Jen Widerstrom came to fitness early in life—very early. As a child she would listen to her father talk about how he met and was motivated by some of bodybuilding’s iconic athletes, from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Franco ­Columbu. “He had all these amazing photos of bodybuilders on the walls of our basement,” she recalls. “We would lift together and I would get inspired myself.”

Widerstrom discovered her own love of activity as she got older, taking part in gymnastics, diving, and eventually becoming a Division I hammer thrower at the University of Kansas. After graduating she decided to make fitness her full-time job and headed to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams of being a personal trainer and fitness model. I realized how powerful it could be to help others take responsibility for their own health and well-being, she recalls.

During a photo shoot, Widerstrom caught the eye of a casting agent for American Gladiators and joined the show in the second season as the gladiator Phoenix. It was an amazing experience, doing all the crazy games and competing with the contestants and other cast members, she says. After her run on the show was over, she rededicated herself to building a career as a trainer, and expanded her own workout base to include boxing, Pilates, and CrossFit, along with ­traditional bodybuilding.

Her reputation in the industry grew, and earlier this year she was approached by NBC’s The Biggest Loser to fill the shoes of founding trainer Jillian Michaels. I’ve always been a big fan of the show; I love how it connects everyone to the same principle of living out our best lives, she says. Widerstrom is someone the audience can very much relate to. I’m just a regular chick from Chicago, she says, and the only real difference between myself and the contestants is that I have learned how to better manage my emotions.

Unlike her predecessor, who had a tough-love approach to training, Widerstrom aims to help both her team and the audience find new ways to feel great. There is never a workout on the show that we don’t smile over and celebrate at the end, she notes.

And even if you don’t have 50 or 100 extra pounds to lose, her advice about training remains the same. It’s all about consistency: So many times I see people who start and stop their fitness routine, over and over again. It’s difficult emotionally and takes away the momentum of moving toward your goals.

Widerstrom asks all her clients to move dynamically, with intention (a process she calls brain training). We look for a progression that they can feel, experience, and share, she explains. Her own favorite workouts include a mix of interval training and plyometrics combined with isometrics.

Just as Widerstrom has become a mentor to millions through The Biggest Loser, she has her own powerful supporter in her corner—none other than Schwarzenegger himself, whom she met through the fitness industry. Arnold is an amazing role model, she says. It’s so important to have support. Having him believe in me makes me want to be my best. He is a standard-bearer in the world of fitness, and I want to do everything I can to pass my knowledge and encouragement on to others.

Clearly she’s well on her way. But her plans don’t stop with TV. I want to always keep my own momentum going. My purpose is not just to be a trainer on The Biggest Loser but also to be ‘Trainer Jen.’ If I can instill in others the idea that it’s possible to achieve greatness no matter where you’re starting from, then I have succeeded.

Photo Credit: Per Bernal