Athlete Feature: Coach Amber Lewandowski

Here at the Fast Factory, each of our Coaches brings a unique perspective and skill set to the gym. We couldn’t be more proud of, or inspired by, our team, all of whom work hard to help our members realize their goals every day in the gym. So this month, we want to shake things up a little and shine the spotlight on one of them for a change!

Amber Lewandowski has been with the Fast Factory since nearly the beginning, starting as a member and quickly becoming an amazing Coach as well. We sat down with Amber to pick her brain about her own journey. Join us as we take a look back at how it all began and how Amber has grown as both an athlete and coach.

Amber, you’re a Level 2 Coach working on your Level 3 certification. Tell us, how does one become L3-certified?

You have to apply for your L3. You need to have your CPR certification and a certain number of hours of CrossFit class instruction or coaching. I needed to have my hours signed off by John. Once your application is accepted, you then have to schedule a testing day with a member of CrossFit HQ staff. So I’ve applied and I’m in the midst of studying up!

Sounds pretty involved. How does that process differ from what it takes to get L1 or L2-certified?

L1 is all about learning the movements, breaking them down and teaching them. L2, which was called Coaches Prep when we went, is more on what you can do as a coach to provide a better class, a better service, more about how to teach other coaches to be better coaches. Where L1 and L2 cover the basic principles of CrossFit, L3 gets specific. Level 3 focuses in-depth on movement screening and assessment, program design, Coaches development, nutrition, lifestyle and professional performance.

Wow that’s a lot of professional development for you guys as Coaches. Probably feels a bit like you’re back in college! Let’s shift gears a bit now and talk about how you stayed fit before CrossFit came along.

After high school and college sports, I continued with running, which was kind of my sport or activity of choice, plus a little recreational sand volleyball on the side. I actually still play. Now that I CrossFit, I don’t run as much as I used to, but I still do Ragnar every year.

So you went from an avid runner to a CrossFitter. How exactly did you make that leap?

Jess Swanson told me, “I’ve been working out, you’ve got to try this. It’s called CrossFit.” She was so excited when she talked about it. I didn’t know where the gym was at the time, but I lived near our original facility off 25th in St Cloud. So one day I expanded my 5k loop and I could hear music. I ran by and was just staring inside. The music was loud; the garage doors were open. This was back when they only had two platforms and the floor was all green turf. That was my first time witnessing CrossFit.

So you stopped in that day?

No! I just creeped on them and would run by with each loop and look inside. But then finally Jess got me to come in. When I did, it turns out John remembered seeing me running by repeatedly. Haha!

I’m curious as to how you felt before that first workout. Being a recreational runner and lifelong athlete, did you feel nervous when you came in for the first time?

You know, I wasn’t really nervous. I came in and was like, “Yeah, let’s do this!” But I was CRUSHED. My first workout, I was so sore and didn’t realize there was such a big difference between my running fitness level and CrossFit. I had the endurance, but I didn’t have that strength or muscle endurance for all the different movements. I was humbled that first day.

That seems to be one of the two main reactions for newcomers. Either you’re terrified and relieved to survive, or you’re like, “Oh my god, I thought I would crush that thing.”

Well, I was probably a little bit nervous! But for the most part, I was just excited to do it. After that, then I got nervous.

And this was before we introduced the baseline workout, right?

Yep, back then you’d come in and do the workout of the day, whatever it was. I got in there and I remember there were dead lifts. The rest of the class used barbells, and I did kettle bell dead lifts. There were double unders and pull ups—I was doing ring rows. I did manage to do double unders that first day, but you would not believe all the whip marks I had on my arms, back, legs and butt… whip marks everywhere. After that first day though, I was like, “I’m in.” I loved it! I started two days later.

It didn’t take you very long to transition from member to Coach, or at least aspiring Coach. What made you decide to take it to the next level?

I really didn’t even think about coaching until I reached the end of my 6-month membership. I remember I was super sad, and Jess told me, “You know, you don’t have to stop.” That’s when she sparked an interest in coaching in me. She asked me if I’d ever thought about coaching, which I hadn’t, until that moment. I had some personal training experience under my belt from right out of college and I decided I was interested and wanted to learn more. I remember Ryan Daniels and I were part of that first crop of interns.

And clearly you took to it well. You’ve been coaching for several years now. What would you say your goal as a fitness coach is?

Honestly, I just want to help people. I want to educate them on what it means to be healthy. We talk about our 6 healthy habits here, whether that’s nutrition, what you should drink or how much you should sleep, etc. It’s really just about helping people become healthier and overcoming their obstacle. It might be something nutrition-based, it might be about losing weight. Or maybe it’s trying to fit something into their life that’s just for them, so it means blocking their schedule out for it. A good example is a goals meeting I had yesterday. This athlete loves working out but she was thinking about dropping her membership. She loves it here, but she was thinking about dropping it because she’s so busy and feeling stressed out, plus she was having difficulty recovering from some of the workouts. It was just a matter of sitting down and looking at options to find a plan that fits with her life. So educating people is a huge part of it, but equally important is helping people find a plan that fits within their lifestyle and with their goals.

Do you find you need to re-educate people a lot on what it really means to be healthy? Are there a lot of preconceived notions of an ideal standard no one can live up to?

I never want to tell someone their goal isn’t realistic or that’s not what healthy is, but as Coaches, we do have to remember their goal should be something you want them to be able to do and continue to do throughout their life. It might be a younger person who wants to lift as heavy as possible because that’s what healthy is to them, but doing that at a young age might not be something beneficial to them down the line. It can be easy to lose sight of that longevity factor when we see some of the incredible things professional CrossFitters can do.

Fast Factory puts so much energy into developing strong Coaches, and it’s definitely a point of pride for our gym to strive to have the best Coaches around. What, in your opinion, separates a good Coach from a great Coach?

I was actually just thinking about that exact question! A good Coach is going to help you by making sure you’re moving correctly and safely. They’re going to be encouraging. A great Coach may not always tell you the things you want to hear, but they’re going to tell you the things you need to hear. It won’t always be about what you want to do, but what you need to do to make yourself a better person, a better athlete. A great Coach is going to try to draw that line between what their athlete wants to work on or which movement they want to perform in a workout, and what’s going to make them better in the long run. Less sugar coating and more honesty.

So in your experience, what is the most essential element to success in CrossFit?

Honestly, mobility. Almost all of the certifications I’ve been through talked about mobility being the most important. And that’s simply because if you’re unable to get into the correct position, you shouldn’t be adding any resistance or you shouldn’t be adding intensity. It’s probably the least enjoyable thing about CrossFit. No one really wants to go mobilize or stretch because they’re tight and it’s uncomfortable. There is yoga, which a lot of people enjoy, but your die-hard lifters generally don’t like to dial back that go-mode and just relax with an hour of yoga. I think it’s primarily a shift in mindset.

After I attended a gymnastics seminar recently, I think something else that is often overlooked is the basics. In our pyramid of CrossFit, you start with nutrition, metcon and then gymnastics after that. This is all before weightlifting. And some of the basics can really get lost, such as hollow holds. That’s a pretty basic gymnastic movement that transfers into the set-up of nearly every lift. And I thought, “Oh my gosh, we aren’t doing these right. I haven’t even been doing these right.” So that’s an example of how some of the more basic things can get passed over. Everyone can do an air squat, for example, but are they doing that basic movement correctly. To move forward, it may mean taking a step back from some of those movements we so often add resistance to and going back to the start.

Let’s jump topics a bit and talk about competition. You’re a seasoned competitor. You’ve done Snow Bowl, the Granite Games, and of course the CrossFit Open numerous times. We’re coming up fast on the Open season again. What kind of advice would you give to some of our newer athletes who are on the fence about getting into the Open and giving it a shot?

I know some people don’t like working out in front of others, they feel self-conscious about it, but I think that when you get in that competition atmosphere, your body does things you didn’t think it could. There are so many people who’ve gotten their first double under, first toes 2 bar, first muscle up in the middle of a competition workout. And a lot of that is because of all of that energy in the room adding to your own adrenaline and drive. So my bit of advice is, if you’re on the verge of signing up or not, SIGN UP. Because Friday Night Lights is all members, not a room full of strangers, and all for fun. Just do it, and don’t overthink it. And don’t underestimate what your abilities are.

And what about life outside the gym? What occupies your spare time?

Spare time? What’s that? Haha, things get really busy with kiddos. I do enjoy watching them in gymnastics and dance, but as a family, in the summers we love to be outside, whether it’s swimming, camping or playing with the dog. We travel to see other family when we can, taking trips to Nebraska, Southern Minnesota and Northern Minnesota.

Your 3 girls are still at a pretty young age. How do you make sure to set good examples for them?

I eat healthy and stay active, and teach them the benefits of it. I try to lead by example and help them create habits at their young age so that they can continue as they grow older. My hope is that when they’re grown and making their own choices, they can lead active, healthy lives, too. I certainly don’t have a perfect diet and will indulge in some of my favorite vices (chocolate!!), so I think that it’s important to show them that some things are ok in moderation. One of the things I like to do with the kids is take them on individual bike rides. It’s great one-on-one time, they get my full attention, and we get a little exercise, too!

Official Certifications and Credentials:

  • CrossFit Level 1
  • CrossFit Level 2
  • Weightlifting
  • Rowing
  • Powerlifting
  • Gymnastics