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Editorial


Front Page - Monday, March 13, 2017

Silberman follows his heart to success




- Photograph by Alex McMahan

As another grueling Level 4 cardio class starts to wind down, seven female fitness enthusiasts of different generations head for the treadmills and stationary bikes facing the massive, second-story window at Vive for Women on the North Shore.

Studio owner and longtime Chattanooga workout guru Jack Silberman paces back and forth, guiding them into the home stretch with characteristic enthusiasm. “Let’s finish this,” he coaches. “We’ve got three minutes left, girls. Good job.”

Closely monitoring each one and promising an imminent cool-down, Silberman pushes them to run and pedal even faster with one final cheer as the final seconds tick by: “Good work. Good job. Way to push.”

Finally, with the intense morning workout behind them, one woman wipes the sweat from her floor mat while two more thank each other for the friendly support that helped them reach today’s goals.

A small, lean man who appears to be in better shape than many men a third his age, 63-year-old Silberman is one of the city’s most recognized names in the local fitness community, where he began carving his niche more than three decades ago. Energetic, surprisingly humble and unwaveringly passionate about what he does, over the years he has launched various exercise clubs, personal training studios, fit camps and clinics devoted to weight loss and anti-aging.

Silberman, who grew up on Long Island, New York, remembers the moment in third grade when his physical education teacher asked the students, “Does anybody know what they want to do when they grow up?”

“I immediately raised my hand and said I wanted to be a gym teacher,” Silberman says, grinning. “When the teacher said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Because I want to wear tennis shoes every day.’

“I’ve always been involved in athletics. It’s always been my desire,” he adds. “I would never miss a day of school if it was gym day. I really just loved it, so it just carried on with me through elementary, junior high school, college and playing sports.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education/fitness from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania in 1978, Silberman decided to join his brother and sister in Chattanooga ­– both had graduated from UTC and were working here – and took a job teaching and coaching at Brainerd Junior High School.

He later worked at Elbert S. Long Elementary, Tyner Junior High and Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences before getting his master’s degree in physical education/health and fitness nutrition from Austin Peay State University, where he was a football coach, in 1982.

On returning to Chattanooga, he became physical education and health supervisor for the city school system.

By 1985, the entrepreneurial bug had bitten the ambitious Silberman. While still working fulltime, he opened his first aerobics center on East Brainerd Road. “We just started having fun,” he recalls. “I don’t know if it was the right time, but it just started to grow.”

He soon moved his bursting-at-the-seams studio to a larger space on Brainerd Road, then expanded into the building next door before constructing his own mega-facility at the corner of Lee Highway and Highway 153. He also opened several personal training centers downtown and in Hixson. As part of his growing fitness empire, Silberman started the Southern Academy of Fitness Education to teach and certify personal trainers.

“Even today, when I sit down with people sometimes, they’ll say, ‘How did you do this?’” Silberman says. “I’m not a very good business person. I couldn’t tell you the real floor plan of how something gets up and running. What I know is that I can understand what people need and how to deliver what they’re looking for. And from there it just seems to evolve.

“I didn’t have all the business skills. I just had the desire to help people,” he continues, noting that others have told him he has a “motivational spirit.”

“You can overcome a lot of mistakes, I think, when people know your real heart. We were lucky that they understood our hearts, what we were trying to do for them. And, it maybe allowed us to stand up long enough to get better at what we were doing.”

The other half of the “we” Silberman often refers to is his wife, Michele, whom he met when they were both teaching at Tyner. A tiny woman with blonde hair and blue eyes, she also leads classes at Vive and has done so at the other facilities. The couple has been married for 32 years.

“He’s very motivating, but yet accommodating because he’s very kind,” says Michele, who retired from teaching this year.

“He really wants the best for all of us. He’s a man of God, and he’s got a real heart to help people.”

After 25 years in the exercise industry, Silberman switched gears in 2010, put his fitness business on hold, and bought an InShapeMD franchise, which later became No. 1 in the company, nationwide.

Spurred by a conversation with a physician at a San Diego medical conference where he’d given a motivational speech, and the success of his own licensed exercise program, WOW, for people who were 30 pounds or more overweight, he began offering weight loss and anti-aging services, as well as hormone replacement therapy, IV vitamin treatment and corporate wellness plans.

“Exercise is great. We all need it,” he says. “But when it comes right down to it, you’re not going to outwork the kitchen. So, we really wanted to find a way to help people get their weight down, get a jump start, and then use exercise to maintain.”

A few years ago, Silberman “semi-retired” and moved with Michele and their son, Taylor, one of their four grown children, to Santa Rosa, Florida, where they developed other InShapeMD franchises and started a Christian weight loss retreat. But it wasn’t long before the urge to open a new business struck again, and in 2016 the Silbermans moved back to Chattanooga to open Vive, a concept rooted in technology and the buddy system.

“We wanted to make a unique place where women could feel that they belong, where they weren’t intimidated and could come with other women, where they felt good and didn’t have to think about anything,” says Silberman. “We drill them through the whole thing.”

Taylor, 26, a physique competitor and Vive instructor, helped select the cutting-edge equipment, which includes heart rate monitors that encourage members to reach a target zone that continues to rev up metabolism and burn fat and calories for up to 38 hours; non-motorized, curved treadmills than help users expend up to 30 percent more calories than with the motorized type; and Flexline Dynamic Cable System stations with air-compressed “smart handles” that allow the women to increase or decrease resistance with the touch of a button.

Each person’s color-coded heart rate appears on one screen. On another, videos play continuously, showing the correct techniques for leg raises and other moves.

“It incorporates a lot of high and low cardiovascular intervals with functional conditioning, which is what you need for your everyday life and some Dynamic Flexline strength and toning,” Silberman points out. “That’s a system that is only in four clubs in the country at the moment. And we’re one of them.”

Classes, which range from V-Barre and Bottom Half to Calorie Combat and Dance Fusion, allow women of all levels to work together at their own paces.

“In just 60 minutes, they achieve a full-body workout concentrating on the areas that they most struggle with: the hips, the thighs, the glutes, the abs, the back of the arms,” Silberman says. “They do it for the fun of it, they do it for the health of it, but more importantly, they do it for the confidence, to become the best version of themselves. It’s a girl thing.”

Right now, Silberman says he is most excited about the facilitated Master Vive groups, each made up of three to five women who cheer each other on. “They not only support one another, but they help each other stay accountable,” he explains.

“They walk through this life together. Some girls have walked ahead in those shoes; some are behind. But the group helps you stay responsible for where you want to be and where you want to go. So, it becomes a fit journey.”

Silberman acknowledges that women often put themselves last while trying to take care of everyone else. “And if there’s a little bit of time left for them, they squeeze in whatever needs to be done,” he says. What we want to do is create that time that is totally for them. We praise them. We encourage them. We lift them up so they can become better at everything else they do for everybody else. And it helps them be complete.”

Silberman and his wife recently returned from a two-week trip to Italy to celebrate her retirement. To challenge themselves, they scaled the steep stairs of the Torre del Mangia in Siena, Tuscany, one of the country’s tallest secular towers when it was built in the 1300s. “It was so high,” he admits. “It was a tough climb.”

Silberman’s next venture: Start more Master Vive groups and open more Vive centers. “We’d like to go nationally,” he says. “We want to be able to service the group fitness population for women all over the country.”

For now, he says, “We’re at a good place. Chattanooga has popped up several different little studio-type centers, and I think they all have their niche. People need that. I’m glad to just be a part of it.

“I’m definitely a visionary,” he adds. “I’m good at helping people move to a position that they thought they could not move to. … People ask me all the time, ‘What is your secret sauce?’ I say, you know, I get up every morning, and I meet with my CEO at 3:00,” he says, looking skyward. “From there, I get my guidance and go forward.”