By Jimmy Magahern
Fitness buffs pay premiums for custom workouts at boutique gyms around the Airpark.
Rick LeMoine navigates through the aisles of free weights, dumbbells, squat racks and weightlifting platforms in what he calls the “Power Room” area of Maximum Fitness, a 16,000-square-foot gym hidden in an industrial park overlooking the Loop 101 just north of Bell Road.
“This is where we have a lot of the older equipment,” says LeMoine, general manager of the facility– who, with his silver hair and compact, wiry frame, could be considered older equipment himself among all the jacked strongmen, buff female bodybuilders and well-toned personal trainers who make up a majority of the gym’s dedicated clientele.
“For me, I like this stuff better than the newer stuff over there,” he says, motioning toward the requisite treadmills, elliptical machines, spin bikes and Stair Masters that fill the cardio training area. “Some of this stuff, they don’t even make any more. Like this Smith machine,” he adds, pointing out a rare vertical weightlifting contraption, invented by late fitness legend Jack LaLanne. “This was broken and the guy we had maintaining our equipment said it couldn’t be fixed. Well, I don’t accept ‘can’t.’ So I went online and bought all new bearings and, with a little ingenuity, learned how to fix it myself.”
While he’s describing the mechanics of the Smith machine, a fit young woman loads heavy weights onto the barbell and asks if LeMoine would like to get on it first. “C’mon Rick, you wanna jump in?” she says. LeMoine laughs, taps another young female weightlifter on the chin as she swings a cast iron kettle bell and gamely steps out of the way as a Pumping Iron-era Schwarzenegger doppelgänger pulls a heavily weighted prowler sled across the floor.
LeMoine seems to know almost all of the gym members by name, which he counts as another feature, besides the rare old-school equipment, that sets the 15-year-old gym apart from the large number of fitness centers that have sprung up lately around the Scottsdale Airpark.
“We try to treat this like the old sitcom Cheers, where when you walk in the door, everybody knows your name,” he says, moving outside to a narrow outdoor area covered in AstroTurf which members use for tractor tire flipping and prowler sled pulling. ”It’s great to walk into a place and know you’re not just a number, which is how the bigger corporate gyms often treat you. Plus, all of our trainers here are independent – they pay me to work here. Which is a lot different than other clubs, where their main focus is to sell you a membership. We’re not car salesmen here.”
Differentiating today’s fitness centers from the traditional ”big box” franchises has become a winning strategy for gym operators. Maximum Fitness brands itself as one of the last old-school style gyms in North Scottsdale, mixing in vintage gym-rat equipment along with almost retro-cheap $39 per month membership fees, but the Airpark area has become dominated by another type of alt-gym: the high-end ”boutique” fitness studio.
According to trade group the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), attendance at smaller, more specialized studios grew by 70 percent between 2012 and 2015 and now represent around 35 percent of the $83 billion worldwide fitness market. While category leaders like LA Fitness, Planet Fitness and Anytime Fitness still make up the biggest slices of the pie, boutique studios offering specialty workout classes in things like spinning, CrossFit, SoulCycle or hot yoga are gaining ground, particularly with younger exercisers who are willing to pay more for personalized workout experiences focusing on particular body-toning results. IHRSA reports Americans spend between $80 and $140 a month for such specialty fitness classes, as opposed to an average of $52 for club memberships at the big box chains.
“In this day and age, I think people are willing to pay a little bit more for a targeted group fitness class just so they don’t have to think about what to do at the gym,” says Scott Van Horne, owner of the Scottsdale location of TruHIT Fitness, near the south end of the runway at Scottsdale Airport, which charges $99 for monthly memberships. “If you go to a gym at a crowded time, what do you normally do? Maybe get on a treadmill for a half-hour, lift a few weights. You can easily spend a couple hours there and not really get a good workout. With this kind of program, you come in here for an hour class, do a warm-up, watch the trainers demo the exercises, you work out really hard for 35 to 40 minutes, cool down and you’ve done an incredible workout in 50 minutes.”
TruHIT specializes in a form of cardio workout called high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, ranked as one of the top five fitness trends for 2017 by the American College of Sports Medicine. Van Horne, a former software engineer for a cybersecurity firm, started out as a member of TruHIT, founded by his friend Ken Fearer, and was so impressed with the personal results he achieved from the workout that he purchased the studio in 2015. (Fearer has since opened five other locations throughout the Valley.)
Van Horne says another big part of the appeal of the specialty fitness club is the sense of community participants get from engaging with other like-minded exercise buffs.
“It’s kind of like they’re all in this together, you know? They meet people, they’re high-fiving each other. And it’s not just women who are taking exercise classes now. We have plenty of men who come in, too. Even guys who’ve said they would never do a group fitness class are having their eyes opened. They come in, get their butts kicked by the trainers and go, ’Okay, I get it now!’”
Apart from HIIT, Airpark fitness boutiques offer a wide array of discipline-specific classes.
EOS Fitness, on Northsight Boulevard and Raintree Drive, offers weekly group classes centered around SoulCycle-type indoor cycling, yoga, Zumba, kickboxing, Pilates and barbell lifts and curls.
The Scottsdale location of the Portland-based barre3 Studio, on Greenway-Hayden Loop near the Scottsdale Quarter, specializes in the barre workout, a ballet-inspired routine that has been enjoying a rapid surge in popularity over the past few years (the American Council on Exercise links the trend to the release of the 2010 movie Black Swan).
And Off the Grid Fitness, on Scottsdale Road south of Shea Boulevard, bills itself as Arizona’s first “green gym,” featuring spin bikes and elliptical machines that generate their own electricity, as well as classes in HIIT, mat Pilates and TRX (Total Resistance eXercise), a form of suspension-training exercise developed by a former Navy Seal using a jiu-jitsu belt and parachute webbing to leverage gravity and the user’s body weight as an alternative to standard pushups.
LeMoine, who’s been in the fitness biz for some time, says Maximum Fitness tries to provide as much variety as possible, too, in its workout options.
“This is our boxing room,” he says, stepping into the large area just to the side of the front desk, which he says has become one of the gym’s main attractions. “For a lot of members, it’s a new thing for them to come into a gym that has a variety of things to do beyond just lifting weights or doing cardio machines. People are kind of intrigued by even just the sound of the punching bags, and we have gloves they can use if they don’t have their own.
“We’ve also got the tires,” he adds, motioning to a pair of tractor tires stacked by a wall. ”Some people like to flip those for exercise, and we’ve got some sledgehammers they can use, if they just want to come in and beat the hell out of the tires with those. We have battle ropes in every corner of the gym. We try to accommodate all kinds of ways people want to exercise. That’s important today,” he says. “People want to choose what works for them.”