Tucked away in a little corner off Logan Street behind Falls City Community BikeWorks in the Shelby Park neighborhood, you’ll find BAREfit Adventure Training — a small gym focused on holistic fitness and natural movement training through use of various re-purposed and non-traditional gym equipment, making for a unique workout experience.
Having been a member for a few months now, I have gotten to know co-founder and self-described “Chief Adventure Dad” Rob Bratcher pretty well through our weekly check-ins. He’s an unassuming, charismatic, talkative, easy-going Highlands kid from the 90’s who makes you feel like an old friend from the moment you begin speaking with him. The other thing you notice right away is just how passionate he is about fitness, nutrition, and the city of Louisville. But he’s also been honest about BAREfit’s past financial struggles. So in early January when he sent a message about a big announcement he was making, I was concerned that this may be the end of the line for the little gym.
During a nearly 20 minute video posted to the BAREfit Facebook group, Rob laid out their past, present and future. BAREfit Adventure Training was no more - however, this was no closing announcement. Instead, the company was rebranding as BAREfit Movement Co-op, and along with it, a renewed spirit and vision had emerged. Inspired by Memphis Rox — a nonprofit rock-climbing gym located in the under-resourced community of Soulsville in South Memphis, TN — BAREfit was now going to try something unheard of in the fitness industry: turn no one away regardless of their ability to pay, instead allowing individuals to trade personal skills and volunteer hours helping the surrounding communities for training time.
“We're on a mission to provide life-changing fitness training for everyone,” said Bratcher. “We are reimagining currency. By turning no one away regardless of ability to pay, we’ve deconstructed the idea that money is the only form of currency one has to offer. We believe it’s all about positive energy, relationships, and volunteerism. Our members who can pay our fixed rates are paying-it-forward to support access for those who can’t. For those who aren't comfortable with the fixed rates, we offer skill exchange and volunteer hours as currency to pay - making us the only personal training company in Louisville that turns no one away.”
The rebranding not only marks a major milestone for BAREfit, but also a return to roots. When Bratcher and co-founder Curtis Hall started the company in 2014, BAREfit was a community-centered gym that, through key partnerships with local non-profits, brought appreciation for natural movement, orthopedic health, and cross training for outdoor adventure into the urban area. Although BAREfit was successful in their vision during their early years, COVID, inflation, and other problems associated with being a small local business with no major financial backing pushed the company to the brink of closure several times. “To survive, we charged more for our in-depth, specialized services such as coaching, personal training, and smaller class sizes. But in doing so, we forgot our community-driven focus and, in a lot of ways, lost who we are,” said Bratcher.
But with this year marking their 10-year anniversary, the company seeks to reclaim and improve upon their original vision. Said Bratcher; “We want to embrace our roots more than we were ever able to before; where all of our resources are being dedicated to using fitness as our vehicle to help the neighborhoods around the gym and advocate for the environment in our city.”
Immediate plans include establishing services such as a community cabinet and food pantry with access to needs like toilet paper, paper towels, menstrual items, baby clothes, healthy food items, and more for those in need. There are also volunteer opportunities for hiking trail cleanup in area parks and beautification efforts in surrounding neighborhoods.
“When we talk about outdoors as much as we do, our neighborhood is the outdoors. And for a lot of people that live in Shelby Park and Germantown, it's going to be the main outdoors that they see on a regular basis, and there's no reason that the outdoors in these areas should not be more beautiful. That is something that matters deeply to me: that trash being picked up, surrounding neighborhoods are being cleaned, and residents are getting help beautifying their own homes,” said Bratcher.
“We want to be strong so we can be helpful. Because what's the purpose of strength? Is it to look good in the mirror? To lift heavy weights at the gym? Or is it to apply your strength toward the needs of others? And that's a big part of what this mission is.”
BAREfit is having an open-house throughout the month of February. If you would like to learn more about becoming a part of their personal training classes and volunteer community, reach out to Rob Bratcher directly and mention LEO Weekly - [email protected] or visit www.barefitlife.com.