Fighting to stay fit

Laura Watson practices Muay Thai with gym owner Ben Little at the Bainbridge Island Boxing Club.  - Richard D. Oxley
Laura Watson practices Muay Thai with gym owner Ben Little at the Bainbridge Island Boxing Club.
— image credit: Richard D. Oxley

During a time when the economy was wounded, and has since been on the mend, fitness businesses on the island have boomed. Residents are kicking, running and lifting their way to a healthier island.

According to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, a trade association that serves the health and fitness industry, Bainbridge Island is not alone. Since 2008 memberships at fitness clubs in the United States have risen.

Though the IHRSA also reports the number of clubs in Washington wavering in recent years, declining by 1 percent in 2011, Bainbridge Island opted to follow the national trend anyway. In fact, since 2008 the number of fitness gyms, training facilities or other related businesses has nearly doubled on the island, branching out into an array of workout options ranging from yoga to crossfit training.

In that same time national numbers of health and fitness clubs peaked just above 50 million participants in 2010, reflecting a 10.8 percent leap in just one year and approximately $20 billion in revenue.

Ubbes Liljeblad of the Ubbes Fitness and Weight Management Clinic has seen this first hand.

“(Ubbes Fitness) has been serving Bainbridge Island for four years…” Liljeblad said. “There has been a steady growth of our clients at about 10 percent per year.”

Ubbes tackles weight management from many angles including exercise, nutrition and even hypnotherapy.


Islanders can have their pick of distinct gyms and trainers such as James Bowman who left his life as a celebrity personal trainer from New York to start up Strength Lab on Bainbridge Island.

“When I left Manhattan I was training eight (people) a day, including Anne Hathaway, Claire Danes, John Leguizamo and Troy Murphy,” Bowman said. “If the career was the only motivating factor, I would have stayed there, but that’s not what I wanted. I wanted a family. I wanted to live in a place where I could mountain climb and hike and ski.”

Bowman’s Strength Lab started in 2009 with a set of kettlebells in the back of his car. Strength Lab now sets up shop in the Sportsman Club Business Complex. He approaches fitness from his numerous certifications such as massage, nutrition, neurosomatic therapy and more. Clients — who come from as far as New York and Florida — are treated as much as they are trained.

Exercising from a different angle is Ben Little who recently moved to the island from Seattle, shortly after starting a family. An experienced athlete in the martial art of Muay Thai, he soon realized that that there was no place to train on the island, so he started a gym in his own basement.

Little met others interested in training, but his basement proved to be too small for the demand. The Bainbridge Island Boxing Club was established in August 2011. While concentrating on Muay Thai, they also offer boxing, kickboxing and an open gym for members to train and workout.

Julie’s Fitness is yet another unique approach. Julie Leachman has been actively encouraging fitness on the island for years and is widely known as the coach of the Bainbridge Island Rope Skippers. Already a strength and conditioning specialist, Leachman went back to school three years ago to become certified as a physical therapy assistant to augment her skills as a personal trainer.

Leachman has been training various classes for years on the island, but last October she brought all her skills and classes under one roof. Julie’s Fitness coaches singles or small groups, and even can help some get into shape so they can boast their best little black dress.

‘Little Black Dress Fitness’ is just a funny name for a very worthwhile class,” Leachman said. “I combine three to four ladies per class for cardio and essential strength training…It’s not a boot camp, spandex-type of group, but  everyday women who understand how important strength training is.”


"We all do different things (at island gyms)," said Travis Adena of the Focus Training Studio. "I think for people here on the island, it matches the same reason they move here. They want to live in a healthier environment. I think people feel this is a good place to do all those things, outdoor and indoor."

Adnea has been working as a personal trainer on the island since 2001 though he started up Focus Training Studio in 2007. He says business has been good ever since, partially because healthy living and access to exercise facilities on the island is in demand.

"Everybody is different, with different goals and time schedules, injuries and interest," Adena said. "I think the reason that there are so many different (gym) businesses now is that we are trying to fill everyone's needs."

It isn’t just the wealth of trainers and approaches that seem to be attracting island residents. On the other end of the spectrum is the Gym at the Pavilion, which has no trainers and no staff. In fact, there is no one at the gym except members straining under weights or sweating it out on ellipticals.

“There is no required commitment to sign up for a full year, or pay any initiation fee in order to join. Members simply pay month to month,” said Eric Fredricks, managing partner of the Gym at the Pavilion. “As a result we are a quiet, adult gym and our members rarely have to wait to use any piece of equipment and they clean up after themselves.”

Members at the Pavilion simply drop a check, and a waiver form, in a mailbox at the gym and proceed to workout at their own leisure and determination.

The environment is a world apart from personal trainers or classes.

While the laid back persona of the Gym at the Pavilion may indicate that residents simply want to work out, even without outside motivation, it may be just another niche in the market.

Vice President of Industry Growth for the IHRSA Meredith Poppler said that gyms have become more diversified.

She believes that the more options available, the more likely people will join a facility that appeals to their tastes.

“There are two major explanations for why health club numbers and membership numbers have increased over the past year,” Poppler said. “First, the explosion of niche specific clubs and population specific programming, meaning that no matter how old you are or what type of athlete you are, there is a club out there designed to appeal to you, not just big boxes trying to appeal to the masses.

“Also, the largest growth we’ve seen in the industry has been from the 24-hour key club model.”

While there are no 24-hour clubs on the island, residents certainly have many choices.

Aside from gyms and personal trainers, there are also a number of yoga facilities such as the Island Yoga Space, Tai Chi at Island Martial Arts, or CrossFit 98110 — another new addition to the island.


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