As you enter The Choice Performance Center of Durham, instantly the aroma of fresh ground roasted coffee surrounds you. With five to seven coffee blends available at any given time, the training studio rivals some of the area’s best coffee bars. Owner Tyrone Irby says, that was the plan all along.
“When we opened the studio almost two years ago in December, we wanted to offer more than just the basic amenities every other gym offers. Who really wants two-hour old coffee after a workout? Where is the reward in that after a challenging training session? We grind coffee beans weekly and each cup is made to order.”
The “house” coffee brand is Brooklyn Roasters of Brooklyn, NY, Irby’s hometown. Every other month, he special orders 3 - 5 tins of fresh Brooklyn coffee beans delivered to the Durham studio. Why Brooklyn? “My wife and I visited the Jay Street Brooklyn Roaster location in March 2015 and fell in love with the variety of coffee and the amazing flavors of each blend. On our first day of business, we offered 4 Brooklyn coffee blends. We have tried others including Portland, Seattle, and Richmond, but we always return to Brooklyn as our house brand.” Choice offers both coffee and a wide assortment of teas.
Irby, a fan of bestselling British author Lee Child, creator of the Jack Reacher series, recently met the author last year at a book signing at the Durham Carolina Theatre. Besides receiving a copy of Child’s newest Reacher novel, Night School, he also received a special tin of coffee commemorating the book roasted by…Brooklyn Roasters, which became the studio’s coffee of the month to rave reviews.
Once you get past the wonderful smell of the coffee, the 2700 square foot studio opens into a wide space framed by two mammoth power racks from Ohio’s Rogue Fitness along with a special 4’x 8’ Olympic lifting platform, which is permanently anchored to the floor. In terms of equipment, the gym is surprisingly minimalist with only the power racks, sets of kettle bells, dumbbells, stability balls, floor mats, and an unusual contraption called a Landmine.
“Our goal with the studio is to provide a varied training experience. Before we acquired and renovated the space, it was crowded with a lot of antiquated machines that were barely used. We wanted to create a space with moveable equipment focusing on functional strength training for everyday life. Besides the basic dumbbells, barbells, and kettle bells, we also have medicine balls, agility ladders, cones, and hurdles. We just purchased two 100lb boxing bags along with speed bags for a varied boxing and strength workout.
Unlike most commercial gyms, there are no fitness pictures on the walls or clichéd quotes. The forest khaki and autumn colored walls are adorned with tasteful black and white pictures of the city of Durham. Irby commissioned local artist Tamisha Diaz of DVOC Photography to create a special atmosphere in the studio. Diaz was also the featured artist in an August 2016 fundraiser hosted at the studio benefitting Girls on the Run of the Triangle. The event raised over $7,000 for the local charity.
The bald and bearded Irby, 52, still moves with the quickness and strength of a former athlete (though he claims he never has been one). He typically arrives at the studio at 3am to begin his day and sometimes doesn’t leave until 7pm. His clients consist of professionals, recreational runners, marathoners, and two Ironman athletes.
Irby developed the Run Strong Strength brand in May 2013 (the Choice Fitness brand was founded in 2007) and works with local running stores and running groups to provide classes and personal strength coaching. “We feel that we are unique in that we focus on the mental aspect of training before the physical aspect. Whether your goal is weight loss or hitting a PR in your next marathon, the mental aspect of the training must be addressed. Each client goes through a S.W.O.T. (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) survey during their initial assessment before the physical training begins. Understanding weaknesses and threats in a client’s lifestyle, enable us to strategize a plan that gives them the best opportunity to succeed. “
The Choice Performance Center also contains a tasteful lounge area in the rear of the studio with high backed leather chairs, a sofa, and daily periodicals including USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and the Raleigh News and Observer. Cable television and Wi-Fi are also available through the studio. The lounge area has a client friendly library of cookbooks and exercise books. Outside of the studio, Irby keeps a charcoal smoker and small grill to test recipes for his website and upcoming book.
In September 2016, Irby began writing his first book, STRONGER, which will be available in the summer of 2018 in honor of his 10th anniversary in business. STRONGER will be a “workout textbook” of over 130 different workouts, along with short primers on his philosophy of training. “We train a variety of clients. Each client has different goals, levels of intensity, and focus. Each workout in STRONGER is designed as a full body workout to be completed in under 42 minutes. For anyone who wants a variety of results-oriented, quick, effective workouts, this is the book you need to pick up. You will also be able to download the workouts to your phone or tablet. Every week can be a different workout. The workouts are designed for commercial gyms, bodyweight only, outdoor tracks, and personal training studios”. In addition, STRONGER, will contain a series of recipes Irby culled from his days as owner/chef for his catering business Up in Smoke.
Irby estimates he spends 35-60 hours per week on the almost two-year-old business (their two-year anniversary is December 7, 2017). He has clients that have trained with him over 5 years, and he is now training their children. For the clients who are competing, he likes to travel to support them. In October of 2016 he and his wife, Crystal, drove to Cambridge, MD to take in the 2016 Maryland Ironman in support of one of their longtime clients Dan Lehman. Even after the drive and less than ideal climate, the trip was very rewarding to both he and the client. “Our business is a people-oriented business. We like to build relationships with our clients that transcend the actual gym training. Training with us for 1-4 hours per week is good, but the real work is done outside the gym in terms of consistent effort to attain your goals. Establishing a support system is a huge key to our success.”
“A large part of our business is community service. We offer free training programs to all emergency personnel including police, sheriff, and fire departments. Our Emergency Training Programs are geared to the demands of the enforcement agencies and include both strength and power training. The programs are scalable for any commercial gym or training studio.
“The second part of our community service is our Bull City Strong Project. We founded the Bull City Strong Project in 2016 as a fundraising opportunity to benefit local, Durham based charities. Since April 2016, we have raised over $20,000 for our chosen organizations: Girls on the Run of the Triangle, the Merrick- Moore Elementary Backpack Buddies Fund, and the APS of Durham. Bull City Strong chooses 3 charities per year to highlight awareness. The primary fundraiser is the Bull City Barbell Squat Challenge, which takes place April/May of each year and challenges participants to fundraise by barbell squats. We also host two annual food drives to benefit Backpack Buddies.
The Future of the Choice Performance Center
“2017 will be year two of the five-year plan for The Choice Performance Center. Our Stronger and Faster group training series is growing, and we would like to add another day of group training for the series. Stronger and Faster is an economical way for local runners to stay healthy and improve their racing times.
“Toward the end of 2017, we will launch our “on-line” training program, Get Strong, to work with runners across the state who are not able to train at our Durham location. Our E Training series will be geared towards competitive runners that want to add targeted strength training to assist in endurance, speed, and muscle recovery. We will offer weekly and monthly programs based upon a 90 -day training philosophy of stability, strength, and power training. Each program will be unique based upon the client age, running history, racing event, and race goals.”
“By 2020, we expect to add another location of the Choice Performance Center. Possible locations are Chapel Hill, Wilmington, and Charlotte. The next location will be 3000-4000 square feet and include yoga classes and massage therapy.
The success of The Choice Performance Center has been driven by the success of its clients. Irby has a series of competitive runners that are consistently setting PR’s (personal records) every race. They are running faster and remaining injury free which points to the success of the Stronger and Faster programming. He attends at least one national strength and conditioning conference every year to learn “the latest and greatest tools” for the health professional. Irby’s goal is for The Choice Performance Center to become the main training facility for runners in the Triangle. Based upon early returns, he is not too far away.
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