When Alfonso Prada, 47, and his wife first started working out at the gym, they became overwhelmed.
“We didn’t have anybody helping us – it was just many machines, and we had no idea how to do it. We felt really alone there,” said Prada, who lives on the South Side.
But at Vive la Fitness, a bilingual gym located at 1920 W. Mitchell St. on the South Side, he and his wife feel like there are “people who care for us,” Prada said.
This fact helps explain why Prada tries to come every day of the week and has done so for the past two-and-one-half years.
Since joining Vive, Prada has lost about 60 pounds.
Argelia Perez, 40, also tries to come most days of the week since becoming a member nearly three years ago.
The mother of three puts in this work, she said, because of the personalized attention and caring spirit of staff.
“It’s a really friendly environment,” said Perez.
Another important reason, she said, is she can take classes in Spanish, something that was hard for her to find.
She lives in West Allis, where she has other choices for gyms and fitness centers, but prefers “to drive every day because I like to get that Spanish instruction.”
Perez struggled to remember how much weight she has lost since starting at Vive, but Sonia Vernier, the gym’s owner and one of the trainers, reminded her.
“It’s 35 pounds,” Vernier said.
“Yeah,” Perez said. “Thirty-five pounds about.”
‘Not a conventional gym’
Vernier said she is dedicated to the mission “of teaching people.”
“We are not a conventional gym,” she said. “It’s about their lifestyle. … We need to change minds. And we teach people, ‘I can do this.’”
Said Prada, “We are learning not only how to build muscles but – more than that – to change our lives in different ways – believing we can do different things … we can be a better version of us.”
Vernier said she takes pride in the fact many members are older – people whose bodies, and confidence, are not that of a teenager’s. “We are here for people of all ages, with different beginnings, different health conditions … .”
The gym has a pain-free performance specialist certification and a personal training certification from the National Academy of Sports Medicine, both of which allow staff to better tailor routines and classes to each individual.
Classes are small – usually about eight or nine people – which facilitates such personalized attention.
Barbell training and functional training, which emphasizes working out the whole body, is at the core of the approach in these one-hour classes.
Nutritional education is another central feature of how the gym aims to change mindsets because “if you don’t follow the consistency of the nutrition, you’re not going to see results, no matter how many times you go,” said Jorge Gallegos, a trainer at Vive.
Each member gets a menu, with a step-by-step guide about what, when and how to eat.
Vernier’s own mindset – about food and exercise – underwent its own massive shift.
She said that, for many years, she experienced extreme pain in her body, but, when she would go to doctors, they told her she simply “had a lot of stress.”
Her physical pains were exacerbated by her severe depression as well.
And having two kids and a husband who was often gone because of his military career created “a lot of difficulty in my life,” she said.
“I was crying all the time. I didn’t have energy. I was very angry,” she said.
After several years, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in addition to her depression.
Doctors prescribed various medications, and she was hospitalized several times.
After having her first child, a doctor recommended working out to improve her mood, and Vernier discovered how much better she felt after exercising consistently.
As she learned more about exercising, and nutrition, she came to believe one’s mentality surrounding body and health is the key to sustaining positive changes.
Since consistently working out and eating well, Vernier said she has been “away from any hospital for almost nine years.”
Vernier opened Vive la Fitness in May 2019 to provide people in her community the same “way of life” and “love of the process.”
She wants people who go to her gym to come not “just for muscles” but to think about “how am I feeling today.”
For more information
First-time classes can be booked online or by phone at 414-763-6456. Individual classes are $20 each, and a monthly membership, where someone can take as many classes as they like, and get the nutritional consulting, is $115 per month.
Sonia i is a truly excellent trainer. She is skilled, thoughtful, sensible and a pleasure to work with and talk to. I like appreciate when she always encourages me to push beyond my limits.