More than a quarter of health clubs in the US closed during the first 18 months of the pandemic, including Butchered Bodies, a gym run by Taylor Metzger in Dallas, Texas.
There was a moment where everything was scrutinized and then Metzger’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked in. Metzger is a personal trainer with a background in interior design who once made and sold ceramics out of the back of his truck, which Metzger adapted. “I moved my workouts to the backyard, where I create imaginative exercises,” he said.
The students arrived at Mockingbird Lane, arriving at a COVID-safe facility with functional PVC exercise tubes strapped to resistance bands, weights for farmers to carry with them for turf, and a few surprises. Metzger said there were chickens running around. His customers can take home the eggs they have laid. Whenever it gets too hot, as Texas often does, there’s an on-site, old-fashioned Airstream to cool down.
In addition to the perks, Metzgers customers keep coming back for workouts, which are more engaging than before. We went with equipment that was manageable for the outdoor space and limited budget,” Metzger shares. This approach focuses on free weights, bodyweight exercises, resistance exercises, and unique exercises designed to stay engaged without the tedious repetition counting.
Over time, a joke emerged during these sessions: We felt like kids on recess, returning to the classroom drenched in sweat after having fun. Metzger took note of what worked, from the natural lighting, to the energetic music, to the loose, unique nature of the exercises, and knew he was onto something.
Don’t call it a comeback
Over the past two years, Metzger has fully transformed into a phoenix. In December 2020, he teamed up with Evan Duncan, a Marine Corps veteran and a former gym operator, to create a playground-inspired fitness club called Recess Fitness Club. The 18,000-square-foot facility is currently the largest independent gym in Dallas, with 1,600 members and an extensive waiting list. The duo is looking to expand into other Texas markets in 2024.
Recess in Dallas doesn’t have chickens walking around the yard, but it does do trading off the same nostalgic feelings that made the backyard version of Butchered Bodies a success. The gym has swings, ladders, rope climbing, artificial turf, punching bags and even a Nintendo console. Metzger and Duncan are currently in the process of installing the slide from the newly opened second-floor studio. (We took a look at the design; it should be interesting.)
This level of success is not guaranteed even as the nationwide lockdown begins to lift. None of the 18 trainers Metzger and Duncan initially hired could commit to an opening date for the gym. With 100% of their savings invested in the project, the founders trained customers themselves, working 12-hour shifts, six days a week, until the club found word-of-mouth (and membership stability eventually) by April 2021.
Its playtime, Dallas
It’s ironic that Metzger’s gym is related to school since he wasn’t too fond of his school years. He said traditional school was not my path. I often clashed with people in authority and was bullied by friends. But it was those experiences that got him into bodybuilding in the first place: I found solace in working out, getting stronger, and building self-esteem.
Of course, recess in Dallas is not inspired by high school in general but by the only hour in the American school day where students are encouraged to run around, experiment and have fun. It’s a smart branding choice (clubs really focus on it on social media), but in an age of increasing sedentaryness and isolation, reminiscing during breaks also creates so a clear and effective north star.
Consider: opportunities for physical expression and social connection are also important for adults. In recent years, researchers have gone so far as to consider lack of play among adults a public health problem. Having fun doesn’t just mean meeting people and becoming healthier; it might even mean is healing. Duncan served eight years in the Marine Corps and was stationed in Djibouti during the tragic Benghazi attack. But he spent years training (and recruiting) veterans in his hometown, and at Recess Dallas, championed the effectiveness of the work hard, play hard ethos.
Class at break time
Since Recess Dallas opened its second-floor studio, it has launched a series of creative classes (named according to the theme). Here’s a snapshot of an average week at the gym, taken by Metzger and Duncan:
- Boarding school: A 45-minute full-body workout similar to Pilates, featuring Heroboard, designed to improve balance, mobility, flexibility and core strength.
- Fall out: The class focuses on the lower body, ensuring a burn through compound movements ranging from moderate to high intensity.
- ISS: A total body workout that combines strength, cardio and plyometrics, suitable for all fitness levels, pushing the limits.
- School of rock music: High-intensity upper body sculpting combines slow, controlled movements with heavy weights, promoting muscle growth.
- Meeting: This unique combination of floor pilates and strength training emphasizes the mind-muscle connection with incredible intensity.
- Detention: A total-body training program aimed at losing fat and building lean muscle, a perfect remedy for post-weekend indulgence.
- Base: A serene class that combines yoga poses, gentle movements, breathing exercises, meditation and relaxation to enhance mindfulness and a calm nervous system.
As we like to say here, your wellness routine should be consistent, but that doesn’t mean it has to be conventional. This is a great, comprehensive program of the kind that will keep most clients’ bodies guessing and their minds fresh.
If you don’t live in Dallas (or DO live in Dallas and can’t get off the waiting list during recess), don’t worry too much. Not every gym has the branding or sponsorship of a club like this, but many independent studios offer similar facilities. At least, you can shop on ClassPass (yes, it survived the pandemic).
Also, try to incorporate a break mindset into your personal training. To quote Recess Dallas, There was a time when exercising meant going out with friends. Gather some motivated people together to run stair sprints or jump rope in the park. Bring a ball. It wouldn’t be a problem if everyone had the same skill level, let alone age. (At recess in Dallas, there are sometimes Olympic athletes training alongside the ladies.) The point is that you’re out there trying things, laughing off your mistakes, and getting better every school day.
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