Maximize your strength training routine by cutting out these time wasters.Read article
Like a lot of professional athletes, reigning TNA Knockouts champion Gail Kim knows a lot about nutrition and working out. She spent most of the past 15 years as a professional wrestler eating the plain chicken breasts and sweet potatoes bodybuilders love to hate and doing the same types of repetitive workouts. But now that she’s married to the fittest professional chef on TV, she allows herself indulgent cheat meals and has switched up her workout routine. Kim has combined her passions for lifting, wrestling, eating, and living life and has never been busier or happier.
Kim met her future husband, professional chef Robert Irvine, on the set of his show, Dinner: Impossible. I assumed he must have wooed her with a romantic home-cooked meal, but Kim laughs and says, “No, our first meal together was egg whites and dry toast!” Although incredibly fit for a chef, Irvine was working out only three days a week and eating whatever he wanted. On the flip side, Kim was working out seven days a week and eating a very restrictive diet. “We now have a middle ground. I enjoy dessert from time to time and my husband is in the gym five times a week. Even during the filming of his show, he gets his crew together at 6 a.m. to work out before they shoot.” Plenty of bodybuilders complain about their significant other not understanding the lifestyle, but love means compromise—and these two have it down pat.
She’s a big believer in a low-carb, high-protein diet. “I‘m the “double-meat girl,” says Kim. “I get two portions of chicken on salads. I try to double up veggies, but I’m a carnivore at heart— I always have been. I have a huge appetite.”
Kim keeps a diet that’s 99% dairy-free and mostly alcohol-free except for the occasional glass of wine. “I don’t eat pasta, rice, cream sauces, ranch dressing. I never had a taste for them because I grew up on Korean food, which is spicy. But I love Sriracha and put it on everything!”
While she doesn’t measure grams of protein, she has some with every meal, often having egg whites and tomato slices on rye toast for breakfast, which satisfies her craving for bread, and making her own egg salad with four egg whites, a whole egg, hummus, and Sriracha for lunch. And her favorite cheat meal? A burger, fries, and dessert, specifically her husband’s bread pudding with Tabasco ice cream, which she can’t resist. Like most people, she craves more carbs in winter, so she tends to eat more cheat meals (and do more cardio) around the holidays.
However, she’s only home to make her own food about five days a month. The rest of the time Kim travels with TNA Impact Wrestling or flies to visit her husband on the set of one of his shows. “It’s hard eating on the road,” she says. “Even when you ask for no butter, they don’t listen. I ask for sauce and dressing on the side. If they have sweet potato, I’ll get that. Those are just a few of my tricks.” Carting along a cooler of chicken breasts is not practical when you go from city to city, so her biggest advice for eating clean while traveling is to visit a local grocery store as soon as you arrive and pick up food for the next day. You get healthier options and you know the ingredients.
“A lot of people ask me what I do, and when I say I’m a pro wrestler they say I’m too small,” says the 5'4", 120-pound Kim. “It’s the most common thing I hear.” She first learned how to lift weights in a high school gym class. Like many young and eager athletes, she overtrained, then got burned out. Although athletic all her life, she stopped playing sports in college and gained weight, so she hired a trainer to teach her how to lift and eat properly. Because Kim does nothing halfway, she’d wake up at 4 a.m., train for 2½ hours, go to her kinesiology and nutrition classes, then come back to the gym in the afternoon. “I’m a physical being. I love that feeling of doing something strong and powerful. I still weight train every day except if I’m really tired. Then I’ll just do light cardio at night.”
Kim trains one body part a day and her routine varies week to week due to her unpredictable wrestling schedule. Sometimes she wrestles five times a month, sometimes 15. She constantly alters her routine and incorporates new exercises. “I learned a little in school, but training methods always change. I still read a lot of physiology journals and I have access to some of the best trainers out there,” Kim says. And, for the record, when she and Irvine are home together and hit the gym, she leads the workouts!
Biceps are the only body part where Kim has some nagging wrestling injuries, which sometimes means she takes two months of training them. But she normally trains biceps and triceps together, doing four sets of four exercises, 15 reps for each. The first set is always a light one to get the blood flowing, so she doesn’t count that one. She also warms up with about 20 minutes of light cardio or else walks to the gym. Sometimes she does all biceps exercises first, sometimes triceps, or sometimes she alternates between the two.
She does a lot of presses and a lot of supersets on shoulder day. Dumbbells, machines, barbells—Kim uses them all. “Shoulders are the one body part that no matter how hard I train them, I never get sore,” she says, which explains the killer workout. She begins with four sets of front raises with dumbbells, which she’ll often superset with side laterals. She typically starts with front delts, then side, then rear, doing four sets of four exercises, 15 reps each. Kim finishes of with upright rows using the rope attachment on the cables, then does one more set of front raises with the same rope.
Deadlifts and hyperextensions are staples of her back routine due to the lower back strength needed for wrestling. She trains abs with lower back because of the strong connection between the two. The often-overused term “core” comprises the group of muscles in the hips, abs, and lower back, but it’s critical for balance and strength when wrestling. The most important muscles in the lower back— the spinal erectors—are the biggest muscles used during the deadlift.
On hyperextensions, Kim notes that you don’t actually want to go too much past a neutral spine because you can compress the vertebrae. She often holds a 10-pound plate when doing her three sets of 15.
Kim focuses a lot of attention on legs because functional leg strength is critical for her during high-risk maneuvers. She starts on the leg extension, doing 25 reps with light weight then increasing the weight as she works up to five sets of 15. She does the same on the leg curl, warming up with 25 reps then moving on to five sets of 15. Kim chooses each week between standing, seated, or lying curls. Sometimes she does as few as 6-8 reps.
She also does leg presses every workout, but her method is not for the faint of heart. Kim says, “Once a month I’ll go with a medium-to-light weight for 100 reps. I’ll start with a few plates then remove them as I go up in reps. If I need to stop, I wait and breathe but I never lock out my knees or totally rest.” She finishes of her leg workout with glutes. “Due to my Asian genetics, my weak part is glutes. I’ll add three exercises for glutes at the end of my leg or back workout. Sometimes I use an app on my smartphone that has different routines or I’ll burn them out doing step-ups, kickbacks, squats, single-leg deadlift,” she says.
“Women who wrestle have to look a certain way, but have to also be physically strong,” Kim emphasizes. “I’ve worked with girls in the past who were naturally strong, but they were also more prone to injury. You have to be in tune with your body.”
Though she either wrestles or lifts weights every day, Kim takes good care of her body. She counts a broken collarbone as her only serious injury. She wears knee supports on leg day and works around nagging biceps injuries. When she’s home she gets adjusted by her chiropractor. “Early in my wrestling career I never did things regularly like massage. Now I have a Massage Envy membership so I can go get one done in different cities. I go twice a month, but I always ask for their strongest masseuse!”
Before TNA started its women’s division, the Knockouts, Kim felt her career stagnating. Her passion for wrestling was so low that she considered leaving the business. At her lowest point, one of her male colleagues told her, “You’re talented and wrestling is the name of the sport, so hang in there.” As fate would have it, TNA called and reignited her passion for wrestling by starting its now immensely popular Knockouts division. According to Kim, “When I see someone who wants to pursue wrestling, once they take a few bumps you know whether they’ll stick around. I prefer to wrestle women because we just move differently.”
Kim is a huge advocate of the Knockouts division, and admires her fellow women wrestlers. “I work with a lot of feminine but strong women—women who can do it all. Two girls on our roster came back within 10 weeks of giving birth. Now that’s a strong woman. I can’t even imagine that.”
Kim will have her limits tested as she prepares for TNA Wrestling’s Bound for Glory Pay-Per-View live from Korakeun Hall in Tokyo, Japan, on October 12. The annual event is being held overseas for the first time. I asked if she was excited about going to Tokyo and wrestling overseas and—ever the hardcore wrestler—Kim tells me, “As long as I keep my title, it should be exciting!” FLEX