When I first hear about the newest “Artificial Intelligence” gym, I'm immediately skeptical. After a bit of research, I discover that 'The Exercise Coach' is a franchised fitness studio that was created in 2000 which caters workouts towards a senior crowd with little to no fitness regimen of their own or those who are short on time and need a quick pump. I tell myself to keep an open mind as I pull up to the small facility in Northeast St. Pete.
I step into the studio and take it in: A turn-of-the-century house-turned-fitness center, the facility has beautifully stained concrete floors (I later learn that owner Jak Plihal redid them himself), several well-spaced exercise machines and a clean, organized atmosphere.
A trainer named Elizabeth greets me and gives me paperwork to fill out before introducing me to Jak Plihal, owner of The Exercise Coach franchise.
Plihal is an enthusiastic entrepreneur, oozing with passion for his craft throughout our conversation. Plihal explains the TEC equipment works well for anyone, but is catered more specifically towards the senior crowd who need to work out but have trouble finding or making the time. The Fitness Coach’s mantra is “Body by Science,” incorporating machines that utilize and store data with online technology to track workouts. Plihal informs me that two 20-minute sessions per week does the trick, being that the equipment exercises Type 2 muscles, which means shorter and less frequent workouts. Can't argue with that logic.
This place is very different from the CrossFit warehouse gym space I am accustomed to; there is quiet music playing (Jack Johnson doesn’t exactly get me hype) and the decor feels more like my favorite aunt’s house than a gym space. Taking into consideration I am not The Exercise Coach’s typical clientele, I eye the equipment as I weave my way through. To my surprise, there are no weights on the machines. Turns out the machines add resistance electronically; a new concept to me, and I'm itching to put them to the test.
The leg press is the first piece is up first, and Plihal programs my information into the screen. Returning clients get an ID of their own; their information is stored in the system and pops up when they enter their PIN. The goal is to monitor your progress over an extended period of time. The data is tracked through The Exercise Coach’s system in order to show clients the progress they make from one workout to the next.
I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I don’t need to add weight plates to anything, but Plihal assures me I will be challenged.
“Break my machine, Resie!” he yells at me and I can’t help but join him in laughing.
Put a CrossFit chick — one who is accustomed to slamming down barbells and getting filthy face-down on the floor doing burpees and sit-ups — in a clean and quiet fitness center full of machines that add resistance electronically with a gentle whirring noise (I swear, those machines practically purred at me), and you are definitely going to get some laughs. But the reality is, these types of gyms are the future of fitness for a lot of people. Although this isn't my cup of tea, I spy two individuals who seem to be enjoying their session just feet away (or as much as one can enjoy a workout).
Each station’s sets are designed to last only a few minutes, so I cycle from the leg press to a couple of upper body stations and finish my workout on the stationary bike. My stats follow me from station to station and as does Plihal with his encouragement to push harder. Maybe he is like this with everyone, or maybe he knows I love being yelled at by a coach. Either way, I have broken a sweat and am breathing hard when I finish. I am pleasantly surprised.
The Exercise Coach knows its clientele and they provide a great space for them to get healthier and more fit. For those lacking a regular fitness routine, who may be looking for a low-key, low-pressure atmosphere without the typical grunts of a globo gym, The Exercise Coach is a great option.