Muscling people around
Freestyle Fitness’ energetic leader bumps it out of the box
You have to know where you’re going in order to find Freestyle Fitness.
At the rear of a nondescript industrial complex just past Hegan Lane on the Midway, and behind Chico Honda Motorsports, a small sign lets visitors know they’ve arrived at the 3,900-square-foot warehouse that houses Jake Scheele’s fitness center. Inside, the high-ceilinged space is packed with hundreds of fitness props—all sorts of free weights, punching bags, rowing machines, stair climbers, grappling dummies, kettlebells, and cardio- and gravity-training machines.
“If you’ve seen it on TV, I probably have it here,” quipped Scheele in a recent interview. Posters of celebrities, like that of reggae musician Bob Marley, and one of Marilyn Monroe reclining on a bench press, create a colorful collage of inspirations on the surface of the gym’s walls.
Freestyle Fitness is a boxing gym for those who want to go box; for others—like those who attend “Freestyle Friday” class—it’s a motivating place to go to stay in shape. Freestyle Fitness offers “unlimited training,” which means that students (as members are called) can put together any combination of classes they desire.
“It’s an old-school gym with modern-day training techniques and contraptions,” offered Scheele.
The likeable 32-year-old looks and sounds like the kind of guy who motivates people to get in shape. At 5 feet 9 inches tall, he is muscular and friendly, and a huge smile takes over his face as he enjoys jokes with staff and students. His voice bellows throughout the space during classes—insistent, but not unpleasant—like a Shakespearean actor’s: “Come on! One more! OK! You gotta earn it to burn it! Great!”
“Putting Chico’s fat on the hit list” is—fittingly—the club’s slogan. Members commonly refer to it as “the fitness factory” or simply “the factory.”
At Scheele’s gym, clients won’t find the artificial waterfalls or other fancy amenities present at other fitness venues. There’s a distinct feeling the people who go there are serious about exercise—one can hear students breathing hard and practically feel them concentrating. Conveniently, small-group classes can easily occupy one section of the warehouse space without being distracted by what other people in the room are doing.
More than 170 classes are offered per month, in such things as sports conditioning, cross training, boxing and mixed martial arts. One particularly popular class that’s tough—but brings students results—is boot camp, an intense, cross-training session in which the instructor often shouts commands like a military officer.
All in all, Scheele has more than 100 students at his intimate, no-frills gym, and he knows them all by name. “Here you’re in a small-group setting, not on your own,” said Scheele. “Everything is structured for you. You’re not doing the same things over and over; you’re learning new things. [And] you come [to classes] whenever you want.”
Scheele likes to change things up for variety: “I have five instructors, and I like to bring [them] in as different trainers, to take my basic ideas and throw a spin on it, a twist. I love that.”
His explanation of the dues schedule is notably out of the ordinary. “It’s ‘pay what you can afford.’ If you can’t afford it, you can clean the gym. Or bring dinner,” said Scheele. “I barter for goods and services. I have probably 20 students who are business owners, and they promote me. Everyone helps each other out. Chico is a very special area, where people actually give a damn about you, and I hope we don’t lose that.”
Scheele grew up in Modesto, one of four brothers always active in sports. He started weightlifting at age 13, taking up mixed martial arts at 16. He played baseball for Barstow College. “I got Most Improved Player in 2003!” Scheele bragged with a grin.
Scheele moved to Butte County in 2006 to finish a college degree. A year later, he was alarmed to discover his weight was up to 220 pounds. “I was in an environment that was not healthy,” he said. “I just really wanted to get back into fitness, where people had the same goals and passions I did.”
Even though it meant quitting college, Scheele followed his love of fitness, starting in an entry-level position. “I got a job at the front desk of a gym. In a year, I lost 50 pounds doing their boot-camp program—and then started teaching it,” he said.
In June 2010, he opened his own business, Freestyle Fitness. “The first six months I was doing it out of my truck in public parks, or [offering] personal training in people’s houses,” Scheele recalled. Because he was able to attract and maintain a following of clients, he rented a 600-square-foot room on the bottom floor of a barn. “I outgrew the space in 10 months, and I also had two storage units full of fitness equipment.”
It’s been a little more than a year since Freestyle Fitness moved into its current location, and Scheele has dreams of expanding. In fact, he and Eddie Cole, Freestyle Fitness’ striking “fight-team” manager, have visions of Cole’s son, 13-year-old Zaden Cole, taking over a teaching role someday.
Scheele struggles slightly when asked to explain the key to his business success. “Word of mouth, I guess,” he said. “You take care of people—that’s central—whether they’re 8 or 80. I work [personally] with everyone, and figure out how we can help them. … This is not an elitist place, where you have to look or be a certain way.”
Scheele has particularly enjoyed working with young people and their families. “Teens come in and they can get that bond with their parents, and it builds their confidence,” he noted. “Not all girls excel in sports, and it’s great for teenage girls to come in here and box, or whatever. It doesn’t matter how they look, or what they weigh. That is so important at that age.
“I have a mother and daughter who ran a half marathon together—to see the girl’s confidence is amazing.
“I hope I never have to go to another job interview, or a staff meeting,” offered Scheele, who was able to quit a job as a bar bouncer when he became a fitness trainer. “Here, you can see hundreds of people coming through the doors every day. Fitness just makes me happy.”