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Fitness, Friendship, and Wellbeing: The Community-First Approach

Vrtus, a team and partner based gym in Sydney, is creating a community one workout at a time

Your phone buzzes on a Friday afternoon – it’s your friend, texting to cancel those plans you agreed to ‘pencil in’ last month. Your first reaction, you notice, isn’t disappointment, but relief. You were too tired to socialise tonight anyway. Your friend, also sitting on their couch scrolling through TikTok, probably feels the same. But pushing through that end-of-week exhaustion to go out and catch up is meant to be good for us, right? So why is it so hard? 

It’s unfortunately a common feeling – the inner battle between knowing that you should prioritise social connection, but often just not feeling up to it. Especially in the Australian winter, it’s easy to get stuck in a cycle of opting out and staying in solitude. Unsurprisingly, the result is a widespread feeling of loneliness.

In 2023, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared loneliness to be a global health threat and recent research by Swinburne University revealed that 1 in 2 Australians report feeling more lonely since COVID-19. This growing sense of isolation significantly impacts both mental and physical health, making it imperative to find ways to reconnect with people. But it doesn’t always have to be by going out on a Friday night. In fact, one of the best ways to find social connection is at the gym.

“We’ve noticed all the cafes in the area are filled with Vrtus members pre and post sessions. This is what we’re most proud of – the relationships that have started from  training together at Vrtus and have continued to grow outside of the gym,” shares Rawson Kirkhope, co-owner of community-based Sydney gym, Vrtus, which opened in 2021. 

Vrtus Group

This blend of fitness and community is unsurprising, given the rising popularity of run clubs as the new social circles in 2024. It’s becoming more common to ask for somebody’s Stava, before getting their number, and in Sydney, you can’t go to a beach or park without navigating massive groups of people exercising together. 

Kirkhope, along with Vrtus co-founders Hamish Young, Paul Wilson and Luke Woodcroft, aims to encourage more of this connection in their gym. 

Now across two locations, the Vrtus co-founders are championing a fresh, community-first approach that delivers expertise and support for total beginners all the way through to elite professional athletes. Importantly, the gym’s philosophy centres on the belief that true fitness encompasses more than just physical strength. 

“Community is our biggest ethos,” Young says. “A lot of our staff and our members in Bondi are from interstate or overseas and are away from family. We try to create a safe and welcoming environment for everyone.” 

By creating a supportive space, Vrtus promotes not only physical health but also mental resilience, through the addition of a recovery centre with saunas and ice baths. Plus breathwork, yoga and meditation classes. This unique approach to fitness is evident from the moment you step into their facility in Bondi, where a sense of camaraderie is palpable. 

“When we opened the gym, just out of our second lock down during the pandemic, we knew how important community and connection were for physical and mental health,” Young says. 

Vrtus’ approach includes team and partner-based workouts designed to build friendships and encourage peer-to-peer support. Kirkhope and Young believe these programs help members grow in confidence and celebrate each other’s achievements. “We design our programs to build community,” Kirkhope explains. “We’ve noticed members really embrace this, it’s really cool to see members help their fellow team members through workouts and celebrating each others’ wins.”

Vrtus Group

“It’s more than just a place to exercise, it’s a sense of community where you feel like you’re part of a family rather than just a gym,” shares Katie, a current Vrtus member. “It covers strength and conditioning at all levels, that always makes anyone new feel welcome. They have created such a safe environment that’s nothing short of supporting,” adds Madeline, another longtime member. 

For these members and more, the magic comes from training with new people who align with their mindset. “It can be especially beneficial for those who may feel isolated or disconnected from their current social circles,” Kirkhope shares, adding that “you’re surrounded by like-minded people who share the same values, interests and goals as you.”

When it comes to goals, the gym isn’t about flooding Instagram feeds with body-focused ‘before and afters’. Instead, they focus on performance results that people can feel good about. “There’s so much pressure on individuals these days with a lot of our lives online. Social media is a great tool, but it puts so much pressure on people,” Young says.  

“We prefer BBQs, fundraisers, and in-house competitions over weight loss challenges.” Sign us up. 

Based in Sydney? Visit the Vrtus website and join their fitness community today.

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