New Business: A Personal Trainer—Without the Person

This week Savage will welcome the newest location of KoKo FitClub, a new concept gym that offers an automated "personal training program" modeled on nuanced workout plans used by the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Jennifer Aniston.

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Savage's new, high-concept gym courts a familiar demographic: The slice of humanity you see flooding the weight rooms after New Year's Eve, valiantly puffing away on the treadmill with a look of grim determination. The ones who start a new workout regime or diet on Jan. 1 with the best of intentions, but give in to boredom or frustration by Valentine's Day. The ones who are neither fitness buffs nor wealthy enough to hire a personal trainer.

In other words, almost everyone but the most dedicated marathon runner or gym juicer.

To those people, KoKo FitClub Owner Curt Strait says welcome home. Gray-haired, bespectacled and slightly bookish, Strait hardly looks the part of a gym owner. Indeed, not long ago Strait was just another average Joe, drifting from fitness fad to fitness fad in an effort to trim down and get healthy. Strait tried them all: "Body for Life," going it alone at Lifetime or the YMCA and even something called "Insanity," which is exactly what it sounds like, Strait said. 

"None of that was sustainable for me long-term," said Strait, a Prior Lake resident. "I need something I can do for the next 30 years, not the next 30 days, which is about how long I lasted at Insanity."

The gym at 7709 Egan Drive is different. There are no mirrors, no trance jams blasting over a PA and no TVs lining the walls. The lighting is soft and warm. There is a white orchid plant in the corner. The scene is vaguely reminiscent of an acupuncturist's studio or a nice salon. KoKo's main page describes the setting as a "fitness oasis."

The real difference, though, is in the data. Each user is given a USB drive, which records their progress and keeps a detailed record of how much weight you lifted, how well you performed each set, calories burned, Body Mass Index and  points earned (there's a built-in reward system akin to the karate belt). The metrics give users more than one way to measure their progress, so that they don't become discouraged.

"We want to take the focus off the bathroom scale as the primary measure of your health. Chances are your weight isn't going down, but your body is totally changing," Strait said.

The machines themselves incorporate computer technology designed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the fitness know-how of celebrity trainers, such as Kathy Kaehler (trainer to Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Lopez and other A-listers) and Michael Wood (named twice to Men's Journal Top 100 Trainers list). The system generates a new workout for the user every day, customized to fit their needs (age, fitness goals and strength level) to keep the routine from getting stale. And best of all, the computer interface coaches you through each lift, each set and every step of the plan, which removes the element of uncertainty for newbies and keeps the workout balanced—neither too easy nor a butt-kicking bout of insanity.

"This is based on solid science," Strait said.

If a user falls off the wagon, the system will send them a gentle reminder to get back into the gym. Strait says that the prompt is surprisingly effective: About 60 percent of the users come in within 24 to 48 hours of receiving the message.

South metro residents will soon have a chance to try it for themselves. KoKo is now up and running in Savage. The grand opening for is planned for Tuesday.  

The gym is open 24 hours a day to members.


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