An Interview With Nia Shanks

I’ve mentioned before that in the fitness industry women get barraged with crappy, misguided information.  Whether it be awful dietary and nutrition advice or training programs based on walking and kegels, it can be tough to find “experts” that actually preach solid information to women.

 Enter Nia Shanks.

In my incredibly professional opinion (and it should be yours too after reading this), Nia has one of the strongest, most intelligent and unapologetic voices in the industry when it comes to leading women towards stronger, leaner and healthier bodies.

A champion of simplicity in both nutrition and training, Nia encourages women to work hard, lift heavy, and eat smart (which includes having a cheeseburger if you want it) and with a monstrous #315 deadlift at only 120 pounds of body weight, Nia walks the walk.

From writing kickin’ programs like “Fat Loss Detour” and her newest one “Beautiful Badass” to writing a regular blog, Nia is doing all she can to give women the tools they need to be strong, lean and feel sexy.

Time to listen up, Nia’s got the floor.

 Hi Nia!  Thanks for taking the time to do this interview.  I’m excited to have you on the blog and I know my readers will enjoy hearing what you have to say.

Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about how you got into the training business.

First off – thank you for the very kind introduction, and thanks for doing the interview. I love spreading the word to women about the truth of lifting weights and eating smart, and how simple it truly is to build the body you want.

 Thankfully I grew up with very active parents. From a very young age I got involved in sports and other physical activities – basketball, softball, martial arts, roller blading (I’m talking about going off ramps, grinding rails, jumping flights of stairs, etc; not just skating in a straight line).

 Around the age of 14 or so, I started lifting weights because of my Mom. She was the first female personal trainer in our town and she introduced me to the weight room; I never turned back. Naturally I gravitated towards training others too.

 I later went on to get my bachelor of science in exercise physiology at the University of Louisville. Actually, I first went to U of L to major in justice administration; but my love for training others and learning more about the human body eventually led me to switch my major.

The fitness industry thanks you for switching majors!

 (By the way, although I sucked, I used to be a bit of an inline street skater also.  I idolized guys like Ryan Jacklone and Arlo Eisenberg.)

I lived and breathed aggressive skating for a few years. I had homemade ramps, rails, boxes, and other fun toys. My only regret is not getting some of that crazy stuff on video!

You are a bit of an outlier in the fitness industry.  You tell women to lift heavy, train hard, and to quit counting calories (which is all very refreshing by the way.)  Were you always an advocate of women training this way, or did you evolve out of the typical “let’s do 2 sets of 45 reps with a 5 pound dumbbell” training methodology?

Ha ha. No I never was an advocate of the “baby weights for high reps” philosophy.

Because of my personality and how I’ve always approached athletic endeavors, I always pushed myself in the gym, or in whatever physical activity I was involved in at the time. I constantly wanted to improve my performance and see what I was capable of achieving. Adding weight to the bar was a main priority for sure.

I think people often miss the importance of that simple element-adding weight to the bar.  Using the same weights for years doesn’t get anybody anywhere.

That’s why I’m always a little amused (and saddened) when I go back to the gym I started training. I’ll see the same people who have been there for years, and they look exactly the same. Many of them do the exact same workout, same weights, same reps, etc. And they wonder why they don’t look or feel any different.

 Who would you put your money on in an arm wrestling match, Tony Gentilcore or Bret Contreras?

Ah hell. I really don’t want to answer that one! I absolutely love and respect both of those guys and wouldn’t want to pick one over the other.

In all honesty, I would just sit back and watch the show and not root for one guy over the other. It would be damn entertaining for sure!

Way to go all PC and not choose sides…just like Switzerland.  I was hoping this would lead to an epic arm-wrestling-off between the two of them.

Nope. Not gonna happen! I love those guys way too much to choose sides.

I will say that Tony and I have an unscheduled deadlift-off that will take place some day. Who do you think will win that one?   ; )

*All right buddy, don’t screw this up.  It appears that the interviewee has become the interviewer.  She’s flipped the script.  Classic Nia.  On one hand, Nia’s crazy-awesome, not to mention she’s a guest here, and it would only be polite to choose her.  On the other hand, if I pick Tony, then maybe I’ll finally get that hug I keep asking him for.  She’s put you in a quite the pickle Miguel.  Hmmm….what to do?…what to do?……think…THINK!!……wait, THAT’S IT!!*

 Oh, sorry Nia, I gotta go.  My mom’s calling me for dinner……

 OK, I’m back.  Now what were we talking about?  Oh yeah, I was asking you a question.  When it comes to gaining lean muscle and/or dropping some body fat, where do you think most people go wrong?


That is definitely the area where most people struggle, and I know this from personal experience and through my work with clients.

It’s a lot easier to motivate yourself to hit the gym consistently, but for people who are constantly surrounded by heavily processed foods, sweets, and other not-so-good food choices, it can become a problem.

For example, I know a lot of individuals who work in an office where someone is always bringing in cookies, candy, or baked goods. These people feel pressured to take part in eating because if they don’t, people make fun of them and make them feel awkward. This is a story I’ve heard dozens of times.

My general advice – stop giving a shit about what other people think and do what makes you happy.

In the example above, stop eating treats just because everyone else is doing it. You don’t have to say “I’m on a diet” or “I’m cutting down” or anything like that. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for your actions. Eventually they’ll stop giving you crap, and if they don’t, it’s because they are jealous of your ability to stick to your guns and achieve your goals.

Unfortunately, many people will root for you to fail to reach your health and body composition goals because it will make them feel better about their lack of trying, or their own failures. It’s a sad but true fact.

My other advice – adopt simple nutrition principles that you can follow for a life time. I promise; it’s a lot easier than you think.

I’ve always found it amazing at how negative people can people about others making healthy decisions.  What are some of those “simple nutrition principles” you mentioned that you give your clients?

Eat primarily whole, natural food. If it doesn’t rot or spoil, then it’s not real food.  (Note from MG: it’s amazing how profound that last statement is to a lot of people.)

Eat when you’re hungry, and don’t eat when you’re not. Now those last two guidelines definitely take some time to get used to, but it’s worth it. Too many people eat by a clock – they think it’s mandatory to eat lunch just because it’s noon, or breakfast because they just woke up.

Other than that, allow yourself to enjoy the occasional treat or other foods that don’t fit the “natural food” description. For example, if you get invited over to watch a game or hang out with friends, you can eat some pizza and ice cream. Eat it, enjoy it, and the move on. Don’t beat yourself up over eating “cheat food.”

Speaking of “cheat meals” and what not, I really don’t like or recommend them for most people. I go into detail on this in The Dark Side of Cheat Days. I much prefer people eat the foods they really want when they really want them – not because it’s scheduled.

But like I always say – people need to do what works best for them. Some people do really well with cheat days and still get great results. I personally don’t recommend them, but to each his own. If it works for you, then go for it.

 You recently came out with a new program “Beautiful Badass”, how does this program differ from your previous program, “Fat Loss Detour”?

One of the main differences is the FLD is a 16 week program that focuses specifically on fat loss (through an unconventional method, hence the term detour). Beautiful Badass, on the other hand, contains 16 different programs that allow you to focus on getting stronger, losing fat, or whatever goal you have.

Beyond that, Beautiful Badass is a simple, no nonsense guide to building a better body. It’s all about keeping things simple – from training to nutrition.

FLD is definitely simple to follow as well, but you need access to more equipment such as a bench, dumbbells, cable machine, etc. For Beautiful Badass all you need is your bodyweight and a barbell.

I am very proud of both products because I know they work (as long as people actually do what’s instructed and don’t change things!). The interesting thing about Beautiful Badass is that’s it has turned into an awesome movement that encourages women to lift heavy weights and discover their inner “badass”. For examples the readers can check out an ongoing series here, here, and here.

 From talking with you and reading your blog it’s obvious that you’re someone who knows how to get results in a safe and intelligent way.  However, there are a lot of trainers out there who have no idea what they’re doing, or how to get a client any closer to their goals than the client could do on their own.  What are a few things someone thinking about training with someone could look for in a trainer to ensure they’re not just going to wind up hiring a glorified rep-counter?

First I recommend observing a training you are considering working with. Watch how they talk to their clients and the exercises they have them perform. If the client is performing mostly dumbbell, barbell, and bodyweight exercises, that’s a good sign.

Does the trainer provide coaching cues and correct his/her client’s form?

Is the trainer taking the client through a total body workout? Bodybuilding split? Does the majority of the training consist of big, compound exercises?

Do not be misled – just because a trainer has a certification doesn’t mean they have a damn clue what they’re doing or how to train someone. I have seen dozens of trainers with multiple certifications take clients through dangerous and stupid workouts.

And on the other hand, I have seen trainers with no certifications or formal education do amazing work with clients.

Personal training is not a strictly regulated field, and so practically anyone can become a trainer overnight. Just be very cautious to whom you give your hard earned money.

Great advice.  Too often people think that a trainer knows what they’re doing simply because they call themselves a trainer.

Yep. I know what you mean. I can’t count how many people I have seen hire a “trainer” only to end up injured or looking exactly the same after spending hundreds of dollars.

Alright, lastly, a little random word association.  No thinking, just type the first word that comes into your head:

-Deadlifts: awesome

-Greek Yogurt: moooo

-Sprint Intervals: badass

-Bosu Ball: face palm

-Jersey Shore: inebriated 

-Jillian Michaels: FAIL

Nice answers!

Awesome stuff Nia.  Thanks a ton for stopping by, sharing your awesomeness with us and for fighting the good fight for women everywhere!

To read more from Nia check out her blog at  (Go do it now!) And be sure to share Nia with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.


3 thoughts on “An Interview With Nia Shanks

  1. Pingback: To Dog Food, Or Not To Dog Food? « Michael Gray

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