Don’t just join the gym

Peter Kraus built the 'right gym' for him
Don’t just join the gym
Patrick Stutz

The multibillion-dollar health and fitness industry feeds on New Year’s resolutions. Every January, memberships to gyms and weight loss clinics spike, running shoes fly off the shelves and grocery carts brim with fresh vegetables and packaged power bars. But according to a City Lab analysis of tracking apps like Strava and Foursquare, most of us are back to our old ways within weeks. It’s not that health goals are bad. It’s that we bite off more than we can chew.

“Starting off the year, make sure you set small goals. Don’t overshoot right away, because if you don’t hit it within a couple of days or a week, people give up really fast,” says Peter Kraus, owner of Peter Kraus Fitness in Middleton.

But that’s probably not how you know him. Kraus became an overnight celebrity as the charming Midwestern runner-up who famously stopped short of proposing on season 13 of “The Bachelorette”–in part because the big picture was more important to him than the fast win. Although he doesn’t regret declining marriage to a good woman after only a handful of dates, that experience taught him that he is sometimes too careful. Too afraid of making a mistake, which can hold him back from achieving his dreams. That’s what led him to finally make the leap in April 2019 and open his own fitness studio after more than a decade working as a personal trainer.

“Knowing this was a huge financial commitment and could destroy me if it didn’t work, rather than saying all the negatives that could happen, I focused on all the positives that could happen and just took that risk,” he says.

Kraus says health has been a lifelong passion, but he’d never found the “right gym” for him – so he built it. Peter Kraus Fitness is unique in that it is both a 24-hour gym and small class studio. The gym portion is stacked with top-of-the-line equipment, lockers, bathrooms and showers, and Kraus took special care in creating an aesthetically pleasing vibe with soothing tones, lofted ceilings and loads of natural light. The classroom space features an open-air glass garage door and rotates small groups through hour-long instructor-led cardio and strength classes, two classes in the morning, two in the evening. All levels are encouraged, classes are capped at eight people, and personal training is available as well. Members are greeted by name, either by the small staff or by Daisy, the 3-year-old rescue pit bull-shepherd mutt Kraus met while filming his “hometown date” episode. Keeping the vibe chill and the gym small helps members with accountability – another key to sticking with goals.

“It’s just a good-feeling space. I want people to feel comfortable. That way when they leave, they don’t feel beaten down. And when someone comes in after, say, three or four weeks off, we’ll recognize that and we’ll talk to them about where they’ve been,” says Kraus. “If people are constantly being forced out of their comfort zone and doing things they don’t like, they’re probably not going to stick with it.”

It’s not uncommon to fall into the trap of thinking if we only lost weight (or got famous, or went on a dream date) we’d be happy. But Kraus knows firsthand how empty those supposed successes can feel. He went to college to study nutrition and health after his modeling career led to unhealthy eating. “I actually fell into an eating disorder,” says Kraus, who notes that the disorder was never diagnosed and he has since referred to it as “poor eating habits.” He learned how to fuel himself and what healthy really means. He built his business in the Madison area because there’s no place like home (where old friends loved him before he had about half a million followers on Instagram), and his folks can watch Daisy when he travels the country every weekend leading boot camps in places like LA, Baton Rouge and Austin. And when he decided to go for it and open his dream business, his local network was here to support him. Cameras or no cameras, life is best lived one day at a time. If you really want to make a change, start small and be steady and consistent.

“At the beginning of the year, try a lot of different stuff,” Kraus says. “Find something you’re passionate about and set those small, incremental goals. Literally start with something like, ‘I want to add one more glass of water per day.’ Next week, ‘I want to add 15 minutes to my workout.’ Next, ‘I want to focus on sleep so I’m going to stop using my phone after a certain time.’ Then you have to maintain those goals, but if you add one small, truly attainable goal each week, it will start to add up.”