I called my girl Keighty to see when we should meet at the club. “There’s a wait list,” she said, “but I’ll see you at 9:30.” I grabbed a cab and made my way through downtown Vancouver B.C. and over the bridge to Chinatown. Beyonce’s “Lemonade” was cued up in my headphones in true pregame fashion, and when I arrived at 261 Union Street, I was ready to go. It was 9:30 a.m. on a Tuesday morning and I was about to give this club everything I had.
The club I’m talking about is Tight Club Athletics, a fitness studio. Created by personal trainer Keighty Gallagher, Tight Club is known for its anti-gym mentality, vibe and space for those who typically hate going to the gym (a.k.a. someone like me). Keighty and her squad of trainers offer a completely different experience from your traditional fitness programs. While powering–or slightly struggling–through our high intensity Tight Sweat class, I found encouragement in the wise words of “Yes, queen, you’ve got this!” from the instructor and Missy Elliott tracks cued up in the playlist. While transitioning into different movements, there were no confusing, technical terms being thrown out, but rather fun and made-up names like “stripper hips,” which I surprisingly–okay, maybe not surprisingly–knew exactly how to do. I found motivation in a language and creativity that resembled the vibe of a Saturday night at 2:00 a.m. with you and your friends killing it on the dance floor. I found my kind of workout.
Tight Club is undeniably changing the game of what fitness looks, feels and sounds like. After completing our Tight Sweat class and being welcomed into the Tight Club family session, we sat with Keighty to learn more about her, the history behind the studio, and how it all came to be.
Q. When we think of Tight Club’s success story, Drake’s “Started from the Bottom” immediately comes to mind. It began as a weekly roundup of friends working out in your garage and evolved into a full-blown fitness studio in Vancouver, B.C. Classes are sold out and you’ve even got a wait list. Keighty, what is your background and how did the Tight Club concept come to be?
A. Well, my background as an athlete came from track and field. It came from sprinting and jumping and moving. My love for the sport came from training, whether it was spending time in the gym or working on the field, doing biometrics and bounding. What I hated was competition, and I hated track meets. I just felt like the coaches and the way fitness was becoming to me was a lot more based on fear, and at the level that I was at, it was a waste of time to be fearful of my sport. When I bring up fear, it’s basically like our teammates were saying, “Oh, Coach Johnson’s having a bad day. You know what happens when he has a bad day. He’s going to demolish you guys.” And so it’s just a really bad association to have with sport and fitness and movement, and so I kind of… left. I quit, partied and lived in Portland.
I moved to Vancouver when I graduated university, and I was just hungry for something. I left Portland feeling like when I quit track, who was I? I hung out with a bunch of cool creative people all the time, but I wondered, “What do I have to contribute?” And that was a total hang-up I had. What do I get to be? Who am I? I started working at the Alibi Room and was doing some personal training on the side. I wasn’t a certified personal trainer or anything, and I kind of felt ashamed of moving away from working in marketing because I’d just spent five years in school. But I met my friend Henry, and all he had to say was, “You should become a personal trainer.” I was getting a group of people I worked with who were artists, painters and bartenders, people who were scared of the gym, or who didn’t feel like they were “that person,” and I just wanted to disassociate “that person,” whoever that person was, with fitness. I just tried to tell the story that fitness will help you do what you do better, regardless of what that is.
Q. Tight Club stands out for its “anti-gym” mentality, offering a creative and refreshing alternative to traditional fitness for misfits. Why was it important for you to create a space and cater to people who typically hate going to the gym?
A. It started with my need for creating a community of active people and getting people together. That’s what it was always about, this community, and I felt like there was no community at the Steve Nash or the YMCA. You’d go in and it was so sterile there. Some of the other boutique fitness studios that we’d try to go to didn’t have that feeling of being on a team, and that’s what I missed. It didn’t matter if you were going to win or not. I didn’t care about that. I just wanted to have people on a team to feel accountable for, and that’s what I found. I did track and field for 11 years because I felt accountable for myself, for my coach and for people around me, and I wanted to be that family, or a leader, I guess, of that alternative community. I just always want to make sure people are feeling welcome, not lost and all the things you might feel at another studio that might focus more on body image and shit like that.
Right around the time when it was starting to be cool to wear running shoes to work, I invited the creative people I knew and friends to workout. It was an open door for me to say, “Hey, Henry and I are working out at the field on Friday at 1:00. Do you guys want to come?” And that’s all it took. Some weeks there would be nobody there, some weeks there would be 11 people, and some weeks there would be five. It just took consistency and for people to always know that I was going to be there no matter what.
I wanted to rewrite the language of fitness through movement. A lot of the stuff that we did outdoors was so general movement-based. It was so functional. It was like hopping and jumping and playing, and it felt like play, so I just wanted to re-invite people back into that type of movement. I never use the words “sculpt,” “tone,” “get jacked” or anything. It wasn’t about that. It was just about moving your body again.
Q. You’ve worked on a variety of collaborations with Lululemon and Juice Truck. What role have collaborations played in the success of Tight Club? Any new collaborations you’re excited about?
A. Collaborations are so key, especially when two people can come together and benefit from each other. With the Lululemon Lab, when we had our launch party, we had more people at the store who had never been there before than people who were active within the Lululemon community. I think with collaborations, you’re able to increase your reach, awareness and offering. We’re going to be doing a collaboration with Woodlot, which is a local soap and candle company, and we’ve been given the freedom to create our own scent. Henry is our graphic designer, and he’s designing the box for it and all the design wrapping, and I’m so stoked to be able to carry that gear. I love small-scale collaborations because they always come from the heart, and that’s all it is.
Q. Let’s talk about about squad goals. Tight Club has a solid crew of fitness trainers, yoga instructors and run leaders from all different backgrounds. How did you curate the ultimate team for Tight Club?
A. Honestly, it was all about the way these people made me feel. I looked at résumés and I thought that they were nice, but it was truly based on “Is this person able to learn? Is this person able to hang out and sit in the seating area and hang out with the clients afterwards? Will this person play the right kind of music?” (Trainers make their own playlists.) I give a lot of freedom when it comes to teaching here, but I am very picky about who I pull in. Obviously I need to make sure that they have insurance and stuff like that, but it’s all about feeling. If the person feels right, they are right.
Q. For people like me, fitness jargon can be intimidating. To be completely honest, I don’t even know what a burpee is. What I appreciate about your class is the way you help others understand fitness movements with wild comparisons like “stripper hips” instead of saying “plank hip taps.” Tight Club essentially has its own language. How did this come to be?
A. It’s a mix from track and field movements to just living and being. If a burpee doesn’t resonate with you, what would? Or if the plank hip taps don’t resonate with you, think to yourself, “What else looks like that? Oh, I know. A stripper doing that move! I’ve seen that move before!” I think it just takes the inspiration of living, being a pretty regular person, and going out and finding balance in life, but also not being afraid to be kind of sketchy and real. It’s about not being afraid to let your freak flag fly.
Q. We’ve seen the Tight Club clothing line and it’s dope. Any plans to expand?
A. We’re keeping what we have in-store really tight, and having it be the best of Vancouver. The way I see us growing our clothing line is to do more collaborations, so we’re working on a collab with a local swimwear designer whose brand Beth Richards Swimwear has absolutely amazing stuff. We’re going to be doing our own little capsule collection, I think dropping in the fall, and I think we’re going to do a tight tank and a bra. She’s a local girl, she comes to class, and she’s a friend of Tight Club.
Q. What’s next for Tight Club?
A. In the next year, I would like to go on a mini-tour to spread the Tight vibe, and have it be the “Tight Vibe Tour” or something. I did a pop-up and it was super successful, and it’s what made me realize that this was something I wanted to do. I would love to do Portland, or do the island, like Victoria, and keep it smallish. I don’t want to jump into New York yet since I don’t really know a lot of people there, but maybe Toronto, and kind of vibe off this pop-up studio thing. I work with a designer, so I’d design the space, which is important to us. If we’re able to replicate that and be able to move with it, that would be amazing to do.
Images courtesy of Tight Club, Keia Nathe and Lisa Dougherty.
Lisa Dougherty is a NY native who now calls the PNW home. She enjoys crowd surfing, art, long drives, content creation and writing for RANGE.