6 Questions with Elisabeth Akinwale

How did you know you wanted to do something active in your career?

I started out in gymnastics when I was four. I followed my older sister into the gym—I wanted to do everything she did. And I think that was really where I identified how much I enjoyed movement, and learning new skills and being active. Through competitive sports, through college and as an adult, competing in distance events and CrossFit games, I always enjoyed it. Not for the competitive aspect, but just because I enjoyed it. And I think that’s important in our culture because there’s a deeper impact to be had with fitness and sports.

How do you approach training at 13th Flow?

The vast majority of people who walk into my gym have the mainstream idea about training—often about weight loss or creating a certain appearance. And that is connected to health, and is important, but when people start doing our programs, I think they really start to latch onto the learning element. Whether that’s learning about skills, training or themselves. A lot of folks do trendy high-tech training with tools that give you immediate feedback on how you’re doing, but the ultimate feedback is yourself—being connected to your own body. When people get to experience our classes and our philosophy, I think they shift to that.

How does your competition background balance with instructing others now?

It’s an interesting blend of helping and hindering! It gives you more of a platform, so more people see what you’re doing. So you have validity and authority. But one of the downsides is that people might think if they train with me I’m going to expect them to do certain stuff. But that’s not true at all. People might look at me and assume I’m very over-the-top with fitness, or that I’m aggressive, no-pain-no-gain. But it’s a misconception. I think my approach is actually more similar to how someone might be viewed in the yoga community versus someone with a barbell in their hand.

How does being a mother add to and work with your career?

My son is the center of my life. He’s the thing I’ve done in my life that I’m most excited about. But he also motivates and inspires me to provide a great example for him. From fitness and health, to working with others in our community. He also gives me insight into different types of people, because he’s not competitive in sports. He’s more into music and art and drawing and creating. So it’s fun, because we’re just different people. It gives me that inside look into a different personality type.

Why do you think having goals outside the gym makes exercise a healthier experience?

I think when you’re in environments where people are really into fitness, it often becomes very obsessive. And people become very single-minded and that becomes their primary focus. The philosophy my partner and I believe in is that life is so much broader than that. I’ve been in positions where people put me on a pedestal because of competition stuff, or been in environments where people try to stratify one another based on physical abilities. And that does not resonate with me at all. So many of our members are doing incredible work in other fields, and fitness is a tool for them to be their best self, so they can do their work and make their contribution.

What are ways you encourage people to get motivated?

I think on a day-to-day basis at our gym, part of that is from the community environment. We really focus collaboration over competition. Everyone comes in, and someone might be having a lower energy day, someone might be having a higher energy day. But if we all bring our best in that moment, let’s say the person who’s not feeling that awesome that day can be pulled along by the group. So it’s that collective experience. And it’s valuing people as individuals and not making it a competition—individual effort and everyone giving their best effort in that moment.