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Sweat Mecca: Salt Lake's Gym Jones has Cult Status

The first rule of Fight Club, as we all know by now, is that you don’t talk about Fight Club. While Salt Lake City’s Gym Jones may be even more difficult to get into than Brad Pitt’s celebrated bare-knuckle fraternity, there are plenty of folks talking about it. And they all have one thing in common: a serious devotion to working hard.

Founded by mountaineer Mark Twight in 2003, Gym Jones (and, yes, the facility’s name is a play on that of the notorious cult leader—Twight’s followers were so devoted that folks joked they’d drink Kool-Aid if he asked them to) may not be a closed gym, but it is beyond private. According to general manager (and MMA veteran) Rob MacDonald, at any given time Gym Jones has between 30 and 40 people training on a regular basis. “This is a place of work,” says MacDonald, who also goes by the name of Maximus. “When you walk in you know it.”

With so few clients, the 6,000-square-foot warehouse facility—the third location Gym Jones has occupied—is expansive, there’s nothing cushy about it. No mirrors. No machines. No televisions. No comfortable place to sit. Instead, you’ve got a brick-accented space filled with chains, barbells and weights. And there’d be no time for getting comfortable anyway, as every member falls under the direction of a certified trainer in a completely individualized program.

With clientele ranging from MMA fighters to Olympians to adventure athletes to actors, that unique one-on-one approach is essential, says MacDonald, 35, who points out that he has two NFL linebackers training at the gym, and even their needs vary greatly, as each has different strengths, weaknesses and injury histories. But no matter the workout regimen or the celebrity status—MacDonald doesn’t care about Q Factor, just how hard a client is willing to work—getting into the gym proves tougher than you’d think, even if it originally followed the Fight Club model of free-to-all, though not all are invited.

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Getting invited, though, should be quite doable as long as you’re committed, MacDonald says, since he just wants to work with “like-minded individuals who are as serious about their fitness as we are.”

“I would like to believe everyone is focused and driven,” he says, “but when it comes down to it, it is surprisingly difficult to find people with that mentality. I just expect people are going to do the right thing, but it is shocking, even in the world of professional sports, how many people don't work that hard. It should be easy, but really, it is difficult to get in the front door.”

Gym Jones won’t water down the philosophy inside the gym, so much so that the group loses money on the facility. But Gym Jones has a business plan that doesn’t compromise their values from inside the walls while letting more people get a (paying) glimpse of it from the outside. Their online membership program opens up thousands of video workouts, filmed out of Gym Jones.

“The online content is a way for someone who can’t get into the gym to get a piece of Gym Jones and take a bit of that environment and that ethos and let it effect their everyday lives,” MacDonald says about the teaching aspect of his work. “So it ends up being something we can broadcast, but at the same time it doesn’t put our culture at risk because our physical space is kept pure.” Pure, but not comfortable.

Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.