: You talk about the importance of family. You have written with pride about your parents and grandparents being together for so long. Do you credit your parents with a lot of your success?
A: Yes, I'm very happy that my parents and grandparents are still together. Sadly, there are too many marriages that fail, or maybe we "quit the fight" more easily in our time? We tend to get too caught up in the "spinning world" and its demands on us. We're so focused on success and careers that we end up putting family second. I think you have to work as much to make your relationship a success as you do your job. Why not put MORE effort into something we might even love?
Q: You stopped swimming at 16. When did you get interested in weight training?
A: I started weight training at age 16, so it's been my love for about half my lifetime. I got my love for the sport looking up to my mom and seeing her compete and work out in the gym. We also had some weight training when I was a swimmer. I've always admired the beautiful toned bodies since I was a little girl. I remember I read Muscle & Fitness Magazines long before I even got started. Later on I looked in the magazines and thought, "I can do that. I kind of have the same physique as the other women in there." And here I am 15 years later meeting with the same women I saw in the magazines. I'm in some of these same magazines almost every month. I've even made some covers. That's pretty amazing when I stop and think about it.
Q: Many of the fitness competitors I talk to have a bodybuilding background. Have you ever competed in a bodybuilding contest?
A: Yes, when I started working out back in Norway there were no fitness contests to enter. So, I loved to have a goal to compete and I entered my first body- building show in 1991. I got second place in the Norwegian Championships, and won the "best poser" award! I was thrilled! I did two more shows in 1994 which got me a second place in the NABBA European show and fifth in the NABBA World Championships. That was my last show. Even though I did great and could have made it far in bodybuilding, I wasn't happy with the progress of the sport. I wanted to look feminine, athletic and sexy, not huge, masculine and scary. So I quit. But the good thing was fitness was getting more attention in Scandinavia and it was an easy choice for me to switch over. I never regretted it for a second.
Q: Since turning pro I know you've competed many times and have done very well. I've had the pleasure of seeing you compete a few times and you always look fantastic. What do you consider to be your best accomplishment competitively?
A: Even though I've won other contests, third place at the Fitness Olympia is my best accomplishment.
Q: Competing in fitness events takes an incredible amount of sacrifice. Do you have a social life?
A: Competing at the professional level takes up a huge amount of time, and your social life suffers. You can't go out eating crap or partying. Most athletes stick to themselves and their mate pre-contest. That was also a part I was missing which I do have a LOT more of now. I enjoy more "normal" things and enjoy what life has to offer.
Q: How many days a week do you train?
A: Pre-contest I train twice daily. Off-season is more like once per day with even a day or two off.
Q: Do you do weight training and cardio?
A: Yes, I do both. I do less weight training now, but cardio about everyday. I weight train about three times per week.
Q: How important is diet for a fitness competitor?
A: Diet is at least 80%, or even more. There is no way you can win a show with some "flab" on your hips. I usually start a strict diet three months out from a show.
Q: What advice can you give our readers to help bring out their abs?
A: Everyone has abs; it's just how to be able to see them. It's all about diet! You can work your butt off, but if you don't stick to a strict diet and add more cardio, you'll never be able to see them.
Q: What do you like most about being a fitness competitor/model?
A: I like that I can make a living of something healthy and that I can be a role model for other women (and men).
Q: What do you like the least?
A: I don't like that people are being taken advantage of, and not being paid for their hard work. I don't like some of the politics of the sport.
Q: What are your plans as far as competition is concerned?
A: I will be on stage a year from now competing in the new form of fitness contest -- Fitness Figure! In the meantime, I will do modeling work and probably get into personal training. I'm also looking for a sponsorship.
Q: OK, now we're going to switch speeds and find out some basic things men need to know. What type of man turns you on the most?
A: A man that is athletically built. Not necessarily BIG, but lean and shapely. I fall for a "cute" look rather than a "bad boy look." He needs to have some of the same interests as me, and show some interest in what I'm doing. He needs to have humor, be playful, caring and HONEST. And of course he has to adore me, "hee- hee"…all women like to feel special, right?
Q: What type of man turns you on off?
A: Unhealthy guys turn me off. I don't like smokers. I don't like too big of an ego guy (me-me-me). I hate dishonesty, cheaters, negativity, and I never had a thing for tattoos all over -- I guess that's something to do with the cute guy look.
Q: What is the best way a man can approach you to ensure interest?
A: A good start is to have something clever to say when you first open your mouth. I like that guys talk to me because they want to get to know ME, not for who I am or how I look.
Q: What is the number one philosophy you live by?
A: If you don't try, you never know!
Favorite car: Newest Corvette
Favorite food: Jambalaya Pasta with good garlic bread.
Favorite Color: Purple, red, Earth tones.
Lena, thanks so much for the interview. It's been a pleasure.
No problem Mike. Good luck with everything.
To see and learn more about Lena, check out her website at www.lenajohannesen.com.
Lena is starting to take on more personal training clients and is also looking for a new sponsor. Those interested can contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.