To live as a woman is to embody strength on the daily. CrossFit athlete and entrepreneur, Brooke Ence, decided to unlock another level, and used her strength to build an iconic physique and a phenomenal career. The journey started when Brooke wanted to find new ways to prepare for her dance auditions. She discovered CrossFit and instantly felt at home. She finally found a place where her athleticism and strength are celebrated, and she flourished. The champion wowed spectators and hushed haters when she finished first place in two categories at the 2015 Reebok CrossFit games. Since then, she’s played a role in a couple films you might have heard of, like Wonder Woman and Justice League, and created the NAKED training program. She continues to wield her strength, building her empire one back squat and snatch at a time. Industry Rules takes time to learn more about the wonder of a woman who’s “muscles are for go, not just for show.” and the mindset that manifested her key to winning.
RA: You were always active growing up and loved to dance and perform. What was it about CrossFit that got you hooked and made you say okay I’m going full in?
BE: I have always been athletically built with a lot of muscle, which I was teased for growing up. I often disliked how I looked because I felt like there was nothing I could do about it. So, I ended up playing a lot of sports and dancing all throughout my childhood and danced into college. I have always loved being athletic and being good at whatever sport or activity I was doing. My first introduction to weight lifting was conventional weight training, which I didn’t like very much. I didn’t like how it didn’t make me a better athlete or more athletic. So, I started doing CrossFit to prepare for a dance audition that had a lot of gymnastic-like moves that I needed to gain the strength and ability to do. CrossFit had me hooked when I saw myself getting in shape like an athlete and performing like an athlete, instead of just looking fit. There’s a saying in CrossFit, “muscle for go, not just muscle for show,” which really began to resonate with me. On top of that, something I really loved about the CrossFit community was that it was the first time I really felt like I fit in somewhere. It was the first time I was around women that were strong like me and around men that didn’t look at me differently because of my build, which I found comforting. No one looked at me like “Oh my God! Look at her!” It was just normal to be strong. I loved how the community celebrated, not how I looked, but what I was doing in the gym and it was something that I really liked.
RA: What do you think makes you a great competitor?
BE: Something that makes a great competitor as a CrossFit athlete is the mindset someone has. It comes down to your ability to stay calm under pressure. I think I had this trait largely because of all the sports I did while growing up and how athletic I was. When you are in any sort of competition, there are new, unexpected things thrown at you and you have to be able to adjust on the fly. This skill is something that has grown through training and working on my mentality in the middle of a competition. This has led me to be able to stay calm when things went wrong or things weren’t going as planned and then be able to make quick decisions to adjust for whatever was happening.
RA: Can you tell us about the moment you saw yourself on the big screen as an Amazon Warrior for Wonder Woman for the first time? What was that feeling like?
BE: Having been a theater and dance major, I never imagined being part of a major film production. Even though in Wonder Woman I wasn’t really visible on screen, just the opportunity of being part of something like that was a surreal experience. Knowing the amount of effort and work that goes into those types of projects, I had a new sense of appreciation for the film industry. Being involved in the CrossFit world like I was, doors opened for me that wouldn’t have otherwise opened, and I am so grateful for being able to be a part of such amazing projects, like the Wonder Woman and Justice League films.
RA: Can you walk us through what a day of training and dieting looks like when you’re preparing to compete for the games?
BE: A day of training for competition (for me) is usually broken up into two sessions a day. I like to break it up because I don’t like being in the gym for 4+ hours straight. Usually one session is all of my accessory work, like lifting and technique work. And the second session is usually some sort of cardio- sometimes at the track, or swimming, or metabolic conditioning to mimic what a workout at the Games is like. When preparing for the Games, my diet is always eating really clean. Eating clean for me is usually eating really plain foods and eating the same stuff. I try to focus on fueling myself and make sure I am getting in enough calories to get through training but also to recover from a day of training. I aim to get the proper amount of protein and not just eat empty calories, which is why I cut out most sweets and alcohol. I am so hungry all the time I really try to avoid foods that wouldn’t help me recover or perform well. I want to give myself the opportunity to eat food that was satiating but also helping me progress forward.
RA: The Naked Training App: what is it? And how did the idea come about?
BE: The Naked Training program is a collaboration between my friend and business partner, Jake Hutton. I was frequently getting requests to help people learn how to train or write a program for someone. Jake and I had discussed the idea of creating a program for a long time and one day while driving I just decided it was time to do it. We started brainstorming and decided we wanted to create an app that everyone could use, not just for athletes. Our program allows the user to switch from at home workouts, to functional gym or conventional gym workouts. They can also tailor the length of the workouts to meet their needs from day to day. It has really been this evolution of the program to what it is now, we are all very proud of it!
RA: What has been the most amazing part of your fitness journey?
EB: Oh boy, there have been so many amazing parts to this journey, but I would say one of the most amazing parts is that not everyone can say that they set out on a journey for something and that they were able to accomplish it to the absolute fullest extent. I went into this journey saying that I was going to commit myself for one year taking my training seriously. Which meant having a program, working with a coach, and eating clean. I told myself if I didn’t like it after one year that I didn’t have to do it anymore and I would continue to train to be healthy, fit, and athletic, but would stop going into the gym with the mentality of training for the CrossFit Games. But, I did make it to the Games, and I completely surprised myself. So, the most amazing part is that I made it and I worked really hard to get there. To train that hard, and reach that level of athleticism in a sport can be so exhausting and hard, both physically and emotionally. It can be hard to remember that you are only responsible for yourself and can’t control how fit others are and their abilities or change your abilities overnight. It’s a process that takes months and even years. This is a lesson that I had to learn and it led me to grow so much emotionally, through a lot of ups and downs. I have grown up a lot since this experience, and it’s wonderful because now I feel like I can be someone who can now take what I know and help them through their own ups and downs, which is something I think is really amazing.
RA: We’ve seen what you do to get stronger physically. Are there things you do to get stronger mentally?
EB: I think that everyone has self doubt and isn’t necessarily the nicest to ourselves sometimes. Especially when you’re competitive and like to win and be good at what you do. When you put everything you have into one thing, which for me is CrossFit, and things don’t turn out the way you wanted or the way you hoped, it can feel world-ending and you can get really down on yourself. I’ve had to learn how to control that self-talk and narrative when I feel like things aren’t where they should be or I want them to be. I’ve realized that there is no reason to be so negative. We’re all just putting in work and exercising, and then show up to a competition and just put our best foot forward and, sometimes, that may not land you at the top of the podium. I’ve learned that it’s all about the little victories and finding joy in the process and that can be difficult to learn. It is something you have to practice over time. I have had to practice changing the way I talk to myself and practice different mantras and things that I can tell myself in the middle moments where I feel the most stressed or devastated. I have found that changing your mentality is like unlocking an energy in yourself that you didn’t think that you had. In moments of competition, when you’re so exhausted and your hands are ripped and it’s hot out and you’ve been pushing yourself to the max for so long, it’s easy to let those negative thoughts get to you and knock you down. If you allow yourself to think about yourself like that, you start to think of yourself behind everyone else and already losing, which only puts you further behind. Bottom line, it’s practicing finding things to flip them around and change the narrative. You have to practice being proud of what you’ve accomplished and what you’re doing. If you can do that, it doesn’t matter how you end on the leaderboard because you’ve just had the best time doing the best you can do and you come out of the experience proud of yourself and finding new things to improve on and are excited to get better at them.
For more information, visit https://brookeence.com/.
Photos of Brooke Ence (cover & article) by Justin Grant