Launched by founder Amen Iseghohi in 2008, Amenzone Fitness is based on a minimalist approach that uses nothing but tyres and members’ body strength and movement to get fit. Classes include boxing, ‘primal fitness,’ yoga and ‘rebel workout’ – all using the tyres in different ways.
The first Amenzone gym opened in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 2008. Since then, Amenzone Fitness Corporate has opened two further gyms in Arizona, both in 2013.Amenzone launched its franchising business in 2012 and there are now six franchise gyms open across the US, with a further 23 franchises sold. The first Amenzone outside Arizona opened in Manhattan Beach, California in September 2013. A second California gym is due to open in Santa Monica later this summer.
How did you get the idea for Amenzone?
I was born in Belgium but raised in London. When I was eight, my parents decided they wanted me and my sister to have a deeper understanding of our heritage and a greater appreciation of what was really important in life, so they took us to live in West Africa.
At first I thought it was some kind of punishment – coming from somewhere we’d had so many privileges, waking up and eating cereal and watching cartoons, I suddenly found myself in a place with no television, no electricity – it was very primal.
My grandmother [who was a former athlete] wanted to keep us active. The compound we lived on was filled with tyres, so she used them as a way of keeping us fit, but also as a tool to teach us about life. We’d race the tyres, and when we felt like giving up she’d say, no, you can’t give up in life; you have to keep going. You need to move forward, just as a tyre turns and moves.
When I moved to America in 2003, I immediately noticed that the obesity rate was so significant. I realised it wasn’t a local or city problem, it was a global epidemic. I thought about it and thought, this issue isn’t so much about the lack of fitness and good nutrition. It’s a disease rooted in a problem that everyone seems to be ignoring. If you don’t feel good about yourself, you don’t care what you do to yourself. My grandmother used fitness as a tool to motivate us, but she was always focused on our self-esteem. I thought, that’s it – the reason I’m in shape is that I feel good about who I am.
I decided to build my business, and the non profit foundation that runs alongside it, on the same premise, which is that you should build self-esteem first. We’re using fitness as a vehicle for self empowerment.
I had corporate jobs when I first moved to the US – first for Coca Cola then for flooring company Shaw Industries. My vision for Amenzone started with one kid and one tyre in a park. I gave up my corporate job where I was making more than $100,000 a year, and took one of the biggest risks of my life to work on this.
How do you build self-esteem through your gyms?
We don’t allow mirrors in our gyms and we have inspirational quotes on the wall, so that instead of looking at themselves while they work out, our members read powerful messages.
We also don’t have any tvs, and because people aren’t plugged into their headphones, they communicate with each other a lot more. That’s been really successful, because a lot of folks are tired of going to gyms where you don’t talk to anyone, you just watch tv and run on a treadmill. It’s a way of going back to basics.
At the end of each class, the trainers pass on an inspirational message to the class, then they hold open the door for the members, shake each and every one of them by hand and thank them for taking the time to be there.
It means the trainers make a personal connection with everyone and get to know them. A small thing like that can make a big difference.
At Amenzone it’s about more than just fitness. It’s about working from the inside out, working on the spiritual and the mental aspect as well as the physical aspect.
How do you use tyres in your classes?
The tyres are really just a prop – we tell people they can use anything in their environment. In my case, tyres were what I had, so that’s what I used.
We have hundreds of exercises you can do with just one tyre. Once you’ve done our classes, you’ll never see a tyre the same way again.
We do strength conditioning, upper body, lower body and core workouts. We use the tyres to help our members put on lean muscle mass. Anything you do in a regular fitness class, we’ll do with tyres – we’ve even launched an athletic yoga programme that incorporates the tyres into the movements.
All of our tyres are recycled and colour coded by weight. The green tyres are our lightest tyres at about 10 to 12 pounds, the red tyres are our middle level tyres at about 15-20 pounds, and the black tyres are our advanced tyres – they weigh 20, 25 or even sometimes 30 pounds. They’re for people who really want to take their bodies to the next level. We also have tractor tyres, which we use in our work with professional athletes.
What is the Amenzone Foundation?
It’s a non profit foundation with an established board. We partner with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America – which is similar to YMCA – to get our programmes into the community.
It’s a free afterschool programme that’s sponsored by corporates and angel investors. United Healthcare is a partner of ours; the company has rolled out our programme to several schools and Boys and Girls Clubs. They liked our concept because it’s unique and it works – what kid doesn’t like to play with tyres?
We use fitness as a vehicle to build self-esteem and get our message out about the importance of physical and mental self care. It’s important that we focus on self-esteem, as well as nutrition and fitness, and we monitor the progress of the young people taking part in the programme. At the start, we carry out a range of tests, and ask questions about fitness, nutrition and self-esteem. After a period of time we go through all the tests again so that we can measure the effect the programme is having.
We go into a lot of very hard-hit, economically deprived communities to show these kids another way.
What are your plans for the next 12 months?
Amenzone is such a simple, scaleable model. We’ve already been solicited by international groups who want to take this to Australia and the UK, but for the next year, we’re going to focus on growing organically across the US via our franchise business. From a corporate perspective, our main focus is on New York and LA which are both perfect markets for us, but we’ll accommodate any other cities that fit our demographic and what we’re trying to accomplish.
We’ve sold 10 franchises within the greater Los Angeles area – our second LA gym is due to open in Santa Monica soon. I think LA may just be our largest market.
Our first Amenzone in New York is also due to open very soon.
What’s your long term vision?
We will have gyms across the globe, wherever we think we can help. For every location we have an Amenzone Fitness gym, we also want to have an Amenzone Foundation programme there. I refuse to compromise on that. Any franchisee that comes on board has to be willing to make a difference in their community.