Here’s how ABR vocalist Jake Luhrs’ new gym is the first of its kind
Jake Luhrs had a life-changing realization 11 years ago. The August Burns Red singer visited a community center, where locals were working out in a gym, when he noticed a few classrooms for children nearby. That’s when it hit him: Gym environments needed more honesty, more openness and more opportunity for growth.
“I was like, ‘They should have classes for adults,’ ones that dealt with stress and anxiety and relationship issues,” Luhrs says.
But Luhrs wasn’t in a place to jump on his intuition just yet. He was only 24 at the time, and his metalcore band’s touring schedule was never-ending, leaving him with no time to ever consider opening a mental health-focused gym.
This year, COVID-19 forced the band to cancel their tour with Killswitch Engage in March and brought the Pennsylvanian back home with some extra time on his hands. Then Luhrs’ go-to gym—the Iron Fit Gym—closed down. That, he says, helped him realize it was finally time to pounce on his decade-old vision.
On Saturday, Luhrs celebrated the opening day of the YourLife Gym in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, his first gymnasium and—as far as he’s aware—the first-ever mental health-focused gym in the country. The fresh business will feature mental health discussion classes run by Luhrs’ nonprofit HeartSupport. Dieticians, personal trainers and physical therapists, including lead trainer Joel Chandler and physical therapist Lou Rivera, will also be active on the gym floor to make sure all aspects of gym goers’ health are in check. The facility will also feature a “War Room” with a chalkboard for members to write their goals and feelings on.
While this may be a first for a lead singer of a metalcore band, especially one who are preparing for a massive 15th anniversary performance of their debut album, Thrill Seeker, Nov. 14, Luhrs admits that starting a gym is a lot like writing a song. It’s all a vision he brings together.
“A vision that you have, it's art,” Luhrs says. “This whole thing is art. It's like I'm taking certain pieces of these things that I'm familiar with and that I love, and then I'm putting them together in a very unique and intricate way.”
Most touring bands shifted their time to creating records or recuperating when COVID-19 hit. You’re doing something that few lead singers, if any, have done before by opening a gym. How are you feeling about the venture?
I'm very excited. COVID's been really tough for everybody, me included, in the beginning. However, being able to build and create something like this, the first mental health gym, where I get to help my community, it's pretty cool. I'm very thankful that I had this vision, this idea. I've done August Burns Red and HeartSupport, which is an online nonprofit. But I've never built or created a brick-and-mortar [business].
So I had a lot of moments of learning and having to just be understanding with myself. You really got to have some grace for yourself. I've literally put all my time, energy, money, everything into building and creating this gym within four months of really having the vision and the opportunity. And it's literally in your head, and then it becomes something tangible. In order for you to do that, it takes a lot of time, a lot of work and a lot of understanding for yourself because, like I said, I've never done it before.
How would you compare this vision coming together to the process of making music or putting a record together?
A vision that you have, it's art. This whole thing is art. It's like I'm taking certain pieces of these things that I'm familiar with and that I love, and then I'm putting them together in a very unique and intricate way. Very similar to writing music. I would say it's very, very creative in my opinion, whether that's creating a meal or recipe. Opening a gym [takes] an artist.
You’ve mentioned in the past that opening a mental health-focused gym has been on your radar since you were 24. What made now the right time?
When I was 24 years old, I went to a community center, and I saw people working out in the gym. And then there are these classrooms for kids. And I was like, “They should have classes for adults,” ones that dealt with stress and anxiety and relationship issues—this place where we could just be honest and open.
I believe that there's a higher being that created me for purpose. So I felt like I got this vision again that I had when I was 24, and I just had this pull, like this is the time to go give this a shot. So I'm like, "OK, I'm not a personal trainer. I'm not a gym owner." I didn't even know where to start. So I called my buddy Rob Bailey, Rob and Dana Bailey, and they had a gym called The Warhouse. They said, "Look, you're going to need a building, and you're going to need equipment." Those are the two major things you're going to need to open up.
So long story short, my realtor who doesn't even do commercial realty found a building next to a church. And then the owner of a top-tier equipment company called Arsenal Strength, Andrew Hall, he played drums for the band the Showdown. And him and I were on tour in 2006 together. So I find out he's the president of this equipment company, [and] I get on the phone with him. I'm like, "I want to incorporate mental health with physical fitness." He ended up talking to his business partners, and they decided to donate all the equipment that I needed for this gym.
How did your bandmates and industry peers first react when they heard the news?
They love it. Every person that I talked to absolutely loves the idea of YourLife Gym. They understand the importance of it. A lot of artists struggle with mental health, and the tour life is not an easy life to live. I have some friends who are in the NFL. I have friends that are in the MLB, and the intensity, expectations and standards that we are supposed to live up to in the glamor and fame of being a professional athlete is a lot of work and is mentally taxing. Everyone needs a place to decompress and understand more as to why they think the way they think and where that's coming from.
I know you have the 15th anniversary performance of Thrill Seeker happening soon. Is it easy to stay creative with so much happening in your life at the moment? Are you excited for this whole juggling act?
I'm 100% prepared for that. I've got a great team here at the gym that is prepared to really take control and maintain the culture and environment that we are bringing here. When I leave on tour, I'm not really worried about it. People are wanting to walk beside me. They believe in the mission and vision. I can trust them. Right now has been more of a juggling act because of having rehearsals, and then trying to launch a gym, that's been intense. But I have the time to put the effort, the energy and the focus into my local community and building the first mental health gym, which I am looking to, maybe down the road, have more of. This is the moment that I have. So I've got to use it right.
What do you feel YourLife Gym can offer to your community that maybe it hasn’t seen before? What’s the end goal?
I want them to come with their mental health goals, their life goals and be a part of a transformation that actually is going to change the trajectory of their life and those lives that are around them. That's my goal because community is what is going to shape our future, and the way that we love ourselves and the people around us is going to change where we end up going as a country and as people in general. And so that's my goal.