EFS Classic: Starting a Powerlifting Club

Dave wrote a great series of articles about how to start a private club or garage gym. It covered the equipment needs and some of the costs you will be looking at. But it left out the most important aspects of the club. Where the hell do you get members? How do you establish the attitude needed for the club to be successful? Having only had the Southside Barbell Club open for about two and a half years, I’d like to share with you how I did this.

When I first moved back to Florida I figured I would train at the World Gym down the street. What I found was 15,000 square feet of useless equipment for getting strong. So, I went to my wife and said, “Honey, I want to put a gym in the garage.” My wife has also competed and I think she saw how unhappy I was at World Gym. That is how our club got started.

I knew some guys from the area who competed, so I got them together and we started to train in the garage. We started off with five members including my wife. I knew that to grow as lifters we needed to add more people. I attended every meet in the area and began to look at the cards before the meet would start. I would find those who lived in the area and watch them lift. Those who I thought could help us were invited to train with us. The Internet was also a great tool to help me find people. I am always putting something up to try and find new lifters.

The group continued to grow until we got to a point where the one car garage was no longer big enough. We rented a 20×20 warehouse space and moved the gym. All the members put in time to get the new place to look good. This warehouse housed us for 5 months until we ran out of room again. We are now in a 24×30 warehouse and this should be the final location for us as it has plenty of space.

I’m not going to get into equipment needs as Dave has already covered that. However, he didn’t cover how to pay for everything you will need. My wife and I have purchased a bunch of the equipment out of our own pockets and the gym members have helped to buy a lot of the equipment too. We raise money for equipment in two ways. First, we charge $35 per month to train at the gym. All extra monies go towards new equipment after paying the rent. The second thing we do is run meets. The meets have really helped us with money as well as finding additional members.

The atmosphere I wanted to copy would similar to that of Westside Barbell. It is one of competitiveness and a desire to lift weights that you once thought impossible to lift. Our garage is covered with dry erase boards and lists. We have dry erase boards for max effort lifts, so all of the members know what they have to beat. It is also a constant reminder that PR’s are expected everyday. The biggest board we have is the gym’s meet record board. The best lift in each weight class is on the board and everyone is constantly trying to get their name on the board.

The lists we have start with the top 10 lifts in the squat, bench, deadlift, and total by Schwartz formula. We also have a list for the “clubs” which include the 700 pound squat, the 500 pound bench, the 700 pound deadlift, the 2000 pound total, ELITE members, and Masters members. We also have the classification chart (http://www.elitefitnesssystems.com/documents/elite.htm) posted so that the lifters can go from one level to the next.

Do these boards and lists establish the atmosphere on their own? Heck no! I emphasize to every member how important it is to total ELITE. First Doug Hollis did it and some of the guys started to realize that with hard work and dedication they could do it too. Then Lance Mosley totaled his ELITE and even more guys began to believe. We now have another three guys on the verge of getting their ELITE’s. I also did something Louie used to do and put pictures up of the ELITE’s on the wall in the gym. Now, all of the other guys keep talking about getting their picture up on the wall.

Totaling ELITE at Southside is a double edged sword. I expect the ELITE’s to lead and set the example. They also get the brunt of my wrath when things aren’t going as I expect. Basically, Doug and Lance are the ones I yell at and then it trickles down from there. If I look over and someone isn’t doing an exercise right, I yell at Doug for not getting on him to do it right. If the gym isn’t cleaned up at night, I yell at Lance for allowing his group to leave the gym looking messy. Both Doug and Lance have learned to develop some pretty thick skin. More importantly, the other guys see that I am pissed without me having to yell at them.

Putting together our gym has been very rewarding to me. I really enjoy coaching and helping others. The best part is that the gym is almost an extended family for me. We are always there for each other through good and bad. I really think the key to keeping our group together has been loyalty. We are very dedicated to one another. My father once told me that a good teammate is someone who can carry his own weight and some of yours too when you need him to. I am blessed to have some great TEAMMATES!

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About the Author

Bob Youngs is an elite powerlifter and owner of Southside Barbell in Florida. In 1996, he moved to Columbus, Ohio, and began training at Westside Barbell. In two years, his total went from 1540 pounds to 2000 pounds. He has totaled elite in the 275-pound class and has totaled 2010 pounds. His best lifts are an 840-pound squat, a 540-pound bench press, and a 705-pound deadlift. View Bob’s training log.