Why Real Gyms Don't Look Like Gyms

I opened Catalyst in 2005 on $15,000.
One of my partners had $15,000 left on a line of credit. He said, “It’s all yours.” I felt like I won the lottery.
Now, $15k isn’t much to start a gym. Most gyms cost at least 100x that much (that’s one-point-five MILLION.) But the small budget was actually an advantage: instead of focusing on the chrome and mirrors that attract newbies to gyms, I was forced to buy ONLY what worked.
I knew I wouldn’t have a marketing budget. I would have to depend on my clients spreading the word about Catalyst. And that meant I had to get RESULTS.
So when I made my shopping list, I bought barbells. I bought big rubber bands. I bought four machines, skipping ropes, mats and a rower. I built two boxes and a couple of medicine balls.
On the day the equipment arrived, I thought, “This is all I need.”
And it was: for a full year in that little apartment on Queen Street, we got people VERY fit. No mirrors, no chrome, no stereo system. We made a lot of noise.
These days, I can afford to buy more equipment. But what I buy is more of the SAME equipment: rowers, barbells, pull-up bars and boxes. You still won’t see pec decks or cable crossovers or leg extension machines. Instead, you’ll see squats and pushups and pull-ups. Because that’s what actually works.
Very fit people know that a big variety of equipment is a red herring. Most gyms sell “comfort”: padded machines, oiled stacks, polished chrome. But truly fit people–people who NEED to lose weight, or need to perform, or are desperate to fix their bad back–avoid that stuff. People with skin in the game know they don’t need more choice: instead, they need more work.
Almost everyone who comes to Catalyst has been to other gyms. And almost to a person, they say, “I just didn’t get anywhere.” They share stories like Jim did: they looked for the cheapest option. Or they looked for the largest. Or the one with the most machines. But eventually, when they decided they needed results, they went looking for a coach.
And coaches don’t use that stuff. Professional, career coaches, whose livelihood depends on getting results, use barbells. Boxes. Squats and pushups and food plans. Forced to choose what works, professionals choose the basics.
Many new clients who book a No-Sweat Intro tell me, “This just looks like a lot of open space.” It’s true: you need space when you’re going to move a lot. And if you want to get fit, you’re going to move a lot. Fitness requires no chair, no padding, no seat belt.
Everything you need. Nothing you don’t.
No wasted space. No wasted time. No wasted effort.
In hindsight, I’d buy less. The four machines I bought for Catalyst in 2005 now sit in our back room, available but unused. Instead, under the bright LEDs, our clients are doing burpees and snatches; climbing ropes; and smiling. They’re far more fit than they were back then. My coaching has improved tenfold. My equipment hasn’t changed at all.