Name: Janae Marie Kroc (Kroczaleski)
Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan
What does being a Girl Gone Strong mean to you?
It’s about empowering women to pursue their passions (even if goes against what society may deem appropriate for women) and deconstructing the absurd ideas that somehow strength (both physically and psychologically) and muscle are things that are contradictory to femininity and should be reserved for only men.
You describe yourself as “nonbinary” and “genderfluid.” Can you explain what this means to you, for folks who may be new to those terms?
Non-binary means that I exist outside the rigid binary boundaries of the male and female genders. While I do identify as a woman and exist legally as one, my gender identity just isn’t that simple. Figuring this out was extremely frustrating and took many years in large part because I never assumed there were any other options, and I had to pick either male or female and be defined by society’s definitions of those labels.
Genderfluid means there is a degree of fluidity to my gender and that it changes. For me my gender presentation and expression may change based just on how I feel that day or by whom I interact with and the situation. This was also something that took me a long time to understand. It was very frustrating for me, and I couldn’t figure out why I just couldn’t feel comfortable all the time by picking a single gender and adhering to society’s idea of how that gender should act to be accepted by others.
How long have you been strength training, and how did you get started?
Strength training was just something I was immediately drawn to as a young child. I remember seeing someone big and strong when I was very young and just being blown away. I immediately thought “Wow, that’s how I want to be!”
At nine years old I made my first set of homemade weights out of milk jugs filled with sand loaded onto a bent bar I found in the woods and constructed my first bench by laying a long 2”x12” board over two cinder blocks. Every year for Christmas I would beg my parents for a weight set. In fourth grade I received dumbbells and trained religiously with them for a year. The following Christmas I received my first real bench, with barbells and dumbbells. I have been training consistently ever since.
You intentionally lost a lot of muscle after you came out as trans, and then just as intentionally put some back on. Can you tell us about your thought process as you experienced this, as it relates to our expectations of femininity and muscles on women?
Initially, I fell prey to the same societal pressures that many women do concerning body image and what is socially acceptable. I just assumed that if I was going to be a woman I had to live up to this unrealistic ideal of what media and society says a woman should be. I initially planned to lose more than half my bodyweight and had planned to go from 272 pounds of muscle at 5’9” all the way down to 135 pounds.
Initially I dropped weight like crazy, losing 40 pounds in the first month and 72 pounds in the first several months getting all the way down to 200 pounds, a weight I had not seen in almost 20 years. At this point I found myself getting very frustrated and confused. On one hand, I liked that I was blending in much easier in public and being able to wear new outfits that I felt I never could have pulled off before felt amazing, but at the same time I was really missing the heavy training. I hated losing so much strength, and the prolonged dieting was making me miserable. I was obsessing over food more than I ever had, even when I was competing in bodybuilding. The entire situation was making me very unhappy.
I put the weight loss on hold for about the next six months and then after much soul searching just decided to do whatever made me happy without worrying about what anyone else might think about it or what it meant concerning my gender identity. One thing that helped me tremendously was getting to know many of the women in the strength training world much better. As I became closer with them, I realized so many of them struggled with the same issues I did, namely wanting to get bigger and stronger but feeling pressured that this somehow was contradictory to our femininity. Realizing I wasn’t alone in this struggle was huge for me and helped validate my feelings.
I resumed training hard and heavy, increased my calories and just focused on what felt right to me. Over a period of six months my weight climbed all the way back up to 254 pounds, and I was beginning to get a bit “fluffy.” I switched gears and focused on leaning up without losing muscle mass. I brought my weight back down to around 230 pounds, and I feel pretty good there. It fluctuates some, and I’ve been as light as 217 and as heavy as 237, but in that general neighborhood is where I seem to feel best.
I try to let how I feel and can perform in the gym or on my mountain bike dictate my weight more so than how my body looks.
I find that if I make how my body looks my top priority I will always find some way I could look better and this results in excessive dieting and unhappiness.
What does your typical workout look like?
In the gym I still follow a program that is centered around the three basic powerlifting movements, but with additional days for the remainder of my body and increased overall training volume. A typical chest day for me would start with bench pressing, often for something likes five sets of five reps, followed by inclines for sets of ten, maybe a little dumbbell work, and then often pushups or dips with body weight until failure. Leg day would start with heavy squats, followed by Bulgarian split squats or lunges, sometimes front squats, with a couple hamstring movements and calves.
I mostly stick to basic compound movements with lower rep ranges (1-5) and then higher (10-20 reps) for my assistance movements. I program my training in cyclic four-week waves with increasing intensity for three weeks followed by a fourth week with increased rep ranges and volume but decreased load intensity. Each successive monthly wave is heavier than the preceding month for a 16-week period. After I complete those 16 weeks, I will reassess and start a new training cycle. This keeps me both growing and getting stronger while preventing overtraining and psychological burnout.
Depends on the day but squats, bench presses, and deadlifts are still hard to beat — especially when you’re making progress. Few things feel better than hitting a PR in any of those.
Most memorable PR:
Pulling a 40-pound deadlift PR to move from fourth to first at the WPO Arnold Classic qualifier in 2005. The lift was the single hardest deadlift I have ever pulled and likely took a full ten seconds for me to grind to completion. I actually felt my right acromioclavicular joint separate half way through the lift but kept pulling for all I was worth.
My PR going into the meet was 716 pounds, and after my second attempt I told my handler I was good for 733 maybe 738, if I absolutely needed it. My training partners did the math and came back and told me that I needed 755 for the win. I told them to put it on the bar and I would make it happen. I knew my lockout was strong and that if I could just get the bar to my knees I could complete it, and that was all I focused on as I tried to rip the bar from the floor.
When I locked the bar out the place went nuts! My training partner ran out on stage and lifted me in the air. It was a surreal moment like something out of a movie exactly how you always dream about winning a big meet, but what really makes this something I will never forget is that my handlers actually miscalculated how much weight I needed to win, and I still ended up getting second. Everyone was afraid to tell me at first, but when I found out I wasn’t mad at all. I knew I never would have pulled that weight if I hadn’t believed it was for the win, and we all had a good laugh about it.
How has estrogen therapy affected your lifting?
The difference estrogen makes in regard to gaining muscle and losing body fat is undeniably huge. It was almost two years ago when I stopped testosterone and started estrogen and my strength immediately plummeted. Every week I was losing ridiculous amounts of strength, sometimes 20 to 40 pounds in a single week. I would load the bar with the same weight I had used the week before only to find out there was no way I was going to be able to complete the desired number of reps, it was crazy. Fortunately after a couple of months the strength loss leveled off, but the effect was dramatic.
Estrogen therapy also had the same type of effect in regard to gaining body fat. I was eating like I was prepping for a bodybuilding show and still having an incredibly difficult time staying lean. We had titrated my estrogen dose up quite high (8mg per day) to hopefully achieve more breast growth but at that level the increased body fat was too much for me so we backed it down to 4mg per day, which still puts my blood levels in a normal female range and allows me maintain a reasonable level of body fat without feeling like I am starving every day.
I think the most interesting thing to note that is prior to stopping testosterone and starting estrogen I was among the strongest men in the world for my body weight. After almost two years on estrogen and without testosterone my strength levels now are very similar to the strongest women in the world at my body weight.
Top 5 songs on your training playlist:
For training I still prefer the fast, heavy stuff that really gets me in the right place mentally especially when a big squat or dead is scheduled. Bands like Korn, Marilyn Manson, Ministry, Rammstein, old-school Metallica, and Disturbed often populate my training mixes, but I have a wide range in music taste including EDM, dubstep, alternative, classic rock, punk, and even the cheesy pop and hip hop stuff too. I also find songs with a theme about fighting against the established norm to be motivational.
Some of the stuff you’ll find on my current training play list includes:
- Take Me Down by Genevieve
- Bad Reputation by Joan Jett
- Gucci Coochie by Die Antwoord
- Fear by Disturbed (my favorite pre-deadlift psyche up song)
- Clown by Korn
- The Reflecting God by Marilyn Manson
Top 3 things you must have at the gym or in your gym bag:
Powerlifting belt, knee wraps, chalk.
Do you prefer to train alone or with others? Why?
All depends on the training day and what my goals are at the time. I have been fortunate to have a lot of amazing training partners over the years who are still some of my best friends to this day. The camaraderie that is built by sharing experiences under a heavily loaded bar lasts a lifetime and as a competitive powerlifter no one reaches the top alone. However, some of my most intense and focused training sessions occurred when I trained alone and would just go deep inside my own mind, facing and overcoming my own doubts and fears.
Most embarrassing gym moment:
OMG, I can’t believe I’m going to share this in a public interview but I will, because I know I’m not alone. I had “an accident” as I strained with everything I had during my third attempt deadlift at a meet. I left the platform and headed straight to the restroom hoping no one else noticed! To be honest, over the years, that has happened numerous times in the gym under heavy squats and deadlifts and while embarrassing, that’s what can happen when you push your body to its limits.
Most memorable compliment you’ve received lately:
Recently, it would be the numerous compliments I have received from other women about my body and how they admire what I’m doing. It feels really good to know that they support me, because my biggest fear when I came out was the ladies of the strength training world would feel I didn’t belong and would see me as an imposter. The reality has been that I have been welcomed with open arms, and the support I have received has been overwhelming. I have made so many new and amazing sisters in strength training that alone has been worth all of the sacrifices I have made.
Most recent compliment you gave someone else:
I try to make it a point that whenever I think something positive about another woman I share it with her. Just yesterday I told a woman for whom I have a lot of respect in the strength training world how much she amazes me and how I admire her. She is a multi-sport athlete and her incredible strength, amazing physique, and especially her awesome attitude epitomizes what a Girl Gone Strong is.
For an everyday normal meal, as boring as it sounds, I eat a lot of plain old chicken or steak and rice seasoned with garlic and various spices. My boys actually beg me to make this all the time. Cheat meal would have to be pizza and ice cream.
Favorite way to treat yourself:
A relaxing but also adventure-filled vacation to somewhere tropical accompanied by a close friend or partner. I am way overdue for one of these.
“In order to achieve what others cannot, I must be willing to sacrifice what they will not.”
He, She, and It by Marge Piercy. This is a great sci-fi novel that also examines gender roles and stereotypes.
What inspires and motivates you?
To be better than I was yesterday, to help others who for one reason or another have always felt like they didn’t belong, and more than anything, to lead by example for my three amazing sons.
What do you do?
I am licensed pharmacist by trade, but I am also involved in activism including writing and speaking about gender and sexuality. I am currently working on an autobiography and in the final stages of completing a documentary about my life, titled Transformer, which will air in the fall.
I definitely keep busy, but my hobbies include muscle cars (I own a ’67 Camaro that I have dubbed the “Krocmaro” that has its own Instagram page), mountain biking (planning a trip to Whistler in British Colombia this summer), and makeup (I love YouTube tutorials and the transformative power makeup can have).
I love hiking and biking with my three sons and this summer we are planning a trip to Yellowstone for the first time, which we are all very excited about! I love the outdoors and especially water. I have always felt drawn to water, and whether it’s a river, lake, or ocean it doesn’t matter to me. I am also an adrenaline junkie (hence my love for fast cars) and have been skydiving, rappelling, and plan to start racing two of my cars this year.
Describe a typical day in your life:
Due to recent unexpected developments, I am currently attempting to leave the 9-to-5 world and pursue activism full time, so my days have changed a lot and also vary greatly from day to day depending on whether or not I’m traveling.
A typical day while at home usually looks something like this:
7 a.m. — Morning cardio. Typical activities include sprints at the track, running stairs, or biking.
8 a.m. — Breakfast, most often oatmeal with a piece of fruit, almond milk, and protein powder.
8:30–11:30 a.m. — Check and respond to important emails, work on articles, interviews, or other writing projects. I also still write training programs and diets for clients.
12 p.m. — Lunch. I typically have a shake around 10am or so and lunch around noon. Lunch most often consists of standard bodybuilder fare like chicken and rice, lean red meat and a salad, or sometimes fish for a different protein and sweet potatoes for a different carb source.
12:30–3:30 p.m. — If I don’t have a local speaking engagement or meeting to attend, then I am most often again working on some form of writing or work on my computer.
4 p.m. — Gym training session. Right now I train with weights in the gym five to six days per week, and I try to get in two to three rides on my mountain bike per week if both the weather and my travel schedule permit it. I am lucky enough to have a full training facility in my basement so I can train at any time day or night. Depending on the day’s schedule I sometimes train first thing in the morning or even late at night, but in the afternoon prior to dinner is more common during the week while in the morning prior to breakfast is more common on the weekends.
6 p.m. — Dinner. I always consume a large intra-training shake consisting of cyclic dextrin and hydrolyzed casein but still eat my largest meal immediately after training. This is most often lean red meat with a complex carb source like rice or potatoes.
7 p.m.-Midnight — I am a morning person and prefer to do my work early with the hope of relaxing a bit in the evening, but my evenings are still often filled with Skype conferences and working on projects I wasn’t able to complete during the day. Still, I try to finish every day by having a last meal usually watching Netflix while snuggling with my kitten, Dawkins, on the couch. It’s a perfect way to unwind before going to bed.
Your next training goal:
Now I am just focused on being a better all-around athlete. I am in my mid-forties and I have begrudgingly accepted that my days of my absolute best athletic performance are behind me. This has not been easy to accept, and I will always be a competitor at heart but now I want to maintain as much strength as I can, be in good enough cardiovascular shape to do all of things I want to (hiking, mountain biking etc.), and maintain good overall health.
For what are you most grateful?
Without a doubt I am most grateful for my three amazing sons. The bond of unconditional love that we share is something I never could have imagined, and their support throughout everything has been absolutely amazing.
Of what life accomplishment do you feel most proud?
While setting the all-time world record in powerlifting was the number one goal of mine for many years, and hugely satisfying, I have to say I am much more proud of being open and honest about whom I am in the face of immense pressure to do the opposite. Every time I receive an email or message from someone stating that my being honest about who I am has helped them, I am reminded how important visibility is for the transgender/gender non-conforming communities (and anyone who feels different in their own way), and how you can save someone’s life without ever having met them. I have said since I first made the decision to be honest about everything, that if my being out can help prevent just one suicide or stop one parent from rejecting their child, then any sacrifice I have to make is more than worth it.
Which three words best describe you?
Honest, complex, determined.
What’s a risk you’ve taken recently, and how did it turn out?
The biggest risks I’ve taken recently have been undergoing both Voice Feminization Surgery and Facial Feminization Surgery. I have been researching both of these procedures for many, many years and greatly desiring the results. For me, it is just about taking steps to finally feel comfortable in my own skin. Every time I have heard my extremely deep voice or seen pics of my face, the masculine qualities of both have always made me cringe.
Even though there was no doubt I wanted to have these procedures performed and had done all of my homework ahead of time, there are still no guarantees that things will turn out like you hope. As with any surgery there is always a chance of complications, that the results will be less than desirable, or that you could be putting your own health in jeopardy. I was talking about my voice and face, two things that affect my life greatly on a daily basis, especially as I try to transition into a career of speaking and activism.
They are also extremely expensive and not covered by insurance at all. I had to spend tens of thousands of dollars, and I felt guilty doing so. I couldn’t help but think how that money could have been toward my son’s future college tuition or other seemingly more vital endeavors. The recovery process for both was daunting as well. I wasn’t able to speak for eight weeks after voice surgery, and anyone who knows me will tell you that was a fate almost worse than death for me!
For my facial feminization surgery, the bone in my forehead and jaw required extensive reconstruction and work was also required on my nose, cheeks and eyebrows. Recovery is very painful with significant swelling, bruising, and it will be weeks before I can eat a normal diet of solid foods. Still, I knew deep down there really wasn’t a choice, and these were things I absolutely needed to do to have any kind of peace internally.
I had the voice surgery performed in January in South Korea, and while it can take up to a year to experience the full increase in pitch the change already has been significant although I am still hoping for an additional increase. I just underwent my facial surgery in Los Angeles on April 25th, and I’m still extremely swollen and bruised. I lost twenty pounds due to the limited diet and difficulty while trying to eat. As the swelling is beginning to go down, I am starting to get an idea of how I am going to look and so far it appears to be very good. I honestly can’t wait to see exactly what I’m going to look like a couple months from now.
How has lifting weights changed your life?
As an adolescent I was a good athlete and very confident, but when junior high hit, things took a huge downward spiral for me. I got shunned by the same group of friends I had grown up with, I was struggling in silence with the growing confusion surrounding my gender identity, and when everyone else had big growth spurts, I did not. All of these things combined to strip away my self-confidence. Because of my complex gender identity and not liking the face I saw in the mirror, I accepted the fact that I was ugly and that no one would ever be interested in dating me. I never had a serious relationship in high school or while in the Marines, and because I felt so uncomfortable trying to play the male role I never went to a prom, Christmas dance, or any social events like that.
Fortunately, through strength training and competitive powerlifting I slowly built my confidence back. First I learned to believe in my ability to achieve any goal I set on the platform, and then I learned how to apply that same confidence to the rest of my life. I often say with absolute sincerity that my success in powerlifting prepared me perfectly for coming out as transgender in the public eye. My belief in myself by that point was unshakeable, and I was already used to being scrutinized and degraded on Internet forums. I was well prepared for the backlash from the strength community that followed my coming out.
Without a doubt the confidence I gained from strength training that has impacted every area of my life in a positive manner.
There are quite a few resources and an active online presence for trans men and transmasculine folks who strength train. Have you found any such community for trans women?
Unfortunately I have not, and I have been contacted by numerous trans women who strength train wanting to talk to someone who can relate. Just like we often see with women from other communities, many trans women attack other trans girls who weight train and question their femininity, it’s sad and unnecessary.
How would you address the concerns some women have about bulking up or appearing “unfeminine?”
First of all, bulking up and adding significant muscle mass takes years and years of extreme dedication and hard work, especially for women. It doesn’t happen overnight, so that shouldn’t even be a concern for anyone who doesn’t have those goals. But more importantly, who has the right to say what is “unfeminine” and how do we even define what that means? The definition is completely arbitrary, changes over time, and varies greatly from one culture to another. For example what it means to be feminine and is acceptable for a woman in the United States is drastically different now than it was in the 1950s. Even today, in a progressive country like Iceland, what is considered feminine and acceptable is radically different than in a country like Saudi Arabia where women have very little rights relative to other cultures.
I am big believer in only the woman herself getting to define what femininity means to her. I have witnessed just as much strength, determination, and mental toughness in my female friends as in any of my male friends. The idea that all men should be strong and all women kept weak is harmful to everyone. Not every male is strong and women aren’t weak. No one should ever be pressured by society or anyone else to be anything other than what they are, and by trying to define and enforce rigid gender roles (especially outdated patriarchal based ones) anyone who doesn’t naturally fall within those definitions is harmed by being forced to live a life that is not entirely their own. So let each and every woman define her own femininity and may she be free to be all of whoever she feels herself to be.
What do you want to say to other women who might be nervous or hesitant about strength training?
First of all I’d like to say that I am all for anyone pursuing anything that makes them happy as long as it doesn’t harm someone else. If weight training is something you think you might enjoy then absolutely, one hundred percent go for it! Many women find strength training empowering and love how it changes their body and their health.
Also, never let someone else discourage you from ever pursuing anything that makes you happy. I know there are still a lot of men and women out there who discourage women from lifting weights by pushing outdated ideas about how strength and muscularity are only for men. Sometimes men find strong women intimidating or threatening, and other women may not understand, but those are their problems, not yours. Strength training is not contradictory to femininity, and the strength training world is filled with amazing women of all shapes and sizes. If you’re a woman and you’re even the tiniest bit interested in giving strength training a try, by all means please do! You may find it to be a life-changing experience that impacts not just your body but your mind as well, and benefits you in all areas of your life. I know so many women who have had that experience, myself included.