ST. ALBANS — Nate Yandow took ownership of Duke’s Fitness Center knowing exactly how he wanted the gym to stand apart.  

“I wanted to have a more well-rounded approach,” Yandow said, standing in the Swanton Road facility’s aerobics area on a Tuesday afternoon. 

“It wasn’t just about moving the body. It was about fueling the body, and even the mental approach, which I’ve been learning more and more over the past decade.”

In conversation, Yandow kept coming back to what he called “the mental approach” — training the mentality of those seeking fitness at the same time as their bodies.

“A lot of times … people will come in and be like, ‘Just put me through my basics.’ … People will say, like, ‘I need to get in shape. I just need to lose ten pounds. Just tell me what I need to do.’”

But Yandow said that only works for “a very small percentage of people,” in his experience as a fitness trainer.

“There’s emotions that get in the way. … It’s almost about learning about what makes you tick.”

As a trainer, Yandow said, “I need to figure out what connects with you. What drives you. Everybody has different things that drive them.

“We need to remind you of what the ‘why’ is.”

Yandow said he’s constantly imagining new ways to get people into the gym.

That could mean child care — Duke’s offers child care by appointment for those who feel they can’t get to the gym due to caretaking roles. 

The population Duke’s serves already seems as diverse as Yandow’s approaches to reaching out. It ranges from people transitioning from physical therapy to students in after school and summer programs to local seniors, some more than 90 years old. (MICHAEL FRETT, Messenger Staff)

Or it could mean online classes. Duke’s offers its own original app including exercise videos put together by Yandow himself.

“I just want to try to reach as many people as I can,” Yandow said. “You’re not honing in on one type of age group, or demographic, or one type of person.”

The population Duke’s serves already seems as diverse as Yandow’s approaches to reaching out. It ranges from people transitioning from physical therapy to students in after school and summer programs to local seniors, some more than 90 years old.

An equally diverse schedule of classes is a draw. Duke’s class schedule, posted online at dukesfitnesscenter.com/classes, includes spinning, tai chi, mindfulness and meditation and Rail City Boxing. 

Yandow seemed excited about Rail City Boxing, in particular the — here’s that word again — diversity of its students, including a 10- and a 13-year-old. 

“They’re doing incredible,” Yandow said. 

Both began boxing within the past year. And both won their most recent tournaments. 

“Typically they laugh at us when they see Vermont coming,” Yandow said. “They’re like, ‘We’re going to break these guys up.’”

One of the kids, a girl, knocked out a competitor after 45 seconds. Referees called a fight involving the other kid, a boy, after just two rounds.

“You don’t want to see anybody damaged,” Yandow said, “but the ability of their sport, or the fact that they were doing so well is [great].”

Yandow began working out at Duke’s as a sophomore in high school, just a few years after Duke’s opened in 1992.

He studied nutrition and exercise science at the University of Vermont with the hope of someday running a gym, before returning to St. Albans as a public health nutritionist for five-and-a-half months.

“The desk job just really wasn’t my thing,” Yandow said. 

A sign outside Duke’s advertises free babysitting for those who feel they can’t get to the gym due to caretaking roles. (MICHAEL FRETT, Messenger Staff)

So he put a business plan together for Duke’s in 2006, when the gym went up for sale. 

“From the time I knew they were looking to sell to the time I took over was about six weeks,” Yandow said.

“Scary, exciting and awesome at the same time.”

Listening to Yandow speak, it becomes clear that what makes Duke’s unique might be his individualized approach, especially when it comes to understanding why a person is out of shape, and using that understanding as a foundation.

“Somebody might be out of shape or just in bad places with their health because they’re just trying to push away people, or there’s just, maybe, so many stressors that have built up in their lives that their perspective turns it into, ‘I need to avoid that, so I’m going to eat. Because I don’t want to think about, or deal with it.’ So that just takes the blood flow from my brain to my stomach. Overall, in the grand scheme of things, [it] turns into more stress than it needs to be, but at the time it’s a distraction. 

“On the other side of it, you could have someone who’s an overexerciser and, again, that’s not healthy either. Maybe better than the other, but it’s a tough go either way.

“So you want to make sure they really find that balance in really connecting with self-love instead of self-hate or disapproval.”

Toward that end, Duke’s is open 24 hours, seven days a week. Most of those hours, Yandow himself is in the gym.

“There’s not many hours in the day I’m not here,” Yandow said.

And in that sense, Yandow is always working out — working out a balance between his passion for fitness, helping other people find theirs, and maybe, just once in a while, going home.