Written by George Haber, SyossetJericho@antonnews.com Thursday, 17 October 2013 00:00
Bill Leonello is a competitive bodybuilder who works as a personal trainer on the North Shore, but when he begins his own training for the annual June and July bodybuilding tournaments in New York City and New Jersey, he travels to Bev Francis’s Powerhouse Gym in Syosset.
Since 1986, “Bev’s Gym” has been one of the leading gyms in the country for serious bodybuilders. At least three former “Mr. Olympia” title holders train there. Magazines and athletes alike say the facility is the East Coast go-to bodybuilding gym, comparable to the widely heralded national “Mecca of bodybuilding gyms,” Gold’s Gym in Venice, California.
Leonello likes training at Bev’s because, he says, “From the moment you enter this huge building, you know Bev’s means business. It’s got serious equipment for serious training. And if you’re into competing, the extra feature is that Bev can critique your presentation and give you tips for improving your showing in front of the judges.”
It’s something Bev knows well. A retired power lifter and bodybuilder from Australia, married to bodybuilding guru, power lifter and highly regarded contest judge Steve Weinberger, Bev Francis was a successful competitive bodybuilder and power lifter for many years, and was featured in the movie Pumping Iron II: The Women.
From 1981 to the early 1990s, Francis was acknowledged as “the strongest woman in the world,” having bench-pressed an unheard-of 331 pounds, something no female had done.
“The appeal of Bev Francis’s Powerhouse Gym is that bodybuilders can do serious training here because we have the specialized equipment that most gyms can’t afford to carry, or don’t have the need to carry,” Weinberger says, “We also feature enough of a variety of equipment so that an athlete never gets bored by having to work out on the same machine or with a limited range of equipment.”
The national significance of the gym stands in sharp contrast to its unassuming location—at the end of a nondescript road off Robbins Lane, amidst a signage shop, an eyewear distributor, an automotive repair shop, and assorted small businesses. However, in the vast space it occupies, which has been expanded over the years to its current 30,000 sq. ft., the gym houses hundreds of machines and weights. Among the equipment is a classic strength-training machine, an original 1972 Nautilus, the first single-joint rotary movement exercise machine that made fitness equipment effective, safe and easy-to- use, and essentially launched the health club movement in the U.S.
“One of the things that distinguishes us from other gyms,” says Francis, “is that we order equipment piece by piece, and only after Steve [husband Weinberger] and I test it out. We’re not just gym owners; we train as well, so we understand how equipment should ‘feel.’ And we don’t order an array of equipment from a single manufacturer just to get a discount or a better deal.”
World class bodybuilders and weight lifters train at Bev’s Gym, among them, Weinberger notes, Phil Heath, a five-time Mr. Olympia winner, Victor Martinez, a seven-time Mr. Olympia, and—when he’s in town—Jay Cutler, who has placed either first or second in ten Mr. Olympia competitions. Kai Green, a two-time Arnold Classic winner and a 2nd and 3rd place winner in Mr. Olympia competitions, also trains at Bev’s Gym.
(The “Mr. Olympia” title is the Holy Grail for professional bodybuilders, and the title often leads to lucrative endorsements and branding of nutrients and apparel. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a seven-time first place winner in the Mr. Olympia Competition.)
Women competitors from the gym include Juliana Malacarne, a winner of women’s physique competitions who is competing to be the first Ms. Olympia Physique.
But Weinberger is quick to point out that not everybody who works out at the gym needs to be a world-class bodybuilder or even into the sport at all.
“Many of our clients are ordinary people who want to stay fit—business people, retirees, mothers, college students. There’s no ‘looking down’ on anyone because they’re not into competitive bodybuilding or weight lifting. If anyone, whether it’s a staff member or gym member, shows disrespect toward another person, they’re asked to leave.”
Adds Francis: “We create a welcoming atmosphere here. Anyone interested in getting stronger and staying fit feels comfortable. The serious bodybuilders don’t intimidate ‘regular’ people. On the contrary, they help give them motivation. Many members like to train alongside the professional athletes.”
Four-time Mr. Olympia Jay Cutler, who visits Bev Francis’s Powerhouse Gym when he’s in town, says the gym meets the needs of everyone, regardless of experience or goals. “The gym floor is spacious and full of free weights and many machines for working every body part from every angle. There are also at least 70 pieces of cardio equipment.”
“Over the past decade, gyms have been springing up like mushrooms,” observes Weinberger. “Some last, some don’t. Bev’s Powerhouse Gym is entering its 28th year because we keep a sharp focus on our goal to be a world-class gym with the equipment, personnel and commitment to serious training. This goes for a top athlete or a ‘regular’ person just looking to stay fit and stay strong.”
Commenting on the appeal of the gym to committed athletes, Bill Leonello, who placed first in the over-55 category in a regional bodybuilding competition in 2012, says, “Bev and Steve have helped me tremendously in my training; they’ve given me advice and great tips regarding diet, nutrition, and strategies for training after injuries. So for me, training at Powerhouse consists of more than just working out on machines and equipment.”