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The music is loud but the culture speaks volumes inside this Mayfield Heights gym

Phil Weeden, owner of Xtreme Compound Fitness in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, hypes up the class during an Xtreme Hip Hop step aerobics class on Monday, May 20, 2024.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Phil Weeden, owner of Xtreme Compound Fitness in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, hypes up the class during an Xtreme Hip Hop step aerobics class on Monday, May 20, 2024.

Most nights are noisy inside Xtreme Compound Fitness, and a recent spring Monday is no different. It might actually be louder than usual because the Mayfield Heights gym is celebrating its 11-month anniversary. Around here, they don't wait a full year to celebrate.

Everyone’s wearing black and yellow — the gym’s colors — and some even arrived two hours early for the 7 p.m. class.

This isn’t your grandma’s gym — unless your grandma loves hip-hop — which, at Xtreme Compound Fitness, some do.

“I be singing that music at home," said 63-year-old Aliyma Walker, a Cleveland grandmother who joined the gym when it opened in 2023.

Xtreme Compound was founded by Phil Weeden, who’s gained fitness fame for his Xtreme Hip Hop workouts that combine step aerobics with dance and music.

“It's driven by love, it’s driven by passion and it’s driven by happiness," Weeden said. "You know, everyone here walks in with a smile. They greet it. Everyone here loves fitness, so sometimes people are here all day and they forget where they're at.”

Weeden’s roots are in Cleveland, but in his career as a fitness instructor, he’s taught classes around the world. By using famous hip-hop songs in his workouts, he drew the attention of the original artists. Now, through the relationships he built, he’s able to book those artists for live performances at his gym.

For instance, Weeden's Xtreme Hip Hop class received a surprise drop-in from rapper Yung Joc in February. One minute, class-goers were locked in on their step routine; the next, the Atlanta rapper was slipping in through a side door with a mic in hand.

Other past guest performers include Dorrough, Chalie Boy and YoungBloodZ.

“I have a lot of contacts with artists, so I wanted to bring something that's never been done before," Weeden said. "I was like, 'Hey, listen, I do classes and I do they songs. Let me try to incorporate the artists to come in and give [gym-goers] a concert feel, make them think that they're not working out.'”

The gym's TikTok videos have amassed more than 5 million views, and commenters around the world have expressed envy at the Northeast Ohioans who get to work out to these artists.

“Concert and fitness in one?! Yeah this might be the new wave for real,” one commenter wrote.

“Oh yeah, I’m flying to this class,” said another.

A love for Cleveland

For Weeden, it’s all about putting Cleveland on the map.

“It's a beautiful feeling because I want the whole world to catch on to what we're doing here in Cleveland, Ohio," he said.

Phil Weeden is the owner of Xtreme Compound Fitness in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Phil Weeden is the owner of Xtreme Compound Fitness in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.

There are also health benefits to exercising to live music. Chris Faciana, manager of Cuyahoga Community College's sport and exercise studies program, said working out to upbeat music enhances the exercise experience.

"There are a couple different studies that are out there that found that if you listen to the right type of music during exercise, then it can increase your muscle endurance, which is good for any type of cardio type workout, or it could also increase your velocity and power, which is good for those resistance training type workouts," Faciana explained.

The music has to fit the listener, though.

"You have to really resonate with the music that's being played or it doesn't really affect your exercise performance," Faciana added.

Though there aren’t many gyms offering live performances, Faciana said he can foresee more gyms following the trend.

“It is taking the research that's been done with the music angle and increasing motivation, both before and during a workout. I can totally see that catching on," he said, adding that working out with others is also a good way to stay motivated.

Looking for community

Recent trends show more people have turned to group fitness classes at their gyms since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Faciana said.

"They want that kind of social aspect to working out," he noted.

At Xtreme Compound, members say the gym’s community is what keeps them coming back.

“I love the community and the family orientation that it brings. I find I'm able to be friends with people from different places that I would never be able to be friends with in smaller gyms," said Mechelle Watts, a 42-year-old Cleveland native who has followed Weeden’s workouts for years. She visits the gym four to five days a week and brings her 7-year-old son to the gym’s daycare.

Aliyma Walker, the grandmother from Cleveland, said that she goes where Weeden goes, because she loves his classes and the people she meets there.

“You just get with a group of women. They push you, they make you want to go harder in the paint and they push you to your highest potential, and it's like, no slacking because we all here together to work out," she said.

Weeden said he wants everyone to feel that sense of welcome from all 2,000 of the gym’s members.

“There's no intimidation when you walk into this room. You know, every time you come in, everyone is embraced by love," he said.

Weeden also wants to make an impact on the fitness community at a grander scale. Xtreme Compound will celebrate its one-year anniversary June 29 with a massive step aerobics class at the Huntington Convention Center in Downtown Cleveland. The event will also include guest speakers, vendors and more surprise performers.

There is a full room of weights and treadmills at Xtreme Compound for those wanting to avoid the loud crowds. Patrons can even come just for the café smoothies. But Weeden said whether people come for the live music or not, they’ll end up staying for the community.

Stephanie Metzger-Lawrence is a digital producer for the engaged journalism team at Ideastream Public Media.