The Faces Behind Your Favorite Fitness Classes
Randy Hetrick; Marin County, CA
The inspiration: As a Navy SEAL for 14 years, Hetrick missed the elite training facilities back home while deployed overseas. To stay in shape, he first came up with the suspension trainer as "an accidental invention of necessity," he recalls. "I happened to have an old jiu-jitsu belt, so I tied a knot, threw it over a door, and started doing one-arm rows." He quickly realized the simple contraption had endless possibilities for exercises, from rotations to flies to pull-ups. After leaving the service, Hetrick enrolled in business school at Stanford, where he refined the basic Y-shaped prototype. Working out at the university's athlete training center, he saw how well the straps worked for anyone from a 300-pound lineman to a female tennis player. "That's when I decided to get serious about the idea as a business," he says.
The name: When Hetrick debuted the equipment (then called Travelfit) at the IDEA Fitness Convention in 2004, he sold out of all his stock. He also realized the system was better geared for group fitness, so he veered away from the travel concept and re-named the tool TRX. The acronym is derived from the explanation he'd normally give to describe it: a "total-body resistance exercise system." Plus he liked the anthropomorphic letter X, which became part of the brand's logo. [Click to tweet this fun fact!]
The workout: The TRX suspension trainer relies on your body weight for a highly effective workout. "You can perform more than 300 exercises on the straps and easily transition between moves, so you get a quick, total-body workout, no matter where you are," Hetrick says.
The future: The company grew rapidly in the past five years, and TRX has become a staple in the training rooms of NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB teams, as well as the U.S. military, law enforcement agencies, and gyms all over the country. "Now we're starting to serve the home fitness market with the TRX home kit," Hetrick says. "In the coming years we hope to bring TRX to everyone at any fitness level, from the pros to the Joes."
Andrea Rogers; Boca Raton, FL
The inspiration: A former professional dancer, Rogers turned to Pilates to stay in shape and rehabilitate her body. "After a few years as a Pilates instructor, I started to crave the creative element of dance in my workouts again, so I approached the owner of the studio where I worked with the idea of a class that combined Pilates, dance, and barre," Rogers says. She played around with the technique, and within two weeks, her class had lengthy waiting lists. "At that point I realized I was on to something, so I spent the next year developing a repertoire and choreography," she says.
The workout: The class is very barre-based but integrates principles from both Pilates and ballet, such as focusing on the core and spinal alignment. All instructors are required to be certified in Pilates so they'll be better able to correct students' form. "Some clients come to their first class, saying, ‘I'm so uncoordinated, I trip over myself,' but after they stick with it, they tell me how they feel more graceful, have better posture, and carry themselves differently," Rogers says.
The name: "I came up with 'Xtend Barre' based on the idea of lengthening your body, but it's also about extending your life, pushing past your limits, and reaching for more in your workout," Rogers says.
The future: Xtend Barre has more than 100 locations worldwide, from Brooklyn, NY, to the suburbs of California to international capitals in Dubai and Australia. They're working on a new post-natal program and hope to open at least 10 more free-standing locations next year, as well as seven new licensed facilities.
Mike Hartwick, Sarah Ponn, and Bill Ninteau; Manchester, NH
The inspiration: Hartwick (on right) played professional hockey after college, spending every summer surfing in California. "Before my last season, I didn't do anything over the summer to cross-train for hockey beside surf, but I came back to camp in the fall in better shape than ever," he says. When Hartwick stopped playing hockey and took a finance job in Boston, he missed the total-body workout and toned physique that surfing gave him, and decided to find a way to catch some waves—without getting wet.
The rocky start: After experimenting with a prototype "surfboard," which looked like a "Pilates reformer on steroids," Hartwick saw how much fun the workout could be. Soon he and his two co-founders decided to try the concept as a viable business. In August 2011, the three quit their jobs and embarked on a six-city tour with SurfSET boards in tow. Though the response was lukewarm at first, word began spreading. When they reached New York City, lines of people were waiting outside the pop-up classroom. The real turning point came in September 2012, when Hartwick and co-founder Sarah Ponn appeared on ABC's Shark Tank, where they received $300,000 to make SurfSET a reality.
The workout: "It's functional training, which prepares you for anything in life, as well as specific sports such as skiing, mud runs, or actual surfing," Hartwick explains. And it's fun: "It feels more like playing a sport than exercising," he says. To limit the gimmicky aspect, SurfSET keeps the nautical theme to a minimum, though most classes project a surf film on the wall.
The future: Hartwick hopes to spread from studios in six countries and 120 licensed locations in America to having a studio in every U.S. city.
Beto Perez; Miami, FL
The inspiration: In his home country of Colombia, Perez began his career as a choreographer and fitness instructor in the 1980s. One day he went to teach an aerobics class and realized he had forgotten his music. He happened to have a couple cassettes in his backpack, so he used these mixes of traditional Latin salsa and merengue to improvise aerobic dance moves. Everyone left class smiling and asking to do the "new program" the next day, he recalls. Soon students started bringing friends, and the fad continued to grow throughout Colombia. Perez moved to Miami in 1999 and formed Zumba Fitness with two business partners two years later. [Zumba fans, click here to share this story on Twitter!]
The workout: "Zumba always has been and always will be for everyone, even those who don't like traditional gyms—it's exercise in disguise," Perez says. While Zumba began as a Latin-inspired dance movement, today it's a mix of international rhythms that reflect all genres of music: salsa, Reggaeton, Bollywood, hip-hop, rock and roll, and much more. Zumba also provides results that are both physical and mental: "When you dance all night with friends, you just have fun and don't even realize the calories you're burning, and Zumba classes are the same way," Perez explains. "You can just let loose for an hour, but you're also burning up to 1,000 calories."
The future: "I didn't know Zumba would change so many lives the way it has, with 15 million people taking our classes every single week and counting," Perez says. "My dream was simply that I wanted everyone to be able to enjoy dance fitness—and that and lots more have come true." In January, he'll launch Zumba Step, followed by new kids programs and video games. "Who knows what else?" Perez says. "We are full of surprises!"
The Bar Method
Burr Leonard; San Francisco, CA
The inspiration: While working as a journalist in New York City, Leonard fell in love with the Lotte Berk Method, a barre-style workout that rapidly rose in popularity in the 1980s. "On a trip to London, my husband at the time treated me to a class with Lotte Berk herself," Leonard says. "When we got home, we decided to buy a license and opened our own Lotte Berk Method studio in Connecticut in 1991."
The workout: Over the next 10 years, Leonard's technique began to drift away from the traditional Lotte Berk method after some students experienced discomfort in their backs, knees, and shoulders. Working with a physical therapist, Leonard created a new program that still strengthened the major muscle groups but used moves safer for students' vulnerable areas. In 2000, Leonard moved to the West Coast and founded the first The Bar Method studio in San Francisco. "The workout is highly efficient and effective in toning and shaping the body, but it's also extremely safe," Leonard says. "We especially pride ourselves on our well-educated instructors, who go through three months of training. They are taught to encourage students and help them gain confidence as they progress."
The future: With 76 current franchise locations, Leonard aspires to expand to 100 to 200 more. "Our goal is to bring The Bar Method to as many people as possible around the world," she says. And with an online streaming studio available by subscription by spring 2014 on their newly revamped website, this goal seems totally doable.
Barry Jay; Los Angeles, CA
The inspiration: Growing up the Bronx, Jay was an underweight, scrawny teen. In the 1980s, he moved to L.A., where he got into clubbing, partying too much, and not working out. "But on August 4, 1988—I'll never forget that date—I joined a gym and began to clean up my act," Jay recalls. He started working at the gym and took advantage of the free classes, which he fell in love with. When an instructor didn't show up to teach one day, the gym staff told Jay to lead the class himself since he'd taken it hundreds of time before. "I gave it my all, and it went so well that I started inheriting classes when other instructors left the gym. But I'd still have to lift heavier weights after I taught to stay in shape," Jay says. That dilemma led to his idea of combining heavy weights and cardio in one class for an all-in-one workout.
The workout: The bootcamps are designed to accomplish everything you need to do in one hour. Trainers can choose from different formats, sometimes splitting class evenly into 30 minutes each of weights and cardio, other times leading four 15-minute segments of the two. "We believe in shocking the body, so it's good to switch it up," Jay says. As for those dreaded incline runs, "They're great for burning calories, and provide a great butt and leg workout, plus slower runners can get more calorie burn for their buck," he says. While it varies per person, an hour-long class can torch up to 1,000 calories.
The name: "When I taught Body Sculpt at another gym, a student leaned over the bench, panting and exhausted, and said, ‘This isn't Body Sculpt—this is bootcamp!'" Jay says. "When I opened the first studio, I told my business partner Rachel this story, so she wanted to name it 'Barry's Bootcamp'—and it stuck."
The future: Jay plans to develop more DVDs with the current team of Barry's Bootcamp trainers in 2014. New branded clothing is also in the works, as well as new locations opening in Boston, New York City, Miami, Santa Monica, and San Francisco.
Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice; New York, NY
The inspiration: Prior to founding SoulCycle, Rice, an avid exerciser, worked in the entertainment industry in L.A., while Cutler lived in Telluride, CO, and worked in real estate. Cutler had practiced yoga for years and always hated cardio, but needed to find an enjoyable cardio workout to help her lose weight after her second baby. "After coming up empty-handed, I realized there was a hole in the marketplace for a workout that combined physical strength, mental health, and spiritual wellbeing," Cutler says. When both women relocated to New York City, they met at a lunch and bonded over their search for a cardio workout that would "make our hearts sing," Cutler says. "Ultimately we realized we'd have to create it."
The workout: SoulCycle is more than merely pedaling. "We've incorporated an upper-body series with light hand weights to strengthen and tone the body from head to toe, and riders burn between 500 to 700 calories in a 45-minute class," Rice says. "SoulCycle isn't just a workout, it's a total mind-body experience." Inspirational instructors, up-beat music, dark rooms, and candles add special touches to the studios.
The future: SoulCycle has 24 locations in New York and California, and plans to open an additional 50 to 60 locations in the U.S. and abroad by 2015, according to Rice. Already a total lifestyle brand with a robust clothing line and custom manufactured bikes, Rice says several more brand extensions are in development.
John Brookfield; Pinehurst, NC
The inspiration: Brookfield, a hand-strength specialist, holds several world records in strength and endurance. (He recently pulled a truck weighing 24,000 pounds one full mile in one hour and 23 minutes!) "About eight years ago, I came up with the idea for the Battling Ropes system based on the most relentless power on earth: a hurricane. All of its power comes from the constant flow of waves and water," Brookfield explains. Using a rope, he mimicked that flow by moving the rope up and down to make "waves," and found it delivered a full-body workout.
The workout: Since users can't rely on momentum to keep the rope moving, Battling Ropes keep your muscles engaged constantly. Brookfield chose to use a 24-pound, 50-foot rope, which allows people to progress through the system from beginner to advanced levels and continue to see results. "At first you may not be able to get the wave to move all the way to the end of the rope, but as your strength increases, you'll see the waves start to move further down," he says. Men's Health called the workout—which is cardiovascular and aerobic, and strengthens your entire body—the "hottest fat-burning exercise."
The future: While some fitness programs start by appealing to the average gym-goer, Battling Ropes is progressing the opposite way: Brookfield first introduced the system to pro athletes, military forces, and law enforcement agencies, and now it's started to catch on around the country in high school locker rooms, gyms, and CrossFit boxes. "More women are getting into it too," Brookfield adds.
Phillip Mills; New Zealand
The inspiration: Mills' father, Les Mills, a former Olympic athlete, opened the first Les Mills gym in New Zealand in 1968. After running track at UCLA in college, Mills combined his love for music (his first job was managing a rock band) with fitness to create BodyPump in 1990 as a way to bring more "rock and roll" to the fitness industry. "My take on aerobics was athletic, so we created a lot of sports-based cardio and weight-training classes," Mills says. Today the brand is one of the three biggest exercise classes in the world, alongside Zumba and Spinning.
The workout: BodyPump is a resistance-training program that involves low weights and high repetitions. The choreography is set to top-selling music and is refreshed every three months. "A recent Penn State study showed that BodyPump is as effective at building muscle as many traditional high-weight approaches," Mills says. "Plus you also benefit from the group effect of the class-based workout, which motivates people to work harder and push themselves further."
The future: With 110,000 Les Mills instructors in more than 80 countries, the brand is spreading rapidly. "We are constantly evolving to stay in line with the latest research and to incorporate new fitness trends and feature the latest music," Mills says.
Shaun T.; New York, NY
The inspiration: Shaun's career in fitness started when he gained fifty pounds in college and decided to make a change. He switched his major to sports science, started teaching hip-hop aerobics class, and became a certified instructor and personal trainer. "After clients started to see results and told me that they were feeling better about themselves and their lives, I was hooked—I wanted to do this forever," Shaun says. The inspiration for the Insanity workout came from the CEO of Beachbody, Carl Daikeler, who came to Shaun about five years ago with the idea. "He told me he wanted to ‘create the hardest workout ever put on a DVD—a workout so insane, we want to call it Insanity,'" Shawn recalls. "Always up for a challenge, I began creating it right away."
The workout: Insanity DVDs deliver a cardio-based, total-body workout: There isn't a part of your body you won't exercise, including your brain. "People lose weight, build upper-body definition, and get strong, sculpted legs and tight, toned abs—the changes you will see are truly insane," Shaun says. While he designed the program for fit and active people, it is really for anyone who's willing to commit, he adds. "I've seen customers age 26 to 76 start Insanity, and I've met people who've lost 50, 100, 150, or more pounds."
The future: Shaun and Beachbody are about to launch the fifth Insanity infomercial, and more DVDs are planned, such as his new Focus T25 series, in addition to Xbox versions of his workouts. "My goal with Beachbody and in life is to help change as many lives as I can," Shaun says. "Hopefully we can keep creating programs that get more and more people moving, feeling better, and living longer, healthier, and happier."
Greg Glassman; Santa Cruz, CA
The inspiration: Glassman started his career as a personal trainer in California in the 1970s. He opened his first CrossFit facility in Santa Cruz in 2000, "as an open space for him and his clients to go do whatever they wanted without being confined to the rules of a traditional gym," says Jimi Letchford, CrossFit's brand chief. More people started coming until a client encouraged Glassman to publish his daily workouts on the Internet so people around the world could follow the routine. Soon affiliate "boxes" started spreading like wildfire across the country and the world.
The workout: At its core, CrossFit consists of constantly varied, functional movements performed at a high intensity. "The workouts of the day (WODs) are structured but always changing—we'll lift heavy weights and run one day, then the next day we'll do lighter weights and bodyweight exercises," Letchford says. WODs can last from two to 25 minutes, and common exercises include deadlifts, pull-ups, box jumps, using kettlebells, or pulling, pushing, or throwing weighted objects. "CrossFit doesn't have a 'get fit in 15 minutes' pitch," Letchford explains. "It's a lifestyle fitness program to sustain for life."
The future: "We really don't know what's next," Letchford says. "We don't have any immediate goals except to support our affiliates." And there's no question that CrossFit affiliates are still growing exponentially: Ten thousand boxes are expected to open by the end of 2013, doubling the number of gyms in one year.