My sister Natalie and me, with Molly Galbraith, founder of Girls Gone Strong

It all comes down to finding your best self on a continuum of “bullshit” and “insanity” —all made possible by self-love and strength (and maybe a cupcake or two).

That’s the message I’m taking home from the second annual Women’s Fitness Summit, which took place this past weekend in Kansas City. I came to the summit hoping to be inspired by strong women and fill my trainer toolbox. I left feeling like I was, in fact, a strong woman myself, and realizing that my toolbox is much more than an arsenal of exercises.

Krista Scott-Dixon, PhD, founder of, kicked off the summit with big-picture thoughts and laid out the “Bullshit <—> Insanity” continuum. We were asked, “Where are you, and where do you want to be?” and, if you’re a trainer, “Where do your clients want to be?” Bullshit means slacking, making excuses, doing nothing. Insanity means obsessing over food and workouts, training through pain, doing too much with no ability to prioritize. Unfortunately, finding middle ground is harder than it sounds for most people.

Fortunately we heard from plenty of women brave enough to share their own stories of successfully tackling the BS <—> I continuum.

  • Girls Gone Strong founder Molly Galbraith shared how she came to be confident in her body after a rollercoaster of weight loss and weight gain. She also confessed that (despite doing weighted pull-ups– BEAST!), she can still be vulnerable to criticism when it comes to her strength. Her message: You’re as strong as you believe you are. Believe you are. Don’t allow others to undermine your strength, or anything else about you.
  • Jen Comas, personal trainer and a former Tupperware toter, talked about the danger of “clean eating” and dietary restraint. “Infidelity is cheating. Lying on your taxes is cheating. Eating a cupcake is not cheating.”
  • Cassandra Forsythe, PhD, RD, nationally known author and scientist, cut to the chase, speaking on amenorrhea, depression, and balancing our many roles as women.

We also heard from A-MA-ZING women in the top of their field, who showed us how to be successful in fitness without going to extremes (again, no insanity here).

On Nutrition:

  • Susan Kleiner, PhD, RD, gave us the whole truth on low-carb and low-calorie diets, particularly with regard to athletic performance.
  • Brooke Kalanick, ND, laid out all of the things to consider when dealing with hypothyroidism, an autoimmune disorder that is very common in women.

Learning cool new tricks with battling ropes with Ingrid Marcum: Resisted shoulder press

On Training:

  • Elsbeth Vaino, CSCS, engineer-turned-trainer, explained the structural differences in women’s anatomy and how this can affect range of motion in exercise.
  • Karen McDowell Smith, StrongFirst Master Trainer, taught us how to maximize tension in our cores to pull off badass moves like one-arm pushups and heavy kettlebell swings.
  • Ingrid Marcum, professional weightlifter and former US Bobsled Team member, laid the foundation for hand balancing and showed us some creative moves with battling ropes.
  • Jen Sinkler, Olympic lifting coach and fitness writer (and my former editor at Experience Life mag), introduced us to biofeedback—a method of determining whether an exercise suits your body on a particular day.
  • Ann Wendel, PT, ATC, shared her favorite kettlebell moves for improving shoulder stability and mobility.

The one and only Erin Brown, doing her thing

Between all of this wisdom and badassery, we shared lots of laughs:

“Squeeze your butt, or I’ll squeeze it for you.”
“You can spot reduce boobs. I know—I’ve done it.”
“I’ve never had a client who couldn’t get deep in the hole.”

And then there was Erin Brown. Undoubtedly the most powerful speaker of all, Erin, author of “I Am Erin Brown,” spoke on positive body image, a topic that might seem cliché or unexciting when compared to handstands or Turkish get-ups.

Erin’s talk was easily my favorite part of the WFS. And from the looks of the 150 or so teary-eyed women in the room, I’m pretty sure it was for many others.

<span “font-size:12.0pt;font-family:cambria;mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;=”” mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;color:#141823″=””>Erin boldly told us her story, the story of a four-year-old girl quits ballet because she feels fat. A girl who carries this self-disgust with her through adolescence, is sexually abused, struggles with binge eating and continues to hate her body into adulthood– until finally, she learns she is going to be the mom of a little girl. This is where the tears started flowing for me.

<span “font-size:12.0pt;font-family:cambria;mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;=”” mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;color:#141823″=””>Erin knew that many of her own insecurities stemmed from her mother’s dissatisfaction with her body. She knew that she did not want to raise her daughter to feel the same, and decided to put an end to the cycle of self-hate:
<span “font-size:12.0pt;font-family:cambria;mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;=”” mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;color:#141823″=””>
“I decided I would own my voice. I would not say another disparaging thing about my body.”

<span “font-size:12.0pt;font-family:cambria;mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;=”” mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;color:#141823″=””>”I take care of myself because I am deserving of that care. I want my daughter to know she is deserving of that care.”
<span “font-size:12.0pt;font-family:cambria;mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;=”” mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;color:#141823″=””>
“Own your voice. Ask yourself, is the way I’m thinking actually aligned with my own values?”

<span “font-size:12.0pt;font-family:cambria;mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;=”” mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;color:#141823″=””>Erin talked about body image as it relates to fitness. Do we really all just want to be skinnier and smaller? There are so many more benefits to exercise than weight loss. And most likely, there’s a lot more going on when a woman says she wants to lose weight. We, as fitness professionals, have the power to change this. We are the ones who can help woman learn to love their bodies

<span “font-size:12.0pt;font-family:cambria;mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;=”” mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;color:#141823″=””>“Don’t let another woman come to you saying, ‘Fix me,’ and just hand her a training plan. Name what’s really happening, with empathy.”

<span “font-size:12.0pt;font-family:cambria;mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;=”” mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;color:#141823″=””>Whether you are a mom, a trainer, a sister, a wife, a friend—it’s not just about you and how you feel about your body. We are all in this together. It’s the legacy we leave for our children. It’s the reinforcement we give to our friends. It’s the power we have to end the bullshit and insanity that is messing with women’s happiness.

“We want women to do what they love. That’s how we get cures for cancer and general badassery.”

I will admit, there were things that I didn’t love about the WFS (quick constructive criticism:  I would have loved to see more conversation about how childbirth affects your body, as well as how to stay healthy and balanced as a mom). But the overarching message—the message of supporting, uplifting and empowering each other as women—that sank in deep.