The last time you heard a Declaration of Intent, you were probably at a wedding. It isn’t often that someone makes a decision in life so important that there is a need for contractual definition of goals and the motives behind them.

For Jay Congdon and Max Cook, co-owners of Unreal Fitness in Grand Rapids, Michigan, though, starting a facility meant vowing to create an ideal weight-training atmosphere. Like a husband entering a lifelong union, Congdon and Cook wrote the Unreal Fitness Declaration of Intent that they now proudly display.

“We have a dream to open an honest gym which provides the equipment, community, and knowledge required to give our customers access to the best methods to reach their goals, be they aesthetic, athletic or health,” the declaration states.

With such a goal laid out, the remainder of the declaration details how Congdon and Cook intend to create such a community. Keeping these goals in mind, Congdon and Cook set out with their passion as the driving force behind everything.

“A passion for strength and fitness motivated us to open Unreal Fitness,” Congdon said in an interview Monday. “Normal jobs sucks.”

Normal jobs, as Congdon refers to, consist of anything outside of your personal life dreams and goals. If your occupation doesn’t fulfill you in some form, Congdon will tell you that you’re in the wrong field. For him, everything you do must have a purpose. This is why he opened the gym with Cook, who currently serves in the Coast Guard.

“I won’t do work that doesn’t have a purpose,” Congdon said. “Busy work is an easy way out of having to think for yourself, but I won’t do busy work and neither will someone in my gym.”


By these standards, the process of defining goals and accomplishing them is fundamental to everything Congdon does at Unreal Fitness. It’s also what the members of the facility also must do. Congdon and Cook make it clear in their Declaration of Intent that they will stop at nothing to succeed in the goals for their gym.

“Unreal Fitness is a dream which we will pursue with great sacrifice and tenacity until it is reality. We have already sacrificed our time and in no small way our freedoms for it,” they write. “Yet we are still willing to continue to sacrifice even up to the point where we would bleed for it.”

Since the posting of the Declaration and the opening of Unreal Fitness March 16 of this year, the facility has moved forward in each of its goals. Some of the expectations, such as the owner’s ability to teach his training philosophy to others, have been carried out as anticipate. Others, such as the client demographic, have included surprises.

“I expected a lot of guys who, like myself are sick of the commercial gym,” Congdon said. “We have a more diverse range, though. A lot of people touched a barbell for the first time in or facility.”

While the new-to-lifting population of Unreal Fitness is larger than Congdon expected, the facility also has a developed group of lifetime powerlifters.

“We have been graciously embraced by the local powerlifting community, which includes a bunch of guys who have a decade or better under the bar,” Congdon said. “We’ve even got a few who have defected from their CrossFit facilities.”

Congdon believes that the diversity of experience shared by members of Unreal Fitness is one of the great strengths of the facility.

“We have a lot of members who are powerlifters, who are strongmen, who are going into competitive CrossFit,” Congdon said. “Everyone wants to get stronger and that’s a good enough reason. Find your reason and then tailor your training to it.”


Having a clientele with such diverse experience and goals has required that Congdon and his partners develop a training philosophy that has a foundation in principles applicable to all physical or athletics pursuits. Vital to this philosophy, Congdon says, is the ability to remain injury free.

“My personal philosophy is to lift heavy things for a long time and not get hurt,” Congdon says. “After that, it really depends on their goals. For advanced athletes, the programming has to be more individualized.”

In order to individualize these programs, Congdon relies on his connections and well-educated trainers for advice. By aligning himself with individuals able to keep him continually learning, Congdon increases his own abilities while also passing on the knowledge to his clients.

“I take a lot of inspiration from trainers and programs who have done it longer and better than me,” Congdon said. “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.”

As part of Congdon’s process of consistent improvement for both his own knowledge and the gym’s environment, Unreal Fitness prioritizes usage of certain equipment, namely the power racks and deadlift platforms.

“The power racks are centralized and given plenty of space,” Congdon said. “I really wanted the power racks and deadlift platform to command space so when you’re training on the big lifts, you won’t get claustrophobic.”

When Congdon and Cook opened the 4,000 square-foot space, the co-owners wanted to ensure that all of the equipment was arranged in such a way to create the best possible training environment for his clients. His experience gave him a perspective that allowed him to see often-overlooked problems.

Unreal Fitness Prowler

“At other gyms, they’ll relegate the rack to a small, dirty corner way too close to some guy curling,” Congdon said. “The power racks are definitely most used here, so we treat them that way.”

Like the members of his gym, Congdon’s primary requirement for trainers at Unreal Fitness is not simply knowledge — it’s hunger.

“The most important thing for me is that a trainer has fire and hunger,” Congdon said. “If they’re motivated and have a desire to grow, they’ll fill the shoes no matter how big. “

Of course, that doesn’t mean that experience doesn’t matter.

“Have some sense about barbell training and not just being a rep-counting salesman is a must, too.”

In the coming years, Unreal Fitness aims to become the undisputed choice for best training facility in their Michigan region.

“Our goal is to get a lot of new members and make Unreal Fitness, in this location or another, the best damn gym for someone interested in well-reasoned training,” Congdon said. “We want anyone who is interested in training with the tools that are both time tested and scientifically proven.”

elitefts™ Equipment included at Unreal Fitness:

For more information on Unreal Fitness, visit their website