Andrew Deutch stands in front of his first group of the day. Everyone he’s speaking to is clad in a shirt that displays their pop-culture fandom; everything from Harry Potter to Power Rangers to Batman. But this group didn’t come at 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday to discuss the latest superhero movie; they came here to work out.
This is a typical day for Nerdstrong Gym in North Hollywood.
“It's about inclusion. It's about acceptance,” Deutch told KPCC. He founded this concept in 2013 with the goal of engaging people who have had a hard time regularly going to exercise.
“One of the paramount features of the gym is that most of the people that come into this space are self-identified nerds and geeks. They've always wanted to do fitness, but they just didn't feel that some place spoke to them.”
A quick look around the inside of Nerdstrong Gym shows that it’s not just another independent gym. Near the entrance, there’s a rug in the shape of a 20-sided die (known as a D20 to Dungeons and Dragons fans) laid out on the floor. There are bookshelves full of comic books and video games in the corner.
Deutch figures that by celebrating people’s pop-culture fandoms, he will be able to help them make working out a habit.
“We want them to get nerdy about fitness so we try to blend all those things together into hopefully a friendly space about fitness and what you love, whether it's comic books or movies or anything else,” Deutch said.
The ideals of Nerdstrong go beyond just the aesthetics of the gym and the dress code.
The biggest hook that solidifies his gym as nerd nirvana are the workouts themselves; they are all themed around a different pop culture.
“I like to sort of infuse the workout with gameplay elements that I believe work for fitness,” Deutch said. “It could be… Star Trek, it could be PC games, board games, tabletop games.”
Christy Black-Nett is a Nerdstrong trainer. She’s also responsible for putting together the routines. She monitors the slate of summer blockbusters, TV shows and video games, and decides which would make for the best workouts.
“We did a Star Wars workout for May 4th,” Black-Nett said. “We based it off of ‘The Force Awakens.’ We have a finisher where you have to take a five-to-ten pound weight and hold it out for two minutes awkwardly like you’re trying to be Rey getting Luke to accept the light saber that you brought to him.”
Deutch said it’s important for the themes to go beyond just taking a show and applying it to a series of moves.
“What moments in that movie or story or game really spoke to us? That's what I want to pull into the workout. It's fun for me, but it's also really fun for them,” Deutch said about the people who go to Nerdstrong. “I'm not yelling at them or barking at them, I'm just encouraging them along the way and they're encouraging themselves in that moment.”
Chrissy Dinh is an avid fan of Harry Potter. For today’s workout she’s wearing a shirt that shows off her house in Hogwarts.
“Slytherin house represent!” she proudly declared
She has been coming to Nerdstrong since 2014 when it was still a much smaller operation out of Deutch’s garage.
“This is the first time I've ever been committed to working out,” Dinh said.
What’s kept her coming back to Nerdstrong? She says it all goes back to the sense of camaraderie that she feels here yet doesn’t get from going to an LA Fitness.
“I feel like when you go to a box gym it's very individualized, whereas here it's very community driven," Dinh said.
Dinh thinks that community continues through the workout and beyond. “We all talk about whether you want to go to Comic Con or Hogwarts or one of your personal goals. Like, if we want to do a strict pull-up or lose ten pounds.”
Deutch said that sort of messaging is paramount to the philosophy of the gym. “I feel like this space really allows them to be who they are and because we speak their language.”
Speaking that language includes making the gym into a haven of all things geek. The nerd-factor even extends to the exercise equipment.
“We bring in things like maces, swords, weapons.” Deutch said.
The weapons aren’t real, but they are heavy. Deutch said that he likes to bring all sorts of unconventional items into Nerdstrong to keep things in this space fresh. “We can kind of grab from wherever and pull that into the gym.”
For people like Bret Parmenter, that sort of attitude is the perfect marriage of his two loves.
“I've always been a strong man, but I've also been a nerd for most of my life,” Parmenter said. “I’ve always felt like those are two things that could never go together, [but Nerdstrong] was a perfect fit from the get-go.”
The idea of using swords to slay dragons or running with sandbags around your neck to emulate supervillains makes Nerdstrong sound more like a giant role-playing game rather than a gym. But Dafana Plavan, insists that the nerds here are working as hard as anyone else.
“I hear from people all the time. ‘What do you do? Do you pretend you're a knight? With armor?’ No, we just sweat and complain a lot!” Plavan said. “It looks cool on the board, but at the end of the day you're still doing push-ups.”
While Nerdstrong has grown rapidly, it’s still a modest operation. But Deutch has heard a lot of demands from others who want to open Nerdstrongs around the country.
“Every time we go to a Comic-Con or a WonderCon and have our panels, one question we get is, ‘When is it coming to my town?’” Deutch said.
While Deutch isn’t sure that they have the means to expand rapidly enough to meet those demands, he does understand why this idea has caught on.
“I just know that I think it speaks to some people internally that they want to love, they want to wear whatever they want to wear. They want to wear the superhero shirts and don't want to be judged for it.”
But until the team does decide to move forward, Nerdstrong will live on in North Hollywood, like a bat signal calling for people to put their nerd freak flag out on display.
“If your freak flag has comics and movies and video games and whatever on it, please unfurl that flag,” Deutch said. “Let it fly.”
To listen to the full segment, click the blue play button above.