Grown Woman Strong, with Elisabeth Akinwale

Image credit: Alison Gamble|Photography

Elisabeth Akinwale (pronounced Ah-KEEN-wah-lay, a Yoruba name which means “The warrior has returned”) is a top athlete with repeated CrossFit Games championships to her credit. She is also an Olympic style weightlifter with three USA Weightlifting National qualifications. Based in Chicago, IL, she is a coach who inspires tens of thousands of followers on her Instagram and Facebook with her perspectives on fitness and life, often with the hashtag #GrownWomanStrong. We spoke with her about her work.

Parvati Magazine: Why do you love strength training? What do you feel it has brought to your life and what do you feel women should know about it?

Elisabeth Akinwale: I love strength training because it builds my confidence and competence in all areas of my life. Strength training is about so much more than how your body looks. The process is enriching to both the mind and the body. It is methodical, progressive, requires discipline and patience. Strength training for women often gets a bad rap, as though the only possible desire or outcome is an extreme body type. Strength training is incredibly important for women’s health and well-being, particularly in a culture that is increasingly sedentary. Clients that I have introduced to strength training have seen marked improvements in their fitness level, as well in their overall quality of life. Strength training is also an integral component in remaining injury free for women who like to participate in other activities such as endurance sports.

PMAG: How did you discover CrossFit and why do you feel it is so transformative?

EA: I was introduced to CrossFit by my sister who heard about it from a friend who was using CrossFit as a strength and conditioning program for Rugby. At the time I was training myself at a local YMCA doing a mix of weight training, conditioning, and group fitness classes. I had also just gone through a major life transition (divorce) and I was ripe for something new in my life. CrossFit provided me with a challenge in my training as well as a new community to be part of. Community is one of the aspects of CrossFit that makes it transformative for so many people. Connection with others is key, and deep connections can be forged in CrossFit through taking on challenging tasks and offering mutual support. As a training methodology CrossFit provides two specific things that I see lacking in most widespread fitness programs—intensity and ongoing skill development. Intensity is what translates into results when it comes to improving fitness. CrossFit includes skilled movements incorporated from disciplines such as Olympic-style weightlifting and gymnastics. Working to perfect these elements really keeps people coming back for more and the constant challenge means it never gets boring.

PMAG: Who is your biggest inspiration and why?

EA: My biggest inspiration is my son because he is the person I have the most responsibility to, and the person I have the most influence on. Everything I say, and even more importantly everything I do, is shaping his worldview and belief systems. I work very hard to live my life modeling for him that he has agency over the way his life unfolds. There have been plenty of times over the past decade that he is the reason I got up in the morning and continued moving forward.

PMAG: What do you want your clients and workshop participants to come away with?

EA: I want my clients and workshop participants to come away with a solution focused mindset. Over the course of their lives people encounter obstacles and often begin to see those things as barriers. This experience can hinder people’s ability to continue to pursue their fitness, or participating in activities they love. There are answers if you keep seeking them. Whether you are training so you can lift your child up, or training to be a competitive athlete, your pursuit of fitness should enrich your quality of life, not diminish it. I also want them to come away from working with me with a strong sense that fitness, at whatever level, is multifaceted and should be approached as a way of honoring yourself and preserving health, not as a punishment.

Elisabeth AkinwaleElisabeth Akinwale is a top CrossFit Athlete, well known for winning CrossFit Games events such as the 2012 “Double Banger,” and 2013 “Cinco 1,” and 2014 “Clean Speed Ladder.” Elisabeth is also accomplished in the sport of Olympic-style weightlifting with three USA Weightlifting National qualifications and American Open Weightlifting Championship appearances. Elisabeth is a proud member of SEALFIT Kokoro 30. Elisabeth brings the experience of 15 years of competitive gymnastics, CrossFit Level 1 certification, CrossFit Kids certification, and coaching over 40 seminars over the past three years. Learn more here.