By Ginger DeShaney

Rich Rowland wants you to rebel against the things that are bringing you down.

Rich created Rebel Athletic Club “because I wanted people to rebel against a lot of the things that sort of either oppressed them in their minds or their ideas or what they see fitness as being.”

His fitness philosophy is unique.

“I think for a lot of people, they think of aesthetics: I need to lose weight. I want to look good. But the reality is, and the thing that I enjoy the most, is when people are working out, they’re getting huge mental benefits from it, too. So to me, mental health equals physical health.”

Rich believes that engaging in consistent workouts has a huge positive impact on a person’s mental health and self-esteem. Exercise has been shown to release dopamine, which has an impact on mood and motivation, he said. 

Rich has faced a grinding challenge to get Rebel ready, but he’s hopeful his gym at 196 W. Broadway will open in mid-March.

A trainer for 20 years, Rich has always wanted to have a facility where strength training is at the forefront. When people get stronger, their confidence goes up, they get motivated, he said. “And they can go do things that they couldn’t do before.”

Rich wants people to stop thinking so negatively about working out and nutrition and to realize a couple of things: Diet, by definition, is how you habitually eat, not a form of restriction, and missed workouts and not-so-healthy meals are not reasons to break your good habits. 

“There’s only a few ways to do this: move, eat a little bit healthier, get stronger,” he said. “I think people are wanting information … But they need to be a little more rebellious about it.”

Membership will be limited to about 100 people, “so that I can efficiently make sure everyone is having a great experience,” Rich said.

Rich wants to help members break barriers of not being able to work out, so the gym will be accessible 24 hours a day.

The gym will feature seven high-end machines (some of which use air-compression technology that allows the user to change the weight mid-exercise), two infrared saunas, free weights, a bathroom with a shower, hooks for band workouts, televisions (including in the saunas), and a backyard workout area. Rich will also man a tip hotline for members to text questions and receive answers.

And in a really unique twist, Rich is in talks with behavioral therapists to be available for 15-minute mini sessions for gym members who may need some support.

“I just want people to have access to an outlet,” he said, the first being the gym and the second being the therapy. 

He wants to build community. “Our society is so out of whack. Human connection is just lacking.” Keeping his gym community small will help build connection through movement. It will be a place of networking, friendship, community, acceptance, and unity. “We’re all kind of in this together.”

Rich is having small groups come through the facility before it opens to see the gym and talk about the concept. One group has already gone through the gym and loved it.

Rebel is Rich’s first solo endeavor. The Army veteran has helped scale other clubs (including in the Seaport), has trained professional athletes, and has trained other trainers. 

The Rebel model features machine-led, strength training classes, which hasn’t really been done before. “So it’ll be interesting to see,” he said. “I think a lot of people are excited about it.”

The idea is that people can come into a strength training program where they’re going to continuously progress, Rich said, noting the machines are easy to get in and out of and there will be screens guiding the users. Members can get their workouts done in an hour.

“I really enjoy seeing people thrive and … be successful and happy.” 

Rich finds the Southie neighborhood to be very welcoming. “I feel like this community stands up for each other and they have accepted me from Day 1.”

Olga Markos, from Olga’s Kafe, has been his biggest welcome wagon. Rebel is just a couple doors down from the coffee shop, so Rich would be in there almost daily while dealing with construction delays. He and Olga became friends and Olga introduced him to everyone. 

As a perfect example of community, Rich had a shipment of machines that the delivery service was supposed to bring inside but left outside on the sidewalk. He was telling Olga about this delivery and wondering how he was going to get the machines inside the building. “All of sudden, boom, eight guys were here within 15 minutes. You just don’t find that in every community.”


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