Broward native Amy Gol opened Challenge Fitness in November of 2014 with her business partner, Jorge Delgado, after more than a decade as a personal trainer.
It’s a nondescript Friday morning in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Federal Highway is thick with traffic, and the downtown coffee shops off it do a brisk trade, as another workday begins.
But at one spot on Federal, just south of the Sunrise Boulevard bend, people are getting down to a different kind of business.
Challenge Fitness’ striking red-and-black exterior grabs you – and failing that, if you get close enough the thumping music just might do the trick. If you’re driving down back roads in Flagler Village with the windows rolled down around the top of the hour, there’s a good chance you’ll hear the thumping bass of what sounds like a pretty good party.
At a time of morning when many people across Fort Lauderdale will be just sitting down at their desks, groups from seemingly all walks of life filter in. It’s a member’s 30th birthday, and there are visitors from California looking for a good workout. Gol says much of her business comes from word of mouth. There will be birthday burpees later for everyone, but none of them know this yet. (If you don’t know the gym workout staple, imagine a pushup followed by a hands-extended leap in the air. Now imagine a number of them in rapid succession.) It’s destined to be a less-than-fun surprise for later.
This is a Friday before a holiday, and about 20 people have come for class, a typical level of turnout. “It’s funny, the nine o’clock class is usually the busiest class of the morning, and you would think people are working. It’s always been one of the hottest classes.”
But whether it’s a Friday or a Monday, if your line of thinking this time of year is along the “New Year, New Me” variety, well, you’re certainly not alone. And if you’re thinking of starting a new diet program, then you’ll have even more company.
It’s estimated that 45 million Americans embark on a weight-loss venture every year – many of them as a New Year’s resolution – while the market for associated weight loss products has ballooned into a $33 billion industry.
And every year, gyms nationwide become popular destinations the first week of January. At least for a little while. “It’s crazy how many people come in with those New Year’s resolutions,” Heather Jones says. “Some wind up sticking to it, and some people come for a few months, drop a few pounds, then fall into their old routines.”
Jones teaches strength, core and spin classes at Upload Fitness (formerly Pivotal Fitness), another gym just north of downtown.
Do lots of people join a new gym or start a new routine in January only to see it fall to the wayside within months? Definitely. Can it be hard to prioritize healthy eating and a proper workout more than once or twice a week? No doubt.
But fitness professionals can also tell you about the success stories, the people who found something that worked for them and stayed with it. And they believe that while one plan doesn’t fit all, there’s a plan out there for everyone.
Someone in Your Corner
At Challenge Fitness, it’s a group dynamic with an individual touch. All classes are led by a trainer in the 3,700-square-foot, rubber-floored facility, but classes aren’t so big that members don’t receive individual attention.
These are HIIT workouts – high intensity interval training – which means you are going to work and you are going to sweat. Gol says the workouts can all be modified to fit an individual’s fitness level or work around an injury.
“If somebody is starting with lighter weights, if they’re starting with less impact, they’re walking on the treadmill instead of running, that’s fine,” Gol says. “They’re going to build up to it. Your endurance is going to get stronger. Whether it’s your strength or your endurance, you’re going to get stronger the more you do it.”
The workouts themselves are designed to work the entire body and utilize a wide variety of movements. Every day is different with a mashup of exercises of dumbbells, kettlebells, bands, medicine balls and cardio. There’s even a punching bag hanging menacingly in the corner.
Gol says these types of workouts can produce results in newbies and workout veterans alike.
“If it’s something new for them, it’s totally shocking their body,” she says. “And, boom, you’re going to see weight drop off like nothing. Or see muscle growth out of nowhere because it’s something new. And then you have the type of client that wants maintenance. Someone who is already OK with where they’re at and they’re able to maintain the body by doing something different every time.
“The difference here is, you’re guided through the workout. [When you work out on your own], most likely that person is going to hit the same machines every time they go in. You’re used to it. With that guided trainer it’s different every single time. Without variety in your workout the body will plateau if it’s doing the same thing all the time.”
But just like any other regimen, the workouts are only effective if you actually show up and do them. What makes one person excel at a place like Challenge Fitness? One-word answer: consistency.
“You can’t disappear for two weeks or in your first month only come once or twice a week and wonder why nothing is happening yet,” Gol said. “You can’t start again every week and come once or twice and that’s the only thing you do.”
Of course, the workouts are only part of the equation. Things like stress levels and sleep can have profound impacts on our health, but one aspect impacts just about all of it: nutrition.
Gol says that the majority of success in the gym comes from proper nutrition. One of the first things she has clients do is write down everything they eat for four days.They go over the log and start crossing things off and adding better options back in. It can be an eye-opening experience.
“Once you see it all written down, it’s like, ‘Whoa,’” Gol says. “OK, so I had three drinks on Saturday, then fine maybe I come in on Sunday and work that off. We get them starting to eat better because 80 percent is what you’re eating.”
Once the success train is rolling, though, that’s when it can become self-perpetuating.
“If a client is coming in three or four times a week and they’re eating right, they’re going to see results in 30 days,” Gol says. “And not the complete results, but results that are going to keep motivating them to keep coming in. If you see results in your first two, three or four weeks, you’re only going to be motivated to do more.”
And it’s important to remember that in this environment, you’re not alone.
“We will guide you,” Gol says. “Once you’re here, you’re ours. For that one hour, you’re ours.”
More than a Six-pack
On the other side of downtown Fort Lauderdale, across the New River, Santiago Callejas has seen all types of clients walk into his gym, both here and abroad.
Callejas is a veteran of the CrossFit scene in Miami, and has been coaching it for seven years. But he’s taken his coaching to a new level over the last few years, teaching CrossFit certification seminars all across Central and South America – think of the seminars as where coaches learn how to be coaches – and recently became a partner in his own gym, Riptide CrossFit just off Andrews Avenue by Florence C. Hardy Park.
He started doing CrossFit himself in 2010 as a way to get better at obstacle course races. He learned movements and scouted workouts with YouTube videos, but soon that wasn’t enough. He shook off the sticker shock of a membership – CrossFit gyms typically cost around $150 a month, but prices vary by location because gyms are individually owned – and within six months was shadowing coaches across Miami-Dade as an intern.
For the uninitiated, CrossFit is a workout regimen that prides itself on its unpredictability – preparing for the unknown and the unknowable – built around functional movements. A one-hour class is as likely to include bodyweight movements like pushups as it is weighted barbell movements like squats or deadlifts. The idea is that the workouts prepare people for challenges faced in everyday life. And that’s key, Callejas says, because the people that thrive in his gym are the ones who are there looking for greater overall health outside of those walls.
“They have to have a clear vision,” Callejas says. “They’ve made a decision to lead a certain lifestyle; they want to live an active, healthy life.”
Callejas says those who succeed (and stick with it) start by building daily habits. They also figure out the “why” part of the equation and let that be their motivation.
“People who succeed, it’s because they’ve decided that they want to be able to play with their kids or grandkids,” Callejas says. “They want to hike the Grand Canyon or go jump into the ocean and take surfing lessons.
“It’s not all about having that six-pack or losing those 30 pounds or making it to the CrossFit Games,” he adds, referencing the annual competition that purports to crown the world’s fittest man and woman. “People want those things, too, but it’s not their main focus. It ends up being a byproduct of that main focus.”
“Different Avenues for Different Folks”
Heather Jones has experience teaching spin, barre, HIIT, boot camp and core classes, but yoga is her passion. She got involved with yoga while rehabbing an injury. Soon, she was hooked, and now her dream is to open her own studio.
“Yoga is more than just exercise,” Jones says. “There’s a spirituality, a mentality where you’re able to be present in the moment.”
She says it’s important to try a few different classes.
“Sometimes, it’s just the vibe, the pace, and maybe it’s not syncing with you that day,” she says.
Group fitness can be fun and effective, but it may not be for everyone, especially those just starting out.
“It’s different avenues for different folks,” Jones says.
There’s certainly no shame in starting a new fitness regimen at home, Jones says; she started years ago the same way.
“I started out intimidated,” she says. “[I thought] I’m just going to do my living room workouts.” Now, she teaches everything from barre to yoga to spinning, but it all started at home.
And for those who want to do it on their own in the gym – there is a certain level of escape in putting in your earbuds and letting the rest of the world dissolve away – Jones recommends scheduling at least a session or two with a trainer. “You can have someone guide you along the way and show you how to do things properly, at least the first or second time,” Jones said. “That should give you a lot more insight on how to approach working out at the gym, especially if you’re going to be on your own.”
But whatever avenue you choose, there’s no substitute for just showing up and doing the work.
“There is a typical attitude to the ideal client,” Jones says. “Someone who really wants to be dedicated to disciplining themselves. Everything in life that we really want to achieve is going to take some discipline and some hard work. And your body is no different. It doesn’t matter how good you look, you have to put the effort in every day.”
Amy’s Favorite At-Home Exercises
You’re committed to doing it – getting back to the gym or going even more, and developing those good habits. Another part of that can be augmenting gym days with exercises at home. For Challenge Fitness’ Amy Gol, a good workout doesn’t have to be a complicated workout. She offers five simple, straightforward exercises you can do anywhere.
Squats help the entire lower body, giving a good workout to the glutes, legs, hamstrings and quadriceps.
The sit-up’s more compact cousin really works your core, toning those abdominals.
With the oldest exercise in the book you’re getting chest work, triceps and shoulders. You get the entire upper body going.
Dips work the back of the arms, which can be a problem area because it’s a smaller muscle group.
5. Jumping rope
With any good workout, it’s important to get the heart beating with some cardiovascular work. Invest in a good rope and you can get the blood flowing without leaving the house.