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The 51-year-old hasn't been affiliated with his eponymous gym chain since 2013 and TMPL marks his official return to the business of fitness, so saying that this is big isn't just in reference to the cavernous 40,000-square foot space it occupies on West 49th Street (until recently, it was a Bally's Total Fitness). "The human body hasn't evolved in the last two decades, but my approach to it has," Barton told me when we walked through the gym last week as construction crews swarmed to get the final details in order. "I started out in my 20s. I tried everything — some things worked, some things didn't work, so I set out to create something that was different...The main thing is that I'm always trying to better myself. Whatever I did before, I try to do it better now. I want to build the best gym I've ever done, and I think this is the best gym in New York, or anywhere."
TMPL, he said, is a "modern spelling" of temple, referring to the old adage that one's body is a temple, and should be worshipped as such. Coincidentally, the last David Barton Gym to open in the city is in an old church (that had a brief stint as a club, too), and the fitness chain went hard on the religious theme. It's evident in everything from the restored stained glass windows to class names like "Salvation," "Divine Abs," "Core Communion," and so on.
Religious or spiritual elements aren't apparent as we were walking about the gym that day. Barton's in a pair of ripped blue jeans, an Army-inspired olive green vest, and a black tee shirt with a V-neck so low that I could only imagine the catcalls I'd get if I wore the same thing. But once I saw the finalized product at last night's party — hosted by his wife, Susanne Bartsch — I had trouble differentiating between between what's TMPL and what's David Barton Gym. The shiny equipment, the soft rose-colored lighting that makes everyone look just a little bit hotter than they already are — it all blurred together, and not because of the generous drinks that well-coiffed gentlemen were serving at the makeshift bars.
But the differences, according to Barton, are under the surface.
"I want to build the best gym I've ever done, and I think this is the best gym in New York, or anywhere."
It starts before your first workout, where you can partake in a metabolic assessment that promises to put you on the right path toward meeting your fitness goals."What makes you thin would make me fat because we have different things going on in our metabolism," he said. "It will identify if there's anything that is stopping or slowing down somebody's progress, and get them the outcome that they're looking for. Which is the case with most people — very few people I've worked with don't have something going on metabolically that's keeping them from changing their body, getting leaner and stronger." The analysis goes so far as to generate 3D imagery that'll track your bodily changes and even project what you'll look like at different body fat percentages.
"It's ideal for someone who's not working with a trainer because you get this digitized training knowledge delivered in a report with recommendations," he continued. "It will not only tell you what to do in the gym, but it will also tell you what to do when you're not in the gym. You know, those 23 hours in the day where you're on your own? You're not alone anymore."
Physical differences are apparent, too, most notably in the group cycling studio on the lower level. It features a panoramic screen so big that you could just see Kanye West coming in and poaching it for his home theater. Barton showed me two different visuals — one that was akin to floating in space, another that looked like it could be an outtake of a dystopian rollercoaster ride from the Divergent series — both set to thumping music that's controlled on a tablet that the instructor will use during classes.
Weight machines are divided into two sections: upper body on the upper level and lower body on the lower level (makes sense, right?) Barton's especially proud of all the apparatus that's dedicated to your legs and butt. "There are seven places to do squats, which is sort of a dream in New York," he said, lamenting the meager space other gyms give to lower body work in the age of the #belfie. The group fitness studio holds about 75 people, the salt-water lap pool is 25 meters long, and a juice bar within the gym (not at the upstairs entrance, so you can rehydrate mid-workout) offers customized drinks based on that metabolic assessment and are payable by a fingerprint scan.
"This gym is really a step ahead of anything I've ever seen, Barton concluded. "You know, I'm never satisfied with any product that I'm delivering, and I'm always trying to improve on it. So, this is me a little older, new and improved, just giving people the best I can deliver." Is there any chance this will turn into a gym empire, like his previous venture? "I've never considered it an empire," he mused, pausing for just a beat before adding: "I always did think I'd be a great emperor..."
Interested in joining? Intro rates are still in effect during this opening period — normally, it'll be a $300 initiation and $165 monthly dues — so hit up the website or stop by 355 West 49th Street to inquire about membership options.