Featuring: Michelle Stakkestad, CoastLife Strength & Conditioning
"South Delta is home for me now. I love the people, the weather, and the vibes. I love how supportive it is here and how easy it was to feel part of something good.”
It’s well-known that exercise has physical benefits, but for Michelle Stakkestad, owner and head trainer at CoastLife Strength & Conditioning, the mental benefits can’t be understated. When changing mandates and overnight closures forced her mobile personal training business to pivot, she created a way to ensure those endorphins (the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters) kept pumping during the pandemic. Now she’s back in the gym, focusing on strength, conditioning, athletics, and community connection through exercise, as she enthusiastically serves a clientele that spans a generous range of age and abilities. Her teen fitness classes are just one example of the impactful programs she offers. Most of us can remember how it felt to be a teen — so much awkward growth and complex feelings — but Michelle sees how fitness boosts teens’ mental health, expanding their confidence and inner strength. Her other varied classes are equally challenging and fun, as anyone who’s tried one can attest to. From bouncing around in different gyms, to bouncing off the walls of her very own Ladner space, her undeniable energy is a driving force for her clients. On any given day (multiple times a day), over the vibrant beats of popular music — as well as Michelle’s energetic, contagious laughter and cheers — you can find people from all walks of life in her bootcamps – supporting each other, encouraging personal fitness bests, and most of all, sweating.
Tell us about how CoastLife Strength & Conditioning started.
I used to do mobile personal training when I lived in the city. I would go to people's apartment buildings and houses with my equipment – or use theirs if they had equipment – and I would train like that. When I moved to Delta, I started subleasing space in other people's gyms because I didn't have a facility of my own yet, or the capital I needed to start one up. The equipment is expensive! So I would just pay x amount of dollars per month to run my business out of someone else's gym. Then, when COVID hit and all the mandates came into place about wearing masks while working out, I just couldn't do it; my clients were uncomfortable as well. I had this huge house I was renting in Tsawwassen at the time with a big garage and yard, so I moved my entire business into my house. It was great because it was outdoors. So I set up the TRX, all the bikes, kettlebells, and everything we have at the gym now, essentially. It was all in my carport and on my lawn! It was so fun. It was my way of adapting during the pandemic and doing what I could to recover some cash flow. The closures hit gyms really hard.
How has your business progressed since its early days?
When I started running group fitness classes in South Delta I had a busy client base almost immediately. It felt like it took two seconds and just caught fire! It used to be that I had way more personal training clients and not as many group classes, but then I started switching to the group class model. At the end of the day, it was more consistent, with money coming in every single month. So everything was busy, but then even more people joined when I started doing classes outdoors at my house. I was pretty good at advertising on social media. I think it was attractive because of the good weather; it was kind of fun being outside and flipping tires.
Can you explain a little about what someone coming into the gym can expect?
When people contact me, I always respond in the same way: I tell them about the style of classes I offer and I try to assure them we are a gym for everybody. People who are seventy years old, lots of moms, university students, whoever – it really is for everyone. That part of it is huge because people can be intimidated just walking into a gym and seeing a chin-up bar and a bunch of barbells. There’s an ‘Oh God, I don't know what to do with that thing!’ response sometimes. So that's number one. I let people know this is a place for all levels of fitness. I try to give people an idea of the general vibe and the back-and-forth banter. We also work around injuries; I explain that the classes are accessible regardless of fitness level or ability. I always encourage people to try a class, because everyone that’s done one has joined the gym, but one day there might be someone that tries it and says ‘You know what? This is not for me!’ and that would be totally fine! I don’t want anyone getting stuck in something they don’t actually want to do. When it’s someone’s first class there’s a fine line between giving them too much attention – where it’s almost embarrassing – and giving them just enough, so they know you’re watching. I want to make sure they’re doing things properly, or in a way that’s challenging, but also make sure they’re not going to be dead the next day. People should feel sore, but not like ‘I can’t ever go back to that place!’ For the most part, I get it’s my personality that’s attractive and the reason why a lot of people like to work out here – and that’s why I do the job that I do – but it's also about all the other people who come to this gym that make it fun and such a cool place!
Why did you decide to set up your business in South Delta?
I used to work as a bar manager for Original Joe's on Broadway in Vancouver, but they tore it down, so I lost my job. After that I went to Europe for a bit and when I came back, they offered me a general manager position in Richmond, which had me commuting from Vancouver. Then I just woke up – what was I doing? My partner at the time lived in Tsawwassen, so I moved to South Delta. Once I got here, I realized the community would be really easy to network in. I hated the restaurant job and I thought I should try personal training again because it's what I actually like to do. And it's so hard in a big city because you're just a drop in the hat; how would someone know you're better than the next eighty trainers? But in Delta, you're one of a few and if you do your job well, you build a good reputation. For me, it just kind of exploded!
I haven't spent a single cent on advertising – not one! It's amazing. It's all been word-of-mouth. I’ve also tried to be good about sharing lots on social media, using appropriate hashtags, and following the right people. They follow me back and share things, and all of those small moves help. Social media is free advertising! I took a course in marketing your business via social media a few years ago and learned a few helpful things. I get really good feedback about my social media presence from new people that come into the gym. You'd be surprised at how many people say something like ‘I just started following you because my friend follows you and now I can't stop watching your stories! I wanted to come to your gym because it looks like everyone's having such a nice time!’ You don’t have to make crazy TikTok videos; in my experience people just like to see regular people working out to music and having a good time.
What are you most proud of in your business?
The programs for teens are probably what I'm most proud of. I’ve always worked with high-level young athletes and done team dry-land training – which is sport-specific athletic conditioning and strengthening for improved performance and to reduce the risk of injury – but with my teen bootcamp classes, all the participants aren’t necessarily athletic. They're just interested in learning about fitness and building confidence. It's just such a good-feeling program and one of my favourite parts of the week. I'm glad I put the effort into doing it; it’s been really rewarding. It was a little bit painful at first, like herding cats, but now that everybody knows me, and I understand them and how to coach them better, it improves every week. It gives these kids confidence, especially at that age, to feel they are successful at something. Plus, it’s making them healthy and strong and supplying good endorphins. Sometimes it's more of a mental benefit than a physical one. And maybe they don't know it – but we do!
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