Pro Fitness for Pro Gym-Avoiders

Trainer Michael Blevins and humble SLUG writer Ryan Powers. Photo courtesy of Chase Evans

While physical fitness certainly has its benefits, a lot of people (including this writer) have a number of negative connotations about ‘going to the gym’ and the stereotypes of persons that embrace their gym memberships and workout routines.  So, the occasional bike ride to the bar or sporadic day on the slopes is about the extent of exercise I experience in any given year. You might even say that I don’t see the point of the gym - what are you working out for anyway? Abs? And what are abs for? I personally don’t think any amount of abs could make their way through my hairy man stomach anyways, not to mention I’ve never found myself in the company of a lady who is looking for ‘abs’… at least I think I haven’t.

In efforts to tackle my fear of the more muscle-bound of us, I head towards Vitality Fitness – a unique gym hidden inside a commercial park in west Sugarhouse.  There is no real ‘sign’ per se, no giant windows offering exciting monthly packages, just an unassuming door leading to an unassuming office. Once inside, the gym itself doesn’t scream ‘gym’ either – meticulous graffiti on the walls, no machinery (save for two 1970s exercise bikes and two rowers), no mirrors, and what’s more important, a small group of people who seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves as they reach the boundaries of their physical capabilities.  It turns out, the problem with exercise for me is gyms themselves. The big box chains don’t particularly care if you completely slack off and neither do the underpaid employees.  You simply walk into the giant maze of machinery amongst strangers, sweat a while, get judged and go home.  This doesn’t sound appealing to me and doesn’t seem to work for most people either.  The trainers at Vitality seem to actually give a shit about how I do, and furthermore, don’t just bullshit around either – you aren’t ‘allowed’ to just come for social hour.

Before Vitality, trainers Chase Evans (a former gymnast and current tri-athlete) and Michael Blevins (an accomplished cyclist) spent years training in chain gyms and noticed the lack of focus and unorganized exercise routines – they would constantly challenge each other and create exercises focused on performance rather than vanity.  While exercising at these chain gyms, Evans mentioned, “Kids would come up to us and ask what we were training for, what we were doing.  I noticed that the people attending the gym didn’t have the foresight or drive, they didn’t have a clear idea of what they were doing. So at Vitality, it seemed like a good idea to give people monthly programming.”  This guidance is not only given to the trainers’ respective clients - Blevins and Evans also train each other to push themselves not only harder, but also keep each other from exercising to the point of injury.  As I spoke to Evans, he was on his way to Boise to compete in a half-Triathlon, one that he had been training for with Blevins for months.  While this all sounds very intense, even this non-athlete writer found the focused training approach surprisingly adaptable.  After the initial shock of exercise to my rusty joints and cubicle-jellied muscles, I found the approach to be not only encouraging, but effective.

Each person who starts a program keeps a detailed journal of their achievements during the strenuous exercise program—when they maxed out, passed out, fell over, or called it quits.  In addition, the trainers take a personal interest in the stats – and if someone is doing worse than a previous session, they’ll work with the client to find out why.  I found cyclists, triathletes, moms, slackers, tiny dudes and big guys working towards wildly different goals in the same class which was designed to be flexible enough to equally work a wide variety of physiques and capabilities. While I’m not going to give up any of their secret routines, I can provide a basic outline of how a typical hour workout at Vitality goes:

The first ten minutes are spent warming up on either one of the 1970s Schwinn Airdyne or rowing machines – which seemed enough for me all by itself. Next, the class (with a maximum of four people) begins with some fairly simple, old-school exercises.  Pushups, body squats, lunges, etc.  As the workout proceeds, the difficulty slowly increases, and the time typically used to ‘rest’ is exchanged for some bizarre form of torture.  So, in between each grueling set, I found myself holding medicine balls over my head, jumping up and down, or holding a push-up position called ‘plank.’  I began to think this was some cruel joke being played on the unassuming SLUG writer as my vision would blur and my legs would be as supportive as slinkies covered in Jell-O.

At this point, there is usually a slightly longer rest, and most non-athletes will feel about as ‘exercised’ as they have ever felt at this point.  Unfortunately for me, I was about exhausted and had no idea that the body-decimating, willpower-destroying exercises were still ahead of me. This is where the gym seemed to transfer into a bizarre montage from a Rocky film. Everyone is making super-embarrassing intense faces, grunts, and dramatic collapses to the floor.  I didn’t get to see anyone throw up, but Chase did pull a “If you’re gonna spew, spew in this,” move on me and placed a mop bucket next to the stationary bike as I joined a group of cyclists in an 80 calorie sprint.  The end of a one-hour workout at Vitality is the end of one’s life as a candy-ass, and the first real ‘training’ I’ve ever experienced. This is very real preparation for professional level athletic competition, and because of this, the results I saw in some of my classmates were above and beyond the average New Year’s resolution and more on target with the type of physical changes erroneously reported by infomercials and Muscle Milk.

I’m not sure if Vitality is for everyone, but if you are the type of guy (or girl) who refuses to be on top in the bedroom because you can’t hold the weight of your own head up for a measly two minutes of pathetic effort, you should maybe consider scheduling a few sessions.

Vitality Fitness is located at 2212 South, West Temple in the Tempest commercial complex, in Suite 7. Monthly rates vary from $80-200. To schedule a session, contact founder and trainer Chase Evans at 801-699-9615.

Trainer Michael Blevins and humble SLUG writer Ryan Powers. Photo courtesy of Chase Evans