CrossFit and a whole lot more

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Waterford — When Mike Penta opened Waterford Fitness & Training in a huge space on Cross Road here in May, he knew that his previous experience running New London CrossFit wasn't going to be enough.

The high-intensity CrossFit, he said, is a small niche in the exercise market for those seeking elite fitness levels, and he needed several hundred members to fill out the new 12,000-square-foot space.

"I needed to change the demographics," Penta said. "We almost tripled in size."

So Penta decided to cater to a wide range of clientele, combining CrossFit with a sports performance center, Jiu-Jitsu, weight loss, adaptive training for those with disabilities and a whole bunch of top-line equipment in a 24-hour key card gym.

"CrossFit is not for everybody," Penta said. "Here, anybody could come in. ... It's more of an all-inclusive facility."

Though not all of his vision has yet been implemented, Penta said he likes the idea of being able to proselytize about healthy lifestyle, fitness and food choices to a wide range of people, from trained college and high school athletes to senior citizens.

"We have 70-year-old clients who are killing it," he said.

Penta, heavily tatooed and muscled, said he lucked into the new location, stumbling into the former truck and lawn facility when his mower broke. He spent 10- to 11-hour days building out the gym largely on his own with one other contractor, happy with a location not far from both Interstates 95 and 395, expanding his market into Guilford and Stonington along one axis and out toward Norwich on another.

"It's filling up," he said. "It's amazing."

Penta, whose membership is closing in on 300, said he often gives clients a chance to try out the club to determine whether they are getting results, charging them for the first month only if they have shown improvement.

His staff does an assessment for everyone who walks in the door — looking at balance, mobility, stability and flexibility — and Penta said quick adjustments in workout routines often make for better results rather than drastic changes.

"People don't need a ton of guidance," he said. "They're just unaware."

One thing he asks is that people set small goals and stop thinking negatively.

"You lost a pound — it's a pound in the right direction," he said. "Getting people to stay positive, that's the No. 1 thing."

The gym has the usual treadmills, ellipticals, bikes and free weights, as well as a group training area where a lot of 30-minute, high-intensity classes are held. The gym can be accessed 24 hours a day, and Penta and staff can be found there weekdays from 5 a.m. to 9 or 10 at night, with staff hours running from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekends.

Members can pick and choose services, with the cheapest package running less than $1 a day and some choosing to pay $1,000 a month for intensive training programs. Penta, who cut his teeth in the region by managing Planet Fitness locations, says he has a waiting list for those seeking his training services.

The gym employs 11 mostly part-time fitness professionals, including those with nursing and physical therapy backgrounds, he said.

"Trainers are around all the time helping out," Penta said.

Penta said gyms had traditionally catered to an 80 percent female clientele, but times are changing and men are beginning to seek professional help in greater numbers. And with a large portion of the American public being deemed overweight, Penta believes the fitness market is far from saturated.

"Caring about people is the priority," he said. "If you care about money in this industry, you won't make any."

Penta said he emphasizes to his staff that clients need to be accountable for their own results, and he never takes credit for anyone who sees major improvements. "Nothing works unless you do" is one of the club's mantras, after all.

"I'm irrelevant," Penta said.

Penta said he sees Waterford Fitness & Training as a community-backed gym where everyone helps one another. Going to the gym should be the best part of members' day, he added.

"We're here to help out and guide people," he said. "We take a different approach as opposed to a gym."


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