How FIRE Fitness Camp became the fastest growing fitness boot camp franchise- and the way ahead



We gym bunnies often grow weary of our standard exercise routine, but we still hang in because ‘Fitness is paramount’. In some ways, even that old school routine has its benefits, however, what we need is the same level of dopamine rushing through our veins as it did for the first time when we pulled ourselves up on that bar and our gym buddies cheered for us. Without this same rush and degree of satisfaction, we reach a point of saturation both in terms of physical and mental wellbeing, and hence, there’s no further growth. 

Hans Hartleben, a fellow fitness enthusiast and the Founder of FIRE Fitness Camp, had this realization while he was working as a club manager at Anytime Fitness. He saw that there were two kinds of people in the gym: one who dragged themselves there every day and the second who couldn’t wait to finish their warm-up and just get to it. This incredible difference was due to the lack of motivation and sense of belonging that came from the level of support peers or personal trainers extended to the trainees. Having this understanding, Hans always wanted to offer more to his clients. Thus, following his intent, he developed a “CMRT” system that tremendously helped his clients both physically and emotionally. In order to take it to the next level, he kept on working on his training program and process. He began looking at other locations and assembled the required equipment. Soon, Hans started his HammerFit training program at an abandoned restaurant facility, having just a few basic tools. Within the first month, his program became an absolute hit and there was no space left to accommodate any more clients. This achievement further consolidated Hans’s beliefs and led him on the path to creating a new hybrid training system called F.I.R.E. Here, the clients received 100% more results for 80% less investment than the conventional personal-training regimes. In consequence, FIRE Fitness Camp quickly grew up to become the largest and fastest-growing ‘boot camp’ style franchise in Wisconsin with twenty-three other franchise locations since it began franchising in 2019. 

"We are making the average person become their own biggest fan again. No one ever complains about being stronger both physically or mentally. People's bodies change and as they change, they move faster. They even walk with more purpose and hop in their step.”

The anatomy of Success

So how did FIRE Fitness Camp become America’s hottest boot camp system? F.I.R.E. being an acronym for Functional, Intensive, Resistance, and Exercise, have their own exercise science which enables an average person to train like an athlete. Their fitness program contains functional movements that a person does on a daily basis. They practice intense work to rest ratio during the 30-minute training sessions that further spikes the metabolism. They start by CREATING subclinical muscle injuries vs. breaking apart the subclinical muscle injuries or micro-tears followed by recovery and rehabilitation with the help of enzymes that fix the tissue. Hans explains, “Nobody works for free and in this case, the enzymes don’t get paid in dollars and cents, but in calories. Our clients get more results because of this residual caloric expenditure that may last up to 72 hours.” So, FIRE Fitness Camp’s training regime not just builds up strength and aesthetics but also helps its clients reinforce the ease of everyday life through improved proprioception, balance, flexibility, and muscular coordination. Some of the basic exercises in their program are flipping tires, climbing, pressing and various agility exercises. Hans chuckles, “We have in a sense, made the “push-up” cool again.” Hence, no expensive compound machinery is required. Now, it definitely brings down the investment capital, but it raises the bar in other ways. Hans shares, “We require our franchisees to equip their gym floors with an elaborate selection of free weights. The difference is, by offering more weightlifting, you need to have a vast knowledge of body mechanics. I personally write each workout here at FIRE and I think that is one of the giant factors that makes our program so popular. They LOVE the workouts!”

But it’s really the Marvelous Motivation system that distinguishes FIRE Fitness Camp from other gyms. At FIRE Fitness Camp, they treat their clients like celebrities and fulfill them with a sense of achievement. They reward their clients and their achievements like no other program in the country while still maintaining a strict decorum during the training session. This not only ensures accountability on their client’s end but also keeps them coming for more. “We provide ‘Marvelous Motivation’ as it pertains to fitness. FIRE takes pride in assisting our clients with the emotional strength in and outside our facilities,” shares Hans. “FIRE has more documented client transformations cases than any other boot camp style training in the country.” 

Of course, FIRE Fitness Camp isn’t the only fitness brand offering boot camp-style workouts. Competitors like FitBody Boot Camp offers a traditional boot camp style program which predominantly uses bodyweight exercises. And CrossFit focuses more on Olympic weightlifting. “For this reason, I find their clientele to be a lot younger and those who want to compete,” says Hans. “At FIRE, your only competition is the person looking back at you in the mirror.”

Elaborate weight sets need to be combined with a vast knowledge of body mechanics. I personally write each workout here at FIRE and I think that is one of the giant factors that makes our program so popular. People LOVE our workouts!”

By doing so FIRE Fitness Camp has its niche well defined: spacious studios housing simple weights (like ropes, weights, bands, sleds, tires, your own body weight, etc) as a training aid; catering to the average moms and dads who want to reach their target weight and build up strength. “We are making the average person become their own biggest fan again. It is very interesting and powerful to watch the transformation of an average mom of three become what some of our clients refer to as ‘Beast-Moms’! No one seems to ever complain about being stronger both physically or mentally. People’s bodies change and as they change, they move faster. They even walk with more purpose and hop in their step,” glees Hans. “I will never take my foot off the gas pedal and will continue to focus all of my work and energy on different ways to deliver our clients the most phenomenal workout experience on the planet.” At FIRE Fitness Camp, they also look out for technical advancement. The cutting-edge digital products like MyZone heart rate monitor system, check-in kiosk, customized app and more speaks tremendously for their regard to innovation and science. Their social media is huge and it has enabled them to develop long-lasting relationships with people and potential partners. “What I value most about our club culture is the family aspect,” says Hans. “We have created a system that links and bonds over 3,000 training clients together. The FIRE fam, The FIRE Nation is strong and everyone involved is passionate about helping each other out behind the scenes and off the gym floor.”

It’s evident FIRE Fitness Camp offers so much to its clients and that more communities would benefit from having a local studio. The demand to franchise was immediate. Hans candidly shares an instance, “When Payal and I decided to begin our brand standards manual creating an official process for others to offer the same kind of services, an old friend of mine Chris Polanco asked to check out exactly what we were doing. At the time, Chris was a multi-club owner with Anytime Fitness and highly successful with that. He saw and felt the difference in energy immediately and I recall him saying, “I want this, I want to offer this to my members!” We then created a license agreement that allowed Chris to begin offering our services to his Anytime Fitness members in his clubs. This was called an “Express” model. It didn’t take him long to see that the FIRE Fitness Camp model not only worked but was more profitable. He sold his existing clubs and after his non-compete agreement was fulfilled with Anytime, he jumped all-in and opened his own stand-alone locations which we now call ‘premiers’.”

Chris Polanco, co-owner and Vice-President of FIRE Fitness Camp joined the team in the year 2018 and things have grown quickly from then. He is dedicated to supporting the franchisees’ success and has been most instrumental to the company’s growth. He shares that the process of signing up is very simple and straight forward. Just fill-out an application form including a few short essay questions to explain why FIRE and why YOU. After that, a thorough background check is done by their team to decide if the person is the right fit. FIRE Fitness Camp also offers robust and ongoing support to its joining partners. They have a standard operative manual that helps their partners deliver the exact service anywhere else around the globe and their top-notch technical support goes way beyond emails and webinars. They take the certifications and training of their owners, coaches and managerial team very seriously and regularly put up content to help them be better at their jobs. At the time, they have 500 how-to-do videos which are produced in-house to help their new team members.

Crushing COVID-19

This was all before the global coronavirus pandemic that forced all gyms to shut down across the world. None of us are ever as prepared as we think we are. In business, or in life in general,” says Hans. “I think I speak for many by saying, when the first cases of COVID-19 were covered in China, we thought, “Well, that won’t really happen here.” But it did.” As COVID-19 continues to batter businesses Hans was faced with a challenging question: Now what? Hans shares incidences of many of their members reaching out to them voicing their concern over closing doors. They shared intimate details of emotional distress, anxiety, and depression they suffered due to the quarantine period. “We listened,” notes Hans.

Having to think for one gym would have been easy. But that wasn’t the case, FIRE Fitness Camp has over twenty franchisees to care for. “There are about one-hundred and fifty employees, contractors, coaches, and owners who have families to feed and rent to pay under our program. They matter to me too!” exclaims Hans. All factors like ‘what are their conditions and health climate’ or ‘what are the numbers like in their geographical region’ had to be considered before opening up. “The most difficult challenge for us as a business has been navigating the ever-changing mandates made by the government. We understand they didn’t get a how-to video or a blueprint on handling COVID either,” says Hans. “This pandemic is serious. So are our program and the people that have been urging us to stay open for their health and wellness. Our attitude has been, exercise is essential to the well-being of humanity. However, we still wanted to work with state and local officials without being negligent.” FIRE Fitness Camp, therefore, took profound precautions when opening that included: mandatory daily self-screening, implementing sanitation stations at all of their exercise sections, encouraging clients to sanitize the equipment surfaces BEFORE entering a section not after (as no one cleans well when leaving stresses Hans), increasing their volume on disinfecting not just the gym area but the entrances, restrooms, and offices. They went on to close down the lobby areas to limit gatherings. The coaches were asked to instruct from a safe social distance “coaching box” while members stood in clearly marked designated areas. “We even altered our normal routine in a way that cuts down on the number of touches,” shares Hans. “We are proud of the job we have done to keep our clients healthy and that will always be #1 for us.” Another result of taking all these precautions is that FIRE Fitness Camp started getting a huge influx of business. “We have many camps that have focussed more and smaller group and personal training. Some of our franchisees have even broken their own lifetime sales records!” cheers Hans. “It’s working.” 

“This pandemic is serious. So are our program and the people that have been urging us to stay open for their health and wellness. Our attitude has been, exercise is essential to the well-being of humanity. However, we still wanted to work with state and local officials without being negligent....We even altered our normal routine in a way that cuts down on the number of touches,” shares Hans. “We are proud of the job we have done to keep our members healthy and that will always be #1 for us.”

Blazing Forward

Hans envisions FIRE Fitness Camp to continue to dominate Wisconsin and become a household name across the globe. “I am seeing too many businesses die out due to sitting on their hands and waiting for the disruption caused by coronavirus to be over. Not us. We are going full-throttle! We are advertising more than ever. If you aren’t moving forward, you’re going backward and there is literally no room for that here,” says Hans. “We are growing and still keeping people safe. We will never give up because there is just too much good to give. So, we will keep the pedal to the metal, our heads held high, and our eyes focussed firmly on the road in front of us. All while wearing our safety-belts:)”

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