Named one of the five most beautiful women in the world by Elle, former star of the Women’s Beach Volleyball League Gabrielle Reece was an American icon of the 1990s and 2000s. She had it all — magazine covers, movie roles, TV shows, A-list friends.
But she put them to one side when she went back home to Maui in Hawaii to do what many women do: raise children and invest time in her family and marriage (to big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton).
At that point, like many women who’ve stepped out of the workplace and into child rearing, she felt nervous. “Truthfully, you always go, ‘oh well was that it? Am I done expressing myself or having the opportunity to express myself?'”
But Gabrielle took the opportunity to step back and think hard about what was really important to her. It was this retreat back to her friends and her local island community that resulted in the next evolution of her career: the creation of the HIGHX dynamic group training class that’s now being offered at 24 Hour Fitness.
During her time away from the limelight she put things into perspective. “It’s important to have meaningful relationships and friendships and things that you enjoy doing, because that brings you real happiness,” she told 24Life. It was also a chance to think about how she would evolve when she eventually went back to work.
“If you’re going to have something to offer, you have to step back for a while because you have to become more of who you are the next time. You can’t just keep spewing out the same old thing and same old message and offering.”
The road that brought her high intensity group dynamic training to 24 Hour Fitness started when she moved from Maui to Kauai, her husband Laird’s home island. To her dismay, the local gym was closed. So she gathered a group of close friends and told them she’d rent out the local community center three days a week and train them. “I always had equipment and gyms wherever I was. So I said ‘I’ll get my stuff, I’ll put it in the back of my truck, the kettle bells, medicine balls, whatever, and we’ll train at the community center.”
Although Gabrielle is now a qualified personal trainer, at the time she wasn’t, but people wanted to train with her.
“When I moved to Kauai, it was like six people who were training with me. I would go to the market and people would ask if they could join. The numbers at the community center grew. There were ten people, then 12 people, 15, 30, 40 and 50. I was like, ‘oh OK, I have to manage it.’ Then we moved to a warehouse and sometimes the class has 80 to 100 people in it. So HIGHX was born out of necessity.”
In the 1,200 or so times she taught her Kauai class, Gabrielle found herself making plenty of improvements. The class incorporates stations into circuits. One improvement was fitting more people onto each station to accommodate growing class sizes. Another was maximizing the benefits of accountability by pairing up people who would push each other through the stations. Accountability is one of the spectacular advantages of group classes over training as an individual.
“You’re at each station three minutes, but you’re on a team. So I would go through and tell people they were together, they were following each other. I started seeing a lot of benefits of that concept of accountability, positive pushing. If I look over at you and you’re working hard and I feel tired that day, it pushes me. So I developed teams, which goes back to when I played volleyball and those days when I didn’t feel like going to practice and my teammates would give me a hard time but make it kind of fun. That’s how you get through it.”
The moment Gabrielle decided the class could be a commercial venture was when she realized she could make it work for all ages and both sexes.
“I thought, I can make this scalable for other people and the 25 percent of people in the class who are men. When the young 18 to 23-year-old women that are in my class see my 60-year-old ladies lifting more weights than them, two things happen simultaneously: the young woman goes, ‘oh that’s how I can be when I’m 60,’ so it’s a redefining of an idea about age. And the 60-year-old looks and goes, ‘I’m in the game. I’m still lifting more weight, I’m doing good.'”
She also took advantage of other subtle dynamics she observed in the classes, such as the interplay between men and women.
“Women like to train around men, they bring great energy. But men necessarily don’t want to be on the same team as a woman, unless she’s an Alpha female. So there’s quite a few Alpha females and I put them together with the guys because they work well together. One could be 30 and one could be 60 and one’s tall and one’s a male, but they’re very similar. So the teams create scenarios where every team reflects the individuals. So you can have 45-year-old ladies following some big buff 25-year-old guys. But they’re not infringing on each other and they’re not comparing to each other, but they’re all flowing together. So they switch stations every three minutes, they have about 15 seconds and it’s different every time.”
After some four years of experimenting in her warehouse on Kauai, Gabrielle decided it was time to commercialize the idea. “I consciously went ‘OK, I can put this in a box and let other people run with it.'”
But she is still very involved in the launch phase of HIGHX.
“I think if it’s going to have the essence of what I know and I’ve seen for six years in my class, then I have to really make sure that I’m connecting with the people who are going to be training HIGHX,” she says.