There are no soft workouts at Fit2Fight, a Troy gym exclusively for women. Women walk out covered in sweat with bruises all over their shins from kicking the bags, and actually learn kickboxing and self-defense techniques. They punch. They kick. They lift. They kick ass.
For a woman who wants to get a good workout, options can be bleak. There are yoga classes, and yoga is great – it builds your strength and balance, increases your flexibility and stamina, and improves mental health and overall wellness.
But what if, as a woman, you're less interested in the Lotus Hip Lift and more interested in lifting weights? Do you go to the gym, just to end up feeling like you're on display? Do you go somewhere that's just for women, where the equipment isn't much better (and sometimes worse) than what you would find at the fitness center in your apartment building; where the circuits are unfocused, and there is no progression training? (But hey, there's plenty of pink!)
Thankfully those days of women being relegated to yoga classes or Curves if they don't want to deal with the hassle of mixed-gender gyms are over in metro Detroit, because now there is Fit2Fight Studios
Fit2Fight is a Troy-based training studio that provides integrated full-body workouts that combine a mix of kickboxing, cardio, strength training, nutrition coaching, and personal instruction. There are punching bags and boxing gloves, free weights, barbells and weight sets, studio cycles, PRx racks, and more to give a well-rounded workout that targets all muscle groups while strengthening the heart and teaching kickboxing techniques. It is designed for all body types and levels of fitness, and it is exclusively for women.
Bianca Bahri, owner of Fit2Fight
When Fit2Fight owner Bianca Bahri would work with female clients in mixed-gender gyms, she would see how uncomfortable they felt there. The weight section was always male-dominated, with the implication that it was the "men's section," "like how boys would be separate from girls during recess," she says. "I realized that the women felt uncomfortable and exposed. Even fit women with great bodies that they worked so hard on felt uncomfortable as well because they felt objectified at the gym. I was seeing it from both sides from every different type of women. These women want to train in strength and don’t want to go to a yoga studio; they want to do what men do."
She even witnessed men videotaping women while they were strength training. But she reached her breaking point when she was stretching in a sauna at a gym and overheard three men speaking inappropriately about her body, assuming she couldn't understand them (she could). At that point, she was done – Fit2Fight was going to be a place where women could go for a complete, intense workout without feeling uncomfortable.
"No woman should feel comfortable going to a place where we want to better ourselves," she says. "We want to give women a place to train as hard as they want to without feeling uncomfortable anymore."
Bahri has practiced martial arts since she was a kid but was never "too serious about it," she says. Then a friend of hers who was an MMA fighter convinced her to train at his gym with him. She didn't go with the intention of training to fight, but to get the benefit of the workouts.
"It was such an invigorating feeling to be secure in yourself because you knew a little bit of self defense," she says. "You learn a couple of chokeholds and trigger points. You walk with your head a little higher as a female, especially as a petite one. Plus I never had a better workout, so with those two things combined, why wouldn't you want to train there? I never felt more confident in myself as a female, in how I look and how I feel but also my strength."
Even so, and even though all the guys she trained with were supportive and respectful, she remembers feeling self-conscious. "I used to sit in my car in the parking lot and pep talk myself into walking into an all-male gym. You're a young girl, a young small female; it's still scary."
Bahri has been training in MMA since 2010 and has competed in Brazilian jujitsu, though her focus is not on competitive fighting. She holds a business degree from Northwood University, went to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to become a holistic health coach, and then became a certified fitness professional at Lifetime Academy. She knew she wanted to help people get healthy, but she also knew that, while nutrition is important, she needed to take a complete approach to wellness of the whole body. That holistic approach is incorporated into the daily classes, fitness challenges, and workshops at Fit2Fight.
"Group classes are designed so that you get every type of training that you need and all the rest that you need as well," Bahri explains. "One day is high-intensity cardio, then the next day is strength, then we have an active recovery day so that you're giving your muscles time to rest so you get a well-rounded experience."
They also offer nutrition coaching. Bahri emphasizes that it's not a diet; it's a lifestyle change. "I'll teach you how to be healthy and live a healthy lifestyle for the rest of your life. With all the confusing marketing no one knows what's healthy and what's not; we're taught to think everything is toxic and everything will make you sick. I will actually do grocery-shopping tours and show you the things you want to avoid and tailor your experience to what your goals are. No one diet works for every person."
Women training at Fit2Fight
But what is so exceptional about Fit2Fight is that, while it takes a holistic approach to fitness and wellness and also provides women a safe place to work out, it does so by training women the same way a fighter trains. There are no soft workouts here; this isn't about being dainty and delicate. Women walk out covered in sweat with bruises all over their shins from kicking the bags, and actually learn kickboxing and self-defense techniques. They punch. They kick. They lift. They kick ass. And the demand for this kind of fitness studio is only going to grow, thanks to UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion and all-time undefeated mixed martial artist Ronda Rousey.
Before Ronda Rousey became "world's most dominant athlete," the notion of a female fighter was laughable. Female fighters were too muscular, too masculine, too UGLY. They didn't look like women. A woman is supposed to be thin and curvy and beautiful, not tough and ripped. The answer to the question "What is sexy?" was Victoria's Secret, not UFC. But Rousey has won not only every single match she's ever fought, but the respect and admiration of men and women alike – no small feat in a male-dominated sport that in all ways screams testosterone-fueled machismo.
"The game-changing thing Rousey did for us was showing that you could still be beautiful and feminine but be a tough martial artist at the same time," Bahri says. She reflects that it wasn't long ago when the concept of a woman fighting or a woman lifting was taboo. "Now little girls want to be MMA fighters."
Fit2Fight is in no way limited to those with fighting backgrounds or aspirations, nor is it exclusively a "kickboxing gym." It is heart-rate-based interval training, using sensors to track your heart rate and what "zone" you are in during every point of your workout (the fat-burning lower zones or the high-intensity cardio zones), which, with regular attendance, tracks the strength of your heart so you can actually see your heart rate get stronger along with your body.
"We're not only a kickboxing studio; we're so much more scientific and well-rounded," says Bahri. "Essentially the name means you're fit enough to be a fighter – you have the strength of a Ronda Rousey because you train like her. Our classes are kickboxing and strength and everything all combined, where women can be together, inspire each other, have camaraderie and be a family."
And they do this without relying on a palette of pinks and purples or cursive fonts – the studio is all black and lime green, with classic steel weights. "Pink and purple are not the only things women can associate with. We like black and lime green too!"
Bahri is already thinking of opening more locations and expanding her current location, along with her head fitness director Ben Pauli, who has fought professionally as an MMA fighter and holds a degree in exercise science focused on cardiac rehabilitation and biomechanics. He has a decade of coaching experience, specifically working with women and making them feel comfortable while still pushing them to push themselves.
"Women don't know how strong they can be," he says. "They can be just as strong as a man in relation to their body weight."
Pauli wants to offer self-defense seminars in the future, to further help women feel confident and safe.
With the growing popularity of MMA in general and female fighters specifically, the demand for a concept like Fit2Fight has the potential to grow exponentially. "If you look at industry trends, with the new popularity of Ronda Rousey, high intensity interval training and strength training is already on trend to get huge," Bahri says. "It's the new thing to do now – women want to lift and punch things, and it's great. They should be able to."
Fit2Fight Studios is partnered with Sweat Angels, which donates to a different charity partner each month for every Facebook check-in.
A version of this story originally ran in Prosper, an online newsletter covering economic development in Oakland County.