These fitness clubs give their members more than a maximum heart rate, they make a community
Anne Dean Dotson is the instructor for the ever-popular West Sixth Yoga club, held weekly at West Sixth Brewing. PHOTO BY MICK JEFFRIES
They say one of the greatest motivators to get up and moving is to find a group of like-minded people with whom to work out. They encourage you in the weight room or on the court and don’t let you lag behind when out on a jog, and the camaraderie they can provide might just be enough of an influence to keep you coming back for more.
But these fitness groups on the following pages go beyond the normal give-and-take of a typical exercise class, in the traditional sense. They offer more than a paid one-hour session at the gym once a week, and they don’t leave their pursuit for better health in the locker room. They keep in touch between meetings, sharing workout tips during the week on social media. They find fellowship after a sweaty bout in the studio as their heart rates comes back down, maybe with a frosty glass of beer. They provide a community.
If you’re looking to find a way to dedicate more time to your health and fitness this year, or re-energize your already neglected New Year’s resolution, you may consider giving one of these groups a visit – they might inspire you to come back.
Lexington Sports & Social Club
PHOTO BY ROBBIE CLARK Lexington Sports & Social Club offers a number of leagues its members can play, including dodgeball, as well as many socializing opportunities after matches.
If you have been out and about in Lexington within the past few years, you may have spotted one of the vibrant shirts with the logo for The Lexington Sports and Social Club. Considering the shirt also has a graphic of a horse holding up a frothy glass of beer, you may have even looked twice.
“Anytime I’m out in public in Lexington, I try to wear one of the shirts and it’s always like, ‘Hey that’s really cool, what’s that about?’” said Josh Formont, the general manager of the Lexington Sports and Social Club (LexSSC).
The LexSSC is a co-ed sporting league and social club for the 21-and-over crowd that offers a wide variety of team activities, such as bowling, cornhole, dodgeball, flag football, kickball, softball, ultimate frisbee and volleyball. Plans are currently in the works to offer basketball, soccer and tennis in the spring.
“It’s all based on the demand of our members,” Formont said. “A lot of people have talked about what sports they want and what sports they don’t want, and that’s why we’ve decided to grow and add what we have.”
LexSSC is a part of the Sports and Social Company, a business that runs similar sports and social clubs in Knoxville, Tenn., Asheville, N.C., and Norfolk, Va. LexSSC has swiftly grown to become its largest branch. LexSSC first launched in 2010, and by 2013 the branch saw over 1,000 players sign up to play in a league.
Playing in a league involves the opportunity to participate in scheduled games in a particular sport, followed by the opportunity to socialize at a nearby venue.
“We always set up what we call a sponsor bar,” Formont said. “It’s not always a bar, but it’s a place where, if you go in wearing your LexSSC shirt, you’ll get some sort of special on their menu that’s only offered to LexSSC members.”
Typically, the locations are near the park or gym where the sport takes place. Some participating venues have been Village Host Pizza, Campus Pub, Southside Pub and O’Neill’s Irish Pub. This gives the players the opportunity to discuss team strategy after the game or network with other members.
Becoming a member of LexSSC is as simple as signing up to play in a league. This can be done with friends, through a corporate team, or individually. In fact, many members sign up for a sport in an individual capacity, regardless of whether or not a team affiliation is already in place.
“The free agent is what we call it,” Formont said. “The free agent aspect. You get this large group of single sign-ups that just want to get out and do something.”
The bonus is the opportunity for young professionals to “meet like-minded people” through sports.
“Recreation is a huge part of people’s lives,” Formont said. “Stress is so high with young professionals and to give them a chance to go out on a weeknight and to have a viable sports option to meet and network with other people, is a huge opportunity for not only young professionals, but people all the way up to 50-plus.”
Formont also sees the pricing structure of the leagues as a draw. Starting in the spring, LexSSC plans to lower their current price from $55 to $49 per league. Formont hopes that with this lower pricing even more people will be able to join the already active social club.
“It’s not a closed community,” Formont said. “It’s open to absolutely anyone who wants to join. All you have to do is choose what sport you want to play and come and hang out with us.”
More information on LexSSC can be found at www.lexssc.com.
– Cynthia Ellingsen
The R3SISTance instructor Adam Adkins (far left) and members of his weight-training class. PHOTO BY ABBY LAUB
Barbells loaded with weights crash on the floor as members of The R3SISTance at Lexington Athletic Club completed a set of “bear complexes” with trainer Adam Adkins during a Sunday night boot camp.
The bear complex – a series of squats with overhead presses – was a portion of the grueling workout that “R3Z” participants have come to expect in a setting that looks more like a powerlifting team practice than a class at a local gym. The group was formed by Adkins and LAC gym manager Mark Dickinson last year to help people not only get stronger, but get better at what they do in the gym.
“The R3SISTance gives members a network of others dedicated to improving physical performance,” Adkins said. “We do programming for various goals and fitness levels, and I am proud of the programming, but ultimately it is secondary to the people. Mark and I just try to foster that community and help people as much as we can along their journey with whatever goal they have.”
A movement- and skill-based approach to fitness, his R3Z group (the “3” signifying kettlebell, barbell and bodyweight) now has about 50 people following daily programming on Adkins’ blog, and they are not your typical gym rats.
“For a lot of people the goal of the workout is the workout,” Adkins said. “They look at the workout as some sort of penance they have to pay for whatever poor decision they made last night at dinner. They want to show up, move some things around, get sweaty, tired and out of breath, but that’s it. They don’t want to measure what they did today versus what they did last week. They don’t want to practice movement efficiency. They don’t want to address weaknesses. We are looking for people that want to break out from that mediocrity and be active members of our community.”
He joked that the only downside of participating in the group, which includes free classes to Lexington Athletic Club members and a blog that anyone can follow, is that you might not be able to catch up on your magazines while parked on the elliptical.
“In order to get better we’ve eliminated all the mindlessness of modern fitness,” Adkins said. “But in doing so it places demands on those participating. It demands you be mentally present in every workout.”
At R3Z workouts, there are perhaps more women present than men.
“Perhaps the most insidious of (fitness industry) myths is that women shouldn’t lift heavy weight,” Adkins said. “People, and particularly women, usually end up coming to me because they failed elsewhere. They haven’t met a goal, or they’ve gotten injured, or they’re just bored. What I try to do from the very beginning is just get them to chase performance for one month. For the most part I’ve found that women love the challenge and feeling of accomplishment that comes along with heavy lifting. Plus, it is a heck of a lot more fun to try to add weight to the barbell than it is to subtract it from the scale.”
Kristin Ray, 30, is one of the women training with R3Z and can attest to the thrill.
“I think the mixture of competitiveness and camaraderie has been a huge driving force for me,” she said. “You’re all competing to get those high numbers on the barbell but you’re also competing against yourself and everyone is really encouraging.”
She said she enjoys the additional programming from Adkins that can be done on her own time with a smaller group of friends at the gym.
“I probably wouldn’t do it without the community,” she noted. “The community makes it fun, it makes it special to know you’re going to go somewhere and see people you’ve formed friendships with through it. It’s just fun to have that positive energy when you’re doing something hard and then to be able to give it back.”
Adkins said the easiest way for others to get in on the group is by joining the Facebook group The R3SISTance and get active with it. Participants can check out a free, detailed 20-day program at www.r3sistancetraining.tumblr.com.
– Abby Laub
West Sixth Yoga
Students cram into the beer garden at West Sixth Brewing every Wednesday for the popular West Sixth Yoga class. “We ‘Tetris’ people in there,” said instructor Anne Dead Dotson. PHOTO BY ROBBIE CLARK
Anne Dean Dotson steps over tightly packed bodies and negotiates her way through rows of outstretched arms as she leads the well-attended West Sixth Yoga club through a variety of poses.
Held every Wednesday night since the fall of 2012 in the beer garden at West Sixth Brewing, the free yoga class has become so popular floor space is always in short supply.
“We ‘Tetris’ people in there,” Dotson said. “I think the most we’ve ever fit in there is close to 70 people.”
Dotson, a senior acquisitions editor with University Press of Kentucky, became a certified yoga instructor in 2009, and the idea for the West Sixth Yoga group materialized after she saw a similar group in a brewery in Charleston, S.C. She thought a group yoga class would go over well at West Sixth Brewing.
“I just love the community there,” she said. “I found myself hanging out there all the time. I had no idea how it would turn out though. I knew the crowd would be big because it’s free yoga and people are always looking for free yoga.”
Indeed, the crowds, which usually average 50 to 60 students a week, get so big that Dotson sometimes has to turn people away. Diligent students arrive up to an hour early to stake out a place for their mats, where they hang out reading or even enjoying a pint.
In the warmer months, the retractable walls of the beer garden are raised, allowing some students to spill out on to the brewery’s patio.
“I underestimated how much people love it,” Dotson said. “It’s a super-fun atmosphere. You see all kinds in there – a lot of new yoga people, and then a lot of yoga teachers come, to practice, so you see everything from hand stands to those just laying in a child’s pose for a solid hour.”
The ambiance in the beer garden is far from a stereotypical yoga studio. Aside from the close proximity to other students, West Sixth brewers are visibly in the middle of production in an adjacent room. And then there’s the lingering smell of yeast and hops.
Still, despite the distractions, Dotson says that these quirks help endear the students to the class week after week, and everybody still leaves with that “blissed-out feeling.”
“You’re getting more of a community here,” she said. “Often times when you go to a yoga class at a studio, you go to the class for an hour and then you leave; for this experience, a lot of times people have to come early, so they meet new people, they talk to people. The majority of them stay and have dinner or a beer. I don’t think that’s something you would get going to a fitness studio or a class. It’s that community aspect that makes this class very unique. And it’s very social. People are very loud and there’s a lot of laughter and feedback during classes.”
During the week between the days when West Sixth Yoga meets, Dotson and other students keep up with each other via the group’s Facebook page, sharing fitness tips, words of inspiration, even music playlists. It’s a good way to make announcements regarding the upcoming class, but it’s also a good way to keep up with friends.
“I personally have made a lot of new friends in the past year and a half just at West Sixth Yoga,” Dotson said. “I feel like I have a whole concrete set of friends just from that.”
West Sixth Yoga meets from 6 - 7 p.m. Wednesday nights at West Sixth Brewing. Attendees are encouraged to come early. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/WestSixthYoga.
– Robbie Clark
Wildcat Masters Swim Team
Wildcat Masters Swim Team Coach and USA Triathalon Hall-of-Famer Susan Bradley-Cox (at left). PHOTO BY ABBY LAUB
There aren’t too many places where teachers, doctors, coaches, police officers, mothers, lawyers and professors all intermingle, but swimming with the Wildcat Masters under the tutelage of USA Triathlon Hall of Famer Susan Bradley-Cox brings everyone to an even playing field – or pool.
“Susan’s wonderful,” said Lon Hays, chair of the psychiatry department at University of Kentucky. “She can be as inspirational to the person who’s training for the world championships as she can to the person who’s trying to lose five pounds.”
Hays became a member of Wildcat Masters Swim Team when he was training for triathlons beginning in 1983. Wildcat Masters Swim Team is an adult swim team run as an auxiliary program of the University of Kentucky Athletics Association.
Bradley-Cox, a nationally and internationally acclaimed record-holding triathlete, has been with the Wildcat Masters for two decades and has even started a satellite team in Versailles, Ky. She leads workouts multiple times a weeks with the assistance of two other coaches, Meagan (Donahue) Hennig and Clifton Cox. The team competes in statewide and national meets, and Bradley-Cox allows teammates access to her wealth of expertise with thoughtfully planned workouts that they can print out and take with them to the pool even if they can’t make practice at University of Kentucky’s Lancaster Aquatic Center.
The program is for adults but there is no limit to the experience level required, and sometimes people aged 60-plus will show up for one practice. It offers coached and un-coached opportunities to swim.
“We have all ages — it’s wonderful. You’ll find an 18-year-old swimming with a 60-year-old,” Bradley-Cox said. “I think a lot of people find that the water is so forgiving. We have a lot of athletes, a lot of triathletes. If they are injured they can always get in the pool. We have one guy training for the Navy SEALs, and some are just starting to swim for the first time.”
The group’s only requirement is joining the United States Masters Swimming program and paying minimal fees. The Wildcat Masters participates in meets around the state and competes nationally under the umbrella of Swim Kentucky. The team’s many accomplishments are displayed on plaques affixed to a miniature bourbon barrel that Bradley-Cox proudly shows poolside.
Bradley-Cox said any type of person can find success as a swimmer because of the forgiving nature of the water. She said some runners even join the group simply so they can water run. The group also has many triathletes and athletes rehabbing from injuries. There are the competitive types who excel in national swim meets, and also people swimming purely for fun and fitness.
“Everybody’s needs we try to meet, whatever you come for, we try to help you with it,” she said. “We try to make it so it’s fun, because that’s the purpose of it – to get healthy, to stay in shape and to have a good time.”
Having a “good time” can sometimes involve a grueling, water-splashing workout as evidenced by the pack of swimmers sprinting up and down the pool together in practice.
“It’s low impact, you’re not pounding your legs and stressing your body,” Bradley-Cox noted, adding that swimming is a lifelong sport that anyone can benefit from. “You’re using your whole body, and it’s a lot about balance and coordination, and it’s very technical. It’s a lot of breath control and they have to learn how to utilize their breaths.”
The other bonus, Bradley-Cox said, is that if you want you can come to the pool and be incognito since you are primarily underwater. “People can just be themselves in the pool.”
For more on the Wildcat Masters Swim Team, visit www.kylmsc.org.
PHOTOS BY ABBY LAUB Ernie Peel leads the local running club John’s Striders. He has run 17 marathons since he turned 50. He calls John’s Striders “a social group with a running problem.” PHOTO BY ABBY LAUB
Most runners focus on their personal records, race times, where their next half marathon will happen or what kind of running shoes they will purchase next, which makes Ernie Peel a rare breed.
For 48 years Peel has been hitting the pavement, one foot at a time. But the Lexingtonian has committed a better part of the last 10 years to making the lives of other runners better through his efforts to lead local running club John’s Striders.
“Athletically I’ve thought less about my racing goals and have focused on helping so many from the group run their first half marathon or full marathon,” Peel, 62, said. “My legacy will be one of encouragement.”
For 23 years Peel ran solo, but then started running with a group in the 1990s and by 1996 was running consistently with a Lexington-based group, the Todds Road Stumblers. The Stumblers and the Striders often train together. Since 2009, Peel has run with John’s Striders, a group formed out of John’s Run/Walk Shop.
“I started in September 2009 when John’s Run/Walk Shop asked me to lead a new group training for the races the next spring,” he said. “We’ve gone from 30 members to 640 members.”
Since the age of 50, Peel has run 17 marathons, and he is a man of few words, but the throngs of runners who show up to train with John’s Striders in rain, snow, sweltering heat and frigid cold do the talking for him. While the group benefits from his running expertise, it is his emotional and mental encouragement that make the biggest impact.
The group’s objective is to help each other train – running or walking – and get through long, grueling training days for races — anywhere from 5Ks to full marathons. It primarily targets spring and fall races, and is free to all participants. But race entry is not required for Striders participation, and the group consists primarily of beginner and novice runners, although more experienced runners are welcome.
“The Striders are a social group with a running problem,” Peel quipped. “On the same run I’ve laughed and I’ve cried. We definitely share among ourselves and so many lifelong friendships have developed.”
Michel Thompson, 30, joined the Striders three years ago at the recommendation of a friend and fellow Strider.
“I had plateaued with running solo using a Couch-to-5k program, so she recommended a group dynamic,” she said. “It was the right move for me.”
The University of Kentucky Law Library Circulation Manager said she has made many new friends as a result of running for hours together.
“We have become a family,” she said. “I actually do refer to them as my ‘running family’ and we celebrate life together – on and off the road.”
Thompson noted that though she is not a natural athlete, she has accomplished immeasurably more than she thought possible before running with the group.
“They gave me the guidance and confidence to train for and race my first full marathon last November, as well as four half marathons prior,” she said. “They also provide the motivation and accountability I need to get up at 4:45 a.m. to train consistently.”
For runners looking to get started with John’s Striders or running on their own, Peel and Thompson both recommended that you must simply get going.
“I always say so much of life is just showing up,” Peel said. “Run when you are scheduled even if you run slower on a given day. Some of my best runs have been when I started out thinking, ‘Why am I even running today?’”
The Striders communicate primarily on their Facebook page and run regularly during the week from Starbucks. Weekend runs vary based on training schedules.
The training group is free and open to anyone. Those interested can contact Peel directly at email@example.com.