The club, based out of the Iron Core Gym in Ocoee, is a gathering of local fitness enthusiasts intent on pushing their limits.
It’s a Sunday afternoon at Iron Core Gym, and the warmup is complete.
Members of the Iron Core Powerlifting Club have their practice repetitions in and are ready to try to do something they each have never done before — set a new personal record in today’s lift of choice, the bench press.
It is the second such in-house Sunday meet for the club, which started in early 2017 and competed as a team for the first time in April 2017 in Tampa.
The meets, held monthly on Sundays, give team members a chance to gauge progress and get acclimated to the ins and outs of a meet setting.
They are also a chance to set a personal record with teammates cheering you on — as Winter Garden resident John Day did, bench pressing 285 pounds. As he set the bar back in place and celebrated, teammates were quick with a high-five and a fist bump.
It is a supportive atmosphere at Iron Core, where teammates push one another to get better and share insights and technique. As founder and coach Gerry Guenther will tell you, powerlifting may be an individual sport in terms of competition, but it doesn't have to be that way when training.
“Powerlifting is kind of a solo effort, but you can’t train solo,” Guenther said.
Guenther, 59, is an Ocoee resident who has been an Iron Core member since owner Dave Knepper opened the facility in early 2015. At that time, it was located within the shopping center at the northwest corner of West Colonial Drive and Maguire Road.
Since then, it has relocated to a larger space at 491 West Silver Star Road, near Bowness Avenue and Ocoee Apopka Road. Around the time of the relocation, Guenther began lobbying Knepper about starting the club and securing some additional equipment to facilitate powerlifting.
Powerlifting as a competitive sport includes the bench press, deadlift and back squat lifts, done for a one-rep max and added up for a total. The club also has members who focus on Olympic lifts, including the snatch and the clean-and-jerk.
Both men recognized an opportunity for Iron Core in powerlifting. Although fitness options are plentiful in the western portion of the Greater Orlando area, places that welcome powerlifters are not.
“There’s no real powerlifting gym on the west side of Orlando — you either have to go to Oviedo or downtown,” Guenther said.
The club has grown to include about 15 to 20 members of varying skill levels. Guenther is hopeful experienced lifters around the area, unaware they had a local powerlifting gym, will get involved. Already, it has lured in members such as Chris and Kimmi Doughty, of Winter Garden. Chris Doughty competes as an Olympic lifter and also in Highland Games competitions. He also is the Olympic lifting coach for Iron Core.
After bench-pressing an impressive 340 pounds Sunday afternoon, Doughty said he and his wife were drawn to the club’s group dynamic.
“Just having people around motivates you and inspires you,” Doughty said.
Doughty is also an example of some of the success members of the club have enjoyed.
In February, he competed in the Central Florida Highland Games in Winter Springs and placed first in the competition’s Master’s division.
He’s not alone. Iron Core member Tom Moviel lifted a remarkable total of 1,471 pounds at a recent USA Powerlifting competition in Orlando.
The team itself has competed in a handful of meets, including the Strong Life meet in Tampa, which it won. A handful of Iron Core members will compete next month in the 2018 Europa Games in Orlando.
Each instance has seen the individual competitor from Iron Core accompanied by fellow club members rooting them on.
“That’s the one very cool thing about the gym here is that, as a group, we’ll go to the competitions — even if we’re not competing,” Knepper said.
Members such as Doughty are drawn to Iron Core Gym for its traditional vibe.
“This is like an old-school gym,” Doughty said. “You’ve got iron, chalk and people dropping weights from overhead.”
For Guenther, the old-school vibe pairs well with the health benefits he has experienced from powerlifting.
“I kind of got hooked on it and have been training ever since,” Guenther said. “I’ve found my physical fitness is staying really high — especially as I get older.”
Now, he’s happy to share his experience and insights with members such as Jim Walls — who lifted 340 pounds during Sunday’s in-house meet — Chris Burke and Sin Ramkarran.
To join the club, one first has to be a member at Iron Core, which costs $30 per month. Then, gym members can join club training sessions on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, where existing members will guide them in technique and — eventually — help them create a program for success.
Together, the club members look to continue pushing one another’s limits — and have fun along the way.
“It’s more than a gym; we have a little community here,” Knepper said.