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West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016 3 years ago

WG Athletic Club ready to help you get fit

Neil Barnhill opened Winter Garden Athletic Club last month out of a passion for helping people reach all-around better fitness.
by: Zak Kerr Staff Writer/Reporter

WINTER GARDEN  Given the office park look of the lot Winter Garden Fitness is in, you might wonder whether you are in the right place when you park. Even when you get inside, the shape of the room is more like a warehouse than a prototypical gym.

But that suits Neil Barnhill, certified head trainer, whose style and path to the fitness business have been anything but typical.

His equipment is all new, with various benches and bars, but there are also giant medicine balls, ropes and other objects along the wall for a diversified routine that is an amalgamation of several types of training he has studied.

One program he likens his training to is CrossFit, but with the name Winter Garden Athletic Club, he wants to assure clients they need not be workout machines.

“I’ve been getting 30- to 70-year-olds, any age,” Barnhill said. “I don’t want to scare anyone away. I individualize; I’m flexible enough to find something for anyone to do.”

Personal training is just one part; Barnhill intends to have frequent classes amid his Monday to Friday slate of offerings.


Barnhill moved to Central Florida in 1998 and taught golf for 10 years as a head pro around Windermere. He had played at Georgia Southern University and then professionally.

“I love helping people,” he said. “Teaching is what I like.”

But in 2008, the Great Recession hit golf harder than many businesses. Barnhill began thinking of other ways to instill his passion for helping others through teaching. He figured instead of just helping players of a certain game that he could help anybody with their overall health by becoming a fitness instructor.

“I like this a lot more than golf,” Barnhill said. “Teaching fitness and changing someone’s life is a whole different deal. Seeing them change — and change as a person — is way more gratifying, just a whole different level to me personally.”

Those worlds have collided lately, with young golfers following the strong athletic build Tiger Woods made famous, and a lot of it stems from Olympic-style lifts Barnhill incorporates, he said.

And like a good number of golfers as they age, Barnhill said he was not focusing enough on his fitness.

“I stayed at home with the kids for a couple of years,” he said. “I got into fitness. I started exploring; I’m just competitive and like, ‘Man, I really like this.’ And then my massage therapist said, ‘You would love CrossFit with your mentality.’ So I got certified in it and started training people in the backyard and then took that to the Orlando All-Stars, where I was for almost four years.”

And now, Barnhill sees himself running Winter Garden Athletic Club for the next 25 to 30 years, he said. Thus, he obtained eight certifications in the last few years to broaden his knowledge and improve his pupils’ technique.

Based on his research, he stresses proper movement at a manageable weight and then adding weight once the form is set.

“I don’t care if it’s a bodybuilding guy,” Barnhill said. “You have to move right, and then down the road we’ll get more weights with proper mechanics … and you’re not going to get hurt.”

Even for seniors, Barnhill has demonstrated a record of improving flexibility and mobility, with a focus on maintaining such qualities even when people might be considered past physical prime, he said.


“I don’t like the word diet,” Barnhill said. “I think you have to change their lifestyle. I can sit down with them and say, ‘What are you doing right now? Here’s a nutrition plan — carbs, protein, fat — to get more balanced.’ I can help them with that and then look after two weeks: Are you crashing in the middle of the day? Do we need to add more fat, like nuts? So it shows them exactly what’s good fat, what’s bad fat; what’s good carbs, what’s bad carbs.”

He recommends calculating and even weighing food to maintain a plan, and for those still more serious about it, there is a full set of tests people can undergo. But he stresses it is important to remember every body is different.

In terms of liquids, he recommends straying from run-of-the-mill bottled waters and sports drinks toward healthier fluids, such as hydrogenated water he will offer.

“It’s not cheap to get healthy — it really isn’t,” Barnhill said. “But at the back end, how many people spend all their money on health insurance and surgeries down the road? It’s an investment in your body, and you’re going to spend way less and feel good. And what better time to start with spring break coming up?”

Look for Barnhill at the Winter Garden Farmers Market this month and check out Winter Garden Athletic Club on Facebook for more information. 


Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].

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