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Meet Nicole Rutherford and Jason Varnum of Valens Strength & Conditioning in Grantville

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nicole Rutherford, Jason Varnum.

5 years ago, Nicole started a journey that ultimately changed her life. She was a female athlete her entire life and once the routine, scheduled sports came to an end, she didn’t know what to do. She started running a lot and eating very little. She was deeply struggling with body image issues and anorexia. Then in 2012 she found a gym in Westminster, Maryland who opened her eyes to a new way of life. Westminster strength and conditioning showed her what it was like to be strong. She learned to squat, deadlift, press, and bench and fell in love with this sport. It built confidence, instilled discipline, and surrounded her by groups of other strong individuals.

That year she decided that helping others find their inner strength, boost their confidence, and immensely increase ones’ overall health and wellbeing is how she would spend her time. She interned and trained at WS&C and became a coach after 3 years of training. In 2015 she became a Starting Strength Coach. This specific certification is known for being the best in the industry. These coaches have changed thousands of people’s lives and are highly qualified to teach any one loaded barbell movements.

After coaching in Maryland for a couple years, she wanted to make her move to California. Initially, she was holding personal training sessions at a gym when she moved here in December of 2016. Little did she know that after a couple months she would be offered the opportunity to buy the gym from the then owner and build her own business. It was a dream for her to open her own gym within 5 years of moving to California, but this opportunity arose in June 2017 that she couldn’t turn down. Nicole and her business partner Jason opened Valens Strength and Conditioning July 1st, 2017.

Nicole is the head trainer at Valens while Jason makes sure their business is running smoothly and comes to cheer on and motivate every client they have. They are one of 23 Starting Strength Gyms in the entire world, being the only one in San Diego. Today, they have about 35 members in their 2,000 sq. ft. gym and plan to continuously grow and expand so they can teach more individuals about all the benefits strength training has to offer.

Has it been a smooth road?
Nothing good in life comes easy is a quote Nicole likes to live by haha. Before deciding on opening the gym Nicole was actually supposed to be moving to China to teach English for a year this past June. She was very nervous on opening a gym after only living in California for 6 months but took a leap of faith. There were some small bumps in the road but none that could not be overcome. The greatest obstacle for us right now is finding members that don’t look at our memberships pricing options and instead look for the cheapest coaching around. We provide the highest value of training within the strength and conditioning world. Our trainer, Nicole, is one of the only two Starting Strength certified coaches in San Diego and has had many clients seek her out because they know the value Starting Strength will deliver. Not only are they able to coach, but they are able to provide programs to keep the lifter from stalling their strength and assist in nutrition which most people undervalue. Our value is in Nicole and her certification. All of our clients have seen such great results and have now made our gym a priority in their life.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Valens Strength & Conditioning story. Tell us more about the business.
Our business focuses on the 5 barbell movements which are the squat, deadlift, press, bench press and power clean. Since we are a Starting Strength Gym we follow the Starting Strength Model for teaching all the basic barbell lifts. We are also the only Starting Strength Gym in San Diego. We teach every member that comes to our gym the correct technique to effectively, efficiently and safely increase their strength. We are proud to be able to work with a variety of individuals; with age ranges from 25 to 65, many with physical limitations or injuries. Each day one member will come in and tell us that every day they are seeing a difference, physically or mentally. For example, we have a 62-year-old that lifts 50 pound boxes at work every day. One day, she had a big heavy box to lift, she looked down at it and said, “I got this!” She setup with the technique we taught her, she bent over, grabbed the box, picked it up and put it in her car with ease. She said she couldn’t wait to come back in and tell us. These are the stories we are most proud of. We can train anyone, from any age and with any disabilities which is why Nicole is so valuable and such a great trainer.

What separates us from other strength and conditioning gyms is that we focus primarily on loaded barbell movements. The barbell is the primary equipment that gets you strong. We don’t do one arm push-ups on a medicine ball, weird jump squats or anything that requires you to be somewhat athletic. This is why our gym is perfect for any person. We use the barbell to do lifts that are for functional movements. For instance, if someone is trying to pick up a couch, that would be correlated to the deadlift. Or if someone needs to put a heavy box in a shelf above their head, then that is correlated with the press. We are also different from CrossFit which programs for the whole gym and does not provide nutrition help. We provide programs that are individualized for each of our members and nutrition to make sure our members are getting the most of their lift with the food they are eating.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
Strength and conditioning has always been around, but primarily athletes have been known to use it. CrossFit is the big trend right now, but we are starting to get CrossFit athletes that are sick of the injuries resulting from it and decided to transition to strength and conditioning. I believe strength and conditioning will make a change for the better within 5-10 years. Many of our older clients come in because they heard that Starting Strength focuses on functional movements and decide they don’t want to be 80 years old and unable to get out of bed. However, strength and conditioning isn’t just for the athletes and elderly, it is for anybody who wants to get strong. Once everyone starts to understand this then I think the strength and conditioning niche will become more desirable.


  • On-baording: $299 (mandatory 3 personal trainings prior to membership)
  • Small Group Membership: $249 – $349 (includes programs, nutrition and is limited to only 4 members during small groups times)
  • Open Gym: $149 – $199 (includes individual programs and nutrition (custom open gym))

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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