Catholic Gym Trains Members to Become ‘Warriors Against the Evil One’
Enabnit, an experienced fitness coach, talks about how the gym runs, how faith is incorporated into its mission, and what he hopes his members are taking away from being a part of this community.
In 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic and a storm wreaked damage on his town of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Joe Enabnit opened St. Michael Barbell Club in what he calls “a leap of faith.”
The gym’s mission is “to make strength training accessible and compatible with Catholic life, to spread the practice of strength training as a means of spiritual growth,” all while integrating fitness and prayer life and offering the work done in the gym up to God.
Enabnit, an experienced fitness coach, spoke with CNA about how the gym runs, how faith is incorporated into its mission, and what he hopes his members are taking away from being a part of this community.
Enabnit explained that in 2020 he was working at a gym that closed due to the pandemic. Since he had a gym in his basement, he decided to start training people himself. Since all gyms were closed in the area, word quickly spread about what he was doing and his home gym soon became overcrowded.
Then, on Aug. 10, 2020, a “derecho” hit Cedar Rapids, causing catastrophic damage. A derecho is characterized by a widespread, long-lived wind storm, and for the city of Cedar Rapids, it brought 140 mph winds that lasted for more than 45 minutes.
Once the storm passed and people came outside, trees were uprooted, cars and fences were destroyed, every single traffic signal in the city was damaged, power was out for more than a week, and three people had lost their lives.
That was when Enabnit realized that being physically fit was not only beneficial for one’s own health, it could also be used to serve the community.
“Being physically fit meant that all day long, we could help people,” he said. “And that was what we did for three weeks after that, day in and day out, six, eight hours, cleaning up people’s yards, helping people get their stuff together, taking food and ice to people because there was no electricity for several weeks.”
Enabnit continued: “It clicked for me and a lot of guys that there was more to this working out gym thing than just … a hobby. It wasn’t just about looking good, feeling good. It was an opportunity to participate in the ministry of being a member of a community where people can help each other.”
On Sept. 29, the feast of the archangels, St. Michael Barbell Club officially opened in a new, rented space. It’s an open gym where members pay a monthly membership fee and can work out whenever they like. Enabnit explained that members receive a key so they can let themselves in to work out whenever is best for them. They also use an app to help track their progress and view their workout program. For those in need of a more hands-on approach or support, Enabnit offers personal training as needed.
Members also have their spiritual needs met by praying the rosary and the Angelus together, plus there are several priests who are members of the gym who hear confessions at the gym and give blessings.
“It’s not a marketing gimmick. We’re all serious about this Catholic stuff,” Enabnit said.
The longtime trainer shared how he views the relationship between the spiritual life and the fitness life.
“For some people, maybe they’ve been addicted to food or they’ve been addicted to drugs or alcohol and they need to find some sort of outlet for their addictive personality that allows them to respect their body rather than destroy it.”
“Or it’s something where even though they absolutely hate exercising, they know that it’s going to make them a better husband and father, or mom and wife, and it gives them a chance to sort of deny their desire to be lazy and redirect it into something that is bigger than themselves, whether it’s just between them and God or between them and their family,” he said.
Specifically for the men of the gym, Enabnit emphasizes the idea that it is their “moral obligation” to take care of their bodies and remain physically fit if they are otherwise healthy.
“If you’re otherwise a healthy guy, it is a moral obligation because it allows you to do so much more for your family, for your friends, for your community,” he said. “And if you allow your body to waste away unnecessarily, you’re making it so that you’re not capable and you’re not ready when your family needs you, such as when we have a giant storm that destroys the town.”
Enabnit added: “You don't have to be a gym addict to maintain a high level of physical readiness. All it takes is a few hours a week of taking care of your body. And if you’re not going to do it for yourself, do it for your kids, do it for your wife, do it for your community.”
However, he pointed out that people can use strength training in immoral ways and there can be many temptations.
“There are many temptations with strength training, whether it’s focusing too much on yourself, too much on your body, whether it’s taking drugs to get stronger,” he shared. “Or it can be directed toward positive ends, whether it’s being useful to your family and your community, or personal growth.”
“The spiritual life and the fitness life are very similar to each other. There are many areas of overlap. Just like a prayer life, if you want to be successful with fitness, you have to be consistent.”
“You have to sometimes do things you don’t want to do, whether it’s sticking to a diet or doing a workout when you don’t feel like it,” Enabnit said. “Or in your prayer life, maybe it’s praying a rosary when you’re distracted or when you don’t feel like it … And all of these things that we do with the gym, it’s like training for the spiritual life.”
Enabnit said he believes that “a properly ordered fitness lifestyle is not just compatible with the Catholic faith but can actually help you to grow in your Catholic faith if you direct it toward the proper purposes.”
And why is the gym named after St. Michael the Archangel?
In addition to the gym opening on the feast of the archangels, Enabnit believes every Catholic man and woman is called to be “a warrior against the temptations of the evil one.”
“I want to emphasize the idea that the spiritual life is an ongoing battle, and it’s a battle that we sometimes appear to lose, but that we have to trust that if we keep fighting, we ultimately win,” he explained. “And that’s kind of the spirit of St. Michael because at the end he casts Satan into hell.”
Enabnit hopes that his gym members are “learning useful skills — both for taking care of their bodies as well as the skills that transfer into other areas of life” — and that he can inspire them to step away from the TV screens and constant scrolling on their phones to instead interact with those around them.
“What greater calling is there for a Christian than to see Christ in the person standing right in front of you?” he asked.