Aaron Vanderwall’s goal is to separate himself from the pack. As the owner of Elevate Strength and Conditioning, Vanderwall works in the competitive fitness industry. He leases a 550-square-foot space inside the 10 Sports Centre and brings a personalized approach to fitness.
Vanderwall’s fitness career started in college. He loved sports and was fascinated by the human body, leading him to earn a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from the University of Minnesota in 1999. Unable to find a full-time fitness job after graduation, Vanderwall went into the family business at the Minnetonka Drive-In in Spring Park, a lake-area institution.
He spent more than 10 years bouncing around the corporate and food world, but never felt satisfied. He coached soccer and worked on corporate wellness for one employer, but he wanted to make his passion for fitness a full-time gig. So in 2010, he returned to school and received his master’s degree in applied kinesiology from the University of Minnesota, which led him to found Elevate Strength and Conditioning that same year.
After working part time out of local gyms for two years, Vanderwall plunged into full-time self-employment in 2012, opening his current location at the dome. As is the case for most small businesses, it took a while for Vanderwall to find his niche, but he eventually focused on three core areas: sports performance, women’s weight-lifting and tactical training.
“My main focus has always been sports performance,” Vanderwall says, “helping athletes be better athletes by staying healthy on the field and getting them ready for, and better at, their sport.”
For the tactical training, he is hoping to work with police officers and firefighters on strength and endurance in order to help them better serve the community. “My dad was in the Air Force, and I was very close to going to the Air Force Academy,” Vanderwall says. “Working with police and firefighters is also a small way of giving back to the community.”
While the tactical work is a nice specialty, there’s been a boom in his other focus area: weight-lifting for women. Overcoming the stigma many women attach to weight-lifting can be a challenge, but the benefits are numerous.
Now many of Vanderwall’s clients are athletes like Hannah Berg of Long Lake, who’s entering her sophomore year at the University of North Dakota, where she plays softball. She trained with Vanderwall all through high school. “I gained a knowledge of the weight room,” Berg says. “When I got to college, a lot of people hadn’t done the same kinds of exercises. I was able to work hard and have this extra knowledge that allowed me to see gains.”
Another client, Alisha Wacholz of Eden Prairie, had struggled with self-image and weight and had tried all the usual fitness classes. She wanted something different.
“I really like his mentality,” Wacholz says of Vanderwall. “He wasn’t telling me to lift light weights, which so many other people preach because they think weight-lifting will make you bulky.”
With Vanderwall, Wacholz “threw around the heavies.” When she first started working out two years ago, she could barely lift a 45-pound bar. Now, she can deadlift more than 215 pounds. “I felt proud to have curves that I worked for, and it is such an amazing feeling to know what I have accomplished,” Wacholz says.
No matter whom Vanderwall is working with, he loves getting to play a role in his clients’ success. He says, “Stories like Wacholz’s are what I’m most proud of.”