Kaizen is a Japanese word that means “improvement” or “change for better.”
It most often refers to a business philosophy that focuses on the interplay of essential elements: teamwork, self-discipline, open communication, and continuous growth. This holistic ideology doesn’t aspire for quick, dramatic changes, but requires patience in knowing that small gains eventually add up over time.
For Zach Golden and Reid Warner, this is also the guiding principle for the members of their studio, Sanctuary Fitness. “It’s easy to walk into a gym and to get a decent workout and to see results,” says Warner of his class-based fitness studio that launched in downtown L.A two years ago and in Pasadena more recently. “We want to give our members something more—a sense of community.”
In a town that has its share of superficial interactions, Sanctuary attempts to add an emotional component to their experience. Small nuances, like supportive coaching, positive messaging, and relationship building within their classes contribute to it. “At the end of a class we try to have some encouragement that you can take with you and apply to your life,” explains Golden.
Don’t expect to take a call or snap a filter-perfect selfie at the downtown Arts District studio. No phones are allowed during the personal-training style circuits where strength, power and endurance are progressively built upon each week in group classes designed for multiple ages and abilities. Hands-on instructors walk around the room, correct form, and thoroughly explain each exercise in an obstacle course of stations that include everything from Bulgarian bags to kettlebells to resistance bands and battle ropes, to name a few.
While some LA gyms are focused on aesthetics, Golden explains that Sanctuary is not fixated on the surface. “We’re not interested in what you look like without your shirt on—we want to know if you feel stronger,” he says. “We’re thinking about your mental state and how you challenge yourself physically changes your mindset in the rest of your life. We want to be your daily multivitamin for your mental health.”
"We’re not interested in what you look like without your shirt on—we want to know if you feel stronger"
Golden understands the connection between the mind and the body on a personal level. Working out became his sanctuary after being suddenly laid off from his job as a project manager at Beach Body in 2015. Thrown off course professionally, he became determined to turn a nascent group fitness class idea he had once planned to pitch to Beach Body management into his own business.
This passion project took 10 months of research and drafting business and marketing plans, as he also navigated staffing, brand identity, and real estate logistics. The Texas native met the Ivy-educated Warner, a fellow entrepreneur with a series of successful startups under his belt, at a pivotal moment. “The timing was great because I was ready to rock and roll, but I needed a business focused partner,” Golden recalls.
Warner, a former multi-varsity athlete and enthusiast of strength training and group fitness, was drawn to the unique approach. He is still excited by it today. “Weight loss or physical health stories are a dime a dozen,” he says. “We are working to be truly meaningful in people's lives.”Photography by William Callan. Story by Sandra Nygaard.