Phil Martens and Diana Broschka, owners of Minneapolis fitness center 501Fit, are preparing to test the strength of their small-group personal training model and the patented exercise machines it uses on a larger scale.

They believe their patent-pending G-Werx fitness program and G-Werx weightlifting machines will appeal to clients looking for affordable group workouts with individualized instruction. They’re also targeting independent personal trainers and fitness clubs.

“We feel we’re on the verge of changing the entire industry,” Martens said. “This program, we believe, is going to be all over the country. Give us a couple years.”

The first step is producing a video highlighting the benefits of the G-Werx workout program and the G-Werx machines. Next would be fielding a sales staff and opening one or more additional fitness studios in the Twin Cities. The original 501Fit location, in addition to continuing to offer training sessions, would serve as a showroom and would be where trainers would get certified in using the G-Werx program and machines.

Martens has spent a decade developing both the G-Werx fitness program and its 160-plus exercises and the G-Werx machine, a multipurpose weightlifting machine that uses free weights for resistance instead of the standard weighted plates. Martens has a law degree from the University of Minnesota but instead of a legal career he’s pursued a longtime passion for fitness to become a certified trainer and entrepreneur. He’s been talking to investors about raising money for the larger G-Werx rollout he and Broschka envision.

That vision is especially ambitious considering the lean times Broschka and Martens have survived at 501Fit. Clients were scarce when the studio opened in January 2008, facing a tanking economy and downtown traffic slowed by the Interstate 35W bridge collapse.

“Despite how hard it has been, I believe in it and think that we can change and influence the industry and people’s mind-sets about personal training,” said Broschka, a business consultant and G-Werx client at Martens’ previous studio in Columbia Heights. Broschka became Martens’ business partner after writing the 501Fit business plan and, at the bank’s insistence, cosigning on the studio’s loan. “I feel like we have the system that can change things.”

501Fit held on through hard times and has grown, its owners believe, because of its recession-ready pricing, its small-group personal training model, which builds camaraderie and accountability among clients, and the effectiveness of the G-Werx program and machines. Training sessions for groups of six to 10 at 501Fit cost $15 an hour at the best available rate, Martens said, compared to $80 to $100 or more to work out one-on-one with a trainer.

Broschka and Martens are the only full-time employees, with a part-time trainer and part-time staffer. Revenue has grown from nearly $200,000 in 2008 to $300,000 last year.

This week, 501Fit is marking its fifth year in business with a celebration and the introduction of a new version of the G-Werx exercise machine designed for commercial sales. The machine now incorporates colors that are part of the 501Fit brand that Duffy & Partners, a Minneapolis-based branding and design firm, helped create. Joe Duffy, the firm’s chairman, has been a 501Fit client for several years and is an informal adviser.

Another 501Fit client and adviser is Mike Wethington, president and CEO of Outsell, a digital marketing software and services company in Minneapolis. Working out at 501Fit for more than three years has helped him recover from shoulder problems, lose weight and get in shape, he said.

“501Fit and the G-Werx program changed my life,” Wethington said. “I can do things now I couldn’t do for years.’’

Tom Farniok, an owner and operations manager at H & F Manufacturing in Maple Grove, which makes the G-Werx machines, has worked with Martens on the design and is optimistic about the machine’s potential.

“It’s a very solid, professional unit that functions very well,” Farniok said. “We’re hopeful that it can hit the market and start moving forward. That would be good for both of us.”

The expert says: Dileep Rao, president of InterFinance Corp. in Golden Valley and clinical professor of entrepreneurship at Florida International University, said Martens and Broschka have been smart about their business in testing their training model and equipment. He urged caution with their growth plans.

“Before they try to take over the country in a ‘couple of years,’ they may want to be as deliberate in their expansion phase as they have been in the model testing phase,” said Rao. “This will help them reduce the amount of funds needed, keep control of their cash flow and stay in control of their business.”


Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is