Walk into the Iron Tribe Fitness headquarters in downtown Birmingham, and you’ll likely hear loud music coming from the gym and maybe a few barbells slam to the ground. Some members might be running with medicine balls outside while others get one-on-one coaching from an instructor. What you won’t see, however, is the woman who makes sure much of the gym’s systems and operations are executed to perfection each and every day. Karen Broadwater, who was first introduced to Iron Tribe Fitness as a member, was recently named president of the Birmingham-based fitness company, which now has dozens of locations open across the country. As president, Karen oversees much of the company’s day-to-day operations, working to streamline and simplify as much as possible.

Along with Iron Tribe Fitness founder and CEO Forrest Walden, Karen works to fulfill the Iron Tribe mission of “creating fitness communities that change lives.” She does all this while still maintaining a bright smile and positive attitude — she’s one of those people who truly glows!

We sat down with Karen to learn how she became involved with one of Birmingham’s most well-known gyms. We also picked her brain about why women should take charge of their fitness and be more confident in their own skin. Karen’s journey is inspiring, and we’re thrilled to feature her as today’s FACE of Birmingham!

Iron Tribe Fitness President, Karen Broadwater
Iron Tribe Fitness President, Karen Broadwater

How did you hear about Iron Tribe Fitness?

I heard about Iron Tribe through my neighbor at the time. He was all but a cult member. (I’m kidding — but seriously, he was 100%  bought in!) At times his obsession was beyond annoying. He would talk about what time he finished the workout, what he was eating all day, every day — it was also intriguing. He lost 20 pounds right before my eyes in a matter of about two months. Iron Tribe seemed to offer something other programs did not. It was a holistic approach — not simply a trendy diet or fad workout.

What made you join?

Curiosity and yo-yo fatigue. I basically had a “why not” attitude about it. I had tried everything else. Why would I not try this?

Describe your journey with health and wellness.

At my core, I am not a “fitness” person. I grew up dancing and playing with dolls. I was never the girl on the field, nor did I go to any weight room except when forced to in P.E. class. I was the girl who would read “10 ways to lose 10 pounds in 10 days.” Not to mention, I was a total sucker for the gimmicky infomercials. Tae Bo, Thigh Master, Ab Roller — you name it, I bought it.

It was not until I found Iron Tribe that I discovered that quick fixes are for fools. I was a fool who had believed the “magic pill” lie for years. Getting healthy involves continuous hard work. I still would not consider myself a “fitness” person. I leave that to our professional Iron Tribe coaches. I, however, truly believe fitness is the greatest tool to help you become the best version of yourself. While being healthy in itself is important medically, being healthy and fit is paramount to living your best life. That is my passion.

Iron Tribe Fitness
Karen recommends the book You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero. “This book is particularly great if you are in need of a good confidence kick in the pants,” she says.

Tell me about the various roles you’ve held at Iron Tribe.

I love learning. I am the person who finds their hand raised anytime someone asks, “Who wants to … ” I devour knowledge. I also learn best by doing. Iron Tribe needs someone to do the books? I got it! Iron Tribe needs someone to handle HR? No problem!

While I have messed up, fallen short and just plain not been a fit for every role I have had with Iron Tribe, I contribute my continued growth to having been involved in every aspect of this business and my will to just simply want to learn! It’s hard to lead what you have not done yourself.

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As president, what’s a typical day look like for you?

It’s mostly about being available for those who need support. One of our core values is “We measure our success by others’ success.” I am not successful in my day if one of our location managers is not successful in their day. This same mantra can be applied all the way down to the client level and back up again. I am constantly trying to streamline, create and implement ways that this cycle of success can flow beautifully through our company. Ultimately, thinking of the client every day and ensuring that our teams also think this way consumes most of my days. Not to mention the usual coffee, meetings, emails and more meetings!

Iron Tribe Fitness
As president, Karen oversees much of the company’s day-to-day operations, working to streamline and simplify as much as possible. “Ultimately, thinking of the client every day and ensuring that our teams also think this way consumes most of my days,” she says.

Why do you think females, especially, need to feel confident in their own skin?

That’s a loaded question. As simply as I can put it: We only put out into the world what we think the world would receive well. I think women need to feel confident — or fake it for a minute — so they can put out into the world all the good they have inside them — quality ideas, compassion, strength, positive words and good gifts. As someone who has often been meek in my gifts, I have found that vulnerability creates confidence. I hate thinking of all the good gifts out in the world being hidden inside, wasting away, simply because you are afraid of what others might think. I sincerely hope you will look in the mirror today and be more afraid of not sharing your gifts and realize how the world is a lesser place because you have not yet shared yourself with it.

What’s the best part about working in the fitness industry? And what is the most challenging?

Best part: Fitness changes lives. I have seen — and continue to see — lives changing at Iron Tribe. Weight loss creating confidence, people getting off medication, others having newfound energy to play with their kids, marriages being healed because of a common bond or regained confidence — we hear life-changing stories daily, and it’s truly amazing. It’s something that will never get old.

The biggest hurdle is getting people to realize their goals will take hard work and [that] they need to fully invest in themselves and trust the process. We are not the quick fix, “take the easy way out” kind of gym. We are a lifestyle gym. We are proud of the results our clients get — and keep. However, re-wiring your mind from all the information out there has proven to be difficult at times.

What’s your favorite date spot in Birmingham?

It changes often. Right now it is probably Bamboo on 2nd or Fancy’s on Fifth!

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Describe your perfect weekend. Where would you go, who would you see, and what would you do?

I love all things self-care — mani-pedis, massage, spa days. Throw in a good brunch or two with the girls, and I’m all set! I would also add in a good book, a long walk through the neighborhood with my husband and a thunderstorm nap.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

“Love in itself is not enough.” You can love someone, something or some idea — but love in itself is useless. If love does not drive you to action, is it really even love? Maybe. But what good is it?

Iron Tribe Fitness
Karen at Iron Tribe headquarters in downtown Birmingham

What are three things you absolutely can’t live without?

My husband, my cat and a screened-in porch.

Thank you, Karen! To learn more about Iron Tribe Fitness, visit irontribefitness.com.

And thank you to Eric and Jamie Gay of Eric & Jamie Photography for these lovely photos.


For more inspiring women in Birmingham, check out our FACES archive, and prepare to be amazed!

About the Author
Sarah Cook

When she's not writing, you'll find Sarah Cook McBride at a local concert, hiking a nearby trail or indulging in a scoop of Big Spoon Creamery ice cream.