Fitness


Sweat Equity

From a pro with a decked-out mobile gym to a medical exercise specialist focused on the 50-plus set to former athletes turned personal trainers, these fitness experts deliver results in Southwest Florida.

BY July 1, 2022
Southwest Florida trainers
(Photo by Brian Tietz)

Carlos Garcia, VERSAGYM

You might think you’re too busy to hit the gym, or maybe you have a few dumbbells at home, but you can’t seem to buckle down and use them. Whatever the case, Carlos Garcia, founder of VERSAGYM, has the fix. “We take every excuse out of it,” he says. VERSAGYM is a mobile studio you can order to your home for a personal training session. The original 5-by-8-foot and newer 6-by-12-foot trailers open to reveal a cable system; benches; about 700 pounds worth of weights, plates and bars; medicine balls; jump ropes; agility ladders—you name it. Clients pay one price per home, and anyone who lives there can partake in the workout. “It’s the same as grocery delivery or Uber Eats,” he says.

Garcia grew up in a home where he and other family members struggled with their weight. He started training himself and his family at the local YMCA and saw how their health and quality of life soared. With VERSAGYM, he wanted to create a system where people could easily integrate exercise into their lives and reap the myriad benefits. While the pandemic threw a curveball at many fitness facilities, closing big-box gyms and community centers, Garcia’s mobile fitness trailers excelled. His workouts take place outdoors in a client’s driveway or in the yard. Classes last between 30 minutes and an hour, and the team makes every session different, mixing  traditional weight-training movements, like hammer curls and squats, with plyometrics. The workouts are easily tailored for mixed-age groups. “I have a father who homeschools his kids; I come over at 12 p.m., and I’m the P.E. teacher for the kid, and the dad gets his workout in,” he says. 

Garcia’s model is quickly taking off. In two years, he’s turned VERSAGYM into a franchise and is growing into West Palm Beach and Plano, Texas. He also opened a headquarters in Collier County—complete with athletic turf, HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and cardio equipment—for group classes. “Exercise for me is something very personal, and I know what it can do for others, not just physically but mentally,” Garcia says. “No one said you need to be the next great Olympian, but if you can do something every day, it can make a big difference.”

Angela Gagauf, Fifty Plus Personal Training

Angela Gagauf of Fifty Plus Personal Training will never push a client to seek out one more rep. The goal isn’t to prepare for a fitness competition or achieve a certain aesthetic. Many of her clients are just trying to regain mobility after an injury or get back on the tennis court after surgery; they may have back problems or be struggling with conditions like osteoporosis. “Many of them have never done a structured workout in their life,” she adds.

Gagauf, a New Jersey native, specializes in medical exercise, meaning she’s equipped to develop programs tailored around and pointed to improve health conditions. She has carved out a niche working with older clients who feel more comfortable alongside a coach who is aging with them. “People say, ‘I don’t want to train with a young trainer; they don’t understand my body,’” she says.

With an alphabet soup of certifications, Gagauf reviews each client’s medical history before agreeing to take them on. “I assess that way because I want them to be safe,” she says. Clients either work out from their homes or at their community fitness center with Gagauf in tow. Depending on their condition, she might begin a session by checking the client’s blood pressure or oxygen saturation before proceeding. If their stats are lagging, they won’t train that day. Once they’re deemed healthy enough to begin, Gagauf assesses each individual’s baseline fitness level. She’ll then design a program to help them regain mobility and strength. Rather than focusing on high-intensity shredding sessions, she aims to put her client at ease with gentle workouts that account for limitations (osteoarthritis, hypertension, balance issues) while helping to mitigate conditions over time.

Someone with balance issues might do bodyweight side lunges and practice sitting and standing from a chair until they master the movement. To combat high blood pressure, clients often start with walking on a treadmill or recumbent bicycling, working up to higher-intensity workouts as their endurance and fitness improve. Meanwhile, someone with osteoporosis may do bone-loading exercises, like stepping, push-ups and squats. “Right now, I’m working with someone who has cancer and hasn’t been able to do a lot,” she says. “I can’t believe how she’s walking better. Her energy levels are better. She feels stronger. She’s still not 100% but hearing something like that is the greatest thing.”

Sean Sullivan, Matterhorn Fit

Matterhorn Fit, which opened a second location in Naples last year, might be the only gym where seniors, pro athletes and Olympians work out alongside each other, often doing the same exercises. “Snowbirds who have been here for six months see these big, strong hockey players show up and think they must be doing some crazy, out of this world stuff,” says Sean Sullivan, Matterhorn’s co-founder and director of health and performance. “But it’s just about getting these guys healthy and delivering them back to season.”

Sullivan spent a decade training pro athletes, while co-founder Ryan Vesce spent 14 years playing pro hockey. After back and hip surgery, Vesce trained with Sullivan and, having access to the best rehab methodologies out there, was able to get another five years in the game. The two were motivated to open a gym that could draw from the pro sports world’s advanced healing modalities and training methods. When they opened the first location in Bonita Springs in 2019, they focused on pro hockey players who lived in the area and needed a place to train during the offseason when they have time to recover from injuries and get back to peak performance. Most clients still come to Matterhorn for recovery and rehabilitation training. For non-athletes, the goal might be to get back to pickleball or golf. “Something as small as reaching over and putting on a seatbelt might be a problem for them,” Sullivan says, adding that it’s not long into training before they’re able to workout alongside the pros. “It’s fun for them because they get to come into the gym, see the jerseys on the wall and feel like an athlete again.”

The training focuses on identifying and addressing compensations while increasing mobility and strength. While specific goals vary wildly, everyone goes through the same three-phase approach to get back in the game. The evaluation starts with a rehab specialist who uses direct current electrical stimulation to see which muscles are reacting and absorbing force. During the eval, the specialist assesses and advises on everything from herniated discs to tennis elbow to balance issues. Once a problem area is identified, it’s all about “turning the muscles back on,” by reinforcing the mind-muscle connection, Sullivan says. That might mean no weights for the first few weeks a client is at the gym. Instead, Sullivan uses repeated lifting, holding and lowering movements to focus on the part of the movement that hurts most or has the most tension, strengthening muscles until clients can do it easily. “It’s very basic, not stuff the average trainer would put on Instagram,” he says. Finally, they reinforce the correction with strengthening to prevent future injury and develop power, speed and agility.   

Sullivan enjoys watching the clients mingle. “I’d be lying if I said I thought I’d be training a hockey player at 9 a.m., then a college basketball player, then an older lady who plays golf twice a week,” he says.

Lauren Fox, Donation Yoga Naples

Lauren Fox’s yoga space has no walls or ceilings. With permission from the city, she hosts her roving Donation Yoga Naples classes on public beaches, like Lowdermilk Park and Via Miramar Beach, with sand underfoot and the Gulf of Mexico as the backdrop. There’s no music, just the sound of the Gulf. “It’s a spiritual experience in a really beautiful place,” Fox says, adding that they’ll often see dolphins and manatees swim by during class. “You get to connect with nature.”

Fox started Donation Yoga as an alternative to studio classes, which she felt had become too expensive. Participants pay what they can (the suggested range is $10 to $20, though most choose to pay more), and half the proceeds go back to the community. “I was born and raised in Naples, and my family is middle class. Affordability has become a big challenge in our community,” she says. Those who can’t afford to pay can donate their time by helping with beach clean-ups. “I would hate for a $35 fee to be a reason someone didn’t do a class,” she adds.

Her training focuses on building strength and flexibility while helping yogis connect to their breath and learn mindfulness. At the start of each class, participants set an intention, reflecting on ideas like finding gratitude or inner peace during a difficult time. The team teaches in various styles, from Yin yoga, with heavy emphasis on meditation and deep stretching, to Vinyasa, in which students flow from one pose to the next in tandem with their breath to invigorate the mind and body. Instructors move through the group for hands-on adjustments, offering more individualized attention than you’d expect from an affordable group class.

All sessions are grounded in the principles of karma yoga. “It’s the idea of giving without wanting anything back in return,” Fox says. To foster community, she encourages participants to socialize, and part of the proceeds from every class go back to charity. Over the past eight years, Donation Yoga has raised more than $100,000 for local nonprofits, with a different group (Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Captains For Clean Water, David Lawrence Centers, to name a few) benefiting each month. Sometimes, representatives from the nonprofits drop by to take a free class and speak with the group after a session. After Jennifer Pash from Habitat for Humanity of Collier County spoke to a class last year, a Donation Yoga student donated $10,000 to the cause and two other people from that class now volunteer building houses. “We understand that each practice goes beyond holding poses,” Fox says.

Sergei Fedetov, Pure Skill Fitness

Friendly competition is the name of the game at Naples’ Pure Skill Fitness, where state-of-the-art equipment is standard and participants leave dripping in sweat but riding high from the spirit of camaraderie.

Owner Sergei Fedotov spent years playing professional hockey in Moscow and the United States. “I was a team player all my life,” he says. “Exercising by myself, I realized, was very difficult. It’s boring.” He knew he wasn’t alone in that thought. In 2018, Fedetov combined his experience as an athlete and 10-plus years spent doing personal training and leading fitness classes for the upper echelon at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples to open Pure Skill.

The studio banks on the motivational benefits of group training. Workouts are quick and effective—most pack strength training, cardio and stretching into 45-minute sessions—and none take more than 20 students. Fedotov designed the 55 weekly classes to spread across three studio spaces, loaded with TechnoGym technology. There’s a Bootcamp and Skillbike room focusing on interval training, circuits and cycling; Pure Strength for weight training; and a Mind and Body room for yoga, pilates and stretching. “Our equipment, in correlation to the world of cars, is the Ferrari. And people here appreciate that,” Fedotov says.

PureSkill trainers know all their students by name and assume the role of team coaches. “The drill sergeants are tough, but they will kill you with their kindness,” Fedotov says. He likes to introduce new, novel workouts and movements that blend principles of strength and balance through HIIT, TUT (Time Under Tension) and functional fitness. Walk into the gym and you may see people holding a plank while walking their hands up a slowly moving treadmill (don’t try this at home) during interval training, or sitting in boat-pose as they push away a punching bag in a boxing class.

Fedotov admits that the workouts are tough (“When teens come in here on break, they literally cannot keep up,” he says). But that’s what his clients like. Within two years of opening, he had to triple the size of the studio to 6,000 square feet to meet demand. And, this fall, inspired by his 7-year-old daughter, Sophie, and her friends, he plans to launch tailored classes for children and teens. “We’re all born with a certain set of skills and as we get older we tend to forget some of them,” he says. “Each one of those skills is given to us for a reason, and they all contribute to our health and wellness.”