He's king of the jungle gym.
Geoff Morehart paces around a section of the work-out arena at Onelife Fitness in Newport News. He "owns" the space, about 30 feet by 50 feet, that's separated from the basketball court by a fierce-looking black chain-link fence. This is where his devotees, some 80- to 100-strong hang on his one-liners and work themselves to exhaustion an hour at a time.
"I believe I have the fittest people in the gym," he says with confidence. "This is our own little corner, our own little nook."
In the nine to 10 hours that Morehart spends in the gym each day, he's always surrounded by a cadre of clients. They thrive on his low-key, gently sarcastic motivational style. "He's always there for anyone," says Kristine Gay, who can't say enough about his qualities as a trainer. They're evident as he monitors his group, answers emails from others, or blogs about workouts, food and cooking. He's just published his second cookbook, "Epic Eats."
His work life blends into every hour of his day as he shares his thoughts round the clock on health, fitness and diet — "80 percent plants; eat when you're hungry but not too much" — with his friends, family and followers.
Jungle gym class
In class, they do rope slaps with giant ropes, push-ups and pull-ups, swirl 40-pound kettlebells, do chin-ups and jump-squats; they mop the floor with their feet while holding a plank position, they drop parallel to the floor from standing and back up again, they climb the wall with their feet in a backward handstand after an hour of pushing the limits. They never know what each day's workout will bring. Every day is different, but each involves athletic or "whole-body" training, adapting everyday activities, such as carrying or climbing, to an intense cardio workout of every muscle group.
"You can tell a Geoff Morehart workout. It changed my whole workout and my life," says Gay, 26, slim and muscular, who segued from his Sunday boot camp into the jungle gym class recently. (A Newport News resident, she persuaded him to offer one at 5 a.m. so she can get to her work in Gloucester on time).
That's also how Bryant Sugg started two years ago. "It's always different and always challenging," says the 48-year-old, who came back just two weeks after surgery on an arthritic toe. Sugg attends two classes a day three times a week. "It takes some organization," he says, cheerfully. "I have to bring my work clothes." He also takes some time to recover before heading for the showers.
Bernie Sotak, 44, has been part of the jungle gym crowd for three months. "I love every second of it...I'm in the best shape I've ever been. I haven't done anything this hard."
Who he is
Morehart is largely self-taught when it comes to personal training. He reads magazines, travels to seminars and has done some body modeling. At a little over 6 feet and 205 pounds, down from 265 in high school, he has added pounds and some fat since reaching a low weight of 190 with a body fat percentage of 5 percent in 2008. "I felt awful," he says. He's constantly active and plays recreational team sports outside the gym, or kayaks, or runs, or plays on the beach — anything not to be driving or watching TV.
Now 26, Morehart grew up in Denbigh, and played high school baseball and football. He studied at Christopher Newport University for a couple of years, but found his niche in the corner of the gym at Onelife, where he has worked on and off since 2005. And he's spilled over to the outside, where last month the facility fenced off an additional 4,100 square foot concrete area — "The Junk Yard" — for him. "This isn't hot. It's a beautiful day. Just wait till we get carpet," he exhorts his team. The heat radiates off the gritty surface whose slope adds a yet more grueling challenge for two dozen participants.
A byproduct — weight loss
Most are in their 20s, but there are several, both men and women, who range up into the 40s and 50s. Most don't have an ounce of visible fat, but a few are there to lose weight. A bundle of muscle, Melissa Ramirez says she's dropped to 130 pounds from 200 when she started; her workout buddy Brooke Manzlak has lost 40 pounds — "and more importantly, inches" — in a year. Dave Tichanski, 53, has lost the same amount since January. "Geoff knows when to push you, and when to let up. He doesn't cut me as much slack now as when I was 253 pounds," he says. Sugg concurs: "He watches us all and pushes you just to your maximum effort."
Action over style
Morehart describes himself as a "tips guy" rather than a form guy. "'Functional' is a term I use. The natural body, do what's natural to them," he says. "It's athletic training. We're here to feel good, not look good." He can put an obese person next to a super-fit weightlifter and "they're both exhausted," he says. For example, when he introduces the seven stations for the evening's class, he demonstrates the jumping jack push-up. "If you can't do push-ups, just jump your feet in and out. Some are good at them, some aren't. People are still going 100 percent," he says.
He sips on an iced coffee from Starbucks, one of two he savors each day, while calling out, "Stop," "Go," "The longer the rest, the longer the set," "Amber, I know you were here this morning — that was your choice," "Heather, are you OK?" He gets more intense as the hour progresses, pushing them more as they tire.
"I'm sort of OCD about the structure of the workout. If it's not going right I stop them and we start again," he says.
And then his favorite saying of all, as a few start to hit the wall, "This is when your body changes." And the evidence is all around.
Need a lifestyle change?
Geoff Morehart is looking for a worthy candidate to train. For the qualifying person, who should be in terrible shape, he will pay for a gym membership and provide his personal training services; http://www.Geoffmorehartfitness.com
Onelife Fitness, 815 Middle Ground Blvd., Newport News, 599-1888; Morehart teaches 12 jungle gym classes and 2 kettlebell classes weekly; he also does one-on-one personal training.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun