A New Approach to Fitness for the New Year

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Mitten Fitness Owners Ken Hutchinson (L) and Colby Buswell

By Doug Marrin

It’s that time of year we tend to focus inward, not just in looking for things to do inside out of the cold, but also by taking a look at ourselves. New resolutions are set with the best of intentions (and broken with the worst of frustrations). Personal change is difficult despite the myriad of food and exercise strategies, assaulting our sense of self daily. Failure is rampant.

Maybe it’s time for a new approach.

Here’s an idea: Instead of a rigid plan to move you forward, how about turning to a supportive community as a strategy? Instead of a theory of ideal self broken down into numbers, how about acceptance and affirmation as you are right now?

That’s the approach you’ll find at Mitten Fitness just outside of Dexter on Joy Road.

“I find people like the dynamic of group fitness,” says owner Ken Hutchinson (“Hutch”). “They respond well to encouragement, but they also want to be encouraging to others. People are here for the same reasons—to have a good time, feel better about themselves, and get stronger.”

Goal setting is prone to failure because it disrupts our lives by demanding more willpower than we have to spare. As a result, people find a reason to quit, which creates a terrible inner monologue of poor self-esteem—a heavy emotional weight to carry.

“You have to begin somewhere,” says Hutch. “It doesn’t matter where you start, or how much you do when you start as long as you begin. Do a little. Do a lot. We don’t care. You showed up, didn’t you? That’s a win.”

Mitten Fitness promotes functional fitness through a variety of classes and coaching techniques. Functional fitness is a classification of training that prepares the body for real-life movements and activities.

Mitten Fitness focuses on "functional fitness," using a variety of equipment and programming that trains and strengthens the body for real-life movement.

“If you hate what you're doing, it's not going to work,” says Hutch. “I think that's what happens a lot with New Year’s resolutions. People want to step into fitness, but they find that it’s not for them. Maybe they feel it’s too hard. Whatever the reason, I believe that’s because they don’t have people around them helping them get past that.”

Coach Robin Witte is an example of just that. She began as a gym member seven years ago. Overweight, as was her husband Dan, Robin was shocked one day by a photo of herself and remembered thinking, “That’s not who I am.”

“It was a tough self-reflective moment,” she says. “I knew that I needed to change.”

The gym caught Robin’s attention. She and Dan joined.

“Working out has never stuck with me,” she explains. It’s the community atmosphere here that did it for me. I hate running. I’m not the person that’s just going to go out and run. And then there are our kids. It was hard trying to fit everything in. But something about Mitten Fitness and something about the community here just stuck with me.”

The Mitten Fitness vibe may make the gym inviting, but it doesn’t necessarily make it easy. It’s in the difficult moments where the community atmosphere shines and supports.

“I remember a couple of months in, and we were doing some workout with pushups,” recalls Robin. “Of course, I couldn’t do pushups. Hutch saw me struggling and asked, ‘When you walked in three months ago, did you ever think you’d still be here?’ I told him that I didn’t, and he told me, ‘It doesn’t matter what the people around you are doing. It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going. What matters is that you’re here.’”

“I went home that night, and I cried,” laughs Robin. “I told Dan that I was quitting the gym and never going back because I was never going to get any better, just like everything else I've tried in my life. I'm overweight, and that’s that.”

All COVID safety protocols are in place and enforced. Members Tracy, Mollie, and Kyle use the open gym format to do a rigorous endurance workout (see photo below). Don't tell them you can't work out in a mask. They completed the full routine in less than 30 minutes.

But Robin didn’t let her story end there.

“But I woke up the next morning, and I thought that if Hutch, who doesn't know me very well, cared enough about me to get down on the ground, and to talk me through pushups, then I can care enough about myself to get my butt back to the gym, and try again.”

Robin lost 50 pounds and Dan 100.

Mitten Fitness co-owner, Colby Buswell, joined the gym several years ago. Colby was already fit from working out at home and a larger gym in town. The small gym caught his attention on social media.

“The community aspect of Mitten Fitness drew me in,” he says. “I needed coaching for some of the more complicated Olympic movements I wanted to do. I walked in one day and asked, ‘What do I do?’”

That was three years ago. And like Hutch, he spent time at the gym, gravitated into coaching certification, and recently became a partner.

Mitten Fitness posts a variety of workouts daily, the most difficult of which are the endurance workouts.

“I was accepted right away into the community,” says Colby. “Right out of the gates, everybody was encouraging. It doesn’t matter your skill level or where you’re at. What matters to people is that you’re there, which is a tremendous feeling. You don’t get that walking into any of the bigger gyms. It’s easier to improve when you feel good about yourself.”

Strength Coach Dennis Murray is a former strength and conditioning coach for the U-M football team. His strength program is popular with members of all ages and abilities. “It is like family here,” he says. “If you’re having a bad day somehow, or if something’s bothering you, somebody here will brighten your mood. Everything gets a little better. It’s a good atmosphere to be around.”

The magic of the Mitten Fitness is that it is regular people being regular people.

“Know when I say, 'I know your struggles,' I know your struggles!” emphasizes Robin. “I know what it's like to try to work out with a full-time job. I know what it's like to be a mom and feel guilty because I could be doing more with my kids. I know what it's like to struggle with your weight and struggle with food because I've been there. I'm still there every single day trying to make it all fit while fighting off feelings of failure.”

Robin giving Dexter High School student Ethan some tips for a better pull

That’s what makes Robin a great coach.

“The community here and the people here, I just can't say enough amazing good things,” she says.

Mitten Fitness has something for everyone—general workout routines changed daily to keep it fresh, yoga, open gym, lighter workouts for seniors, a popular program for middle school students, and for the more robust among us, endurance classes, strength programs, and HIIT workouts.

Also available under the same roof is Paramount Physical Therapy, which blends seamlessly with the gym’s atmosphere.

To learn more about Mitten Fitness, you can pop in on Mondays and work out for free to see how it feels. You’ll get a chance to meet Colby, “the best thing that has ever happened to this gym,” according to Hutch (and to which members quickly agree).

You can learn more about Mitten Fitness at https://mittenfitness.com/ or find them on Facebook.

The community support goes beyond the gym walls. When one member was diagnosed with cancer and needed his house razed so he could get a new one built for his family, gym members showed up and put their functional fitness to work. The house was cleared in one day. Photo credit Facebook.
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