Jenny Bailey grew up in Pennsylvania, before her family moved to Corydon when she was 13 years old. She is a 1998 graduate of Wayne Community High School, and an Iowa State University graduate in finance. She now lives in Norwalk, with her seven-year-old daughter, Faith, and five-year-old son, Eli. She works at Bankers Trust as a commercial portfolio manager.
“It’s a very traditional, conservative working environment,” Bailey said. “I wear a business suit every day. That’s the culture of banking.”
For her coworkers, regarding her other, less conservative job as a female weightlifter, Bailey said, “It’s very surprising to some folks. There’s been a lot of questions about it, trying to understand the sport—because I’m a professional athlete. There’s a lot of pleasant inquisition about it. The typical response is that they’re intrigued, they’re inspired.
“They have an expectation that I work out hours upon hours each day, and that I’m always deprived, but that’s hardly the case. You can have a lot more calories than anyone would expect.”
Bailey ran track at Wayne. She started as a sprinter in junior high, and in high school she ran mostly 800-meters. She was also involved in cheerleading.
“I’ve always been into fitness, but more of a runner, lifting to stay toned,” Bailey said.
Last year, a friend, Kolby Jones, encouraged her to run less and lift more, using heavier weights, and she started doing just that in March of 2013. She followed a workout plan of weight lifting four days a week, and running once a week.
“I tweaked my diet, added more protein, and I couldn’t believe how great I felt after four weeks, how lean I was, and how better I looked overall. [Jones] told me that my body responded very well to that, and that I should start competing. I told him, ‘No way!’”
She went to a couple of weightlifting competitions to find out what it was all about, and still did not believe she would ever strut across a stage in front of judges and an audience in anything other than a business suit.
“One thing led to another, and I was introduced to a coach who really fit my personality,” Bailey said. “Very hands off, high level, was willing to adapt to me, given my constraints as a single parent working fulltime.”
Bailey began a structured program with her coach—Kandee Bishop of Guns N Poses—last December, and was pleased with the results.
“I signed up for the May show at her urging.”
There are three divisions of female competition—bikini, figure and bodybuilding, which involves muscle size. She signed up for bikini weightlifting, because it was the easiest in terms of developing muscle mass.
“It’s an all-day event,” Bailey said. “You go and have pre-judging in the morning.”
Results are based on leanness, presentation and overall balance of muscle. Classes are determined by height. It was a regional event, with people from all over the midwest competing.
In the May show at Hoyt Sherman Place in downtown Des Moines, Bailey ranked in the top six in both of her divisions.
“I was nervous as heck. The original goal was to put myself in a situation I was not comfortable with and push my boundaries as an individual.
“When you’re up on the stage, you can’t see the audience or the judges very well. It [feels] very unnatural—you’re in heels and a bikini, and you have to hold these poses in order to accentuate your muscles and your physique. I certainly don’t walk that way every day in my office. It was a little awkward for me, at the May show. At the June show, it didn’t affect me at all. I was totally in my element in June.”
In June, at the Urbandale Performing Arts Center, she finished first in her class in the midwest, and finished as the overall champion out of all those who competed. In so doing, she won her pro card, which means she can now compete in professional competitions.
“[My kids] think it’s cool. They really wanted to go to the June show. They were probably cheering the loudest, along with my mother at the June competition.
“Sometimes my kids will actually get up and work out with me on the weekends. It’s a way of life at our house—being healthy.
“Lifting weights, you can really just lose the world. You have to focus on what you’re doing—to have proper form, there’s a rhythm to each exercise, and timing. For me, it forces your mind to shut off everything. I have done all kinds of workouts, and I have not found any others that do that.
“You can work out in a lot less time and get a lot more calorie burn—you get more bang for your buck. What you can do in 45 minutes of lifting versus 45 minutes of running—it’s night and day. That’s another thing. As a parent with kiddos, I can work out in the basement while they’re sleeping, while I couldn’t go for a run because they’re too young. It affords me more time to actually work out.
“It also cleaned up my nutrition—clean eating and clean kitchen. I use natural supplements. The key is an all-natural protein powder—there’s a lot of junk out there that have a lot of extra ingredients for filler.”
Bailey prefers products from Isagenix.
One thing Bailey is aware of is the misconception of female bodybuilders as less than feminine, or not beautiful. But Bailey sets a different definition of beautiful for herself and for the people around her.
“Beautiful is being the best version of yourself,” Bailey said. “I truly believe that’s a God-given gift, and sometimes we just need help finding what our best version is—that He made us to be the best versions of ourselves. What eating well and bodybuilding does, it helps you get the best version of your physical self. Along with that, more importantly, you get the best version of your mental self. If you feel good, it’s just a trickle-down effect. It affects your family, it affects your friends. That’s being beautiful, in my mind, being the best that you can be [as an example] for others.
“I think, women especially, we live in a society that has the ‘picture perfect’ woman displayed everywhere. Her hair is done, here makeup’s done, they get airbrushed, she looks great. Having gone through this, I’m more realistic. The only person you need to compare yourself to is who you were yesterday.
“With bodybuilding and eating well, you have so much control over that. You have energy, you feel good, you keep seeing a better and better version of yourself. It’s mind over body, but [mind and body] go hand-in-hand. When you take control of your body, and see the results, that’s just going to give you confidence.
“Pushing yourself outside of your limits, you’ll find pieces of yourself you didn’t know were there. That’s what you do when you push yourself in a physical challenge, or any challenge.
“You can conquer new things at your day job, and approach other challenges in your life with confidence.”
Bailey drinks a gallon-and-a half of water per day; she says muscles need that to repair after exertion. Clean protein is also important—chicken, turkey, egg whites and Greek yogurt. She eats clean, limiting anything artificial or processed.
“Every time you [eat processed food], that’s taxing to your liver. It takes away from your body being able to focus on its cellular level.”
When she drinks caffeine, it’s from natural sources such as coffee, as opposed to sugary drinks such as soda pop.
“[Coffee] is a natural stimulant, it’s really good for your metabolism.”
She also eats every four hours, six times a day, instead of the three meals a day everyone learns to consume as children.
“Your body is meant to act like a car. You have to put fuel in your car. If you’re not feeding your body continually, it goes into starvation mode. If you feed it regularly, it uses the food as it should, instead of storing it. 25 percent of your diet should be fat, but it should be healthy fat—avocado, nuts, natural peanut butter, coconut oil and fish. Carbohydrates are equally important to building muscle. Avoid processed carbs. Your best carbs are sweet potatoes and whole grain brown rice. And fruits, of course—berries, citrus, bananas and apples. Leafy veggies, colorful veggies are important. You need your multivitamins, you need your omegas to help your joints.
“What’s also important, you’ve got to have a couple ‘cheat’ meals a week, or a cheat day, because that’s important for your metabolism. It shakes things up, and refuels your body. It’s a really good practice.
“Eighty percent of what a person looks like is nutrition. The outreach to me has been unexpected. Being able to help others with meal planning.”
Bailey plans to take a year off to prepare for competition next spring. She is leaning toward continuing as an amateur in one league of competition, with the goal of winning her pro card in that arena, rather than beginning professional competition in the other league. She knows how to pace herself.
Bailey is also aware of the stereotypes associated with weightlifters.
“There are stereotypes for a reason. Unfortunately there is some [vanity] in this sport. But I would say the majority of the people are not like that. Everyone is unique in this sport. People usually come from one of two backgrounds. There are goal-driven people that like to focus on something and challenge themselves.
“[The other group] may have had a lot of challenges in their lives, and made a lot of mistakes. Having been in trouble in the past, this has helped them turn their lives around with a healthy focus. Giving them confidence in who they are, and help them find the best version of themselves. They can see that they can do positive things. Whether that discipline has come from goal-oriented folks, and/or people with a challenging past, this is a way to do something positive with their lives.”
Jenny’s parents are Joan and ‘Bungo’ Bailey of Corydon. She is the oldest of four children, with younger brothers Charlie, Paul and George. Charlie is also a weightlifter, so the two can compare notes. He and his wife attended Jenny’s competitions.
“He was really proud of me,” Bailey said. “He was impressed I was able to do it as a single parent. He knew that getting up on a stage in a bikini and heels was the last thing I wanted to do.
“If I can do it, anyone can do it. Anybody can be healthy, and make healthy choices.”