I Tried Denver’s Only Queer-Owned, TikTok-Famous Gym

Styler Rising opened the POC- and queer-friendly fitness studio Metamorphosis Fitness in 2017, named after her own trip and upcoming trips. Photo by Jason Espinoza / Courtesy Metamorphosis Fitness

Health

Styler Rising left CrossFit to start Metamorphosis Fitness, where training feels good for everyone.


17th August 2021

After teasing myself through a series of bicep curls and military presses, I grab a 10-pound exercise ball and follow my midday gym classmates out the door of Metamorphosis Fitness. Driven by the camaraderie and smell of the dumpsters behind the big grocery store, we run through the gym’s University Hills mall. Shoppers pushing carts stop and stare at us in confusion.

Do i feel confident? A little bit. But mostly I feel sweaty, extravagant and strong.

By the time we submit again, the workout playlist has changed from Robyn to Carly Rae Jepsen, and Styler Rising, the founder and face of Metamorphosis, turns away from the rowing machines to scream encouragement. They are wearing an electric blue mohawk and a tank top with a rainbow kettlebell illustration. When I begin a series of crunches with an 8 pound dumbbell in hand, they go to my exercise station and suggest that I swap the dumbbell for an equally heavy circular dumbbell – lying down, the plate is easier to hold. Although my abs are shaking, they feel a little more stable.

Before I know it, our 15-minute “As Many Rounds As Possible” (AMRAP) cycle ends. Styler stands next to a whiteboard and discusses us, tells us how many laps we have done and how we are feeling. “What is important to me is self-regulation,” they say. “That you can take care of your body out in the world.”

This idea embodies Metamorphosis Fitness, a gym for people who have not felt comfortable in traditional sports facilities or have strengthened themselves from them, as well as for those who have never entered one. All employees are queer; and while many of its members aren’t, Metamorphosis prides itself on creating a downright queer-friendly atmosphere.

Unlike a typical gym, all classes start with names and pronouns, and all toilets are gender neutral. And when Styler models what our arms should look like when they start a series of rows of rings, they joke that “that’s the only straight thing in this gym.”

@stylerrising

#stitch with @tylerdaclaire We exist !! #girlsgaysandtheys #alphabetmafia #gaytiktok #queergym

♬ Original sound – Styler Rising

Since posting a viral TikTok video in early February, Styler has nearly doubled its gym membership. They redesigned the interior and logo and bought some new gear, but what hasn’t changed is styler. With a warm smile and a strong jaw, they are the heart and rock of space. Members describe her as “very supportive”, “very good at articulating that every path is different and meets us there”, “the coolest”, “the atmosphere of the gym” and “someone I fully trust” .

But for a long time, says Styler, the success and purpose they have now found has been unimaginable.

“I left a really abusive relationship eight years ago. I was broken, utterly, emotionally and physically and everything, ”they say. Cut off from friends and family, Styler moved her two young children to a remote place in Morrison, overwhelmed by the sluggishness of life as a veritable recluse.

Year after year, Styler drove back and forth from her job at an IT company, passed a CrossFit gym, and kept thinking what if? Eventually, motivated in large part by her children’s frequent “observations of how unhappy I was,” Styler showed up to the gym with a check prepaid for a year.

“I took my first course and was thrilled – Hook, Line and Sinker, drank the Kool-Aid,” says Styler. “And the stronger I got physically, the stronger I got emotionally and mentally.” They gained certifications for health coaching and personal training, including as a CrossFit Level 1 coach, and took part in bodybuilding competitions.

They reconnected with a sense of community – made new friends, performed with a drag-king troupe, and started a new life with their fiancé Jax on a CSA farm with 56 animals. It was, says Styler, a real transformation. A metamorphosis.

Along the way, they discovered that CrossFit wasn’t as utopian as it first seemed. The brand is applying to practice functional fitness: Every movement should translate into something that could be done outside of the gym. But Styler saw too many attendees injure themselves with awkward, impractical movements like handstand push-ups, and watched others pull back, “disillusioned with the ‘go go go’ mentality”. (Not to mention those who were spurned by CrossFits’ less inclusive leadership at the time.)

Carried by a new self-confidence, Styler opened Metamorphosis Fitness in 2017, named after her own journey and the journeys to come. “I thought, how many people don’t have the opportunity to do this because they don’t know where to start?” Styler explains. “So come over here and we’ll teach you where to start.”

The main offer of the fitness studio is hour-long, intimate workouts in small groups, three to six of which take place every weekday, no earlier than 5:15 a.m. and no later than 6:30 p.m. No two units are exactly the same, but they all start with a warm – up and include a number of common exercises. (Stylers and other trainers also offer one-on-one workshops.)

Members of each class (limited to 12) perform the same movements. However, each person can choose a weight that is comfortable for them. (I started at 10 pounds, but realized I overestimated my strength and quickly switched to eight.) If a particular movement is too challenging or too easy by itself, there are official ways you can do it by adjusting the “mod down” or ” mod up “can technology that Styler describes in detail before the start of each suite. There have been no major injuries in the past four years, according to Styler.

Metamorphosis fitnessPhoto by Paige Burkett

As a gay, basically weak man who stayed far, far from the petri dish of toxic masculinity that was my hometown of YMCA, I was reassured that different ages and body types struggled with pushups next to me. It is similar to the regular members of the gym.

Mary Addison Chapman, a project manager with a non-binary child, has been taking metamorphosis classes for almost two years. As someone who “always struggled with body image and food” it was a wonderful change to see her (significant) muscle gains, not her weight loss. She is now training for a triathlon in September. Chapman is so committed to Metamorphosis’ mission that she donates to the Gym’s Angel Fund, which subsidizes gym fees for low-income queer members. She says she can afford it because she “would pay at least twice as much for the same services as in any other gym”. (It costs $ 150 a month to attend three classes a week, but the gym offers significant discounts for three and six months, as well as annual prepayments.)

If Greg Gauthreaux went to the gym before 2021, it was “in the middle of the night so I couldn’t work out with anyone else”. If there were others, Gauthreaux, a gay software engineer for a local cable company, would find that he “didn’t know how to operate the machines and was too shy to ask for help”.

He saw one of Styler’s TikToks a few months ago and soon showed up at the gym wearing a giant hoodie. He started with three one-on-one sessions with Styler. Then there were three group sessions a week and later five times a week. He couldn’t do a single sit-up in February. Now he can be 20 or more and has started climbing and kayaking with friends, activities he has avoided for years. “My confidence just shot up,” he says. The day we worked out together, he wore a tank top, a new addition to his wardrobe considering that “[he] hadn’t worn a sleeveless shirt since [he] was a toddler. “

And although Chancy Gatlin-Anderson, who joined Metamorphosis in July, said she heard some not-entirely-positive language at the gym in her first few weeks, she said the gym was decidedly less fat-phobic than anyone else she tried. “I don’t want to lose weight; I want to do active things, ”she says, which is what connects gym members. Gauthreaux and other members paddleboarded together in June; another group hikes their first 14 in August. In this way, they realize the functional fitness premise that Styler values ​​so much.

Towards the end of a class I was taking, a new member was absolutely convinced in her first week that she couldn’t hang on a pull-up bar for even half a second. Styler spent two minutes encouraging her, and when she tried, she lasted a full fifteen. Styler and Paige Burkett, the spirited and beefy manager of the fitness studio, celebrated with cheers and footsteps.

After class, I asked Styler what it felt like to help people surprise themselves with their own strength and they started crying. “I opened this gym four years ago with this loftier goal in mind and it’s just amazing to finally make it happen.”

One of Styler’s biggest takeaways from its virality – their most popular video garnered over two million views – was the need for more gyms like Metamorphosis around the world. They are currently putting together a certification program to train other Colorado gyms to be “really queer and POC friendly, as we believe we have a right to say we are experts at this, at least at our community ”. . “

An admirable mission, there can be something about Metamorphosis that is not reproducible: Styler itself.

Case in point: At the close of Pride this year, Styler conducted a particularly strenuous workout that culminated in a set of 100 skipping ropes. “I reached my limits physically, started crying and collapsed,” says Gauthreaux. “Styler lay down on the floor with me and said, ‘Follow my voice. Take a deep breath. Every rep counts. ‘ Everyone came and participated. I collapsed and shouted, but stopped training. I think it says a lot about the space Styler created that I could feel safe enough to collapse but strong enough to finish my workout. “

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