A Body Of Work
Whether people like to admit it, we typecast people in our minds. At 5-feet-4-inches tall and a stage weight of 119 pounds, Krisi Fenner is about to change your perception of what a bodybuilder “should” look like.
Fenner describes herself as an introvert, someone who avoids public speaking and stays out of the spotlight. But this year, she stepped on stage at the Northwest Physique Committee Minnesota Northstar bodybuilding competition and took home first place in her height class. Fenner can deadlift twice her bodyweight.
“I’m 30-years-old and I’m just now getting into the best shape of my life,” Fenner said.
Fenner doesn’t consider herself a natural born athlete. She didn’t play sports in high school or while studying accounting at Bemidji State University. It wasn’t until after college she started her true fitness journey.
Fenner said she gained at least 20 pounds her freshman year of college so she picked up running to get into shape.
“I wouldn’t say by any means I was ‘overweight’ but I had the muffin top and I was always hiking up my jeans,” Fenner confessed.
Running led Fenner to half marathons and long-distance running. Eventually, she tried lifting weights at the gym one day.
“I fell in love with lifting and out of love with running,” Fenner said. “I was never comfortable in my skin until I started lifting.”
Fenner said it took almost a full two years to get ready for competing and used to the idea of standing on stage in a sparkly suit in front of hundreds and sometimes thousands of people assessing her appearance. Through the years, Fenner found it takes a lot of mental, physical and emotional strength to get where she is today. And she’s not stopping any time soon.
“When you hear bodybuilder and you think of a big, beastly woman. There are different levels of muscle mass and I compete in the smallest,” Fenner said.
Fenner upped the ante when she entered a Tough Mudder obstacle run with her brother Zach Jackson and friend Abbey Olson two years ago. While preparing for Tough Mudder, Krisi’s husband, Kurt, introduced her to weightlifting. Standing next to 6-foot-2-inch Kurt, Krisi looks petite. In a sweater and jeans, Krisi doesn’t “look” like a bodybuilder.
Fenner said women don’t naturally produce enough testosterone to get bulky. She encourages women to start anywhere they are comfortable and keep increasing weight to build muscle, which creates the toned physique women strive to attain.
“So many women are afraid to get off the treadmill or the elliptical,” Fenner said. “You won’t wake up one day and accidentally look like a man from lifting heavy.”
As Krisi got more involved in lifting she started following fitness competitors on Instagram with an end goal to be in competitions herself. Now, Fenner has just under 10,000 Instagram followers (@kfen_fit) and has started KFennerFitness.com, a fitness blog.
Fenner recommends people interested in beginning their own fitness journey check out BodyBuilding.com for free resources and advice; the site also has an app. Fenner started following Ashley Horner, who Fenner calls “a mom and all around bad ass,” on BodyBuilding.com. Fenner later bought her program, which helped Fenner get her start.
In 2014, a year after she started lifting, Fenner noticed a 6-pack forming, her shoulders started “popping,” and veins and lean lines in her legs began to show. Now, Fenner keeps her physique by heading to Snap Fitness where she meets her “prep manager,” a.k.a. her cousin Ellie Lindsey, for weekday morning workouts.
“She keeps me motivated, texts me throughout the day and has given endless support,” Fenner said.
A typical workout lasts two hours and Fenner only does cardio for 15-20 minutes three times a week. At the height of competition training Krisi has a 250 pound max squat, 265 pound dead lift and can bench press 125 pounds.
“I’m not a weak girl,” Krisi said. “Most of us in bikini are strong, we work hard in the gym.”
Fenner credits her mother, Dawn Jackson, with setting an active lifestyle example for her and her 10 younger siblings. Jackson is a certified Zumba instructor.
“My mom is an example of mom’s that made it work,” Fenner said. “She really set the example for me. Everyone in my life has been so supportive. I’m so lucky and so blessed.”
Fenner competes in the bikini division, the smallest muscle mass group. Contrary to what outsiders may believe, it’s more than watching women in bikini’s and high heels prance across a stage with pageant ready hair, make-up and smiles.
“We’re judged on physique, presence and an athletic yet feminine balance,” Fenner said. “I have a physique made for bikini. It would take a lot of time and effort to go up in divisions.”
Krisi’s first show was Sept. 1 in Rochester where she competed in the regional National Physique Committee (NPC) Med City Muscle Classic in the novice and open height class categories. Fenner won novice overall, took first place novice in her height class and second place in the open category. Krisi said although it is a competition, contestants support and praise each other.
“There’s no mean girl intentions or diva attitudes,” Fenner said.
No longer a novice, Fenner was a contestant in the NPC Minnesota Northstar on Oct. 10 in Burnsville, where she took first place in her height class. More than 60 women competed in bikini division.
“I took first-place in my height class in open which was a huge accomplishment,” Fenner said. “Since I won that open height class, that qualifies me to compete at a national level.”
Fenner is in an off-season now, but is looking at competing in May or June. If she wins her height class at nationals, Fenner will qualify for a pro-card and can advance to the International Federation of Bodybuilders.
On stage Krisi wears a “posing suit,” basically a glitzy bikini paired with 4-inch clear heels. Fenner said NPC standard for bottoms is 50 percent glute coverage.
“It’s clean and family oriented,” Kurt said. “Some women are mothers, dancers and other sports athletes. And it’s both men and women.”
“It’s never too early and never too late to start,” Krisi said.
Competition bikinis are usually custom ordered, but Krisi said they can be off the rack as long as they meet standards. Krisi’s sparkle arsenal includes a cranberry and a dark green posing suit from this past season.
“I’m not a glamorous girl in anyway,” Krisi said. “This is way out of my comfort zone.”
Krisi is content competing in bikini division and doesn’t envision herself getting any larger in size. Annually, Krisi will not take on more than four shows because of dieting, training, time commitment and cost.
“It’s not a cheap sport,” Krisi said.
In addition to wardrobe, hotel and travel expenses, a high quality spray tan is essential to Krisi’s competition look. She said multiple layers of professional spray tan emphasize muscle definition while on stage. To accommodate Krisi’s bronzing, Kurt packs extra sheets and towels for hotel stays.
“They’ll charge you for getting spray tan on the linens!” Krisi said.
Fenner’s fitness fuel
To get ready for Krisi’s prep-season, she consults her coach Lacy Stace. Stace owns Stace Athletics in Columbus, Ohio.
“My coach always puts my long-term health first, so there’s no extreme starving out to lose fat at the last week before competition or anything like that,” Fenner said.
Part of Krisi’s prep-season discipline is food, where her love of numbers transcends from her day job as an accountant to the labor she puts into building her physique. Krisi goes by a “If It Fits Your Macros” equation factoring in proteins, fats and carbs to determine how much she can eat every day. Krisi said she weighs everything and most foods have a barcode that can be scanned with her My Fitness Pal app.
“Once you log food into My Fitness Pal it will remember it so I don’t have to scan my food every single day,” Krisi said. “It’s not as hard as it sounds.”
She never goes below 1,200 calories but has no restrictions. Krisi tries to stick to clean food and drinks a gallon of water a day.
“There are days I completely fall off the wagon and eat all of Kurt’s Halloween candy…I am not perfect by any means,” Krisi said. “The main thing is you get up the next day and don’t wait for Monday to restart and you don’t give up. Consistency wins out over perfection.”
“I make sure she’s eaten before ordering pizza,” Kurt said. “I see her up at 4:30 a.m. and into the gym by 5. That’s hard work.”
Kurt said he’s been learning a lot as Krisi goes through competitions. He preps a lot of Krisi’s meals and helps her pack for competitions. Most of her diet is chicken.
“Kurt has prepared more chicken for me and been there through every ‘hangry’ mood swing,” Krisi said.
“That’s a real word, ‘hangry,’” Kurt confirmed. Hangry is a combination of hungry and angry.
Krisi said her diet changes during prep-season, which is usually 12-16 weeks long, and off-season to adjust her metabolism slowly. Off-season is like reverse dieting to put the weight back on safely.
Krisi said when she is competition ready she is just under 9 percent body fat, but she sits comfortably at 125 pounds.
“That isn’t healthy to maintain long term. You get down to that weight for the competition and then you put the healthy weight back on,” Fenner explained. “It’s all about balance and moderation. This sport can be done safely and in a healthy way. Being shredded year round just isn’t a reasonable expectation.”
Krisi’s advice is to throw out the scale and take pictures to measure progress. As fat is converted to muscle, weight can increase but inches will decrease.
On Krisi’s “free day,” the last day of a competition, or post-competition day, she indulges in a peanut butter bacon cheeseburger with cheese curds, french fries and her mom’s monster cookies.
“Believe me, when they’re done with a competition, everyone wants a cheeseburger,” Kurt said.
Fenners’ free time
When Krisi’s not competing, she and Kurt knockaround Bemidji going on day dates to Menards and relax with their “dog child,” Zoe, a 6-year-old German Wirehaired Pointer.
Date nights changed when Krisi started training for competitions. What used to be an evening out to Green Mill or Applebee’s has changed to cooking dinner at home, watching TV and eating frozen yogurt. Krisi is a huge fan of Kemps fat free frozen yogurt and Cherry Berry. Her secret goal is to be a Cherry Berry sponsored athlete one day.
“Going out to eat at a restaurant doesn’t really happen anymore,” Kurt said. “And if we do, she has her food in her purse in a Tupperware bowl.”
The couple still goes out for dinner and waitstaff is usually surprised by a request to microwave one of Krisi’s chicken or broccoli dishes. She even brings her own fat free creamer to coffee shops, just in case.
Another thing that changed was the way Krisi looks at trophies. When she and Kurt moved in together Kurt had a hunting trophy room loaded with about 30 mounted animals, but not for long. Krisi “suggested” Kurt’s trophies move to the basement…which is where Krisi’s competition trophies are kept as well, for now.
Krisi and Kurt are active members in their hometown of Bemidji. Krisi is a Certified Public Accountant and an accounting coordinator for Bemidji Schools. Kurt is a real estate agent with Grimes Realty. Krisi said one day she may take on personal training or attain a nutritionist certification.
“I’m an introvert, terrified of crowds…but confidence builds courage,” Krisi said. “Right now I don’t see an end to bodybuilding, it’s a lifestyle for me now.”
Krisi Fenner was featured in the Winter 2016 issue of inMagazine.