How to Create a Gym on a Bare-Bones Budget

Bootstrapped gyms have to be about passion, commitment, and ultimately, service to the community.

Let me tell you about a character. A character you’ll find many times over in different independent gyms. This person is passionate, not only about their training but the idea of it. The type of training doesn’t matter. It could be:

Let me tell you about a character. A character you’ll find many times over in different independent gyms. This person is passionate, not only about their training but the idea of it. The type of training doesn’t matter. It could be:

Passion Transforms Into Desire

It’s the same heart found in many. For this character, passion transforms into desire. The desire to create another place, maybe like the gym where they first got their spark, or a different place, where more people can come and feel what they feel.

Sometimes the person will think to immediately seek out teachers, courses, education, and experience coaching. But, the clock is ticking in their head as to when it’s time to open their gym.

Other times, this individual wants to create a place, however small it may be, with no intention of offering the coaching and instruction. They may want to bring in someone else to do the training or open a place where people can work out.

This person may not have the capital to create the type of place they imagined. And they also may not want to owe anything to anybody. I can speak to this person because I had the same attitude when I first opened my gym.

I’ve grown careful about the type of advice I give. Business is one of those matters I tread softly before speaking. A professional is one who has extensive practice.

I’m also more attentive to someone’s knowledge and experience when they advise me. Those who receive money for telling others how to run a company but haven’t practiced in a real business are not business professionals.

My gym has been operational and profitable for three and a half years now. Because of that, I feel like I can now confidently speak on how to start and drive a gym business forward. I have practiced. So to the person who has the passion for creating a gym focused on people and not things, but has a strict budget, these are my opinions.

Bare-Bones Means Service Is the Amenity

If you’re opening your gym with minimal equipment, you’ll have very few people sign up to use the space to train. When I opened my gym, I started simply with:

  • Squat stands
  • Barbells
  • Bumper plates
  • Wood for platforms

Few people are as romantic as I was about simplicity and focus on the practice of movement rather than equipment and amenities. So that meant I needed to pique people’s interest in my gym and draw them in with the promise of a better experience and an inclusive gym culture. Everyone I spoke to needed to have a clear understanding of what the value was in being a part of the gym.

Instruction Matters

It wasn’t the equipment or the place; it was the instruction. What mattered to the clients was:

My gym had to be known for instruction for it to be successful, and for the people to find value and commitment. It wasn’t going to be known for how little I started with or the amenities. Admittedly, I may have started a bit too bare-bones and blunted future growth in some ways.

You have to decide for yourself how much money you want to put in from the beginning and where this starting budget can take you. But whether you’re the head coach of training or you bring someone else in, you need first to research what the other facilities around you are doing.

See where the gaps are in your area, and become something that’s truly needed and aligns with your devotions. Ask yourself if what you’re offering speaks to enough people, or is the reason this type of service doesn’t exist in your area is lack of interest.

Confidence in What You’re Providing

I strongly disliked the way I was taught to sell personal training services during my brief employment at a health club back at the start of my career. I was told to find a way to get potential clients to give up their inhibitions toward buying.

I’ve found that if you believe in the quality and effectiveness of your service, based on real, repeated successes and not a prideful delusion, selling can be a conversation. Talk about what you love, followed by a quick ask of their opinion. If you are providing real value, those who see it will buy. Those who don’t see it don’t need to be bothered. Manipulating them into buying against their initial judgment will create a problem more significant than their dollars are worth.

I was confident that with a high level of coaching, program design, and team dynamic, I could create something in the area that people needed. People who came to see the gym and speak with me could see my enthusiasm, self-belief, clearly thought out responses, and easy to understand ideas.

If you’re starting a gym with a similar model to mine and you haven’t thought all this through, I believe the business will fail. You can’t be confident in your ability to sell your product if the product isn’t clear, and of real quality, even if you are charming. Part of this planning includes:

  • The type of training you’ll provide
  • The area best suited for this type of training
  • Most Importantly- Are you worth the payment for the service?

Ask yourself if you or your head coach truly has the expertise to do what you say you will. Experience builds confidence, and if you don’t have it, you need to start there.

First, Make Yourself Worthy

Some remarkable people can figure things out quicker than the rest. These outliers can open a gym with almost no professional coaching experience and learn everything on the fly not only theoretically but also practically. They quickly develop a reputation as an expert from the start.

I’m not one of them, and you probably aren’t either. This isn’t negative thinking, its healthy self-scrutiny. For you and me, opening a gym without experience coaching elsewhere would have revealed our inadequacy, and our lack of confidence would have been easy to see.

By the time I opened the doors to my gym, I had already had around a decade of professional coaching experience. I’d worked in college strength and conditioning, health clubs, and other independent gyms. I had helped collegiate athletes perform better and built a following in NYC of people dedicated to barbell sports who improved under my coaching.

When the first, potential member came though my doors at JDI Barbell, I had the confidence to speak to him as a professional because of my experiences and successes.

Impatient as we all may be, we have to spend time working at the best places under the best teachers we can find. Before you have people come to you, you have first to seek out the best people to learn from to make yourself someone worthy of being sought out yourself. Your time is the only thing you have to offer when you’re young or inexperienced. Give it to employers who can give you the experience you need to be of real value.

Once you have shown yourself and others that you can produce results in people repeatedly, you will have a polished product to offer and the enthusiastic confidence to do so.

Jesse competes in the sport of Olympic weightlifting, and he was also formerly a competitive powerlifter. He was featured in main strength and fitness publications. You can read more of his work on his website.