Go into any fitness club in New York City or any other major city, and the feeling is the same. Busy people on the go, squeezing in a workout and getting in and out within an hour. Finding a bodybuilding gym – the raw, old-school kind – is sort of like finding gold. It’s rare.
I don’t think I fully understood the sentiment of what a true, authentic bodybuilding gym was until I first encountered our 19th Street location in Chelsea. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand fitness. In fact, it was the opposite. As a kid, I struggled with fitness until I connected with some people at a local gym that helped me lose a lot of weight. So when I came to CompleteBody as a manager, I understood fitness, health, and wellness as a complete discipline.
But the 19th Street location – which started out as a bodybuilding gym before CompleteBody acquired it – is simply unlike other gyms. It’s unique, and full of independent contractors who are the best in their field. You’ll notice the difference right away. Here, club members and trainers all demonstrate that culture of being focused and supportive of others in hitting their goals.
This club is different. In NYC, your entire gym base will usually come from 3 to 5 blocks from points in their work route. Otherwise, forget about it. People in NYC don’t travel far just to work out. But the 19th street location is an exception, honestly. People commute from other boroughs, just to be at a place where everyone is on the same page and loves working out.
As the club’s manager, this obviously works well for me on a personal level. But professionally, it speaks to me on a level like no other time in my career. Everybody at the club comes with a defined, sincere, and deeply personal goal of what they want to achieve.
I think that’s what separates an authentic bodybuilding gym from any other.
The Last Authentic, Co-ed Bodybuilding Gym in Manhattan
Today, our Chelsea location is truly the last, authentic bodybuilding gym you’ll find in Manhattan. It’s got the raw, old-school look and feel you expect – we haven’t changed much in that regard. Yes, we obviously keep equipment up to date and in great shape, but it’s minimal. This is bare bones lifting.
Our space is simple and maybe a little rough, too. It’s definitely stripped down to the basics. There’s something to be said about high-end finishes like marble flooring, of course. But here, we keep the distractions to a minimum. And in place of beautiful decor, we highlight the art and beauty of just moving and being active to get fit and healthy.
We bought this location from another owner who wanted to create a true bodybuilding gym. Truly, we want to highlight that; we want to focus on that authenticity and simplicity. Often, people will ask us to change our gym to follow trends, but we won’t. It’s not that those ideas aren’t good or don’t make sense for other spaces. It’s just that we want to keep this gym focused on the culture that’s here.
I took over as manager last October and I wanted to focus even more on highlighting that. We still appreciate the different disciplines of the people who come in, but our number one thing is to keep our identity grounded in bodybuilding.
Celebrities Who Frequent the Gym
People who haven’t yet heard of the gym or haven’t been to it might not know our secret, which is that a lot of celebrities find their way here. The Rock, Dwayne Johnson, works out here and posting on social media from here all the time. Shane McMahon – former owner of the WWF – works out here as well. Some celebrities are regulars at the gym, including Victor Martinez, Anderson Cooper, Mark Jacobs, Sally Field, Jennifer Gray, Charlie Cox, and Eka Darville.
Top Independent Trainers
Some of the top independent trainers in NYC choose CompleteBody Gym on 19th Street to train their clients. Here is just a short list along with their websites and Instagram info:
- Derrick Benjamin: www.bodybyderrick.com or IG @body_by_derrick_llc
- Nick Ebner: nickebnerfitness.com or IG @nickebnerfitness
- Doug Ogle: www.sf4l.net or IG @symmetryfit4life
- Christine Coen: christinecoen.com
Advice for People Coming to the Gym
I have two pieces of advice for people who want to join us at the Chelsea location. The first is if you’ve heard about our reputation as a bodybuilding gym and you’re not sure that’s right for you, still come in. Come and experience the actual sense of community and support here. You’ll see all sorts of people here – older women and men, skinny guys, big guys, etc. It doesn’t matter what you look like. We want you here as long as you’re serious about fitness and aren’t going to fret, and you’re going to show up every day. You’re going to be part of a community that you can’t even imagine.
The 19th street gym caters to people who are okay with stepping outside of their boundaries. The people who come here are different from the typical New Yorker who likes to work out alone. People will start to offer tips and advice, and get to know you, whether you like it or not. This gym creates community. If you really want to take your lifting to a new level, start here and experience it.
The second piece of advice is this, and I say this with as much humility as possible: prepare to be sincerely impressed by CompleteBody staff. I’ve worked hard to build a team of cleaning staff, front desk, and managers who go out of their way to know every member. While some gyms just say they offer personal service, we blow people’s minds. Everyone who works here is a sincerely personable, friendly person.
We get to know our club member’s names, what people do, and we’ll never treat them as just a stranger. We smile – it makes a huge difference. Trainers refer other trainers openly and without hesitation. Members send their co-workers in to check us out. People love it here.
Upcoming Changes and Keeping the Culture of Community
We are about to reorganize the flow of the club to better meet the needs of the bodybuilding and functional crews. So, we invited the indie trainers to help out with the layout. One of our members is an architect, and he’s going to spend a lot of time measuring and then mapping out a proposed layout display, so members can give their input. This time around, we started with the input from trainers, and we’re going to put this up so members can give feedback. We want this to be an inclusive reorganization.
I think this strategy reflects our overall culture here, which is inclusion. This is definitely a member-focused club, and we try and show that in everything we do. We wouldn’t want to redesign the flow of the space without involving the people who use it every day. It’s about teamwork and community. It’s just how we operate, day in and day out. And we don’t plan on changing that approach anytime soon.
Roman Stokes is the General Manager of the CompleteBody Gym on 19th Street in Chelsea, and the Regional Manager for all CompleteBody clubs. Follow him on Instagram as @tigeretres.