For practically his entire life, David Barton has been involved in fitness. Along the way, he has not only competed as a professional bodybuilder but has also worked as a personal trainer. More than a decade ago, Barton decided to apply his savvy to the business arena and opened a gym in New York City. Since then, the David Barton Gym chain has included two more health clubs ( a second one in the Big Apple and one in Miami ) . Attendees apparently are happy with the results; even the actor Jerry O'Connell sang the gym's praises in a recent issue of Out magazine.
In the spring of next year, Barton will open a 30,000-square-foot fitness facility in the old Montgomery Ward building ( 600 W. Chicago ) in Chicago. Barton took a few moments from his unbelievably hectic schedule to talk to Windy City Times about everything from using psychology to looking better naked.
Windy City Times: What made you want to get involved in the business aspect of fitness?
David Barton: That's a good question. I was in New York and I saw the whole gym scene needed updating. I got a job as a trainer and decided that I wanted to spend my whole life in the gym. However, when I opened my first gym in 1992, it was uncool to go [ to any health club ] . In the '80s, there was this backlash; gyms were dominated by leggings and thongs; also, there were the musclehead gyms—but there was nothing in between. I just wanted to make it OK for cool people to go work out. There were two goals: I wanted the experience of working out to be a certain caliber but I also wanted people to see tangible results. I wanted them to see their bodies change—and that's why we go the gym, right?
WCT: How many gyms do you have?
DB: I currently have two in New York City and one in Miami. The one in Chicago will be the fourth and I'm opening a third gym in New York City at the Hudson Hotel.
WCT: Is it true that, when you were young, you did pull-ups on the subway?
DB: When I was young, I worked out all the time. I would do pull-ups on the subway and on scaffolding on the street. I exercised before it became fashionable.
WCT: You got a degree in human development from Cornell University. How has it helped you in your business?
DB: There were a lot of psychology courses involved in my studies. Knowing psychology is very important when it comes to motivating people to work out. You have to get people to not only [ invest ] their money but also their time. I also took classes in biology, biochemistry, and physics—and understanding physics is important when it comes to dealing with [ weight ] machines and similar things.
WCT: Part of compelling people is your gym's intriguing tagline, 'Look Better Naked.' Who came up with that?
DB: I did. I was being interviewed before I opened my first gym and someone asked me why people work out. I answered that health benefits are fine but people want to look better naked. I liked that answer and trademarked it; I've gotten advertising awards for that phrase. People really respond to it. My message is salvation through physical reality.
WCT: Tell me about this new gym in Chicago. First of all, when will it open?
DB: [ Unfortunately, ] it won't open until April. I got caught up in the City of Chicago's building department. We just got our permit but it should open in the spring.
WCT: What will the gym have?
DB: Well, I'm glad you asked. [ Laughs. ] It's a beautiful space filled with octagonal columns that has a lot of warmth. I want to draw out the spirit of that space in a really elegant way. The gym, of course, will have the latest in strength-training and cardio machines. We'll also have a fantastic yoga program. We'll also have program tailored for what people want—for example, core strength or flexibility. We're discarding the bells and whistles, like gimmicky exercise classes where you dress like a fireman. Our classes have trainers who know how to burn calories; we'll have real weight-training with real trainers so you'll get a great workout. I personally hand-pick my trainers.
In Chicago, there are a lot of health clubs —but the whole scene seems so homogeneous; nothing stands out. I think that my gym will definitely stand out from the crowd. It will be different in style and service. In New York, we're not the best place to go for training—we're the only place.
[ Note: According to a press release, the gym will boast a cardiovascular area with rows of machines paired with plasma screen televisions, all with panoramic riverfront vistas. The core of the gym will be dedicated entirely to free weights and barbells. In addition, there will be three fitness rooms, including a yoga sanctum, indoor cycling studio, and a large studio for trainer-taught classes. Finally, the locker rooms will sport steam rooms and Russian baths. ]
WCT: Is Chicago providing any different challenges than Miami or New York City?
DB: Not really—besides the whole thing with the building department. People have been really receptive. I love Chicago; I'll be spending a lot of time there, especially when the gym opens. I love the cold.
WCT: Well, you'll be right at home here in Chicago.
DB: [ Laughs. ] Yes, I certainly will.