By Gabe Licht
MAPLE PLAIN, MN Going to college at the University of Minnesota, Aaron Vanderwall aspired to be an aeronautical engineer.
“I didn’t do so hot at it,” said Vanderwall, now a personal trainer who operates Elevate Strength and Fitness at 5130 Industrial St. Suite 200 in Maple Plain.
Once he realized aeronautical engineering wasn’t for him, he switched his degree to kinesiology, the study of human movement, and graduated in 1999.
He said he was drawn to kinesiology after growing up playing sports and having an interest in the human body.
It was another 13 years before Vanderwall used that degree full-time.
“Being that the family business was a restaurant and my future wife’s father was in the grocery business . . . I stayed in the food business until 2012,” Vanderwall said.
While in that line of work, Vanderwall did training on the side, wrote training programs, and was a soccer coach.
“I was burning the candle at both ends and in the middle,” Vanderwall said.
As he started to realize the food business wasn’t the career he wanted, Vanderwall went back to the U of M in 2008 to earn his masters in sports and exercise science.
“After my dad passed away, I got survivor benefits from the VA and was coming up to the use-it-or-lose-it point and my employer allowed me to go back to school that had no usefulness to them,” Vanderwall said.
When he graduated in 2010, he used the degree to help establish a corporate wellness program at that company, but quickly realized it would not be a full-time job.
At the same time, he established Elevate Strength and Conditioning.
He said he thought of the name while walking his dog, after eliminating names that were already taken.
As he went through the list of names already taken, he noticed the majority of them had the word “fitness” in them and knew that he wanted to avoid that, rather opting for “strength and conditioning.”
“I said I wanted to be someone who wants to raise the level of conditioning,” Vanderwall said. “I didn’t want to name it after myself because who would want to go to Aaron Vanderwall Strength and Conditioning? I didn’t want it to be cheesy. I wanted it to be something where they could just say a word and it’d be meaningful. I said, ‘I want to lift the level of training that kids do. I want to elevate it.’ It was like a light bulb moment as soon as the words left my lips.”
Vanderwall’s first training facility was located in a 550-square-foot space at the 10 Dome in Long Lake, beginning in June of 2012, when he became a full-time trainer.
He has a little more space than that now, having moved one weekend in October to a 7,100-square-foot space in Maple Plain, with a 3,200-square-foot training floor, and more space available for future growth.
“This facility is pretty ideal, though there’s still some things I can’t offer here, yet,” Vanderwall said. “I didn’t lose anybody from the old place, and I’ve picked up new clients. And, with the addition of the Orono Baseball Association moving into my warehouse area for winter training, it’s going to bring more kids and their parents through.”
Vanderwall trains people from a wide range of ages and abilities.
“I’ve trained everyone from 8- and 9-year-olds who are just here trying to learn to move better up to Division I athletes,” Vanderwall said.
His specialties are sport performance, tactical fitness, and women-specific weight lifting.
His focus is on each individual who walks through his doors, and their individual goals.
“Programs are created for people and they go perform them with someone coaching them,” Vanderwall said. “It’s not an open gym where people look around and say, ‘What do I do now?’ I’m different from crossfit because everyone has a program customized for them. They don’t do a workout of the day.”
While Vanderwall likes to have a team atmosphere where people are encouraging each other, each workout features personalized, precise, and specific training.
“A football player won’t be doing the same thing as a tennis player, who’s not doing the same thing as a swimmer, who’s not doing the same thing as a non-athlete who’s just coming in so they can play golf a little better,” Vanderwall said.
He enjoys connecting with the people he trains and said it is rewarding to watch them fulfill their goals and set new, bigger, better goals.
One such client came to Vanderwall because she said she was tired of the typical class or the idea that women could get all the weight lifting they needed from numerous repetitions of light weights.
She gravitated toward dead lifting, though she initially struggled lifting 95 pounds.
“Probably a year ago, she pulled a 200-pound dead lift and broke down into tears,” Vanderwall said. “She literally cried tears of joy for being able to hit that kind of number . . . She’s gained a real appreciation for training and what it does for her everyday life, not just coming in here and lifting.”
He’s looking forward to helping more people exceed their goals, and believes the new space will help him do so.
A former paintball business, the space works well for Vanderwall’s workouts focused on using natural movements, body weight, and free weights.
He will soon be dividing his workout space in half, with rubber flooring on one half and turf on the other. The front lobby space will be outfitted with studio flooring to accommodate special events and, potentially, other classes, such as yoga.
Vanderwall currently has no employees, but he hopes to change that in the future.
“As I get to a point where I can’t handle the training load, and as I want to spend more time with my family, I’ll be looking to add staff . . . hopefully, in the not too distant future.”
Vanderwall lives in Plymouth with his wife, Kelly, and toddler, Aubrey.
He is available by appointment from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 7 a.m. to noon by calling (763) 250-1248.