By Donald Wittkowski
This is a place that proudly proclaims itself as an old-school gym.
Owner Chris Lambert says there is nothing pretentious or fancy about the surroundings at his five Atilis Gym locations in Cape May and Atlantic counties. Just a lot of weights and fitness equipment. And sweaty people.
He also stressed there is no huge corporate owner using high-pressure sales tactics to nudge clients into a more expensive membership level.
“For the big corporations, it’s all about the dollar. It’s not about the people. But here, we don’t try to sell you stuff. We’re not trying to make you upgrade your membership,” he said.
When you walk in the door, don’t be surprised if Lambert is there to greet you at the front desk. You can’t miss him. He’s the friendly, heavily muscled guy with a shaved head and the names of his two sons, Cody and Brandon, tattooed on his arms.
“They’re my world,” Lambert said of his sons. “These are the only tattoos I have.”
While juggling the demands of a single father, the 46-year-old Lambert, a Cape May resident, has been building up his fitness business. Lambert, a retired Lower Township police officer, bought his first Atilis Gym in Wildwood in 1996. Wildwood is the flagship location.
Lambert opened his next Atilis Gym in Avalon in 2012, another one in Sea Isle City in 2013 and then expanded to Ocean City in 2016. The Ocean City gym, at 1214 West Ave., is open year-round and includes special rates for students, senior citizens and first responders, such as police, fire and emergency personnel.
This past March, Lambert branched out to Atlantic County by opening an Atilis Gym in Egg Harbor Township, at the Cardiff Shopping Center off the Black Horse Pike next to the Forman Mills and Big Lots discount stores.
The Egg Harbor Township site features 21,000 square feet of space indoors and another 15,000 square feet of space outside, including an athletic field covered with artificial turf.
“I could not be more happy with the turnout and with the response from the community. The people have been so good,” Lambert said of the Egg Harbor Township gym.
Lambert stressed that he is not done expanding the Atilis brand. He is in talks for another new gym, but is not disclosing the location yet while negotiations continue.
He is also seriously considering the possibility of franchising the brand name to allow other owners to open gyms under the Atilis umbrella, he said.
Lambert explained that his growth model fits in with an emerging trend in the fitness industry that favors old-fashioned gyms, like Atilis.
“Right now, the fitness industry is starting to turn,” he said. “They’re going back to the real gym and getting away from the cookie-cutter, corporate-owned places. We’re the old-school type of gym.”
Members at the Atilis location in Egg Harbor Township described the gym in similar terms. They said they simply want a no-frills facility that allows them to work out at their own pace.
“It’s a hardcore gym,” said Oksana Strahl, 30, a single mother from Ventnor who uses the weights. “I don’t like all the fancy stuff at other places.”
Abe Hamilton, 50, of Millville, a new member who was visiting the gym for the third time, has been running and walking on the treadmills to get into shape.
“I feel really comfortable here,” Hamilton said. “There are a lot of people here who have been helping me out. The owner has been very friendly and has also helped me out.”
Rose Hesser, 46, of Galloway Township, has been regularly working out with weights and fitness equipment to strengthen her legs. Hesser, who has multiple sclerosis, has been using a walker for the past seven years.
Hesser said she is determined to walk on her own. She recently took steps toward achieving that goal by standing up and pushing a piece of fitness equipment, known as a sled, under her own power.
“It was very invigorating for me,” Hesser said. “My ultimate goal is to walk freely. I think if I wasn’t doing this, I would be in a wheelchair.”
Last Saturday, former Mr. Olympia professional bodybuilding champion Ronnie Coleman, who held the title from 1998 to 2005, made an appearance at Atilis Gym in Egg Harbor Township and came away impressed.
“This is one of the best gyms I have been in,” Coleman, 52, said. “I have been all over the world and trained all over the world, so I can recognize a good gym.
“They have a great environment,” he continued. “I grew up training in an environment like this, and it’s great. Focus, training hard and a good environment are everything when it comes to training, and they have that. On top of that, they have some of the best equipment ever. This gym is top-notch.”
In addition to the array of weights and cardio fitness equipment, Atilis Gym also has an aerobics studio, a spin studio and a daycare center.
Lambert said he just signed a contract to have what he described as the “biggest and best boxing school” to move into his Egg Harbor Township location on June 1. He said an announcement will be made later identifying the boxer who will operate the school.
The second floor of Atilis Gym in Egg Harbor Township is occupied by a MVMNT sports training and performance center. MVMNT – short for “movement” – offers fitness training for individuals and groups, including students from high schools in the surrounding area. The center also works with professional athletes, such as boxer DeCarlo Perez of Egg Harbor Township.
“We train people for all sports. We have everyone from 8-year-old kids to professional athletes,” MVMNT owner Kyle Klein said. “In just two months, we have 150 athletes. That, by far, makes us the largest sports performance facility in South Jersey.”
Among other people, Klein and his staff have been working with Rose Hesser, the woman with multiple sclerosis. Klein captured video of Hesser when she took her first steps pushing one of the MVMNT fitness sleds.
“This is probably the biggest thing we’ve accomplished so far,” Klein said of Hesser.
According to Lambert, Hesser embodies the diverse group of members at the Atilis Gym locations. He said he wants to create a friendly “experience” that will allow each member to flourish.
“Men, women, young, old – we have every age and nationality here,” he said. “We all help each other. We all try to help each other reach our fitness goals.”
More information on Atilis Gyms can be found on their website: https://www.atilisgym.com/sea-isle-city, phoning their Sea Isle City location at: 609-263-6500, or just stopping-in.