Group X Visionary
When it comes to Group X, not many individuals know their stuff better than Lori Lowell.
A few years ago, Lori Lowell had a vision: to open a fitness club unlike any other in the industry.
In October 2014, that vision came to fruition when Lowell and her husband, Jeremy, opened their 10th club, Gold’s Gym: Elite Training Center (ETC) in Woodbridge, Virginia. Unlike the Lowells’ other Gold’s Gyms, this one is unique — it possesses an emphasis on programming that provides members with a one-of-a-kind experience.
Gold’s Gym ETC’s members have access to a wide range of group exercise classes including bubble soccer, AirFit, Zumba, CrossFit, MMA and much more — all under one roof. All in all, within 22,500 square feet, the club has three separate group fitness studios — ranging from 800 to 3,100 square feet — in addition to traditional amenities.
However, the club provides much more than just a wide array of Group X programming. Lowell explained that Gold’s Gym ETC goes above and beyond to create unique classroom experiences members would be hard pressed to find elsewhere. “I wanted to create a valuable, wonderful product that delivers amazing member experiences, and at the same time holds onto the powerful heritage of Gold’s Gym,” she said.
To create these amazing member experiences, Lowell drew inspiration from a variety of unique sources, including large music festivals such as Coachella. This is particularly reflected in one of the classes still in the development stage, called Drishti Beats. A vinyasa flow yoga class, Drishti Beats is set to music mixed by a live DJ. “We started to get really creative with what’s happening in the world as far as music, and I started to think: Music and experience is the driving force, and people want to be able to connect with that,” recalled Lowell. “So we decided to create our own similar experience.”
To create Drishti Beats, Lowell worked with a group of young adults within the local community to produce one-of-a-kind music, which she plays during the yoga class. Although the class isn’t currently on the regular schedule, the Lowells do host the class at Gold’s Gym ETC from time to time. “There are a lot of kids making music because it’s so accessible to them through their computers,” said Lowell. “But instead of sitting in their basements and making their own sound clouds, I thought: Why not get them in front of the public to be heard? And that’s a big part of my purpose and goal [with this class].”
Again, when it comes to classes like Drishti Beats, the experience goes beyond the live DJ. Sound and lighting play integral roles as well. Lowell explained that the gym partnered with Supreme Audio, a sound system vendor, to create unique studio environments. “Thanks to Supreme Audio we created these amazing studios with beautiful sound, beautiful lighting, great acoustics and big stages,” she explained. “We wanted it to become a social environment where people felt like they were going to a club, but it’s also a night club where they can listen to different types of music and experience wonderful things.”
For Gold’s Gym ETC, Lowell also envisioned spaces that would be more flexible than those found in a traditional gym. “I thought, why shouldn’t people be working out on the exercise floor in a group setting?” she explained. “So at 4:30 in the afternoon, the instructor grabs a microphone and leads 20 people on the fitness floor in a MOi Cycle class.”
In addition, when the yoga studio isn’t in use, Lowell plans to hold yogi training courses for yogis within the local community. “The real estate in our yoga studios is only being used 7 percent of the day, so we are creating our very own 200-hour yoga teacher training so we can facilitate yogi trainings for our communities,” said Lowell.
Ultimately, Lowell explained that Gold’s Gym ETC is a culmination of her desire to constantly evolve. “I’m tired of the same thing, and if I’m going to continue to grow in the industry I have to evolve,” she said. “So ETC was about creating these amazing, fun, beautiful, delicious experiences for people, and we did.”
Beyond her desire for growth, Lowell explained she’s extremely passionate about the club, and believes it’s a viable model. “If we’re going to be leaders in the industry it’s time to give members an opportunity to explore all of the things that are available in fitness,” she said. “So we — meaning my husband, Jeremy, my partners Joe Harrison and Sandy Hall, and I — thought, why not give everybody a taste of everything under one roof? It’s about giving people a lot of different things so their workouts never become boring.”
That philosophy may pass as a reflection on Lowell personally as well. In addition to being a gym owner, she also serves as a Group X instructor, international speaker, program creator and entrepreneur. With all of that on her plate, it’s hard to imagine she ever gets bored, let alone complacent.
She’s able to juggle it all thanks to the support of her team. “My husband Jeremy supports the hell out of me and he ties all of the loose ends together,” she said. “So I might throw up a huge concept, but he’s going to be the one to make sure that everything is in order. So I mostly focus on the vision, and then I bring the people in that I think can bring the vision to fruition.”
Another vision of the Lowells’ recently brought to life was MOi Cycle, the unique indoor cycling program co-founded by Moi Wertz, Asaf Goldfrid and Lori and Jeremy Lowell in 2012.
“MOi Cycle started with me in Colorado being invited by my girlfriends to take a bike ride up a mountain to a restaurant,” she recalled. “I’ve been cycling for a long time, mostly indoors, and we went up this mountain and my girlfriends — who yeah, they’re into fitness, but not at the level I’m into fitness — they kicked my butt by 20 minutes. When I got to the restaurant I was devastated. First of all, I was really embarrassed because I was huffing and puffing and it was a really hard climb for me and I thought: Gosh, something is missing.”
Without being able to track data such as heart rate or RPMs, Lowell realized riders were essentially in the dark as to how hard they were actually working.
Soon after, Lowell and her husband attended a cycling class led by a woman named Moi Wertz. “You brought your own bike into class and hooked it up into a monitor that measured your watts,” recalled Lowell. “About three or four weeks into the program I had this euphoric experience. I thought, this is feeling really good — I’m sweating and seeing results, and I turned to Jeremy and said, ‘We could do something like this for the fitness industry.’ So we took that concept and turned it into a measurable results class, MOi Cycle.”
During a MOi cycling class, participants workout in targeted heart rate zones while jamming to an exciting sound track engineered to be in sync with their RPMs. “It’s taken off like wildfire,” said Lowell. “We’ve created this whole technically savvy, amazing experience, and now there’s a lot of people that want it.”
Whether she’s working on a new program such as MOi Cycle or a new club concept such as Gold’s Gym ETC, Lowell explained Gold’s Gym International has had her back in each endeavor. “Gold’s Gym’s goal is for us, as franchisees, to be as successful as possible,” she said. “As opposed to giving me a box and a model that I have to have … we have freedom, and that’s what makes our brand so powerful — because the franchisees have their own voice. At the same time, we’re very committed to the Gold’s Gym brand.”
The Lowells have been Gold’s Gym owners since 1995, when they became partners in an existing club in northern Virginia. However, Lowell’s passion for offering unique and exciting Group X programming goes back to 1982, when she worked as an assistant to a lobbyist for Nike on Capitol Hill.
“Nike had to make its statement on fitness products, so they asked me if I would be kind enough to go to all of the different studios in the area and distribute bags of [Nike] clothing,” she recalled. “I said: of course. So I went to all of these different studios and started seeing these classes called aerobics. I thought: I could teach this stuff. So I would work on Capitol Hill by day, and teach classes at night.”
From there, Lowell’s love of group exercise snowballed, leading to where she is today. “Personally, Group X has really affected me,” she said. “After a while [Group X takes on] a philanthropic purpose — you want to really do something good, do something important, and that’s probably driven me to do this new club. It’s time to do something important and leave a special mark.”
Gold’s Gym ETC held its grand opening on October 18, and Lowell explained the club has already garnered great reviews from members. “The feedback has been fabulous,” she said. “Everyone’s really excited. We’ve had more interaction on our Facebook pages with just the few members we have than some of our clubs that have a lot more members. It’s been great.”
In fact, the Lowells plan to soon open another Gold’s Gym in Madison, Wisconsin, following Gold’s Gym ETC’s model. “It’s a very similar size and we’re going to create the almost identical environment, where we have all these wonderful programs, offerings, experiences, music, fitness, lighting and sound. If this goes great, this is the model that I’m going for moving forward in building clubs.”
At the end of the day, Lowell couldn’t be happier to see another one of her visions transition from just an idea, to a brick-and-mortar facility. “I think a really big milestone is sticking to my vision and believing in it and not necessarily following suit,” she said. “I’m very proud of that milestone.”
By Rachel Zabonick, Editor of Club Solutions Magazine