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Meet Christina Montalvo of Iron Phoenix Strength Club in West Chicago

Today we’d like to introduce you to Christina Montalvo.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I spent the first almost two decades of my life feeling fat and uncomfortable in my own skin.

When I went to the University of Illinois for my undergraduate degree in Kinesiology with a minor in Human Nutrition, you’d think I’d learn all about how to exercise and eat well- but this was not the case. I always felt that the fitness industry was trying to cram square pegs into round holes, making us feel that “being strong and healthy” was a one-size only lifestyle.

The trouble continued when I secured my first full-time job at a local big-box gym. We were encouraged to do whatever it took to sell as much as possible: the highest ticket training item, the most supplements, whatever it took just get the client in front of you to swipe their card for as much money as possible. Needless to say, I didn’t last long there.

Within weeks of buying my first home (I was 22), I quit my full-time job at that gym and turned my single-car garage into a private training studio. I knew there had to be a better way- not only for me as a coach but for my clients as well.

In the midst of all of that- I had found balance through an anti-dieting approach to eating with a large emphasis on moderation and sustainability. I had also found not only results but solace in strength training. My body finally reflected how I felt inside – something I had wanted for so long!

I was eager to share this perhaps unpopular, but extremely necessary approach for other women to follow. It wasn’t a diet, it wasn’t an insane amount of cardio- it was a true lifestyle shift that was doused by the standards of big-box gyms, the diet and fitness industry as a whole.

I needed to create my own brand that stood out among the noise of the industry.

After 5 years of working tirelessly out of my single-car garage, I finally took a leap of faith and signed a lease at a 2,000-square foot warehouse that I outfitted to be the gym of my dreams! I did this without any loans or debt – no credit cards or handouts, just an insane amount of courage, grit, and drive to help as many women as possible get strong, feel confident and love their life.

I’ve been at the warehouse gym for over a year now! Lots of hard work, no weekends, almost no time off, no sick days – just nose to the grindstone to change as many lives as possible. It’s far from glamorous, but it’s literally my dream come true.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Oh gosh! No way.

I started my business, at the time it was called CMOfitness, with a brand new mortgage. Looking back, I feel like perhaps I was just too naive to realize the magnitude of what I was doing. I don’t know if I’d have the guts to buy a home and start a business within the same month ever again!

My personal life is (and has been) far from glamorous. Almost every cent I make goes right back into the business leaving me with a laughable salary.

I decided to get my MBA while I was still working from home. This meant I would work 80-90 hours a week on my business and stay up until 2-3 AM trying to get assignments done. I did this for a year and a half and still have no idea how I made it out alive!

When I moved the business out of the garage and into the warehouse – I received a ton of pushback from clients. I actually lost a bunch of clients! Between the change in location and an increase in the price of services in order to pay overhead – a lot of people were upset and left.

When you’re the owner of the business, you feel every cent you make or don’t make. You see all of the money come in, and you write all the checks to see all of the money go out.

I don’t know if it’ll ever be a smooth road. But, each night when I shut the lights of the gym off – I look around at the rubber flooring my dad and I laid down, I look at the equipment we put together by hand, I look at the Thank You cards my clients have written me on my bulletin board and I’m reminded that I prefer this self-inflicted bumpy road over another pre-paved smooth road any day!

Iron Phoenix Strength Club – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I am a strength, conditioning and anti-dieting coach for women (and men!) who are tired of being on a diet, sick of doing the same old boring workout routines that consist of nothing but ellipticals, treadmills and 5-pound dumbbells.

I teach women that lifting heavy isn’t just for men. Lifting heavy weights is literally THE missing component to most exercise routines- and it is the reason why most women never see or feel the results they’re looking for.

Aside from results, lifting weights is so liberating. It perpetuates a resilient mindset in and out of the gym. It begets an unshakeable confidence in all facets of our lives. It’s something you won’t understand until you’ve tried it!

I’m definitely polarizing. My messages are not popular, in that I teach my clients how to have their cake and eat it too, literally! You don’t have to go on this insanely strict diet in order to lose fat. You don’t have to give up your favorite foods in order to lose fat. Most women are drawn to extreme approaches, and we’re not about that here.

Iron Phoenix Strength Club celebrates what women feel like over what they look like.

Most gyms and personal trainers only focus on getting their clients to lose as much weight as possible – how small can we get? Here- we’re more about “how much weight is on that barbell?” versus “how much weight is on the scale?”

We’re all about building confidence, we’re about building a resilient mindset and creating a lifestyle that we’re obsessed with – versus focusing on a quick-fix with results that are inconsistent and fleeting. We are about being more instead of being less.

I am most proud of the reputation that my company has built. Everyone knows what they’re walking into before they get here. People who I’ve never met tag me in things on social media all of the time that align with the mission and vision here! It’s cool to see how the consistency in messaging has turned into brand recognition.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
Expanding the business without any financial help, loans or credit cards has definitely been my proudest moment. A lot of sacrifices have been made in order to run the business without any debt – but that’s always been very important to me!

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Image Credit:

Sabina Cavalli

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