By Alison Wineski
In a spacious historic brick building two blocks from Coors Field, two women who’ve spent decades studying, training and teaching fitness around the world are taking a step toward planting their feet – opening their first studio for their barefoot fitness method.
Stacey Lei Krauss and Jennifer Schumacher – partners in business and life – are co-owners of willPower FIT STUDIO, located inside the Spray Coffee Building at 2110 Market Street in Denver, where they train patrons who range from fitness beginners to professional athletes on Stacey’s willPower Method – all of it barefoot.
The barefoot fitness story began 12 years ago when Krauss forgot to bring her shoes to a dance class she was teaching. She realized that people didn’t know how to move on their feet because they were always wearing shoes. “Everything we do here is based on foot fitness. People are afraid; but we’ve been training people on the barefoot method for so many years. [The feet are] a pretty important piece to fitness,” Krauss said.
Barefoot training can be scary for first-timers, but Krauss is an experienced trainer. She’s been the lead fitness advisor for Vibram, as well as a master trainer for the Bosu ball, accredited with ACSM, ACE, and AFAA, along with 10 years of dance training as well as 20 years in the fitness industry.
The studio opened this month with a seven-day class schedule, including personal training.
“I’m a total city rat,” Krauss said. “The new studio has a very urban feel, yet it’s sophisticated. The energy is spectacular. I don’t know if it’s the former coffee business, but…” She took a long, deep breath and smiled. “That’s the energy,” she said.
What makes their studio different from any other gyms is not only the barefoot aspect, but also the overwhelming positivity. “Nobody’s here to compete. It’s a different atmosphere. That is why we’re here,” Krauss said.
“In the world out there, we hear ‘no, no, no’ on a regular basis,” co-owner Schumacher said. “We want everyone out there to only hear positives. Our work is totally different because Stacey infuses positives in the word of the week.” The word of the week – a word that elicits a positive meditation, such as “explore” or “transform” or “prepare” – Is stated at the beginning of class, and then used not only throughout Krauss’ teaching but in the background music as well. All negative lyrics are removed from songs, leaving behind positive encouragement and instrumentals.
When Krauss and Schumacher first looked at the open, exposed-brick space that the Spray Coffee Company building had to offer, they both had a good feeling. Krauss said that feeling exploded when the realtor showing the space told her that Barefoot Ted, the CEO of Vibram and creator of the Vibram FiveFinger minimalist running shoe, had slept in the space before. “I looked at Jen and said that we had to have this space,” Krauss said.
The space leaves room for post-training conversation. After the hour-long willPower & grace class, participants that ranged from beginner to course instructor stuck around to talk shop – what they thought about the newest yoga studio that had opened nearby, their favorite instructors for different fitness courses, and their favorite nearby restaurants.
“We want this space to be more about community than anything else,” Krauss said. “I’m really excited for what we have to offer. It’s groovy, good-energy space for everyone to participate.”
Krauss’ philosophy of leaving bad energy at the door and using willpower and focus translates into the workouts she leads. The hour-long willPower & grace class concentrates on how to move the toes, because normal gym workouts – with shoes, of course – are like “strapping blocks to your feet,” Krauss said, which she says gradually weakens muscles and nerves in the feet that are crucial for balance, body awareness and strength. The exercise seeks to reinvigorate and re-sensitize the full body. Then, cardio comes into play with large focus on foot, leg, and lower body movement, similar to calisthenics. After a short water break, a slower-moving full body-focused workout moves into place, using centering and strength training often seen in yoga and Pilates. “We use yoga, Pilates, tai chi, and calisthenics with a focus on the foot, and that sets us apart,” Schumacher explained.
“It’s meant to be a training tool used twice a week, as part of a regular cycle. When participants aren’t in class here, they’ll do yoga or go running,” Krauss said. Along with willPower & grace, there will be willPower infusion classes, which are held on a yoga mat and fixed on slower, static holds while infusing more sensory tactics. There will also be willPower ATHLETIX, which is a sport-specific. Upon launching in January, a ski-centric willPower ATHLETIX course will be launched. As the seasons change, so will the courses – focusing on volleyball, lacrosse, soccer, softball and more. There’s also willPower for girlPower, a confidence-building course for girls ages 8-18.
As for future studio plans, the pair plans to open studios across the U.S. in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and New Jersey as soon as they get their feet on the ground in Denver. Until then, Krauss has and will continue to train instructors worldwide, with courses being offered in many major cities.
The willPower FIT STUDIO in Denver offers both membership rates and drop-in options with special opening promotions. Along with the courses, there are options for semi-private and private training sessions, but Krauss recommends giving the group classes a chance first. “Different instructors give different vibes. Some are more focused on body movement and yoga, while others really push cardio,” Krauss explained. She recommends trying different courses to see which fits your workout style the most.
Krauss’ philosophy is about holistic fitness that includes a physical, emotional and attitudinal grounding that affects the creation of a full life. “[The positive philosophy] carries into personal life,” she said. “I want to cultivate your willpower. I want to give you the feeling of ‘I’m getting my ass kicked, but I’m happy. This is willpower, focus and feeling self-centered.’”