GIBSON CITY -- Strength and conditioning workouts made up of functional movements performed at a high intensity level can sound intimidating. But four local women are teaching the public that such fitness is well within their reach.
Emily Tucker-Davis, Tina Tjarks, Leah Thorp and Kari DeFries are the owners of The Edge Strength & Conditioning Club. The Edge was originally started in 2013 by two local residents, Shaun Adkins and Kevin Hustedt, who had been going to Bloomington to work out and wanted a place closer to home.
“It was really just to have a place to work out,” Tucker-Davis said of her team’s vision for The Edge.
“We turned it into a club more than a business,” Tjarks explained.
Tucker-Davis said members -- who come from communities like Gibson City, Paxton, Saybrook, Melvin and Rantoul -- work out together, as a group. “We cheer each other on,” she said.
“The last person getting finished is going to get the most cheers,” Thorp added.
The philosophy is one that appeals to Thorp, who had little experience with fitness before Tjarks mentored her and helped her to make rapid gains. “It keeps you accountable but also competitive,” Thorp said. “It helped me gain such confidence. I was building strength fast and improving. It’s a lot of confidence building.”
Tucker-Davis is a Crossfit Level I certified trainer and explains that every workout is scaled to the individual so that no matter the age or fitness level, the movements are achievable. Everyone performs the same workout simultaneously with various weights, modifications and intensity levels. “You’re not just on a treadmill or an elliptical,” she said. “It’s a combination of cardio and weight.”
DeFries, Tucker-Davis and Tjarks have become so skilled at functional fitness that they won first place in the Granite Games Winter Throwdown competition in Bloomington last December. “We all three have our strengths,” Tjarks said.
Thorp brings her kids along to the 5:30 p.m. class every evening and likes the lesson they’re learning along the way. “They get to see women getting strong, which is awesome,” she said.
Tucker-Davis recommends working out a minimum of three days per week. The Edge’s classes are usually an hour to an hour and a half. “This is our hour of therapy,” she said. “This 5:30 time is really non-negotiable.”
All of the owners lead busy lives in their own right. Tucker-Davis is a veterinarian, Tjarks is a tax accountant, Thorp helps her husband farm, and DeFries is a preschool teacher. “You have to make it a priority,” Tucker-Davis said.
“It’s like a doctor’s appointment; you put it on your calendar,” Tjarks agreed.
The owners say the atmosphere is fun and supportive. “It’s like a little family,” Tjarks said.
Encouragement is the name of the game, as members earn gold stars for their achievements over time. “You’re just as excited for everybody else’s,” Tucker-Davis said.
Members urge one another to keep coming with friendly reminder text messages.
Thorp enjoys watching members’ progress. “People discover what they can do,” she said. “People are surprised at what they can do.”
One of the ladies’ favorite success stories was a high school athlete who was initially hesitant to join. She has since gone on to play college softball. “It gave her confidence and built her strength up and gave her a competitive edge,” Tjarks said.
Thorp said the workouts are beneficial for everyday life and even credits it with helping her to have an easier delivery with her second child.
The no-frills facility uses fans to cool the building in the summer, adding to the physical challenge. “We don’t need top-of-the line equipment,” Thorp said.
For those who want to get started, Tjarks said, “Come and have fun.”
“Come in willing to learn and don’t have a preconceived notion of what you can do,” Tucker-Davis said. “Don’t be intimidated. Listen to us.”
The right mindset is crucial, the owners say.
“You have to get comfortable with getting uncomfortable,” Thorp said.
Tucker-Davis echoed the sentiment. “You have to embrace a little bit of uncomfortableness because that’s where change happens, where you improve your fitness and reach goals,” she said.
In addition to the group fitness aspect, the club has a number of high school athletes who come in to lift weights on their own.
Anyone interested in joining can simply show up for a 5:30 p.m. class or reach out on Facebook or Instagram.