City Gym KC, a Kansas City, Mo, based gym, is born of the belief that a gym should be more than just a place to work out, it should be a place to belong. Hailee Bland Walsh opened City Gym KC roughly 8.5 years. If you want to get an idea of what City Gym is like, think of it as a big box gym with full amenities but with a huge focus on creating a feeling of community. It has all the hallmarks of a boutique studio but packaged in the idea that you can get anything you could possibly want at City Gym. The design is based on giving folks many paths towards feeling well. Individuals have lots of options and hopefully they are inspired to try to different modalities along the way. “It’s the best kind of bait and switch,” says Bland-Walsh.
At City Gym, we look at our member base in three parts. First, we have state of the art equipment with bells and whistles with the newest technology for the gym goers who come in very self-actualized. Secondly, for the individuals who enjoy fitness but are looking for community and connection, we focus on our group fitness classes. We give them an opportunity to create small communities and connect our members to staff. With those connections, come higher retention rates. Members get fitness education and the community aspect which keeps them engaged.
Lastly, for folks who come in and feel overwhelmed and intimidated, we created whole person focused programming. We developed a program called Real45. It’s a masters level course that provides a food, exercise, and behavior change framework. Members work out as a group, have access to personal training, and they can also try out some group classes. The participants are also members of a closed FB group and have access to a registered dietician. We provide members of Real 45 frameworks that they can use forever to provide competency and confidence with the goal that they eventually feel more autonomous about their fitness.
I was a professional soccer athlete who was really committed to not ever getting a real job. I wanted to avoid a desk job at all costs, so I thought working in fitness would be a natural fit. I got certified and then proceeded to spend the next 6 months wiping out my clients because I had no idea about programming. My clients were exhausted and burned out, and I had an epiphany. I realized I needed to meet people where they were if I wanted to help people be successful. I decided it was important to learn how to properly program for my clients. Beyond that, I stayed in fitness because I started seeing how fitness was changing people, specifically women. People came into the gym and started doing something they never thought possible but then they started seeing how the strength they gained in the gym was transferring into the rest of their lives. I was already familiar with this because of my experience as an athlete, but I never realized this wasn’t happening for the average person.
I wanted to create the spiritual, emotional, and physical space for people to show up for themselves. Fitness for me is a framework. It’s the way I get in front of people, but it’s so much than that, once we help people realize their own personal strength. How you show up when things get hard in the gym is the way that you show up when things get hard outside of the gym. The way that people transform their lives and seeing the ripple effect of strength training is amazing.
At City Gym, we are committed to not preying on people’s insecurities but reminding them of how strong they already are. We want to show people that they are are already enough. We want to put to put people on the path and provide them the opportunity to uncover for themselves what’s best for them.
A Place For All to Thrive
Our job is to remind people of how powerful they are. It’s not to prey on insecurities. We are really focused on including folks who traditionally feel left out of the fitness space whether it be because of size, gender expression, or race.
We wanted to create a space for people to feel comfortable practicing resilience and grit. Our product is not fitness. Our real product is our culture. We are concerned about how people feel when they walk in the door and how they feel when they leave. Everyone can come in City Gym and feel like they can be the biggest expression of themselves.
We want everyone to know they are welcome at City Gym. I think it’s really important for us to be explicit in our inclusion. I’m constantly thinking about how are we demonstrating it because it’s not enough to just say it. Inclusion is an ethos – a lens through which we are evaluating every single thing we do. We do that by our signage, our staff, and our policies.
Additionally, I’m intentional in training staff to understand why we are making the decisions we make. For example, the reason we have private showers. We don’t have them so that the gym has an upscale feel. We have private showers to remove the barriers to fitness, and I use that as an opportunity to explain to staff the reasons different types of folks would need to have private showers in order for fitness to be safe and accessible for them.
Our Trans men program, Momentum, which has garnered national attention, started when my friend Drew came to City Gym. He reached out to me because he was transitioning and no longer felt comfortable in the women’s locker rooms, but also didn’t feel comfortable in the men’s locker room yet. He had heard that we had private showers at City Gym. I showed him our space, and he teared up a bit. Drew began training at City Gym, and we became friends. He eventually told me about a support group he was running called The Union, a social and resource group that caters to the female-to-male, transgender community.
Through much conversation, we eventually decided to create a class where we could share fitness and education for trans men with a larger community. It allows trans men feel more comfortable coming to the gym because they know who is going to be in the class with them and it felt less scary. Momentum is a whole person focused, 45 day program, and we’ve been running it for 6 years now.
We are so thrilled to be a Women’s Strength Coalition affiliate gym because really want to make an impact in this industry and drown out some of aspects of the industry that are no longer serving us.
It feels good to be in communion with like-minded folks. Together, we can make a change in the fitness and wellness space.
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We are building a network of community leaders, like-minded fitness professionals, and affiliate gyms, to unify and strengthen efforts on a larger scale.
Women’s Strength Coalition is a 501c3 nonprofit, dedicated to building stronger communities through increased access to strength training. We envision a world where everyone has equal opportunity to express their voice and embrace their power.
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