Breaking down walls and building community
“It’s a lifestyle,” Jeff Ansah, founder of Silver Spring fitness center Elite Bodies says. When he first started Elite Bodies in 2014, his goal was to provide his clients with a judgment-free, community driven space to work out. And Ansah did just that.
Elite Bodies is so well established, that it might come as a surprise to some that its creation was accidental. Ansah originally set out to become a personal trainer, but as his clientele expanded, he realized that his love for fitness and helping others could become something more.
After growing as a personal trainer over the summer and expanding his business, Ansah encountered an issue. Most of his personal training had been based outdoors and would not be usable during the cold weather of autumn and winter. “... I said, let’s scramble, let's find some space, so we found some space,” he says, “and then that’s how Elite Bodies was born.”
That space Ansah found ended up being a martial arts studio called Dark Loaders Martial Arts. After using the space for two years, Ansah was able to move from sub-leasing it to leasing it. “That was when Elite Bodies became more like an official place… [that] I was actually operating out of,” he says.
Personal fitness and staying active carry various benefits, but despite this, going to the gym often can get a bad rep. It’s associated with over-exertion and exhaustion. Ansah wants it to be perceived differently. “Just like anything it should be an integral part of our lives,” he says, “It’s a lifestyle… when we start to look at fitness that way we assume it, so we begin to live healthier, and move freer.” It doesn’t have to be a chore.
Elite Bodies' approach to fitness is flicking this psychological switch. Ansah wants to create a space where exercise is well balanced, but also consistent. Having a routine that invites time to work out rather than centers around it allows you to contribute to your own growth while also maintaining balance in personal life. “It’s a part of our self care practice that’s really important,” Ansah says.
One of the most special things about Elite Bodies is the community that’s built around it. The gym offers group classes such as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), Strength, Endurance and even boxing. These group classes allow clients to form strong connections with their trainers, and the people around them. “It’s representative of Silver Spring, it’s very diverse,” says Ansah. “It’s been a constant theme people tell me about, [there’s] a welcome feeling when you walk into this place.” It goes beyond the gym: Ansah knows his clients’ names, their kids' names, their pets' names. Community is not something that is always a given in gyms and fitness centers. Rather than being competitive, Elite Bodies is connective and that’s what makes it so special.
Ansah takes pride in the environment present within his fitness community. He feeds off the energy of his clientele, and is glad that the space he created has become one where people can be themselves, work out, talk fitness, without judgment. “I’ve heard of people going to certain places and they feel like, okay, I have to mold myself to fit what this place is… here you are not going to worry about that.”
Every summer, Ansah sees a pattern repeat among his clients. Things start to get more relaxed. People go on vacation, their kids are home, and they want to kick back. “People sort of have a calendar that goes from September through May,” Ansah says of this pattern.
It’s tough to stay fit over the summer, especially since it is supposed to be a break after an exhausting year. To those wanting to stay in their routine, but also enjoy time off, Ansah suggests simply going outside. According to Ansah, “fitness is a natural thing. If you walk, you’re doing fitness; if you lift grocery bags, you’re doing fitness.”
To those on vacation, planning activities that require physical strength becomes easier because of the time spent at Elite Bodies. “What’s really cool is that the stuff you do here in the gym translates. So you’re gonna feel better, hiking, gonna feel better white water rafting or kayaking” Ansah says. Many clients will send him photos of their fitness adventures outside of the gym. Fitness becomes a more major component of his clients’ lives, one that they can integrate into all sorts of activities.
While older clients might fall off the fitness game in the summer, for teenagers and younger clients just getting out of school, there is more time to get back into fitness. “We wanted some time to cruise a bit, but what we do is add more classes for teenagers to fit in,” Ansah says. Adding in these classes for teenagers introduces a new dynamic to Elite Bodies: giving the younger generation of clients a chance to dig deeper and work on themselves. Entering a new gym can be intimidating as a younger person, but the summer provides an excellent opportunity to get started.
The Ultimate Reward
A gym like Elite Bodies should be a safe space, and it is one. To the person scared to start out, Ansah says to examine the source of the fear. “Whatever that voice is, wherever that’s coming from, it’s not real,” he says. Everyone starts out as a beginner, and there is no harm in that.
Fitness is a natural thing, as it comes with living. “If you [are] to structure it that way, it [can] be very beneficial toward your life… every single day you contribute to yourself, you realize that you’re living a life in such a way that your energy levels are great throughout the day, your mood is positive… your focus is positive,” Ansah says.
The real reward of Elite Bodies is a freer form of fitness. Elite Bodies fosters a largely positive, non-judgmental and inclusive community for people to think about working out as something that brings them joy.
Check out the Elite Bodies Website linked here or you can find them on Instagram, @elitebodies_.
Lillian Paterson. Hey, I'm Lillian (she/her) and I'm a staff writer for SCO. When I'm not being totally consumed by school work I like to play guitar and read. More »