Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, February 27, 2015

Living life at a high level

River City Roundabout

Kyle Johnston, managing partner at Forte Fitness, is passionate about helping people live healthy. - (Photo by David Laprad)

Rick Johnston was celebrating his 68th birthday. His son was afraid it would be his last.

“Happy birthday, dad,” the younger Johnston, Kyle, said.

“Thank you.”

“I’d like to say that to you again next year.”

That statement hit Rick, who hadn’t exercised since high school, like a ton of bricks. He was athletic as a young man – he ran track and played sports – but he hadn’t exercised since then. His son’s simple but heartfelt statement convinced him to change course.

“I had no excuse,” Rick, a security guard at Tennessee Temple University, says.

When Rick started exercising, he didn’t go to a gym or hit the streets in the latest jog wear. Instead, he signed up for one-on-one training at Forte Fitness, where his son manages a staff of fitness trainers. He says he’s feeling better than he has in years.

“My high school class reunion is in August,” he says. “I want everyone to do a double take when I walk through the door.”

He takes a deep breath and heaves a barbell laden with weight over his head, his cheeks puffing. Trainer Matt Walters, who looks like he could double as a ton of bricks – one that’s all muscle and tight posture – offers encouragement and talks him through his reps.

Kyle says the goal at Fitness Forte, located at 2 North Shore, is to make sure people like his dad reach a point where they’re living life at the highest possible level.

“Fitness isn’t about how well you fit into a bathing suit or how many abs you have, it’s about achieving health-related results,” he says.

Nearby, trainer JJ Jackson is putting Michele Hall through her paces. There isn’t a barbell in sight, just Jackson, Hall, and a lot of sweat. Hall, who’s been training for three weeks, says she wants to get back to being herself. “I’m getting there,” she says. “My endurance is better, and I feel stronger.”

During a family hike in December, Hall quickly became too winded to continue. She recently doubled the length of that hike.

Hall is glad she’s found something that’s working. “I’ve been overweight for years, and I’ve done all kinds of crazy dieting that didn’t work,” she says. “I would recommend this place to anyone who’s serious about weight loss because the trainers hold you accountable.”

Accountability at Forte Fitness doesn’t involve intense boot camp-style hounding. Rather, training programs at Forte Fitness are designed to help a client gradually achieve his or her goals.

“I’m not interested in seeing how hard I can push you,” Kyle says. “That would create distance between you and being fit because you might decide you’re not built to work out, which isn’t true.”

To make sure Forte Fitness is the right place for a potential client, Kyle offers one free session, during which the guest receives a tour of the studio, an American College of Sports Medicine medical screening, a goal-setting consultation, and a full training session. All training is completed in a fully-equipped private training suite – there’s no waiting on equipment, no one staring at the clients, and no distractions.

There are also no contracts or membership fees, and Forte Fitness doesn’t draft bank accounts. Rather, its trainers individualize each program to fit the person’s needs. “Some people exercise regularly and simply need to make sure their discipline is truly improving their health,” owner Julian Kaufman says. “Many people who exercise regularly do the same thing the same way over and over, and develop overuse injuries or simply grow bored and need variety. Others come to us for a short period of time to learn how to train safely and effectively on their own. Some come to us with significant health issues, and are in crisis and need to make substantial lifestyle changes. We’re here to give them the encouragement, the right plan, and the accountability to make those changes.”

Forte Fitness has a staff of eight trainers, all of whom have a background in exercise science or human health performance, or are nationally certified. Kyle says these men and women understand more than the mechanics of the human body; they’re also familiar with the workings of the mind.

“We can’t connect with our clients if we don’t understand their struggles, or if we don’t get how hard it is for people whose lives haven’t been about nutrition and exercise to make these commitments,” Kyle says. “Understanding the psychology of exercise helps us to build a rapport with our clients and gain their trust.”

Forte Fitness has a decade-long history of serving clients in Chattanooga. The business opened in 2005 on Frazier Avenue as a Fitness Together franchise. Five years later, Kaufman moved operations to 2 North Shore, where Whole Foods is located. When Kaufman’s franchise agreement with Fitness Together was drawing to a close in 2014, he decided to rebrand the business Forte Fitness.

“Forte is the Italian word for strong,” says Kaufman. “At Forte Fitness, strong is about substance, not image. We want to help people be strong in a whole way. We don’t promise a number on a scale or a dress size, but we do commit to building a functional body, developing cardiovascular health, and promoting proper nutrition. We want to build overall health that stands the test of time, preventing disease and building quality of life.”

While it’s one thing for Kaufman to say he and his trainers care about their clients, it’s another for their clients to feel it.

Hall feels it. “This place is fabulous. I feel welcome the moment I walk through the door. Everyone knows my name, and says hello. It’s not intimidating at all,” she says.

In another training nook, Rick sets down his barbell, wipes his brow, and takes a drink of water. He feels it, too. “Thanks to this place, I’m going to hear my son tell me happy birthday again,” he says. “That means the world to me.”

Forte Fitness is located on the web at www.forte.fitness. 

To see more photos, pick up a copy of the Hamilton County Herald.