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Fitness Together offers something more personal than the gym experience

Apr 6, 2010

By: Doug Maine

Michael Kaman, the owner of Fitness Together at 156 New Britain Avenue, wants to be clear, His business is not a gym.

“A gym is high volume, low cost,” he said.

Fitness Together is for people who want a more personal touch, or who need motivation, scheduled appointments and accountability in order to stick to an exercise regimen.

In a gym, there can be plenty of noise and distractions, as well as competition for the various exercise machines, but not at Mr. Kaman’s studio.

“It’s like having your own gym…a lot of people don’t want to work out in front of other people,” he said.

While someone may go to their gym and not have anyone speak to them from the time they check in to the time they leave, “here, from the moment they walk in to the moment they leave, someone’s here with them,” he added.

“We hold them accountable.”

If someone comes in looking to lose weight or improve their health, Mr. Kaman said they can guarantee results in 60 sessions. That means three sessions a week with a trainer. If a member can’t make a session, he or she should call and the trainer will try to reschedule it for the same week.

Mr. Kaman and the other trainers try to do little things to make clients more comfortable, such as putting out a basket of fruit, sending them birthday cards and putting on music they like.

If a client misses sessions, the trainers contact them to make sure they’re all right and reschedule.

“At a gym, you don’t show up for three months, you think you’re going to get a phone call?”

At the same time, the personal relationship makes the client more accountable for achieving his or her goals and enables the trainer to maybe push that person to work a little harder.

“If someone’s doing, say, pushups and if they only do 10 and they’re like, ‘I can’t do any more,’ we kind of gently push them. We encourage them to do more,” he said.

In such circumstances, the trainer relies on his knowledge of the person to decide just how much he or she should push.

“There was one person where I was like ‘c’ mon, do a few more,’ and she said, no, I really can’t.”’

Some people seem to challenge the trainer to push them harder. Others, when he asks for two more, do five.

“Our goal is to push people, but not hurt them,” said Mr. Kaman.

Before starting a program, clients take a fitness test that determines their body fat percentage, blood pressure, flexibility, weight and how many pushups they can do

“Because we do blood pressure screening, we had three people (come in) who didn’t know they were anywhere near to having high blood pressure” who had to see doctors and be put on medication so that they can be fit enough to exercise.

The typical client comes in for sessions with a trainer three times a week, but people can work out more if they like.

“All of our clients are free to come and do as much cardio as often as they can,” Mr. Kaman said.

Some don’t take advantage of it. Others regularly come in two more times each week.

Members also fill out a dietary digest that the trainers review from time to time. As a result, they begin to think “what will he say if he see I ate at McDonald’s four times or I ate a lot of pizza?”

After a client fills out a form showing what he or she is eating, the trainers show that person what is being consumed in terms of calories, nutrients and fat.

“We come up with a meal template for them. We actually have a grocery list that they can take to the store,” Mr. Kaman said. “It’s good for anyone to be more aware of their diet.”

Generally, more vegetables, antioxidants and olive oil are good for people, giving them more energy and helping them lose the right weight.

“Anything with high fructose corn syrup is really bad.”

During the typical session, a member will do a cardio warm-up, a workout, which is good for strength and balance, and then leave.

“It’s all integrated,” Mr. Kaman said.

The front room where people warm up is equipped with a treadmill, bike, and elliptical trainer. There are medicine balls, bands used for the shoulder press, squats, and other exercises, and a functional trainer called a “Smith machine” and free weights in the rooms in back.

Mr. Kaman said that he and his fellow trainers can help clients with varying needs and backgrounds.

“The types of people we work with are frustrated with other diets,” he said. “A lot of people have been referred by their doctors,” warned about their weight or high blood pressure.

“Being just a little overweight is such a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes,” he added.

When you look at it like that, joining Fit Together is far cheaper than the costs associated with having diabetes or heart disease. For women, Mr. Kaman points out that working out and lifting weights increases bone density, reducing their susceptibility to broken bones.

“Every time I see an old lady carrying groceries, people say you should help her, but I say don’t help her out, she needs that exercise,” he said.

“Most gyms, as trainers you’re focused on meeting sales goals,” said trainer Kevin Katilius, who added that he new employer allows him to focus solely on helping clients get fit.

With the effort they devote to individual clients, trainers can work with them on their form. In one case Mr. Kaman saw that a client needed to pull in his elbows when he was using one of the machines and it made all the difference.

“I’m a state-certified physical education and health teacher. I just had a little bit of ambition and wanted to help people, promoting health and fitness,” he said.

“I ran across the company and it’s a huge company with locations all over the world, mostly in the United States, and it was a niche that I think the industry needed,” Mr. Kaman said.

The Rocky Hill location is the fourth Fitness Together in Connecticut. The others are in Avon, Darien, and New Canaan. In Massachusetts, the company has taken off, with 58 locations.

“They’re doing extremely well.”

After being open for about two months, “we’re doing about triple what we thought we were going to do,” he said, adding that he had just hired another trainer, a woman named Lisa.

With a New Year beginning, they were hoping for a flurry of new clients. Before committing themselves, Mr. Kaman said any potential client can have a free, no-obligation session.

The cost to clients is between $50 and $60 per session. These are purchased in packages that range from 20 to 100 sessions.

“It depends on the client’s goals,” he said. “We’re very comparable to what everyone else charges, but I think our services are better, more personal.”

Mr. Kaman, 27, grew up in North Haven. His girlfriend lives in Rocky Hill and he likes the area.

“I’m in the army…it’s been my motivation to do this,” he said. “I know how it feels to be pushed to your limits physically and mentally. I know most people can do more.”

Out of his 10 years in the service, he spent three years deployed, all while he was also working on his master’s degree at Southern Connecticut State University.

“All of our trainers have degrees…I want it to be a professional place,” he said, unlike a regular gym where, in his opinion, the trainers are relatively anonymous persons.

Currently a staff sergeant in the Army National Guard, he spent a year and a half deployed with homeland security, guarding bases in the country, and a year in Afghanistan.

Mr. Kaman has joined the Rocky Hill Chamber of Commerce and plans to be active in the community.

“It’s important to definitely help the town that you’re in,” he said.

“Our success so far in two months has been optimistic enough that I’m thinking about another studio. It just really hits a niche.”


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