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Although Columbia has several full-service gyms, it’s also home to many specialized fitness studios, and more have opened their doors in recent years. What drives consumers to these specialty studios? A look inside four of these businesses reveals a few common threads: each brand or studio creates a unique community atmosphere, the exercise regimens are targeted and results-oriented, and the particular training of the instructors provides a better workout experience.

CrossFit Fringe

Nate Bacott, Ben Frissell and Tyler Lasley opened CrossFit Fringe on July 1, a rebranding of sorts of CrossFit United, which existed for four years prior. Lasley says CrossFit “specializes in not specializing.” Because CrossFit is an association, each box (as they call their gyms) can coach differently; some follow the main site’s WOD, or workout of the day, while others cater to more specific niches.

CrossFit Fringe’s trainers have scientific and sports backgrounds and stay on top of current research. Lasley thinks clients appreciate the trainers’ experience. They don’t just learn a routine that they teach repeatedly; in CrossFit, one almost never repeats a workout. Although safety is always the priority, he encourages clients to “get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

Lasley thinks the CrossFit community is “unrivaled.” He says, “It’s the only sport I’ve ever seen where the last finisher gets cheered on more than the first.” In CrossFit, people compete against themselves, not others. Clients can ring the PR bell, which celebrates besting a personal record, “one time or 20 times.” Actually, Lasley says CrossFit Fringe doesn’t have clients; all their members are athletes.

CrossFit Fringe has an On Ramp program that guides people through their first four weeks; they do the same workout the last night as the first so people can see how much they’ve progressed. Most CrossFit athletes track or journal their progress.

Beyond the training programs, instructor expertise and community atmosphere, Lasley thinks small details help clients embrace specialty studios. The new studio has showers, for instance. And trainers and members do hang out together outside of the box, at movie nights and picnics. CrossFit Fringe offers free classes a couple times a week to bring in the community and even a ladies-only class once a week. They are also considering adding a CrossFit Kids class for 4- to 18-year-olds.

Mariah Dreisinger came to CrossFit as a medical student looking for an outlet. She finds it therapeutic and likes that it’s a structured, short but intense workout. “I can’t make myself work that hard,” she says. The community cheering her on makes her work harder.

Matt Kitzi couldn’t finish his first CrossFit workout and was instantly addicted. Two years later, he became a CrossFit trainer; he enjoys watching people with a wide range of fitness levels increase their overall fitness capacity.

Although balancing work and life is challenging, Lasley finds that CrossFit itself brings balance.

CrossFit COMO

Mike Wuest and Brian James opened CrossFit COMO in June. Wuest describes CrossFit as a strength and conditioning program that emphasizes continually varied functional movements (or movements replicated in everyday life) at a high intensity. Every day brings a different workout programmed by the trainers. Wuest says that “CrossFit is for everyone” because every exercise is scaled in terms of amount of weight, time and intensity to the individual’s fitness level — something that stands out among one-size-fits-all programs. He defines fitness as increased work capacity across broad time (meaning long and short term) and modal means (meaning different types of movement).

Wuest attributes CrossFit COMO’s success to the community atmosphere; trainers know the members and want them to show up frequently. They encourage the community atmosphere by creating team-based workouts or team-based warm-ups and things such as the PR bell. Members track their workouts in the studio, which helps people see the evidence-based, results-oriented philosophy in action; members can compare the amount of weight or time for a particular movement across workouts. Wuest thinks personality and outlook in life are as important as technical competence in trainers.

CrossFit COMO offers free introductory classes, and it requires the completion of a foundations course before clients can join regular classes. This course helps acclimate clients to the workout style, learn the philosophy and determine their baseline. After that course, they can attend regular classes for free for two weeks.

Lauren Blood didn’t think she was going to like CrossFit when she came for the first time with a friend, but the team atmosphere won her over. “No one ever lets you not finish,” she says. She finds that motivational. “It’s so hard, but you feel so great afterward that you keep wanting to come back.”

Rob Drass says, “The best part is the camaraderie, whether you’re coming here for the first time or whether you’ve been coming since they opened up.”

Hearing the ring of the PR bell is one of the most rewarding aspects of CrossFit COMO for Wuest.

Meet me at the Barre

Lauren Matteson opened Pure Barre in October 2012. As the name suggests, Pure Barre is a ballet barre exercise; it combines Pilates, light weight work and the use of the ballet barre for stability and resistance. It is nonimpact and builds long, lean muscles. But those with no dance background — or even those working on basic fitness — should not be intimidated. Matteson likes to tell people, “If you can hold onto a barre, you can do it.”

Matteson attended her first Pure Barre class in Florida while she was studying for her law-school entrance exam, and it wasn’t love at first sight. She left the class frustrated because the workout was difficult. However, she didn’t just stew in frustration. She kept going back to class, and within a week, she was hooked. Within three months, she had signed a franchise agreement for the first Pure Barre in the state of Missouri. She knew Columbia would be a great niche for the studio because of the active lifestyle culture. Four months after that, she was offering classes.

Matteson has taken other barre classes, but she thinks the technique and the culture of Pure Barre sets it apart. Studio owners know their clients, not only their names but also their stories. The teachers are passionate and friendly, and classes are small enough that students receive one-on-one feedback. The exercises and music are given to the studio from corporate, but each trainer mixes them to make a different routine for each class. Matteson thinks this is a crucial reason clients seek out specialty studios; the trainers know the most about that specific type of exercise and can better tailor modifications to every client. Yet, Pure Barre also maintains the best parts of the group fitness atmosphere: accountability, a little bit of competition, the building of relationships and the sense of being a part of something.

Clients have positive reviews of the technique and instructors. Vanessa Brown says that Pure Barre has a little bit of everything she’s liked about other exercise programs. Jeannette Cover has always admired the gracefulness of ballet and likes how Pure Barre combines that with an athletic approach. Instructor and practitioner Kelsi Phillips likes how she doesn’t always realize how hard she’s working out; the small moves and beat of the music allow her to focus on herself and internalize her workout. As an instructor, she loves that clients never reach a plateau. “Pure Barre never gets easier, though you get stronger,” she says.

The most rewarding part of owning a Pure Barre studio for Matteson is helping clients accomplish their goals, especially when lifestyle changes have dramatic quality-of-life improvements, such as reduction of chronic pain.

Sweating it out

Brittany Wills, her husband, Allen Wills, and Jesse Murphy opened Sumits Hot Yoga in October 2012. She discovered the workout when she was looking for something different while living in Springfield. She loved the gym but found it was too dependent on her; she had to rely on herself to put away her cellphone and push herself. She fell in love with hot yoga over the course of a two-week trial package but had to justify the extra expense over a traditional gym. The biggest pull was that it enforced “an 80-minute break from the chaos of life.”

When Wills and her husband moved back to Columbia, she wasn’t willing to give up hot yoga and decided to pursue opening a studio here. Because Columbia is a fitness-oriented town, from the trail system to public schools that encourage an active lifestyle from an early age to local companies that offer wellness programs, she thought it would be a good fit.

Wills calls Sumits Hot Yoga “an alternative workout that incorporates both cardio and stretching components.” The same yoga poses are performed in each class, and the room is heated to 100 to 105 degrees. The intensity of the workout is dependent on how hard you work, and hot yoga offers mental, emotional and physical benefits. Sumits Hot Yoga licenses studios and provides training and the routine, but some aspects of the studio, such as the lobby design, are up to the individual owners. They worked to make the studio inviting and try to maintain a delicate balance of a high-end feel that still seems approachable. They are thinking of expanding to include a second practice room.

Client Chris Sparkes likes how the studio feels like a family. She says, “I really love the physical and the spiritual sides of the journey.”

Anita Ellis was never sure if she was performing exercises correctly by herself at the gym and likes having a teacher to guide her through every step of the practice. She also finds the instructors at Sumits Hot Yoga “very forgiving” in that they always respect the place where each individual is.

Jordyn Gehlert, one of the newest teachers at Sumits, loves the heat and loves to sweat. She enjoys the fact that it’s a workout you can do every day and that it has modifications to make it work for everyone.

Perhaps Rob Hill sums up Sumits Hot Yoga’s appeal the best. “It makes me feel better,” he says.

Wills loves seeing people respond to Sumits Hot Yoga’s teachers and how hard the new teachers work to contribute to the studio.

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