Going Strong
At Platoon Fitness, members benefit from a tight-knit community of achievers dedicated to lasting and continual change
by Debra Wallace

When Todd Scott attended an outdoor boot camp-style class run by Mike Smaltz, he was looking for a challenging workout. He certainly got what he came for, but he also found a lifelong friend and a business partner.

It was the summer of 1996. Smaltz had recently returned from running a wellness division in the U.S. Navy, and he was looking for his next adventure. He started by offering three-week Saturday morning classes to help people put down their doughnuts, get off their couches and get moving—using an approach that had old-fashioned, military-style discipline at its core.

At the time, Scott was in Delaware selling airtime for his family’s business, Great Scott Broadcasting. He went to one of Smaltz’s first classes, embraced the community atmosphere and began thinking about how he could apply his know-how to helping a new business soar.

In what now seems like kismet, they decided to collaborate in an effort to change other people’s lives. That’s when Platoon Fitness of Philadelphia, a life-altering fitness boot camp, was born.

Shortly after the outdoor classes started, Platoon began offering personal training. The first brick-and-mortar location opened in 1998, when they rented a room from a Pilates studio in Rosemont. Today, nearly 18 years later, Platoon has three fitness center locations, one each in Bryn Mawr, Wayne and Center City Philadelphia.

“We say, ‘Here’s your body—here’s how to control it and own it,’” Smaltz says. “We don’t train people; we instruct them so they can do the workout at home or on vacation. They come back to us, because they want to be part of this community.”

In addition, Platoon builds, designs, manages and operates complete wellness programs for public companies such as CubeSmart and VWR International, as well as private companies including the country’s largest law firm.

Platoon’s first corporate wellness client, Radnor-based VWR International, went from 48th to third on the Philadelphia Business Journal’s list of healthiest companies in less than eight months. This resulted in increased employee satisfaction and decreased absenteeism, according to Scott, and it also lowered company insurance rates—all due to the increased engagement.

Amid the glut of other gyms and fitness centers, Platoon Fitness is known as unique. “We train the body the way it should perform and function in real life,” Scott says. “We don’t have plasma TVs, juice bars or spa facilities. We are Spartan. We want lasting, lifelong, continual change. The focus is premier customer service with constantly improving instruction.”

The credo that Scott, Smaltz and their team of 18 highly trained instructors live by can be summed up in the acronym “CANI,” which stands for “Constant and Never-ending Improvement.” They help members do the same by building a community rooted in four core values: structure, discipline, accountability and sacrifice.

The program starts with a $25, one-hour personal training assessment, which is “a work session rather than a talk session,” Scott says. “Our mission is to find out where your strength, endurance, mobility, flexibility, balance, agility and other points are, and then get a specific, measurable plan to improve, including nutrition.”

One of the issues encountered by many people who need to lose weight is the surplus of misinformation as it relates to health and wellness, according to Scott. “We feel they need an expert,” he says, “someone who has a strategy and supports them with a structure, as opposed to a protein bar, shake, potion, pill, shot, meal-delivery service or surgery. We don’t sell that stuff because it doesn’t work.”

The team approach at Platoon enables members to train with a “buddy”—meaning a family member or friend—free of charge. If, for some reason, a member is not satisfied, Platoon offers a 100 percent unconditional money-back guarantee for every program offered. But that rarely happens, according to Scott: “Many of the members who started training with us in 1998 are still at Platoon and remain close friends today.”

“It doesn’t matter how many pushups you can do or how fast you can run; it’s about creating a community that people really enjoy being a part of,” Smaltz adds. “Humans are pack animals and work well with like-minded individuals. It’s really all about the bonding.”

One exciting new endeavor is the “Transformation Challenge,” being supervised by Platoon instructor Jim McGoldrick. The first sold-out Challenge, which runs for six weeks, began on January 4. Fifty people, ranging in age from 20 to 60, signed up to compete in the event, and subsequent competitions will be offered quarterly.

The challenge will award $500 cash, each, to two winners—one male, one female—who lose the most weight and body fat.  The monetary incentive, though, is just one piece of the puzzle. Platoon will give each participating client a concrete plan on how to lose weight and keep it off, including individualized meal-by-meal nutrition plans, weekly check-ins and food journals. Competitors also receive a customized “homework” plan apart from the Platoon regimen, and they also benefit from access to instructors and a Facebook accountability group.

“It is very personalized for each member,” McGoldrick says. “We have a community through the challenge, which has been very successful in keeping them motivated.”

Steve Edelson, a Platoon Fitness member for 16 years, is one of the Transformation Challenge competitors. He started participating in classes at Platoon after his wife joined, and he was looking to jumpstart his own fitness routine while alleviating his back pain, but he discovered so much more.

“I have worked with Mike [Smaltz] twice a week for all these years, 100 times a year, and I’ve never had the same workout twice,” says Edelson, the owner of Just Chairs and Tables in Ardmore. “The Platoon environment keeps me moving and in shape. This keeps me incredibly accountable. At this point in my life, Platoon is like a second home.”

The community-oriented environment is exactly what Platoon sought to create from Day One. It’s also one of the reasons instructors and members alike have been so loyal.

“We want to help our clients to create lasting, lifelong, continual change, with their friend or family member cheering them on,” Scott says. “This is not just about losing weight; it’s about increasing energy, which starts with the first week when we help them change their diet and exercise. We truly believe this is about changing lives.”

Platoon Fitness of Philadelphia
899 Penn Street
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010

Photograph by Allure West Studios