Spotlight: Iron Tribe Fitness Mixes Individual Results with a Supportive Group

The fitness industry has long focused on individual effort and results. But more and more, people want to enjoy a community along with their workouts. Enter Iron Tribe Fitness. The company is meshing individual results with a supportive group environment. Learn more in this week’s Small Business Spotlight.

What the Business Does

Offers personalized workout options.

Founder and CEO Forrest Walden told Small Business Trends, “Iron Tribe Fitness offers two exciting and effective workout options to help clients of all experience levels reach their goals with a completely personal approach. The first is a 45-minute functional training group class that is limited to 16 participants, taught by at least one highly trained coach, and changes each day. The second is hands-on, semi-private training (5-person sessions) that customizes every aspect of one’s fitness and nutrition journey.”

Business Niche

Creating a community around their training model.

Walden says, “Iron Tribe Fitness is more than a gym. We’re a tribe of members. Our team training model puts each member at the center of the action. Nobody is ever left out or feels alone. Our workouts – which have been recognized by Men’s Journal as one of the top five in the nation – are designed to be intensive (but not too intense) and competitive (but in a good way). It’s through our environment and culture that Iron Tribe Fitness helps transform bodies so successfully.”

Business Origin Story

After significant experience in the fitness industry.

Walden explains, “It all started when I joined the cheerleading squad at Auburn University. I needed to put on 30 pounds of muscle to have the strength to press my partner above my head. I set a goal, bought a journal, and wrote down every workout, meal, and supplement. The confidence I gained from putting on those 30 pounds of muscle changed my life. And I decided my future would be dedicated to helping others achieve their fitness goals as well.

“After college, I worked at a gym for a few years before deciding to open my own place. I opened my first Fitness Together franchise in Birmingham, Alabama in June 2001 and grew that into six area locations. I also purchased the Fitness Together master franchise rights to three states and grew my business to 55 locations in three years. However, while Fitness Together specialized in one-on-one training in private rooms, I saw the industry shifting to more of a group training focus.

“In 2008, I converted my garage into a gym where my friends and I could hang out and workout together. There was no cost to belong. But you had to have a personal invite. Before long, and as more and more friends started begging to come and join my garage gym, I began wondering what it would look like to start a brand-new concept that would take my team-based group workouts to the next level and allow more lives to be impacted. In 2010, I sold all six of my Fitness Together studios and my master franchise territories back to the corporate office to start over with my own group personal training concept, Iron Tribe Fitness.”

Biggest Win

Changing lives.

Walden says, “Each year in partnership with nonprofit ministry Neverthirst, Iron Tribe Fitness hosts Workout for Water, a high-energy fitness event bringing the community together to provide clean water for those who lack access in North Africa and Asia. Participants are divided into groups of four and alternate holding large, 40-pound jerry cans of water while the others run, do push-ups, and other activities. To date, Workout for Water – which now spans eight states and 30 gyms – has raised more than $5 million dollars and changed the lives of nearly 130,000 people with access to clean water.”

Biggest Risk

Changing a successful program.

Walden adds, “Our biggest risk was restructuring our fitness programs with current members who were already pleased and seeing results in our POWER classes. Adding PRIME, a highly personalized semi-private training program allowed coaches to provide more in-depth coaching, including nutrition and accountability. However, that restructuring first required awareness of their capabilities, as well as belief from the managers to be able to confidently sell the higher ticket item during consults.”

Lesson Learned

Find the right franchisees.

Walden says, “[If I could do it over again,] I would be laser focused on only two types of franchisees: Owner/Operator or Engaged Owner. We have learned that passive owners who only want to make an investment don’t work for our model.”

How They’d Spend an Extra $100,000

A couple of key investments for members and the team.

Walden adds, “1) Equipment upgrades. Our members LOVE new “toys,” so that would be a fun win for all.

“2) Because it’s rare for our entire staff to be off together, we would host a corporate retreat at the beach where we provide all the meals (we love to eat), optional massages plus outfit the coaches with new athletic swag.”

Favorite Event

Workout for Water.

Walden says, “We’re eternally grateful for the continued generosity and support of the fitness community towards our shared mission of bringing change and hope to families in need. Every year, the Tribe bands together as a team, shows up rain or shine, sweats, cheers, and pushes each other on, until we change lives!”

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Image: Iron Tribe Fitness

Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 12 years. Annie covers feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. She has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College Chicago in Journalism and Marketing Communications.