Built To Move

You may have noticed some improvements at your local gym. A few of them have become a little less golden and a little more — well, we’ll let owner Dave Gurnsey tell you all about it. At the risk of a sedentary lifestyle, we sat down with Dave to learn more about Just Move Athletic Club.

Photography by Dan Austin

The Lakelander: How did you get involved in the fitness industry?

Dave Gurnsey: I started as a Gold’s Gym personal trainer and then manager 30 years ago as a way to pay for college. I’d always been an athlete, even playing Division 1 lacrosse, so I was familiar not only with training techniques but also the mental and physical benefits of sports. When I graduated college with an aerospace engineering degree, I got a real job and didn’t like it! So I went back to my roots at the gym — you know, you go back to what you know and love. And I really loved the people and providing those people great customer service.

TL: What does your gym footprint look like now?

DG: At the time, Gold’s Gym International was owned by three guys — Pete, Ed, and Tim — who’d purchased it from Joe Gold just a couple years after he built it. I was happy to do business with them, and they granted me a franchise in Winter Haven in 1998. But it was a challenge getting it built. I went in with a partner who backed out at the last minute. Fortunately, the people of Polk County are very supportive of local businesses, and the outpouring of support was phenomenal, better than anything I’ve ever seen. So I hung in there and took everything that we made and put it back into building the gym. Since then, we moved into the Orlando market as well as into Highlands County, opening up 10 gyms in about 20 years.

We found ourselves at a point where we had outgrown what an ordinary gym offers and so decided to launch the Just Move Athletic Club in 2017. It follows our concept of exercise: many people tend to overthink exercise, but the idea is to just move! We have many smaller gyms inside our big gym. If you want the heart-rate-driven workout, we’ve got those classes. If you want a boot camp, we’ve got that. If you want athletic training, we have it. Love CrossFit? We have a CrossFit box. And we even have a cardio cinema, all under one roof at a low price. We’ve made it convenient for people to come in at a low price and get whatever workout they like. The gym isn’t going to be the total solution: many people are members of two gyms, some people work out at home, and Polk County has incredible natural resources for people to exercise outdoors. But whatever we choose, our bodies were built to move, and in doing so, our mental and physical fitness really improves.

TL: Are you retaining all 10 locations?

DG: Launching a brand is an expensive undertaking, so we’ve divested two of the gyms already and are in the process of selling four others. We want to focus our energy on the four Polk County locations. We plan to grow again from there.

TL: How different has owning a gym been compared to other businesses in which you’ve been involved?

DG: Well, as you can imagine, there are a lot of things that are very much the same. My previous business experience parlayed quite naturally into running a gym. The components of customer service, construction, and the operational model follows basically every business in America, so there’s nothing novel there.

The unique thing about this business, however, is the very powerful opportunity to help people improve their lives. We really bought into the change your body, change your life mentality. It’s powerful to see someone come in and lose 50, 100, 150 pounds, or lose half their body weight. It’s extremely moving to see someone battling health issues — cancer, diabetes, depression — strengthen their bodies and minds and overcome those obstacles. It’s motivating to see women taking control of their health pre- and post-pregnancy. It’s unique to this industry and that’s what fuels us.

TL: What prompted the change to Just Move?

DG: Simply growth. We outgrew what we felt an ordinary gym could offer. What we wanted to do was more than we could do with the previous brand.

TL: What other changes will come, besides the name change?

DG: Great question! First, all locations will have facade improvements. We are the big gym, and the anchors in the plazas that we occupy, so the outside look will reflect that. We’ll be modernizing the lobbies for a more comfortable feel as you walk in. And we love our locker rooms, so you’ll see major improvements there with a spa-like feel. We’ll also add hydromassage lounges — those are really popular. There will be a functional gym with turf, a durable wood wall for wall balls and handstand push-ups, and improved circuit area and equipment. We’ll focus on the latest and greatest toys for our members because we love state-of-the-art equipment, even down to the dumbbells. Some people think that a dumbbell is a dumbbell, but there are different handles, casings, and so on that make some better than others.

The cardio cinema is a mainstay for us. A movie really engages people and makes long cardio workouts a little bit more bearable. But, undoubtedly, one of the best workouts we offer is the team training concept, like boot camps. These are guided, cardio-driven workouts and are a great way for people to come in without really thinking too much and just get into it. These areas will be updated to stand out in each gym. Standing at the front of the club, you’ll be able to survey all of these smaller gym-within-a-gym concepts and determine which one you’d like to gravitate toward that day. We love the big, open look of our clubs. And we know not everyone comes in with a workout partner, so we train our staff to be very engaging and helpful.

A successful gym radiates energy when you walk through the door. Current and prospective members want to feel comfortable, like they belong. And our gyms feel like a community; it’s important to us that members feel part of what we call our Fit Fam. It’s fun to make the gym feel like it’s a destination during the day, that when you walk in, these are your people.

We’ll be maximizing the square footage in three phases over the course of about a year and a half. We know it might be a little inconvenient to deal with the construction, but once you see the renderings of the changes and then see the finished improvements, we think it will be well worth it.

TL: So, the question everyone’s asking is: how much can you bench?!

DG: [Laughs] I’m not sure I want to know at this point!

TL: I’m just kidding, no one has asked me that. What do you like most about owning fitness clubs?

DG: First of all, it’s obviously the people. It’s a powerful thing; it literally fuels me every day. But, more simply, I’m a gym rat! I just love gyms. Whenever I’m on vacation, I have to go visit all the gyms in the area because I love exercise, exercise science, and construction and layout of gyms. I want to constantly improve our gyms. My staff had to ask me to pump the brakes a little bit and only plan two big improvements every year!

I’m passionate about the gym. I love that it makes you healthier and makes you mentally tough. I can’t tell you how often people stop to tell me that working out helped their heads just as much as their bodies. That feeling of well-being at the end of a workout — it makes you want to come back again. You can’t do this without good people, and our people are miraculous. I love to share someone’s success story and have it motivate others to improve their health.

TL: What would people be surprised to learn about the gym business?

DG: Most people would be surprised to learn the amount of business conducted in the gym. It’s like the new golf course! I think golf just took too long. I see a lot of people get jobs, network, and close deals at the gym because barriers between people come down when they’re working out next to each other. People of all walks of life and professions meet at the gym and interact in ways perhaps they wouldn’t otherwise.

After the workout, as the endorphins are hitting, they stop for a shake or grab a water and strike up conversations with others doing the same thing. They make friends and connections. One great example: a lot of professional and Olympic athletes — people that you wouldn’t think you’d ever have access to — might be working out on the elliptical next to you. At that moment, they are not some famous person you can’t talk to. They’re sweating it out, working hard right next to you, at the same level. We like to tell people that there’s no red carpet here. Everybody’s the same. They’re sweating right next to you. The boot camp is probably the best example of that — you’d be surprised who’s in there with you. There’s a large majority of the Baltimore Ravens that work at the Lakeland gym in the offseason. You buy your membership the same as everybody else.

Another great example: for years, if you were a 5am-er in at our Orlando gym, you worked out with Tiger Woods. One of the most recognized athletes in the world doing the same team training workout that you’re doing! It’s really cool.

TL: What’s your favorite workout? What does your workout week look like?

DG: Oh, this is easy! I’m a big CrossFitter. I love the mentality of CrossFit, the concept of continuing to do different things in different environments. I think Greg Glassman did an excellent job focusing on that in the early ’70s. Of course, I say I enjoy it, but no one really enjoys it while it’s happening! But I also love going into the cardio cinema, getting a little sweat going while watching 15-20 minutes of a movie, then some weight lifting, and finish off with some mobility work. Back in my collegiate sports days, the typical workout was bench press and squats, and then do it again, only heavier, the next day. But the joints really started closing off. We’re smarter now, and when I began to do mobility work and realized how it can improve general quality of life, I was hooked. In fact, perhaps surprisingly, my favorite exercise to do with others is a lacrosse ball under the arch of the foot. It’s hard to find anything in the gym where you get immediate results, but mobility work is often the exception to that.

TL: What are your future plans for Just Move and your work in the industry beyond the changes now in progress?

DG: With the recession, we learned to focus on blocking and tackling. In other words, we have to have sharp focus on what we’re fundamentally good at doing, and that’s building and operating gyms. We will not stray from that. We have great partnerships with fresh-meal-plan providers (a core component of being healthy), but we won’t venture into that. We won’t step outside of blocking and tackling. We want to be the highest-quality product at the best price. We want to make it available to the masses so everyone can have a great gym experience.

JUST MOVE ATHLETIC CLUB

has four locations in Polk County:

3625 S. Florida Avenue

Lakeland, FL 33803

863.646.3036

3195 U.S. Hwy 98N

Lakeland, FL 33805

863.683.1900

1164 Havendale Blvd.

Winter Haven, FL 33881

863.294.4653

5636 Cypress Gardens Blvd.

Winter Haven, FL 33884

863.291.4653