Unsexy Training Methods Take Manhattan: I am not afraid to lift weights.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of traveling to New York City to speak to the training staff at Crunch Fitness at 34th and 2nd. Their training manager, Mike Spiegel, brings in some of the best speakers in the Fitness Industry on a monthly basis, (from Todd Bumgardner to Charlie Weingroff to the Kavadlo Brothers), to educate his training staff. This is a very unusual occurrence for a commercial gym and contributes to why his staff stands out amongst other personal trainers at commercial gyms, along with the high end facility complete with a boxing ring and wide variety of strength training equipment… and of course this fabulous broccoli wall that serves as a landmark for the restrooms :)…
Mike invited me to come speak after he realized he had not invited a woman in the Fitness Industry to present to his training staff. Mike and the training staff were extremely welcoming and the trainers were eager to learn. As I went around the room and asked everyone to introduce themselves and to tell me a little something about themselves, I was excited to learn that, similar to me, many of the women in the room had dance backgrounds. They too had battled with trying to fit the stereotypical body type of a dancer (tall, long limbs, skinny), and could relate to the challenges of trying to keep up with an ideal body-type that was unrealistic and did not necessarily match one’s genetics.
Two women in particular, Eve (who like me, is also from Massachusetts!), and Erica, stood out as they told their stories of seeking an outlet outside of dance to help them to build strength and feel empowered. Both are still dancing, but like me, sought a fitness outlet that empowered them to be strong and to be themselves in body, mind, and capability. They found this outlet in strength training and by communicating the importance of strength training to their female clients and to fellow dance colleagues.
Each time I travel to New York City I become nostalgic for the few years that I lived in New York City from 2003 – 2005. I loved the energy of NYC and only left in 2005 to take a consulting job back in Virginia. The time that I lived in NYC was a critical time of growth and transition for me in my life because it was when I obtained my spin instructor certification and started to work in the Fitness Industry part-time by teaching spin classes part-time at Clay Fitness and to a group of personal trainers at Equinox at the 76th and Amsterdam location on Friday afternoons for a “Staff Spin Class”. It was also when I first started studying kung fu at Bo Law Kung Fu in Chinatown.
It was then that I realized that I wanted to work full-time in the Fitness Industry but wasn’t sure how to make the transition from my full-time office job as a Contracts Administrator. It was also a time when I realized that my past was ballet but my present and future was martial arts and that I would indeed be a kung fu black belt someday.
When I started to put my presentation together for the workshop at Crunch Fitness, I thought back to how I got started in this business, and how I have evolved as a Fitness Professional over the past 10 plus years that I have worked in the industry and why my training philosophy is today what it is.
It comes down to one very simple sentence: I am not afraid to lift weights.
Nor have I ever been afraid to lift weights.
Many women are afraid to lift weights for the reasons of either that they will get hurt (because they don’t know what they are doing and don’t want to learn how to lift properly), and/or because they will get “big and bulky” and look like a man.
It is possible to lift weights and still be feminine. I am living, breathing, lifting, proof.
That’s me on the right, with another strong lady who lifts, Kathy Dooley. Do we look like men? I didn’t think so.
As a woman and with my background as a dancer, I wanted to inspire women to lift weights, get strong and move away from the fads and excessive cardio. I was never afraid to lift, but many women are and I wanted to help women to not be afraid to lift. To help them to realize that lifting is how to achieve the best, strongest version of their bodies.
As I put together the introduction of my presentation, I traveled back to my years as a dancer, and into high school (circa 1989-1993) when I was still dancing and Nautilus and Stairmasters became all the rage. Was I afraid to lift then? Even as a dancer? No way. I joined the West Suburban YMCA in West Newton, MA just to use the Nautilus equipment and compete in the Stairmaster Olympics with the rest of the middle aged Irish Catholic men at the West Suburban YMCA. At age 16 I was a pro. I’d bust out my Nautilus circuit and then hop on the Stairmaster for 45 minutes or until it told me that I burned 350 calories, whichever came first. It didn’t matter that I was on there for 45 minutes because I got my Nautilus circuit in beforehand (and yes, Nautilus counted as “lifting” in those days). I’d crank that sucker up to Level 14 and hang on for dear life while I sprinted up those mechanical stairs, while reading a magazine, and breathlessly talking to 40-somethingish, 280lb, Irish Catholic “Tom” next to me as he turned beet red. The whole time I silently prayed to God that I’d make it through the 45 minutes without anyone in the room having to call 911 for Tom. Good thing there was a fire station literally across the street in case we needed an EMT ASAP.
The people I went to high school with thought I was crazy. The majority of them still do I’m sure – especially because now I like to wrap a weight belt with a chain and a 24kg (53lbs) kettlebell around my waist to do pull-ups.
They thought I was that crazy fitness chick. They’d walk by the glass door that looked into the YMCA weight room as I sprinted my way to an imaginary heaven on the Stairmaster and wave at me with an odd grin as they walked past.
It didn’t bother me because I knew who I was then and what I wanted and what I liked; and I still know who I am, and what I want and what I like; and I like to lift.
When I moved onto college I continued to dance, and lift, Nautilus was still popular then (circa 1993-1997), but I also threw in some dumbbells (“free weights”), and replaced the Stairmaster with group fitness class marathons.
I was still not afraid to lift.
I went to undergrad at The George Washington University in Washington, DC. When I moved down to DC for college in 1993 I joined Bally’s Total Fitness. A contract I’m pretty sure I was still bound to up until a few years ago when my attorney father was finally able to negotiate me free of that mess. Just kidding! Sort of…
Step aerobics was all the rage when I was in college; hi-lo impact and step aerobics. I’d have to get to Bally’s early enough before prime evening time to sign up for the step aerobics classes. Sometimes I would even sign up for two classes in a row. I always made sure I’d sign up for a step in the front row, so that I could be front and center, with the rest of the “regulars”, like we were auditioning for some Broadway show. And forget it if your neighbor had three risers and you only had two; then you’d know you’d have to take it up a notch and meet or beat that with an extra riser or two. Did I care that maybe I’d get a nosebleed from the high altitude of four risers? No. What mattered was that my neighbor couldn’t turn her nose down at me for being in the front row with only two risers. It didn’t matter that I step danced away for one or two hours at a time because I always got some sort of weight circuit in beforehand. I was not afraid to lift.
After I graduated college in 1997, I left Bally’s and joined a different local commercial gym and continued to lift – I started to move away from the Nautilus equipment and graduated to cable machines, barbells, and continued to use dumbbells. I’d also mix in some body conditioning classes, which to me at the time still counted as lifting not as cardio. I replaced step aerobics with spin classes and running. I think I even gave the elliptical and the old school skating/ski machine a whirl.
Did all these modes of cardio matter? No, because I was still not afraid to lift.
I moved to Astoria, Queens with my brother in 2003 where I joined this awesome local gym called, THE ROCK. It had a huge open training area, a DJ (YES, A DJ), a rock-climbing wall, and it’s where I discovered Urban Rebounding. Yes, I’ll admit it. I tried to trampoline my way to a better body for a short period of time. However I quickly learned that I was wasting my time.
During this time I obtained my spin certification and started studying kung fu. With my first kung fu class I fell in love with martial arts and immediately hung up my ballet shoes. I loved the intensity, the stance training, and the fact that I was EXPECTED to build a big callus on my middle finger knuckle from doing knuckle push-ups on the hard wood floor. I also ran outside and indoors on the treadmill and continued to lift. Did all these modes of cardio matter? No, because I was still not afraid to lift.
In 2005 I had yet to make the leap from part-time group fitness instructor to a full-time position in the fitness industry. I was offered a good position as an IT Consultant at IBM in Virginia and decided to take the job and move back to Arlington, Virginia. I continued to teach spin classes part-time and I found a new kung fu school in Fairfax, VA, The Chinese Martial Arts Institute where I started my journey to my black belt all over again. I still continued to run and lift weights because I was still not afraid to lift.
A second consulting job with a different company and three years later in 2008, I finally decided to take the leap and leave my consulting job to work full time in the Fitness Industry. (You can read more about this in my post, The Leap From IT Consultant to Personal Trainer). I found myself happier and more fulfilled from my part-time job in the Fitness Industry than I was from my full-time position as a consultant and it was then, at age 32, that I decided that I really needed to make a change right then and there or else it was never going to happen. I wasn’t getting any younger. So I got my finances in order, obtained my NASM-CPT, and my first kettlebell instructor certification. I secured a full-time position as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor at a local commercial gym, and kept another part-time position as a group fitness instructor at a second commercial gym because I knew I was going to need to hustle. No one was handing me a salary and benefits. If I didn’t work, I didn’t get paid, so it was time to continue to build my name, my business, and hustle. I continued to train in kung fu and I was about one year from obtaining my black belt. I also continued to run. God only knows why because I was teaching four regular spin classes a week PLUS a one regular kettlebell body conditioning class a week so I certainly didn’t need any more cardio, but none of that mattered because I continued to lift weights because I was still not afraid to lift.
During this first year working full-time in the Fitness Industry and counting down to when I would test for my black belt in kung fu in August 2009, I decided to hire a personal trainer. Sounds ironic, doesn’t it? I am a personal trainer but I hired a personal trainer? Well, not really, even personal trainers need coaches. I had my Sifu at kung fu to help me to practice and improve my kung fu skills and learn everything I needed to learn for my test, but I also needed a personal trainer to help me to stay injury free and get really flippin’ strong so that I could pass my kung fu black belt strength test (15 minute mabu – horse stance, 100 consecutive push ups in two minutes or less, and 100 consecutive v-ups in two minutes or less) with flying colors, and have the endurance to withstand a three hour, labor intensive black belt test that finished with me getting my butt kicked in multiple sparring matches. (I write more about this in my post Strength Goals Trump the Scale). I hired one of my colleagues, and badass World Champion in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Isaac July to be my personal trainer.
If I was going to do this, I was going to do this RIGHT. Isaac is a phenomenal athlete and coach. More often than not when he was training me people would ask, “What are you training for??” to which we would reply, “LIFE.” Some endurance athletes are afraid to lift because they think that it will slow them down, but I wasn’t afraid. I knew lifting weights would help me to become strong and stay injury free through the intense and voluminous training for my kung fu black belt. Training with Isaac helped me to love lifting even more than I already loved it…I was not afraid to lift and in fact I LOVED lifting weights.
Shortly after I obtained my black belt in kung fu in 2009 I moved back to my hometown of Newton, Massachusetts. I transferred within both of the commercial gyms that I was working at because they both had locations in the Boston area and continued to build my business in the Boston area. It was a hustle all over again, but I love what I do, and do what I love, so in a short time I started to make a name for myself. (How can you be successful in the Fitness Industry? Hard work and time. Tony Gentilcore writes more about this in his post, The Key to Fitness Industry Success).
When I was working as a personal trainer in Arlington, VA, I created one of the most successful kettlebell small group training programs out of all of the locations at the commercial gym that I was working at. When I moved back to the Boston area, I re-built that small group training program, and carried forward its success. Since I wasn’t spending 4-5 days a week, sometimes, twice per day training for my kung fu black belt anymore, I was able to dedicate more time to training myself with kettlebells. I was still not afraid to lift and I LOVED lifting kettlebells.
My love of kettlebell training led me to meet Eric in 2010, who shared my passion for kettlebells and kettlebell training. When I met Eric I retired my part-time private training business, Artemis Sculpting, and created Iron Body By Artemis. Eric and I went on to get our Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC) Level Certification together in 2011. This certification experience motivated me to train for strength. It changed how I trained my clients, trained myself, and it was truly a “bonding” experience for Eric and I – Nothing says“I love you” like going to sleep next to your loved one when both of you have doused your hands in lotion and put socks on them so that they can heal overnight from all the swing work from the day; or when your loved one asks you to put your vibrams in a plastic bag so that they don’t stink up the hotel room. YUP. This certification was also when I learned of the Iron Maiden Challenge. I had never thought such superhuman strength could be made into a challenge and women would participate and succeed! I was determined to train for it and little did I know at the time how much I would learn from training for it over the course of three years.
Shortly after Eric and I obtained our RKC Certification we founded Iron Body Studios and I left both commercial gyms I was working for. Iron Body By Artemis was my own personal method to help inspire women to lift but Iron Body Studios was a means for Eric and I to create our own business model and eventually have our own private facility. Why? Because I LOVE to lift weights and I wanted to help other women to LOVE to lift weight too.
Fast forward to today 2014 and Eric and I have our own facility, (which was a “5 year plan” of mine in 2008 when I left my consulting job, which I have presently fulfilled!), our own brand built from an original homegrown business model, that continues to evolve, and I have managed to surround myself by others who are also not afraid to lift and in fact LOVE to lift weights.
Last weekend was a perfect example of how I have managed to surround myself by others who are also not afraid to lift and in fact thrive off of it. It was a jam packed 48 hours within which I was able to spend time with my brother and even lift with him, get my butt kick by my friend and colleague, Ari Harris, Owner of Pharaoh’s Army Fitness in Queens, alongside my brother and Ari’s hella strong girlfriend Maria who is also Greek and also not afraid to lift.
Maria also, by the way, I must mention, when we started out class and had to select a two-handed swing size kettlebell to warm-up with, she selected a 32kg (~70lbs) kettlebell AND when we moved onto a kettlebell complex following warm-up, selected a 20kg (44lbs) kettlebell with which to do the complex. This woman does NOT mess around and CLEARLY she is not afraid to lift. (And she doesn’t look like a man either, now does she?!! Nor is she “big and bulky”! That’s Maria to the right in the above pic… ).
I went on to present my workshop at Crunch to a group of trainers who are not afraid to lift and then I finished the weekend by having dinner with some very strong friends who are definitely not afraid to lift.
For all of you women (and men) who are afraid to lift, I leave you with this final piece of food for thought…
With the exception of my professional website pictures, I don’t usually show much skin. I try to stay focused and help people stay focused on staying in a consistent routine with their strength and/or endurance goals, lifting weights and eating healthy. However, this week I posted a picture advertising our Iron Body Restore Online Nutrition program along with a picture of my abs taken this past February 2014. My body and my abs are a result of lifting heavy weights, eating clean, and non-traditional cardio like kettlebell swings, complexes and chains. Let’s face it, we all enjoy the “side effects” of body transformation when we are consistent with our training and clean eating. Or as I like to say, “Unsexy Training Methods Produce Sexy Results”. Below is a picture of my abs from July 2011, about three months after I obtained my RKC Kettlebell certification. At that time I was training with kettlebells ~3x per week, running & spin classes 3-4x per week. Still sometimes doubling up on “workouts” within a day e.g. kettlebells for one hour and then a spin class or 30 min run or 30 min on the Step Mill.
Below is a the picture of my abs that I posted this past week from this past February 2014. I have not run since May 2013. I have not taught a spin class since November 2012. My current training is 5 days of lifting weights (3 days heavy) combined with non-traditional cardio for conditioning such as kettlebell swings, complexes, and chains, one day of hot vinyasa yoga for “active recovery” and one day of complete rest.
ARE YOU STILL AFRAID TO LIFT??
I didn’t think so.