Powerhouse trainer Elizabeth Stacey Ellis is just as sunshine-y as the weather in her hometown of Orlando, FL. But don't get it twisted: Even though she's friendly and fun, she's fierce, focused and beyond capable of helping her clients train in the most effective, efficient and aligned way, all based on her wide-ranging base of technical knowledge, as well as personal experience. And now, she's crossed platforms, working with fitness fans online, in person, in privates and in communities...she's everywhere!
Originally a serious student-turned-professional dancer, Ellis always had healthy food in front of her thanks to her mom, especially since her allergies demanded a dairy-free diet. After graduating from Florida State with a BFA in musical theater, she danced in tours and at regional theaters, all while being based in NYC. And to keep up with the demands of the industry, she started really focusing on strength training to stay at the top of her game, both energetically and aesthetically.
When she was ready to move from dance onto her next adventure, fitness fulfilled her desire to make an impact on people's lives in an immediate, tangible way, while also keeping her performer self alive. She quickly found the connection at Mark Fisher Fitness, and grew into one a sought-after, energetic trainer.
Later, moving from NYC to Orlando with her husband meant Ellis had to find new ways to workout without her MFF family, and so she started her very own interactive online community, Lift Lab, a place where she could train and connect with others, an altruistic and personal move combined.
Lift Lab has now grown into a successful business, and Ellis continues to add services beyond it. With her help, newbies and veterans alike can see and feel the positive impact "heavier" lifting and metabolic resistance training can have as part of an overall fitness program, without that stodgy view that "women shouldn't lift heavy weights," or that there's some magic bullet to working out effectively. Read on to hear how she breaks down fitness, nutrition and wellness into delicious, understandable, super-effective nuggets!
SBS: What was your transition into fitness like?
ESE: I was living in the city, and I was looking for other ways to stay conditioned for my dancing. I started barre class at Physique 57, and that was the first time I felt so strong. I could finally do push-ups! That enhanced my performance and dance. That was the first spark of my passion for fitness.
Then, in 2010, I was on the first national tour of Grease. When I went back to NY, I spent the whole summer going to auditions, and I got close to a lot of big things. But I started to think: I’m working this hard, but I could be putting this passion into something where I feel like I’m more immediately changing the world in a tangible way. Not that I in any way want to downgrade the arts! That’s so important too, but in a different way.
So I went back to school, and was considering physical therapy. I was working at a restaurant and I wanted something else. At that time, I reached out to Mark Fisher of Mark Fisher Fitness. I had attended his group fitness classes before his actual gym opened. He was a performer as well, so I knew he would understand the transition. He seemed so knowledgeable, and I knew he would have sage advice.
He brought me on board as an intern, and while I was doing that, I also started teaching at Physique 57. Eventually I became a full-time trainer at MFF.
SBS: What was your time with MFF like? How has it affected your work now?
Elizabeth Stacey Ellis: I started with MFF in 2013, and I’m certified in strength and conditioning, kettlebells at StrongFirst, TRX and pre- and post-natal fitness.
MFF focuses on metabolic resistance training, so you’re using weight-based and body weight exercises to elevate the heart rate. Metabolic conditioning promotes fat loss and creates lean muscle (like a high-intensity type training). That’s pretty much what I continue to do with my own business.
Being at MFF during the transition, it felt so seamless, and I felt like I was in such a good headspace to make that transition. I was still in the theater community since MFF has a lot of theater people. It was such a great mixture of my passions and love. Teaching group fitness felt like performing in a way, so it felt very natural. But it added that piece of, ‘Wow, I’m changing lives!’ It felt like, boom! This is the job I wanted.
SBS: Lift Lab is your centerpiece and first service you offered. How did that start and evolve?
ESE: My husband and I moved back to Florida because we wanted to be closer to my family. And, my husband was able to move into a more full time performing role through Disney. It was a huge transition and a hard one.
I had been at MMF for three years, surrounded by high fives, glitter and unicorn, and then I went to being alone most of the time. In that void, I thought, if I’m feeling this alone in my own fitness journey then I’m betting there are other people missing that community. Maybe their city doesn’t offer something like MMF. So, what if I create an online experience where we’re all united in the same workouts every single month. In an online community, someone has your back, and you can have that guidance that became so helpful for me to build my own confidence and body love. So that’s how I started my business. It was pretty selfish because I wanted my own community to do workouts with me!
That turned into my Lift Lab community, my monthly online group fitness. My members get workouts every month sent to their inboxes, focusing on metabolic resistance training. It teaches people from beginners to more experienced clients how to go into the gym with a plan and attack an effective, full-body program. It’s customizable. You can use mostly your body weight or integrate bands and eventually barbells.
There are video demos for every single exercise to make sure you’re executing them properly and safely. I also have a private Facebook group, which is a central piece of the community. Members post questions and I’ll answer, or other vets will answer. We discuss recipes, and I’ll do live Q and As. It’s become such a real community: I have people from all over the world, and people from the same cities meet up at the gym!
SBS: What other services do you offer?
ESE: Lift Lab was first, and now I also offer customized one-on-one sessions, as well as nutritional coaching with a monthly offering (every week we have check-ins with customized macros and metrics within a realistic plan). My nutrition coaching is not restriction-based. It’s about eating foods you love and adding in those nutrients, finding balance and reality. You can eat in a sustainable way—not from a place of scarcity.
Next, I do custom program design. So, let’s say you have a goal, like putting on lean muscle or getting the necessary strength training to compliment marathon running. I can customize training to your space and goal with anywhere from three to five different programs for you to cycle through each week online.
SBS: What are macros?
ESE: Macros stands for macros-nutrients, which are the pieces of food that make up calories: protein, fat and carbohydrates. It’s what food is broken up into in terms of energy. You need different proportions based on energy levels, but usually a high-protein diet is good for muscle maintenance and recovery. After 30, we start losing muscle mass, and post menopause that’s even higher. So a highly fortified diet in protein is so essential.
So, let’s say somebody wants to gradually lose weight. I’ll do their specific calculation (I use three different popular equations, and I have my own way of scaling what amount of a deficit is appropriate to ensure it’s sustainable and not a crash diet), and look at the overall picture. If they’re then allotted 1600 calories a day, the breakdown of optimal protein is 1.8 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. Then, I provide a range of protein, and as long as they’re eating within their calories and hitting the protein amount, they should see the weight they want to gain or lose happen.
I also have my clients layer bits and pieces on, so they’re not taking on too much at a time. For example, the first goal is just to focus on hitting this calorie number, and finding healthy ways to do it. Next, let’s hit the total calories and also eat within this range of protein.
I don’t focus too much on carbs and fat, since the division is inconsequential as long as you’re hitting your protein intake and calorie amount. That actually negates the high carb and low carb argument, because it’s really simply ‘calories in and calories in and out.’
SBS: What are your tips for anyone just starting out on a fitness journey?
ESE: It starts with being realistic about your week and your day-to-day, looking at your current schedule about what you can realistically stick to. We all get into that all-or-nothing mentality, thinking ‘I’m going to work out five days a week and eat salad.’ But nobody is going to stick to that. That’s so much change with too much shock value.
So what I do is pace myself and start realistically. You cannot set a goal small enough. That’s how we create habit change. We create one baby step and one action step. Then, rinse and repeat and, over time, that’s how we become successful with a life of fitness and health.
So start with one small action step. That might be eating veggies at every meal for the rest of the week or committing to moving 20 minutes three times this week.
Next, get a plan. Walking into the gym or kitchen is intimidating if you don’t have a structured outline. Hiring a trainer you trust to guide you is great for that.
Then, have fun and remember: It’s such a gift to be able to move and express strength. Expressing gratitude and having appreciation to have the ability to commit is important.
SBS: What are some trends you love, and what are some that are troublesome?
ESE: I still love the group environment: There’s so much importance in helping push each other. For me, that comes from my dance background. I always love teaching and taking group classes.
I wish bad diets would die. And remember that things like keto, not eating after six pm and low-carb diets are all forms of restricting calories. There is no magic bliss: It’s just learning to control your portions and eating whole foods most of the time. That’s hard to sell, and it isn’t sexy. I wish people wouldn’t capitalize off insecurities of others with diets like that.
SBS: What do you know now that you wish you would have known years ago? How do you offer that information to your clients?
ESE: I would want to coach my younger self to let her know I didn’t have to suffer or play guessing games about what it takes to lose weight. There is an ideal way to sustain energy, and that doesn’t have to feel like deprivation.
And that’s what I do with my clients. If you’re looking to lose weight, it’s setting up a gradual or small deficit so it’s not a crash diet. It’s not going to be fast. It will be sustainable at one or two pounds a week. That can fluctuate, and if you have a lot to lose, you will probably lose faster. And, if you are athletic, you might not see the scale move that much at all; you might be working on body mass restructuring.
SBS: How has your life changed since becoming a trainer?
ESE: Once you become so educated as a trainer and a coach, you see how empowering that education can be. If I hadn’t learned, I would still be making mistakes and suffering from low body image and low self-esteem.
I’m not shy about talking about my disordered eating past. I did not have anything diagnosable, but I definitely suffered from constantly trying to meet the ideal image of dancer. It was tough in college and while I was dancing professionally: never feeling like I was enough, controlling and restricting myself through food, which sometimes led to overeating. That’s a dark place to live in. That’s been a hard headspace to break, but through strength training and nutrition, I’m finally finding that piece for myself.
SBS: What are your thoughts on the popularity of CrossFit and heavier lifting?
ESE: It’s wonderful it’s becoming so much of a household term. Weight lifting has way less of a taboo about it now, especially for women. For so long, we were told to lift lighter weights and not push ourselves for fear of putting on too much muscle. But beauty is in the eye of beholder, so what one woman might think of as overly muscular might be someone else’s ideal. It’s a foundation of strength training, and it’s healthy to have the patterns of a squat and so on.
What worries me is that people don’t always make sure to get a good trainer, which is a must. Weight lifting itself isn’t dangerous, but improper weight lifting is. Technique in dance or yoga or in anything else is your foundation, and that’s the same here. So it takes a lot of skill building and a skilled coach to take you through patterns and not push you before you’re ready. You want to make sure you have stability before you progress with heavy weights and heavily loaded patterns. So Crossfit is great if you have a good coach who will start you with basic movement patterns.
SBS: What’s the main nugget of nutrition advice you give to most people?
ESE: A diet high in protein is nutrition advice I would give to any human for overall health and strength, no matter your age. Keeping up with high protein and a regular resistance-based workout is essential for all stages of life, and that becomes very important as we age. General protein recommendations for most healthy, active populations should fall in the range of 1.8 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.
Protein doesn't have to be solely from animal products. Things like a high-quality, plant-based protein powder, beans and ancient grains like quinoa all have a decent amount of protein. Incorporating both high quality animal and plant-based sources provides a beautiful spectrum of micronutrients (essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals), and that’s a great way of eating healthily from the earth for those who choose an omnivore lifestyle.
Elizabeth’s Orlando Faves:
Healthy Restaurant: My kitchen!
Splurge Restaurant: Morimoto
Nightlife Spot: Disney Springs
Fun Activity: Going to the local springs or gardens
Calming Activity: Meditating or walking Buddy, our senior rescue dog
Fitness Studio: My garage, a fully equipped gym…my favorite sacred space
Yoga Studio: Inspirit Yoga
Outdoor Activity: Going for a walk or run in Celebration, FL
Athletic Shoes: Altras
Books: Daring Greatly and everything by Dr. Brene Brown, as well as her audio book "The Power of Vulnerability"; Fat Loss Happens on Mondays by Dance John and Josh Hillis; Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy; Precision Nutrition (https://www.precisionnutrition.com/); Girls Gone Strong (https://www.girlsgonestrong.com/); Born Fitness (https://www.bornfitness.com/blog/); for physique building with Bret Contreras
The best, zaniest part of being Elizabeth: I often say my superpower is making people feel comfortable, whether that's through humor, empathy or listening. I love connecting with other people and making them feel at ease around me. I strive to bring that to all of my coaching relationships.
The zaniest part about me is I'm not afraid to laugh at myself! Life is too short to be serious, so make faces, have a dance party and celebrate the joy of being authentically you!
Elizabeth’s SBS Mantra: Right now, Be Kind. Over the weekend, my Mark Fisher Fitness family experienced a great loss. One of the trainers, a dear friend and colleague, lost his life while trying to help someone in need. His loss is palpable in our community, and it is tragically fitting that he lost his life in a selfless act of kindness, because that's truly who he was. He showed up every day with wholehearted generosity, authenticity and joy. He lived every day of his life like that, and through our sadness I believe the best way to honor him is to live in the legacy of kindness as he did. So grateful for the light he gifted during his 39 years on this earth.