Getting fit has never been so fun. Meet these local fitness entrepreneurs who are changing the way Las Crucens get healthy.
Total Body Bar
When Tierney Jeffers isn’t working with personal training clients or teaching classes at Total Body Bar, she can often be found on Facebook posting healthy recipes, offering fitness tips, sharing her personal fitness struggles, and offering words of encouragement.
The founder of Total Body Bar first became passionate about fitness in college. “I’ve always been active and into sports,” says Tierney. “When I got to college I was feeling crappy and lazy; like I needed to do something.”
After enrolling in a weight lifting class at New Mexico State University, she became an on again/off again gym rat and competitive body builder. She loved the challenge of bodybuilding but didn’t love the lifestyle. “I would get down to 15 pounds below my healthy weight, and then I’d gain it all back in two weeks,” she explains. “I just felt horrible about myself. I love a mental challenge, but the idea of being judged solely on appearance didn’t appeal to me. So, I decided to take fitness on as a hobby that was fun, rather than defeating.”
Tierney got certified and started training in her garage, but within two years she was at max capacity, so she took her passion for fitness to the street – Main Street to be exact. Total Body Bar opened its doors at 841 South Main Street in October of 2014, with two of Tierney’s close friends, Joselyn Azure and Bridget Salopek, on board as coaches.
Tierney believes her concept fills a need in the Las Cruces community for a more holistic approach to women-centered fitness. “Even when you’re an athlete, gyms can make you feel insecure. Most gyms don’t feel happy; they’re really intimidating,” she explains. “We never want to create that atmosphere for our girls.”
“I love that our goal is to make people feel welcome,” notes Joselyn, who adds that her life is a testament to the power of fitness. A lifelong friend, Joselyn began working out with Tierney after the loss of her husband. “I could see fitness was giving her a new purpose in life. It was helping her heal and she was getting stronger mentally, as well as physically. Only about a year after we started working out together, Jos decided to get certified and we’ve been each other’s right-hands ever since.”
Joselyn says empowering other women to overcome their own challenges is the best part of her job. “We are women focused, and we work on more than just the body and looking good. It’s really about total fitness in mind, body, and spirit,” she says.
Everything about Total Body Bar is designed to make women feel welcome and at ease. Tierney says anyone, at any level, can take their classes. “We have a few athletes, but we have mostly beginners or people who are just starting their journey,” she says.
Pound, one of their most popular classes, is a 45-minute cardio workout that combines weighted drumsticks, total-body exercises, and music. The constant, simulated drumming burns a ton of calories, and the music makes the workout fly by. “I love Pound, it’s my all time favorite,” says regular Laura Romanelli. “It’s really good, up-to-date music, and they play it loud which is really fun.”
A hybrid of traditional Pilates and yoga, the popular PiYo class integrates constant movement to increase calorie burn while still offering the benefits of stretch and strength.
TRX is a suspension training class. It might sound intimidating, but Tierney says it’s ideal for all fitness levels. “It’s great for older women and people with injuries,” she adds. “Also, if you’re more experienced, you can really push yourself without risking injury.”
Of all the classes, CrossFit is Tierney’s personal favorite. “CrossFit is where my heart is,” she says. “It’s lifting- and skills-focused, integrating gymnastics, agility, coordination and many other aspects of what I would call full fitness. It’s all about challenging yourself to new levels. You can always grow.”
To get a taste of all the classes, try the weekly 1-hour Bootcamp. “It’s full body, it’s cardio, it’s hard, it’s fun, and it’s team-based,” explains Tierney. “It’s a good butt kicking, which apparently our girls like because it’s really popular.”
One of Tierney’s best success stories is a client who walked into the studio unhappy and down. “Nothing the first couple weeks would even make her crack a smile,” she remembers. “She was defeated. She was having problems at home, and she didn’t see any changes the first month.”
Tierney encouraged her not to quit. “When you are having emotional challenges, fitness can really pull you out of it,” she notes. “Now she is like a new person. She comes in smiling, and talking about her workouts with excitement. She did a total 180.”
As part of their whole-person approach to fitness, Tierney and her team offer on-line fitness challenges, meal plans, nutritional support, and a monthly fellowship for women to come together to exercise and share.
“Our main focus is creating a space for women that’s comfortable and fun; we want it to be like a family,” Tierney explains. “We give them workouts that are different, enjoyable, and effective. We want to make fitness a journey that you want to be on rather than something you dread.”
Total Body Bar • 841 S. Main Street • 505-366-7009 • totalbodybar.com
Gracie Barra Jiu Jitsu
Jacob Benitez discovered Brazilian jiu-jitsu by chance. “I was always very interested in martial arts growing up. I did a little bit of boxing as a teenager. When I first saw an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fight with Royce Gracie, I had no idea what Brazilian jiu-jitsu was. I saw what he did to a bunch of really tough looking guys and thought, ‘I really need to learn that,’” he recalls.
In 1996, it was hard to find anyone practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but Jacob pursued the art anyway. “It became a big part of my life,” he says. Ten years later, he and wife Angela began teaching classes in their garage. In 2008, they opened the Gracie Barra (pronounced “ba-ha”) dojo, or martial arts studio, on Avenida de Mesilla. They now instruct over 100 Las Cruces students every week
This particular form of jiu-jitsu gets its name from the Gracie family and their Brazilian home of Barra da Tijuca. They were known as the “Gracies of Barra” and thus their method of jiu-jitsu became known as Gracie Barra.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is hard to describe to someone who’s never seen it. From a practical perspective, it is wrestling with submissions. “I’ve heard it described as a paradox of play and war because this is the only sport where your partner is trying to choke you; if they decide not to let you go, you die. That’s the war element. But then you get up and you shake hands, and these people are your friends; that’s the play aspect,” says 20-year-old Terrance King who has been studying under Jacob for two years.
Angela adds, “It’s a lot about feeling—feeling the balance, feeling the leverage, and feeling when it’s the right time to use the right movements.”
Brazilian jiu-jitsu teaches self-defense strategies. “You’re learning something that could potentially save your life, and working out at the same time,” explains Jacob. “I always keep that in mind when I’m teaching. You have to be able to use your jiu-jitsu to defend yourself against an aggressive attacker.”
That, Jacob notes, is what attracts so many law enforcement officers to the dojo. “It’s teaching you how to control a resistant person,” he adds.
But it’s also a great means of getting fit. Don’t be fooled by the slow, measured pace of the sport. It’s an intense workout. “I’ve done sports all my life—softball, volleyball, basketball; I’ve never found another exercise where I can get a full-body workout from head to toe in such a short amount of time,” says Angela. “You can’t just flop around and win a fight. It takes balance and control. You learn to control your body, but then you need to control someone else’s body as well.”
Mental acuity and emotional health are also improved. “My confidence has gone through the roof since I started,” notes Terrance. “Before I started I was pretty insecure and had a bad temper. Being here taught me to be calm under pressure and not to overreact. You can go to a regular gym and you’ll see people in their own zones, with their headphones on, not talking to each other. They aren’t really trying to expand who they are. I come here because of the people. They help make me a better person.”
Jacob and Angela’s students can’t be pigeon holed into any specific stereotype. Angela says their students range in age from four to over 60-years-old. One of their greatest success stories comes from the oldest couple in the dojo. “She had been doing taekwondo for years. She has her black belt, multi-level,” explains Angela. “But, she knew if she were to be taken to the ground she wouldn’t have any sort of defense.”
That client started practicing at Gracie Barra just after her 50th birthday and has lost over 70 pounds. Her husband noticed the changes and decided to join despite being visually impaired. “He now has daily social interaction when he comes to the dojo which he didn’t have before,” says Jacob. “Everyday I see success stories. I see people who feel out of place, shy, and insecure when they first walk in. It can be intimidating, but once they realize this is a welcoming environment, that person is in here leading the conversation.”
Gracie Barra Las Cruces • 421 Avenida de Mesilla
575-523-1404 • facebook.com/graciebarralascruces
Desert Devil CrossFit
Most people associate CrossFit with intensity, competition, and hard-core fitness fanatics. But, “that’s just not our style,” says Jeremy Hale, co-founder of Desert Devil CrossFit.
Jeremy and his wife, Juliet Ricci, opened Desert Devil in April 2015 to create a CrossFit gym where everyone is welcome, regardless of fitness level. “We wanted to foster an environment inline with our values and expectations to ensure everyone feels welcome,” explains Juliet.
As a 22-year veteran of the Air Force, fitness has always been a big part of Jeremy’s life. “Working out and lifting weights is just something you do in the Air Force, but my philosophy on fitness has evolved over the last 25 years,” he explains.
A friend introduced him to CrossFit while on a deployment in South Korea in 2007. This relatively new fitness regimen combines traditional exercises like high-intensity interval training (HIIT), Olympic weightlifting, plyometrics, gymnastics, and calisthenics. “I became addicted to CrossFit because it’s functional fitness,” Jeremy says. “At that time I didn’t have to worry about programming the workouts for myself, and it felt good to work out that way.”
Jeremy returned home to share his newfound passion with Juliet, a licensed massage therapist. CrossFit quickly became a way of life for the couple. They earned level one and level two CrossFit certifications, and finally realized their dream of opening their own gym.
Watch the CrossFit games on TV and it’s nothing but top athletes in peak condition. While many seasoned athletes work out at Desert Devil, Juliet says they get most excited about working with clients who are new to fitness or new to CrossFit. For beginners, they offer a CrossFit Foundations class. This class is usually one-on-one, and is designed to make newbies comfortable with all the basic moves and terminology. “We want to encourage and challenge those up for competition, as well as support and challenge those ready to be a the best version of themselves,” Juliet explains. To complement the CrossFit workouts, Juliet teaches a LifeStretch class several times a week that offers flexibility and overall wellness benefits.
Desert Devil isn’t a traditional gym. With jump ropes, free weights, barbells, and climbing ropes, it looks more like a place to play than a place to work out. That atmosphere is helping to change lives. Jeremy tells of one client who couldn’t do a single pull-up the first time she walked into the gym. Today she can climb a rope, do ten unassisted pull-ups, and recently competed in a statewide CrossFit competition in Albuquerque.
“Another client, Dave, comes at 6:30 a.m. every morning,” adds Jeremy. “When he started he couldn’t overhead squat a PVC pipe. Now he has a beautiful full-depth squat.”
Another, a 62-year old nurse, has never been active in her life. Her faithfulness and dedication paid off with ten pounds of weight loss in her first month at Desert Devil.
Luciano Vera says Jeremy and Juliet’s dedication to their clients brought him to the gym. “Every so often you find a CrossFit gym where people stay after to hang out, where people encourage each other, and high-five each other,” says Luciano. “We’re competitive but we want everybody to succeed and we’re excited for each other.”
Jeremy believes health is a way of life, rather than just something to do at the gym. That philosophy permeates the coaching strategies at Desert Devil. “I feel good at 43. I’m not overweight and my body can do what I want it to do,” he notes. “I go hunting and I’m able to hike up huge hills. I can go do pretty much anything I want to do and not have to worry about my body not keeping up with me.”
But it’s ultimately that sense of family that really sets Desert Devil apart. “Their pitch was short and sweet: ‘We’re going to push you. Come work out for free for a couple days and let us know what you think,’” Luciano remembers.
After the first workout, he was hooked.
“Jeremy and Juliet aren’t really trainers they are coaches,” he adds. “They work out with us. If they’re wrong they admit it. They are here to help us succeed. All you have to do is show up and put out a little effort.”
Desert Devil Crossfit
848 W. Hadley Ave • 575-288-1177