HIIT workout class, Soul Cycle, Pure Barre – group workout classes have become the new norm when it comes to breaking a sweat. Of course, the perks of group training – better motivation, higher energy, more fun – can come at the cost of a more personalized fitness approach. Or, at least, it did, until WRKNYC came onto the scene with the goal of bringing elements of personal training to the group workout craze. Originally starting out as a bunch of outdoor fitness classes before making its way – kind of by accident – into an actual gym space, WRKNYC is quickly changing up how people work out in New York, and it’s doing it by going back to basics. Here, WRKNYC owner and founder, Will Jackson, shares more on the gym’s story, and why sometimes the best plan is to have no plan at all.
How did you first get into fitness and personal training?
I got into personal training about 10 years ago, in 2006. There is a high demand in this industry, and a lot of people go into it and don’t know what to do, and I was one of those people. When I first walked into the gym, I realized I didn’t know too much about what was going on there with the machines and everything. But I also realized that working out was my opportunity to go in and learn as much possible so that I could help people get in good shape. I ended up getting certified, got the proper training, and moved up the ranks with the intentions of filling my schedule up with bootcamp classes. I was running all over the city. It’s a hustle; you hope to have a full 8-hour day because you get paid by the hour. It was cool, though. But opening up my own place was never the plan.
So how did WRKNYC come up if it wasn’t planned?
I was running private training on my own on the weekends and I was training a couple before they got married in 2008, and they asked me to train them on Pier 45. As I was training them, I really enjoyed the area and started asking people that were around if they wanted to participate in private bootcamp classes, and it just built from there. Most trainers were working out of the gym and no one was really working out outdoors, so it was a great opportunity for people to bring their friends and stuff like that. We were then introduced to ClassPass, which was a big deal because we didn’t even have an indoor space! Then about two years in, when the weather started getting cold one year, I decided to rent a small room in BDA Studios on the West Side and people kept coming. It just grew and we eventually moved to our current location. We literally started on the street, and we’re pretty grateful for where we are now.
So, having started outdoors like that, it must have really been built on the idea of minimalism. Do you think that really informed your fitness philosophy and how you approach fitness with your clients?
The philosophy is based on functional training, which is pretty much using your body weight. You should be able to manipulate the resistance in a safe and effective manner without putting yourself at risk. A lot of people don’t have proper form, which is usually from lack of knowledge. So a lot of our classes are using just you and your body weight, and that is still an effective workout. What we are doing here is the latest in the field that is being used.
Something you guys seem to be big on is this idea of getting people “ready for challenges.” What’s an example of a challenge that WRKNYC classes might help someone tackle?
One time, for example, we were participating in a Tough Mudder, and we noticed that a lot of the obstacles that we were faced with required techniques that we were perfecting in our bootcamps. So once you come to the classes and do the workouts and moves, you then get out there and you apply it. It builds people’s confidence. They are putting themselves in situations that they wouldn’t on a normal basis.
Is it easy for a beginner who hasn’t taken any of your classes to jump into any of them or do you recommend easier classes over others?
The one thing I always tell people that I meet for the first time is to take a break when you need it, and then jump back in when you’re ready. Although I’m able to scale my workouts and offer my recommendations, I know sometimes it could be a little intimidating. But all workouts are open to all fitness levels.
In terms of equipment, now that you guys are in a physical space and not just outdoors, have you shifted a bit to using more equipment or are you sticking to more functional training?
Everything we do inside can be taken outdoors. We have no machines in our gym but that wasn’t up to us; it’s about where we are located. But it’s working pretty well! We have medicine balls, ladders, gliders, jump ropes, things of that nature.
How big are the classes you guys teach typically?
About 20 people per class.
What was the most exciting thing for you when you started out? Is it still the thing that you’ve continued to love most as you’ve watched WRKNYC grow?
It shifted a little bit, but one of the exciting things that I noticed when I got started was the ability to see my business grow through the education that I got. The first time I took the personal training test, I failed it and then took it again. Now I enjoy being able to help people the most.
Where do you see WRKNYC going from here? Do you plan to approach it the same way that you got started?
I hate planning! It’s all about just having an idea of what the process is going to be. As a personal trainer, everything is right in front of you. There is a certain security that comes with being under that umbrella but when you step out from under that umbrella, you get a different view. I kind of like the organic background that we have. A lot of people don’t really know how to take care of themselves. Working out is a socially accepted thing when you’re trying to fit in and yeah, it’s cool for a little bit but in the long run, it helps your health, your sanity, being stress free. But we’re just getting started! We’re going to be around as long as we keep helping people.