Barry’s CEO Joey Gonzalez on the science-based workout, no-sugar diets and avoiding fitness trends

Back to basics

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Pangs of guilt often come through after sitting through a six-course languid lunch, but that feeling gets amplified when you head straight into an interview with a renowned trainer and CEO of a celebrity-approved gym. As luck would have it, that’s exactly what happened before Barry’s CEO and trainer, Joey Gonzalez and I sat down face-to-face, inside the legendary ‘red room’ and on the end of the treadmills no less — where any remnants of self-esteem I once had, soon obliterated. The man was well-built with guns capable of lifting tyres or trucks (what do I know?), while I was well, still digesting the massive lunch I just inhaled.

Thankfully, nothing was said about my previous engagement. But the personal need to humanise the gym became stronger — I needed to know that I wasn’t sitting in a place for elitists. Thankfully Gonzalez dispelled all preconceived notions. Starting with the initial branding back when the first gym opened, the word, ‘bootcamp’ from Barry’s Bootcamp. “Back in 1988, Barry’s used to be decorated in camouflage as it was really trendy back then. But today, it’s really a treadmill-weights intensive class. There’s nobody in cargo pants blowing a whistle saying “give me 50 push-ups”. It’s not like that at all,” says Gonzalez.

Gonzalez found Barry’s when he tried out a class, and gradually was approached by Barry to start teaching. He was 26, then. And the young man before me claims he’s now 41. “This place is kind of like the fountain of youth,” he quips. Seeing is believing.

Eventually, Gonzalez progressed to a managerial role, then to an equity position as he expanded Barry’s in other places in the country. Apart from the increase in outlets, Gonzalez made sure to improve the client experience of the gym — debuting a new footprint for Barry’s in New York City in 2011. It was the first time where the gym added locker rooms, showers, premium amenities as well as a fuel bar (now a Barry’s signature), which was something that no one had done at that point. Clients can pick up protein shakes, that are designed for whatever your goal is; be it fat-burning or muscle building. That, alongside the foolproof age-old formula of the Barry’s workout that burns up to 1,000 calories in one session. Essentially the king of the HIIT workouts that we know today.

The footprint has definitely evolved, but has the workout routine for Barry’s changed since it first started 21 years ago?
No, not really. I mean one of the greatest things about Barry’s is the actual workout, the concept which started 21 years ago now today, was built on the exact type of workout that scientists continue to prove is the most effective. It’s all about interval running and lifting. We have 25 kilograms in this room, so if you want to chest press, you have that option. So it’s about true weightlifting, and then interval cardiovascular.

How difficult is the workout?
We offer different levels: Beginner, intermediate and advanced. First thing we say to a first-timer is “don’t be a hero” and to just go at your own pace. Many of my first-timers won’t even be able to get to the beginner’s speed, but they try to follow the same patterns on the treadmill. The floor for the most part is pretty much achievable by anyone. It’s super basic; involves squats, lunges, curls and shoulder presses. We will get creative on the floor in terms of programming and choreography, but it’s a real back-to-basics approach where you’re selecting your own weights.

What’s the science behind this successful calorie-burning workout?
For starters, there really is no better way to shred than on the treadmill. A lot of people say “I’m not a runner”. I would argue, because it’s literally the only form of cardio you were born to do. Every human being is a runner. So if you go out for a run for 30 minutes outside and you’re at the same pace after 30 minutes, that’s called steady state cardio. That’s where your heart rate is elevated for a long period of time. What actually ends up happening here scientifically is you’re burning your own muscle, which is exactly the opposite of what we wanna accomplish here at Barry’s. What we do is true interval, so you will jog for a minute, you’ll sprint for 30 seconds, and you’ll walk for a minute and do that again. And you’ll jog flat, jog at a 10%, come back flat, sprint, so it’s about recovery and high intensity.

When you do that with your heart rate, you’re really burning fat, which is what we intend to do here at Barry’s. Down on the floor, the reason why we work with heavier weights is that’s actually the most effective way to build real muscle tissue — without actually getting big. Weightlifting and strength training is so important to create healthy, dense bones for bone density. And additionally for every pound of muscle that you put on, you burn 300 extra calories a day or something crazy like that. A muscle takes up way less space than fat, so a lot of times women will start to put on muscle and be afraid that their bodies are actually gonna get bigger. But what ends up happening is that they lose a lot of fat.

How sustainable is this approach? Is it just meant for losing weight fast or going through it on a long-term basis?
That’s a good question and it’s difficult to answer because Barry’s has been something different to so many people. You’ve definitely got a lot of people who need to lose the last five to ten pounds and people who have been going spinning and they really want the right curves and the right body. It helps people get there relatively quickly. But there’s also a large contingency of people that is completely out of shape and comes here to lose 30 pounds and does so successfully. Then alternatively, there are like league athletes who are happy with their body but are looking for a challenging workout that can help them sustain a higher level of fitness.

So you think anybody can come and workout at Barry’s?
A hundred percent. We used to have one of our trainers from West Hollywood going on the The Biggest Loser. You have to go at your own pace like I said earlier. You don’t have to be doing everything that the person next to you will necessarily be doing, so it’s definitely an option for anybody.

How often should a person go for a Barry’s class in a week?
Anywhere between three to five times to really see results. My ex-roommate lost like 35 pounds in six weeks by going four or five times a week.

This might be a silly question but do you believe in diets?
I don’t know if I necessarily believe in diets, but I have a very regimented way of eating. I try to never eat sugar, it is the number one thing that I avoid. All of the nutritional diet and health information that’s been coming out over the last few years really points to sugar as being like the most addictive drug in the world. It also has been known to cause cancer. So every time I bite into a cookie, I think of it as committing suicide, which is an awful way to live, but that’s how I live my life. Also, I don’t eat processed carbs like grains or pasta. I tend to eat foods that are high in fat as well as alot of protein. I also practice the 16:8 intermittent fasting, so it’s been every day for two years. I’ve basically gone 16 hours from my last meal to my first. There are always exceptions, especially if you’re hungover. But yeah, I’m a big believer in intermittent fasting.

How does Barry’s compete with the fleet of fitness studios out there?
There’s a reason why we successfully avoided fitness trend for 21 years. There’s so many of them, I mean there are now places that want you to work out in sub-zero temperatures all over the United States. But we have a very back-to-basics approach. And for us the biggest investment is always the community; the business has always been about creating an authentic community and building relationships with people who come, not only between us and them but also between them and them.

Book a class at Barry’s Singapore today.