Q&A: Btone Fitness’ Jody Merrill
Jody Merrill is the owner and founder of all three Btone Fitness locations: Newbury Street, Lexington, and Sudbury. The unique studios offer the megaformer, part of the Lagree Fitness Method. But rather than just be a straightforward megaformer studio, Merrill incorporates the RealRyder bikes (a personal fav) and the ballet barre into some of her classes. We talked to the Waltham native about her studios, moving and returning to Massachusetts, and what it’s like introducing a brand new workout to one of the country’s biggest fitness cities.
How did you first find the megaformers?
In 2008, my husband and I moved from Boston to San Diego. I signed up for a half ironman triathlon and was told repeatedly that I needed to “work my core” if I wanted to make it through a training season without injuring myself. A teammate and friend of mine invited me to a class that a megaformer studio was holding for triathletes and I went. It was a love/hate right from the start. I was in the best shape I had ever been in, but I had the hardest time on the megaformer and really felt like I had never worked my muscles like that before. Since then I have not thrown my back out (which is something that used to happen to me about twice a year.) And every event I have trained for since has been injury free.
What made you decide to open your own studio?
I loved my former job as a speech therapist (and still do it when time allows), so it wasn’t like I was miserable in an office job, or that I felt unfulfilled. I am somewhat of an adrenaline junkie and love the feeling you get when faced with a huge challenge. I knew that a move back to the East Coast to Boston was inevitable, because we wanted to be closer to family and friends. I also knew that there was nothing comparable to this workout on the East Coast. (Since I opened there are now studios in almost every major east coast city!) I met with the founder/inventor of Lagree Fitness and the megaformer, Sebastian Lagree, and tried to learn as much as possible from the studio owners near and far. The best advice I got was, “you just have to have balls.”
That’s it, huh? Balls is all it takes?
Once I set my mind to something that is pretty much it. The thought came to mind in May and by December of 2010 I was open for business. My first studio, Btone Fitness Lexington (originally named Boston Pilates Plus), is in Lexington Town Center, just down the road from where I grew up. I was lucky enough to meet Lynne Begier, owner of Back Bay Yoga and Sweat and Soul Yoga, at my Lexington studio. I really did not have any experience running a business, and whether she knew it or not, she became a mentor to me. I told Lynne how I had my heart set on Boston and she introduced me to her landlord. The timing was right and the moment I saw the space up on Newbury, with the gorgeous sky lights I knew it was the one. I recently opened my third Btone Fitness studio in Sudbury and changed the name of Lexington’s studio to Btone to make all the businesses more cohesive. It will be three years this December (which is somewhat of a milestone for small businesses as many are closed within the first three years.) I feel like we are just getting started and will continue to evolve with this great city and all of its fitness enthusiasts.
I love the RealRyder bikes. What made you incorporate them into your studio?
I have always loved spinning and bike riding. I knew I wanted to bring something a little different to my studio, and since my space in Boston allowed for more options, I started thinking about what I could add in to really make this studio stand out. When someone mentioned the RealRyder bike and that it was the first “unstationary” stationary bike, I knew I had to try it. I ventured out to try out RealRyder and fell in love. I wanted to be sure that if I was adding something to the studio that it had to offer something that was unique and that you could not just do at your local gym.
Why do you love the megaformer?
The Megaformer has been described as a “reformer on crack.” When you first glance at it you may be reminded of something you would see in a kinky video, some people feel scared. We do not expect anyone to know how to use it, which is why we give a thorough introduction before your first class. We encourage people to move slowly in the exercise but quickly during transitions from one exercise to the next. I have always been a scientific person, I like to know why I am doing something, and know why it is working. That is why I fell in love with this workout because it is based on science. I teach people in every class as to why we are doing what we are doing, and how it is working. You are working out in a way that will burn 500 to 700 calories in 45 minutes. If you do it right then you will keep burning calories at a higher rate throughout the day. The way that we design a class is purposeful, and the megaformer allows us to constantly vary up the workout. More importantly it keeps their muscles working so that people never plateau.
Why should someone try a Btone class if they never have before?
You do not know what you are missing in your workout regimen unless you try out new things. You cannot target your muscles like this anywhere else in just 45 minutes. We have so many clients stick with us, and many have been with us since day one. We are always changing up the routines so you don’t get bored, but you will always leave knowing that you got your money’s worth. I find it so difficult to work my core with regular exercise, and used to be hyper focused on how many miles I was logging. As you age it is so important to strength train. I can no longer run tons of miles, and my definition of being “in shape” has completely changed since doing this workout.
How many times per week should someone take Btone?
Many of our members come just two times per week.
What’s your favorite place (besides your studio) to work out at in Boston?
I spent many years marathon training in the city, and we would run around the Charles, which to me is what I picture when I think of Boston. I now live along the Mystic River in Medford so that is typically where I go now when I’m not at Btone. It has many miles of dirt trails which are a lot kinder to my knees than the pavement.
Why do you love fitness?
It is impossible for me to talk about my life and career now without getting very personal. The truth is, my mother passed away from cancer when she was 50 and I was 23. At that point in time I did not even think about fitness and would much rather be out at the bars with my friends than doing anything remotely strenuous. After a loss like that I was lost and found myself at an info session with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s team in training. That night I signed up for a marathon never having run more than three miles for soccer practice. Fitness and exercise is what got me through that time and still does. I signed up for my first marathon with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society within months of my mothers passing. My first marathon I raised more than $20,000. I then ran the Boston Marathon three times before transitioning to triathlons. I know that if not for my mothers passing I am not sure any of this would have happened. Its something I do not take lightly and I am thankful every single day for the opportunity to help others. Health is something I will never take for granted. Now I get to help others find their inner strength and crush their own goals that they never knew were possible.