Tony Calhoun, a 25-year veteran of the health club industry and former Gold’s Gym franchisee, took a leave of absence from the industry after selling his gyms to Spectrum in 2005. During this period, he and his son Anthony researched studies and statistics, discussed new ideas and formulated a model for what they believed to be the ideal fitness club.
The result is AC4 Fitness, a new gym that opened in mid-June on Fairview Avenue in Goleta.
The mission of AC4 Fitness is built around two basic ideals: providing the most enjoyable experience possible for patrons, and doing so with the smallest possible environmental impact.
To do this, the gym has taken somewhat of a minimalist approach to the exercise experience. There are no fitness classes nor personal trainers, and the workout equipment is largely based around a 30-minute circuit of cardiovascular and weight training exercises.
“We’re trying to get back to the basics. I feel like the health club industry has gotten too complicated about providing what should be its only product, and that is fitness,” Calhoun said. “There is a general misconception that people don’t have time to exercise. Exercise shouldn’t take a lot of time if you are doing the right things and are persistent about it.”
AC4 also aims to maximize accessibility by remaining open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Calhoun and his sons staff the building 12 hours a day during the week and six hours a day on weekends, and members are given key fobs to enter at any time.
Calhoun believes the secret to any gym’s success is ensuring patrons continue to work out regularly and renew their membership.
AC4 offers a range of amenities, including state-of-the-art hydro-massage tables, vertical tanning booths, Wi-Fi access and a system in which members can bring a friend free of charge that Calhoun hopes will make the task of exercising seem a little less daunting.
“One challenge every fitness club owner faces is exercise adherence. If people stop exercising, they stop coming to the gym and they cancel their membership,” Calhoun said. “In order to counter this, we have a novel way of making the gym the most enjoyable experience possible for those exercising.”
Calhoun is also committed to making AC4 as environmentally friendly as possible, and this devotion is reflected in almost every aspect of the gym, from the 12-foot LEED-certified ceiling fan that cuts down on air conditioning needs to the lockers made of recycled plastic and paperless enrollment process — even the tanning booths are among the most energy-efficient on the market.
However, what makes the gym most revolutionary is the fact that every time certain types of cardiovascular machines are used, they produce energy that feeds back into powering the building through a system called Re-Rev. A television screen mounted on the wall displays a meter that measures the amount of power that members are generating at any given time.
According to Calhoun, AC4 is the only private club in California to feature the Re-Rev system. It is also one of the only fitness clubs to offer an Eco-Mill, a treadmill that actually produces more power than it uses.
“Typically treadmills are the biggest power consumers in a gym, so to have one that actually produces power is very innovative,” Calhoun said. “Only a few of them have been made, and they are exceptionally expensive.”
Calhoun said he isn’t expecting any financial return on these investments — he admits that the $25,000 Re-Rev system most likely will never pay back its worth in reduced power bills. However, the decision to go green was not for economic reasons, he said.
“To be frank, it’s not a sound economic investment. To us, it’s about stewardship, or taking care of what you’ve been given. The idea of a health club is really stewardship of your body — you want to take the best possible care of your body by working out — and that philosophy extends to being socially responsible as well,” Calhoun said. “It doesn’t make economic sense, but it does make philosophical sense.”
According to Calhoun, it’s only natural for a club with such an emphasis on being environmentally friendly to be located in the Santa Barbara area, given the region’s history of involvement in the environmental movement tracing back to the 1969 oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel. Calhoun said he still has many ideas for making the club even more energy efficient and educating patrons about sustainability.
“I really do want to go a lot further with this,” he said. “This is only the tip of the iceberg.”
While the club currently has only about 350 members, Calhoun’s goal is to expand enrollment enough to one day open up another AC4 Fitness in the area.
“Hopefully, as this one becomes more successful, we’d like to open up a few more locations sometime in the future,” Calhoun said. “It is a really a prototype for a new kind of gym — it’s something that’s never been done before.”