Tennessee Fitness Spa - An Affordable Weight Loss Camp

affordable weight loss camp
1/1/2002

By Angela Wibking - Nashville Scene

At one time or another, anyone with a few pounds to lose has given some thought to checking out of real life and into a fitness spa. After all, leaving behind the routines that plumped you up in the first place and devoting yourself to exercise and nutrition under the watchful eye of trained fitness professionals seems like the ideal way to jump start a weight loss program.

The weekly fees at most fitness destination spas, though, put the average bank account into starvation mode. A week’s stay at San Diego’s legendary Golden Door last year, for example, cost $5,725. At the Canyon Ranch in Tucson, the weekly rate is $4,330. Of course, those rates include accommodations, meals, use of spa facilities, dozens of different daily fitness activities, hiking, biking, swimming, health and fitness assessments, cooking demonstrations, and nutrition programs. The cost of airfare to California or Arizona, alas, is not included. 

Then again, you could book a week at the affordable weight loss camp at the Tennessee Fitness Spa, the only fitness destination spa in the state, just 95 miles southwest of Nashville. Retired real estate investor Joe Shaw and his wife Nancy opened the Tennessee Fitness Spa in 1991 with the idea of providing an affordable fitness spa experience. The all-inclusive fitness resort is easily one of the lowest priced destination spas in the country. “You can lose just as much weight at our spa,” says Shaw. “It’s kind of like the difference between staying at the Ritz Carlton and a Red Roof Inn--you’re going to sleep at both places.”

Despite Shaw’s comparison, the Tennessee Fitness Spa is far from the spa equivalent of a budget motel overlooking the interstate. Situated on 100 acres just outside the little town of Waynesboro, the spa’s setting is as scenic as Middle Tennessee gets. A highlight of the property is the Natural Bridge, the only known double span natural bridge in the world. The rock bridge is bordered by Forty-Eight Creek, a crystal clear stream teeming with fish. Another natural area on the spa grounds is the Ice Cave, which boasts an interior temperature of 58 degrees year-round.

“Back in 1933, a Memphis cotton broker decided to build a fishing lodge here,” says Shaw. “The resort was very successful until I-40 came in and took all the traffic from Highway 64 with it.” The property went downhill despite repeated efforts by various investors to turn it into a country music venue and other tourism-based ventures. “It had been vacant for about seven years before we bought it,” recalls Shaw. “The roofs of the buildings were down on the floors, there had been floods over the years, there was no grass--it was a real mess.”

Shaw had grown up nearby in Lawrenceburg before moving to Alaska as a young man. There he met his wife, raised a family and made his fortune in real estate over the next 25 years. He had fond memories of spending Sundays as a child canoeing with his family on the creek at Natural Bridge and in 1990, while passing through Middle Tennessee, he paid a visit to his old stomping grounds. “Looking around, I thought, ‘well, this could be a spa,” Shaw says. Though he’d been to fitness spas himself over the years, Shaw admits he didn’t know the first thing about running one. “I did know that there weren’t many inexpensive ones that middle-class people could afford,” he says. He did some research and eventually patterned Tennessee Fitness Spa after the now-defunct National Institute of Fitness in Utah. “We’re not a pampering spa,” Shaw says. “We’re more a boot camp spa.”

That translates into comfortable but sparse accommodations in modern, chalet-like cabins. Each cabin has four bedrooms, all with private baths, and a shared porch.  For slightly more upscale accommodations, there’s the two-bedroom Penthouse with living room, kitchenette, TV/VCR, telephone and washer/dryer.

Spending much time in one’s room isn’t really an option, given the daily schedule. You’ll be eating breakfast promptly at 7 a.m. and hitting the trails for a 2 - 10-mile hike by 8 a.m. Next, you’ll head to your aerobics/circuit training class at 10:45 a.m. After a break for lunch, your afternoon might include a nutrition/fitness lecture followed by a step class, weight training, walking and aqua aerobics, After dinner there’s another educational lecture, perhaps a round of volleyball or maybe a cooking class or film. You’ll be doing all this on 1200-1400 calories of low-fat, low-sodium food a day, with a vegetarian option available. “Most of our guests are ready to call it a night by 8:30 p.m.,” says Shaw with a chuckle. If you do have any energy left, or want to work through those hunger pangs, the fitness center, racquetball court, weight room, junior Olympic indoor heated pool, sauna and hot tub are at your disposal.  There are also three TV lounges and, of course, that copy of War and Peace you’ve been meaning to finish for years. For additional fees, guests can indulge in various spa services including massages, body wraps, facials, manicures, pedicures and so on. 

The spa, which does little advertising, has received editorial coverage from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, USA Today and Essence magazine, which may explain why most of its clientele comes from out of state. “Atlanta is a big market for us,” says Shaw. “Chicago, Detroit and New York City are also very good for us.” The spa even has an international following: A man from Saudi Arabia with several pounds to lose stayed for six weeks recently and a flutist from Spain returns annually for her fitness fix. 

Tennessee Fitness spa operates on a Sunday to Sunday schedule and is open Feb. 17-Dec. 8, 2002. To reach the spa, take Interstate 65 south to Route 412 at the Columbia Exit (Exit 46). Follow Route 412 west to Hohenwald. Turn left on Route 20 and go one mile to Route 99 West. Follow Route 99 West about 20 miles to the entrance gates. If you’re flying into Nashville International Airport, the spa offers roundtrip shuttle bus service on Sundays. For a brochure or reservations, call (800)235-8365 or go to www.tennesseefitnessspa.com

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