When Iron Warrior Gym first opened in 2011, J.J. Stepien was simply hoping to create a gym that would allow him and a small group of other dedicated lifters to pursue their strength goals. Seeking to escape the downfalls of overly-posh and mainstream commercial gyms, Stepien formed Iron Warrior Gym to accommodate lifters like himself, who seek a more serious training environment.

“In the beginning it was more to build a place that my friends and I would like to train,” Stepien said. “We were tired of trying to train at big-box, commercial gyms and wanted to build a community of like-minded individuals that desired a unique gym atmosphere and sense of camaraderie and competition that produced results.”

The desire for such an environment for physical training, as many former athletes share, often develops from the void left when competitive team sports are no longer an option. After high school and possibly college, many young adults who spent nearly 20 years in team sports experience a sudden and abrupt cultural shift. The social and support systems they have grown accustomed to are now absent from their lives.

It is out of this shared experience that Iron Warrior Gym grew.

“As a former athletes, I missed the more serious environment of ‘iron sharpening iron’ and the closeness that comes with battling for a common goal,” Stepien said. “Once that foundation was laid with a really great core of initial members, word of mouth kicked in and there turned out to be an extensive subculture that was looking for the exact same thing.”

This business philosophy has worked well for Iron Warrior Gym, who recently picked up an additional owner to help Stepien with operations and expansions for the facility.

“Seth Lee leads by example and his discipline and intensity are contagious,” Stepien said. “As a result, more and more of our members are interested in competing in powerlifting.”

iron warrior gym

In addition to the ongoing growth of powerlifting members at Iron Warrior Gym, the facility also hosts a multitude of other strength and conditioning disciplines. The athletes and clients include a wide range of interests, from young athletes to master lifters.

“We have athletes ranging from 13-year-old cross country champions to record holding men that have been powerlifting for over 40 years,” Stepien said. “Our initial business plan centered around a specific group of specialized athletes but, over time, the diversity of our membership increased exponentially and it is one of the most satisfying aspects of the gym.”

This membership diversity, according to Stepien, is part of what makes owning Iron Warrior Gym such a unique experience — an experience that is shared with the members of the facility.

“It may sound overly sentimental, but it really is amazing to watch cops train with ex-cons, finding common ground while giving each other a hard time,” Stepien said.

With the variety of goals and fitness history of the members of Iron Warrior Gym, Stepien and Lee had to find a training philosophy that would work for all clients. They used their own understanding of strength and conditioning to help craft a system capable of helping any aspiring athlete or fitness enthusiast.

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“We incorporate variations of the big lifts (squat, bench, deadlift, and overhead press) with most, if not all, of our clients,” Stepien said. “Auxiliary movements are then based on our clients’ goals and weaknesses. If our clients ask us why we’re doing a particular lift or rep scheme and we can’t answer, we’ve failed in our programming.”

In programming their clients, Stepien and Lee will take a specially designed template and then adjust the training based on specific physical adaptations. While giving respect to the efficacy and usefulness of training templates, the trainers at Iron Warrior Gym place greater emphasis on molding the training to the physical responses of the clients. This specialized programming is at the core of what makes Iron Warrior Gym members successful.

iron warrior gym

“We encourage our athletes to lift heavy consistently, but you have to listen to your body,” Stepien said. “If you’re feeling it and having a good day, let it ride and shoot for the moon even if your program calls for a lesser percentage. If you’re mentally or physically drained, get your number on your main lifts and go take care of yourself.”

Within this system of self-regulation, Stepien claims that the most important aspect of training at Iron Warrior Gym is the competitive drive that helps all athletes motivate one another.

“We try to encourage an atmosphere of competition,” Stepien said. “Everyone’s numbers are up on the board for all to see.”

This subtle display of personal records has a profound affect on the performance of the facility’s members.

“Everyone wants to be the alpha dog,” Stepien said. “Having a competitive atmosphere while also being encouraging and respectful to all levels has been one of our best accomplishments.”

The Facility

Carrying out Stepien’s vision for Iron Warrior Gym started with acquiring a building to house the gym. Restricted in options due to an increasingly active and price-driven warehouse industry after the recent Coloradoan legalization of recreational marijuana, Stepien opened his 3,000 square-foot facility in 2011 and got to work.

“We’ve had to be very selective with the equipment we choose, as the footprint of every piece counts,” Stepien said. “Our place is relatively long and narrow, which offers a great alley to do our conditioning inside. This allows us to use the prowler, rickshaw, and yoke, which are used very often.”

The prowler in particular, Stepien claims, is a vital component of the training at Iron Warrior Gym.

“The prowler is by far our best conditioning tool with a ton of diversity,” Stepien said. “It’s great to see clients progress from being completely tanked after two repetitions the first weeks to piling on plates and sprinting with it after a few months.”


Stepien backs up his claim that the training philosophy of his facility is centered around big barbell movements by outfitting Iron Warrior Gym with multiple platforms, benches, and racks. These are amongst the most frequently used pieces of equipment in the facility.

“Our platforms and racks are used extensively,” Stepien said. “The sumo base on the racks are a necessity and the monkey pull up bars on the racks get used very frequently”

This equipment, in conjunction with specialty bars such as the SS Yoke Bar and the Texas deadlift bar, is a key to prolonged, injury-free progress, Stepien claims.

“Having these tools, among others, is a must if you want to be able to accommodate every level of lifter, injured or not,” Stepien said. “It is the best way to circumvent existing injuries and overcome weak areas.”

With such care given to their facility, Stepien and Lee refuse to hire trainers that do not align with the mission of Iron Warrior Gym.

“The decisions to bring on independent trainers presents unique challenges,” Stepien said. “Will he or she respect athletes, the other members of the gym, and the safety and health of the clients? Are they in line with our philosophies and project the image we wish to portray?”

Stepien and Lee have no reservations about conducting the coaching themselves rather than leave it in the hands of under-qualified trainers.

“The best trainers we have encountered are those with the most practical experience, either through powerlifting competitions, college athletics, or other real-world work, rather than those with a three-ring binder full of certifications,” Stepien said.

Practical, first-hand experience is at the foremost of Stepien’s mind when considering a trainer’s effectiveness with clients.

“Not at all to downplay advanced degrees and certifications, but people know if you are genuine and care about your craft by your experience, personal health, training, and how you prepare and treat your clients,” Stepien said. “Not [from] a bunch of letters after your name.”

For more information on Iron Warrior Gym, visit their webpage at www.ironwarriorgym.com or their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/IWGYM.

Iron Warrior Gym
1610 W Evans Ave, Denver, Colorado 80110
(720) 560-0348

Some elitefts™ equipment at Iron Warrior Gym