When asked about their teaching qualifications, the instructors at Finney's HIT Squad—including Jesse Finney himself—all point to their win records. All of them have a competitive fighting history in their chosen disciplines, and several have earned championships or black belts. As full-time employees of the gyms, they school guests on MMA, kickboxing, boxing, Brazilian jujitsu, and wrestling. They also access their inside knowledge of the industry for fighter-development programs, which strive to transform beginners into professional combatants without stuffing them into hollowed-out punching-bag cocoons for 5 years. For amateurs and experts alike, they assert that "you fight how you train," and aim to simulate official rounds inside their onsite cages, boxing rings, and matted arenas. In 2011, their professional chops helped Finney's HIT Squad take the title of Best MMA Gym in the Riverfront Times Best of St Louis feature.
Despite their investment in competitions, however, the staffers view the two gyms as all-inclusive spaces. Whether they are instilling confidence in children through kids' jujitsu, orienting a new member to the fitness equipment, or leading a women-only martial-arts class, they mentor students of all backgrounds.
Though its original incarnation in 1906 as a factory building may have produced gears and pieces, St. Louis Fitness Factory currently acts as a full-service gym creating newly chiseled humans. That's because it fills its 18,000 square feet and four levels with ellipticals, treadmills, weight machines, and cardio classes that help its members shed pounds and tone muscles. Its nutritionists and certified trainers further the fitness goals of members with diet advice.
Chris and Pam Schmick had spent six months cleaning out the scrap metal from their abandoned silos and just finished drilling thousands of holes in its walls. With little time to spare, they prepared for their climbing gym's grand opening on September 2, 1995—a date on which they had already agreed to hold a regional JCCA competition. The effort they've expended in the nearly 20 intervening years shows: today, climbers scramble on top ropes, lead ropes, and more than 20,000 square feet of lava-free climbing surface.
Instructors prepare visitors to surmount the gym's features in a range of classes, such as Rock Gym 101, which is an introduction to top-rope climbing that covers climbing safety, basic technique, and equipment. Once climbers are equipped with gear from the pro-shop, staff shows them around a multi-level bouldering cave, a main climbing area with 30-foot walls shaped by arêtes, cracks, and waves, and the building's five original silos. Elsewhere inside the gym, six auto-belays safely cradle visitors who wish to climb without taking a class.
The trainers at The Boxing Gym help clients use their natural assets to get into shape: namely, two fists and a little bit of stress to take out on a punching bag. They splice their boxing and kickboxing lessons with calisthenics, push-ups, and jump roping, keeping the workout fast and varied, and always returning to combative techniques. Beyond the realm of fitness, they also help prepare fighters for the ring with MMA training in the form of submission-grappling lessons and full-speed, pad-assisted kickboxing.
Justin Thacker, the muscle-bound founder of Heavy Metal CrossFit, uses the same principles that motivated him through 19 years of weightlifting experience to spur on and cultivate a community of health-conscious exercisers at his wood-floored, exposed-brick gym. His team of expert trainers leads guests through group fitness classes that turn bodies into granite sculptures through a series of weightlifting routines and the crystallization of magma. Body Flow classes boost circulation and accelerate nutrient currents with relaxing yoga, Pilates, and tai chi movements. Patrons can coax coy muscles from epidermal hideouts with free weights, dumbbells, squat racks, and an expansive cardio circuit, all accessible to members by keycard 24 hours a day. For custom guidance, guests can pair up with a personal trainer or can sign up for the structured Laser weight-loss program, a regimen designed to blast off pounds with a laser focus but without actual lasers.