Name: Lisa Lewis, EdD, CADC-II, Licensed Psychologist
Location: Boston, MA
What does being a Girl Gone Strong mean to you?
It means feeling grounded and confident about my abilities. It means acceptance of and respect for my body.
How did you get introduced to strength training, and how long have you been training?
My father introduced me to strength training. I asked him if he could estimate my age, since I can’t remember – he thinks maybe age 7. Dad had a Soloflex (remember those?!) and some dumbbells at home, and he used to train after work. I’d pop in while taking breaks from playing and ask if I could lift too. My dad always read fitness magazines and there was always protein powder and other fitness food around. He always told me how strong I was. He taught me about how to structure workouts and programs, and I really enjoyed lifting weights from a young age. More importantly, I always felt competent around weights.
I always believed I was strong – thanks to him. This part of our relationship was one of the biggest gifts he gave me, and something that has served me my whole life.
I know there are many aspects of weight lifting that are intimidating to women; I know some women don’t believe they are strong, or don’t feel comfortable in a training atmosphere. I’ve had the great privilege of never knowing that fear. At age 16 I started training on my own at a gym, and once I was in college I became focused on getting stronger and progressing how much weight I was lifting.
What does a sample workout look like for you?
Well, I have an amazing trainer who takes care of my programming for me. Actually, I have an embarrassingly huge crush on him. Ever heard of Tony Gentilcore? Not to brag, but he’s also my husband!
I weight train Monday through Thursday, teach Spinning classes once on Friday morning and twice in a row on Saturday morning, and usually lay low on Sundays.
I’m about 5 months pregnant at the moment, so my training has been modified to ensure I remain injury free and as ready as possible to pop out a baby! Here’s what one of my training days looks like currently:
A1. Hip Thrusts with a band: 3x10
A2. Leg Lowering: 3x8 per leg
B1. Band resisted Landmine Romanian Deadlift: 3x8
B2. 1-Arm Bottoms up KB Press: 3x8 per arm
C1. TRX Row 3x10
C2. 1-Arm Turkish Get-Up 3x1 per side
Sled Push (at least 3 plates) 2 trips x 4
KB Swings 24kg 4 x 10
Bench Press, fo’ shizzle.
Most memorable PR:
It’s hard to say, because I don’t max out often. I almost always train alone, so with no spot I’m never really thinking about a PR. I do remember training with my husband one day and after we completed many, many sets and reps on the bench press, he wanted to see my max. I was tired from all those reps, but I pressed 160 pounds that day. Actually, now that I’m writing this, I should probably try again and see what I’ve got with a fresh set of pecs!
Top 5 songs on your training playlist:
At the moment:
Top 3 things you must have with you at the gym or in your gym bag:
Do you prefer to train alone or with others? Why?
I love to train alone. I played team sports throughout my childhood and all the way through college. I was never “on my own” in my athletic pursuits. Once I started training more seriously, I came to love the time to be athletic and physical by myself.
Currently, I am focused on others all day. As a therapist, part of the professional role is remembering “it’s not about me”. Although I love practicing therapy and I am an extrovert, training is this quiet time when it’s all about me. I train at 6:00 am, before my day starts, and that little pocket of all-about-me time is precious! I put on my headphones and don’t even put in my contact lenses – I feel invisible! It prepares me physically, mentally, and spiritually for a day of being ready and present for others.
Best compliment you’ve received lately:
The best compliment is when someone wants to work with me, or feels helped by working with me. When my clients say their life has improved because of work in therapy, that’s a mega compliment. One area I’m passionate about is understanding diversity and being sensitive to issues around race, ethnicity, culture and spirituality. As a white woman, I have a lot to learn about what it’s like to be a person of color, or to not come from a privileged background. Recently I’ve worked with several women of color who deal with issues of race and class on a daily basis, and who feel heard and helped in therapy. That’s a big, big deal to me.
Most recent compliment you gave someone else:
I can’t stop complimenting my better half. As I mentioned earlier, I have a major crush on him. My husband recently opened his own gym and has hit the ground running! I see him stepping outside his comfort zone to learn, grow, and move forward in a positive way– and that deserves mega compliments! I always admire the innate drive people have to evolve.
Most embarrassing gym moment:
I got pinned while bench pressing! It was mortifying. As I mentioned, I always train alone, and the downside of that is not having a spot. I wanted to squeeze out one... more… rep… and the bar would not budge off my chest! I am sure someone was watching and had a hoot. I had to roll the bar down my torso and onto my knees, and then try to find a graceful way to get it off me and onto the floor! Needless to say, no grace was found.
Due to being pregnant: tacos. Like, every day. So. Many. Tacos.
Favorite way to treat yourself:
In recent years, I’ve come to love some veg-out time. As I’m sure many readers are, I was crazy-busy and over-booked for most of my teens and twenties. Sports, school, training, and work, work, work! Nowadays, I am very grateful for down time—and no homework! It may sound not so fabulous, but I look forward to Friday night couch-time with a glass of wine every week!
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!
—Excerpt from “Sympathy” by Paul Laurence Dunbar
“If I want to put tits on my back, it’s nobody’s business”
Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand.
What inspires and motivates you?
Bearing witness to the desire to change, and the efforts to make those changes. In my profession, I regularly have a front row seat to that kind of bravery.
What do you do?
I’m a licensed psychologist. Right now I work full time at a university in Boston, and I’m the associate director of the college’s counseling services. I also have a little private practice on the side… and I teach three spin classes a week for a few different gyms. AND! I’ve been doing some speaking engagements lately: I Am Not Afraid To Lift, a workshop for women looking to start strength training, or take strength training to the next level, with Artemis Scantalides (our next workshop is November 6th in Boston!), and I’ve also done a few workshops with my husband, designed for personal trainers and strength coaches (The Art of Coaching: Strong Body, Strong Mind).
What does a typical day look like for you, from waking up to bedtime?
Your next training goal:
Stay mobile, strong, and healthy and happy during and after pregnancy.
What are you most grateful for?
My relationship with my husband.
What life accomplishment are you most proud of?
The completion of my doctoral dissertation (which, by the way, was about women’s motivation to participate in sport and exercise).
Three words that best describe you:
Enthusiastic! Open. Direct.
Tell us about a time when you overcame fear or self-doubt.
Last fall I taught an undergraduate course at Northeastern University. There were 75 students and it was an 8 AM class (three days a week)! I was worried the students wouldn’t come to class—or worse—would fall asleep in class! I wondered if I was “good enough” to teach wicked smart students.
I wondered if I could keep up with the lecturing, grading, and communications with students in addition to a full time job. Most of all, I was afraid the students wouldn’t think I was “good enough.”
What an amazing experience I had! I really enjoyed the students, and I’m happy to say that many of them expressed the same sentiment toward me. I received lots and lots of positive course reviews, and the most cherished were the ones in which students expressed learning a great deal from the class, and feeling that they could “understand the material” because of how it was taught. By Me! There’s that compliment I love! I learned a great deal about my abilities, and that there was nothing to fear. I look forward to the next opportunity like it.
What’s the coolest “side effect” you’ve noticed from strength training?
My belief in my ability to bust my ass. To do things that are difficult and to make myself better. This effect has been transferrable to every other area of my life.
How has lifting weights changed your life?
Lifting weights has shaped my life in many, many ways. I don’t know if “change” is the right word, since it’s been a part of my life since very early on! I believe it’s been the consistent, concrete experience of making change possible, working hard and seeing results, and improving myself. No matter what other things went on at school, work, or in my personal life, weight training was always an organized, goal-directed, just-for-me part of life that has kept my spirits up, my body healthy, and my mind strong. It is a core component of my ‘Self’.
What do you want to say to other women who might be nervous to start strength training?
It’s normal to be scared of something unfamiliar. If you’ve never had any experience with strength training, and you’ve been exposed to pop culture propaganda about “women’s fitness” consisting of high-rep, low weight, incessant cardio—of course you're nervous! It’s how our gender has been socialized. (I actually feel very passionate about this topic, and in 2012 I wrote an article about it.)
If a woman out there is nervous about starting to strength train, but reading material on this website, she’s already brave!
She’s thinking about doing something differently than what the media says she “should” be doing. She’s considering doing something for herself, as opposed to doing something that the media says makes women’s bodies look more appealing to others.
Strength training can begin in many different ways, and I recommend that she (the nervous novice) start with whatever method will make her feel the most comfortable. If she has a friend who loves to strength train, ask her (or him) to go with her to the gym (more than just once!) and introduce her to some basic stills. If you belong to a gym but have quarantined yourself to the elliptical/treadmill tundra-of-boredom, is there a friendly looking trainer you could approach about having a complimentary session? If you don’t belong to a gym, is there a boutique studio somewhere nearby? That could be a great way to have an excellent coach work with you in a smaller environment, where the training might be more tailored to your needs. If you like to read and would feel more comfortable learning a bit from a book first, I recommend checking out Strong, by Lou Schuler Alwyn Cosgrove.
I encourage the nervous novice to learn to move in the following ways: pull, push, press, squat, lunge. Please do not worry yourself with that inner-thigh machine. If the gym is intimidating when it’s busy after work, go early in the morning! If you’re worried others are watching you, take your glasses off, or your contacts out, and put your earbuds in! Try and turn your attention inward – toward yourself – and away from the perceived judgments and appraisals of others. Remember, your body is the most complicated, powerful, beautiful possession you will ever have! Any attempts you make to strengthen it will benefit you in more ways than you can imagine.
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