The Driving Force of North
Jan 03, 2018 12:04PM
Fitness and health trends come and go. One day you’re doing step aerobics to pop hits and the next you’re doing curls in a CrossFit class. So it’s a real testament to both his fitness principles and his business prowess that Larry North is celebrating more than 30 years of being DFW’s leader in the fitness world.
The affable North, still fit and muscular in his mid-50s, not only owns a nearly 30-year-old eponymous chain of health clubs around the Metroplex—including one in Westlake’s Solana development—but also has been hosting a radio show for more than 30 years. He’s penned bestselling books on living fit and even once hosted an infomercial that generated more than $150 million in revenue.
But he’s not celebrating three decades of success, nor did he reach this many years of success, by resting on his laurels.
“I never want to hear someone say, ‘I’m doing the best I can,’” says North. “You can always be better. You can be kinder, nicer, more caring. You can always eat cleaner, be more thoughtful.”
Fueled by family
In a way, North has his dad to thank for this drive and ambition. But Irv North certainly didn’t model this behavior. Instead, the younger North’s strength and mental fortitude developed from a tumultuous early childhood that included 10 different schools in four different states and ultimately a cross-country move to escape Irv.
Born in New York to Irv North and mom, Beverly, North had a childhood that was anything but idyllic. His father was a Brooklyn mobster, gambler and con artist. When North was 15 and his twin brothers were 5, Beverly took the kids and left town to get away from her increasingly abusive husband.
They headed first to Las Vegas, from which Irv had been banned, figuring it would be a guarantee that Irv wouldn’t follow. But Sin City wasn’t the kind of place she wanted to raise her boys, so they turned around to backtrack towards Houston. Beverly figured that Texas—which had no gambling—would hold little appeal to Irv.
Their car broke down in Richardson, Texas, though, and since their funds were quickly dwindling, Beverly decided to stay put. They found a motel in town until Beverly could get a job to support the family of four. North, though just 15, got a job helping to build pools so that he could contribute.
“We’ve lived in not-so-good places, but we went to good schools and had a roof over our heads,” North says of his teen years in Texas. “I never felt without.”
North’s dad not only drove the family away from the East Coast, he also, in a sense, was the driving force behind North getting involved in fitness.
“I got into [working out] at an early age,” North says. “I wanted to build my body up, to make sure I was big enough to protect my mom.”
How it all started
He started working out at Doug’s Gym in downtown Dallas when he was in his 20s, which he fit into long days that included selling shoes at Neiman Marcus during the day and acting as a bouncer for bars at night. (North admits that he has never, ever been unwilling to work hard.)
His epiphany came while watching the 1980s TV show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” “I saw Robin Leach interviewing a rich person who had a personal trainer and I thought to myself, ‘I can do that,’” North recalls.
His first client, albeit a non-paying client, was a guy who had walked into a near-empty gym at 4 a.m., when North was working out, then quickly walked back out. North saw the man, who weighed around 400 pounds, and felt compelled to seek him out and ask him why he left the gym.
North says the man’s response was that it was hopeless, why bother? But North wouldn’t have it. “I know what hopeless feels like,” North told the man. He made him a deal: Come to the gym every morning and North would train him. Within a year, the man had lost a couple hundred pounds and North had found his true calling.
“I realized I had a God-given gift, that I had the ability to inspire people,” North says.
He found success in training others one-on-one, but knew he could get his message of hope and health to many more people. His radio show came next, not because someone came looking for him, but because he called the radio station and pitched his idea. He got five minutes with the program director to make his case.
Afterwards, “I got a voice mail from him saying ‘The good news is we’re giving you your own show. The not-so-good news is that it’s at 7 a.m. on Sunday mornings.’”
Over time, he built a faithful audience (some current listeners, in fact, have been listening to his show since the early days) and got a better time slot. Buoyed by the success of his radio show, North turned to books next, writing Get Fit. Thirteen of 14 publishers rejected it, but ultimately, the book spent 156 weeks on the local bestseller list. This led to more books, which, combined with the radio show, the infomercial and the clubs he had started to open around town, turned North into a fitness celebrity—and a wealthy man.
Still going strong
He could have slowed down, cashed out or sold the business to leave the heavy lifting to someone else. But complacency isn’t in North’s being. Which is why, more than 30 years after he got his start in this industry, he is busy opening the doors to a new Larry North Fitness facility: a modern, updated space in Preston Center compete with a graffiti mural and a group fitness room tucked behind glass garage doors.
At his side is his wife, Brenda, to whom he has been married for 12 years and who helps keep North grounded. Brenda is a meditation expert, Reiki master and massage therapist, the perfect complement to the high energy and driven North. He now meditates every day and is, in his words, a lot mellower than he was in his 20s.
They also push each other to eat clean and stay healthy. “We pinkie swear to each other that we aren’t going to overindulge,” North says.
In fact, these days North’s diet has changed, evolving not so much with any diet trends but rather with what someone his age needs, or needs less of. “I’m not as obsessed with eating eight meals a day,” North says. Instead, he focuses on “clean eating,” which includes lean proteins, fibrous vegetables and healthy fats. He says he has reduced his intake of complex carbohydrates significantly.
He also, as one might guess, works out every day, from 5 a.m. until 7 a.m. His workout involves walking on the treadmill for 45 to 60 minutes at a medium to slow place and then lifting weights for the second hour. Unlike some of the fitness trends that have come and gone, his workout hasn’t changed much over the years. Still, he’s impressed by the number of choices people have today when it comes to fitness, with an endless array of classes such as cycling, yoga, cross fit and more.
“It’s more fun to exercise now,” North admits. “Even workout clothes are more fun today.”
North’s days are also filled with business obligations, including his radio show, chain of clubs, work with BioTE Medical as a spokesperson. He and his wife also spearhead the Optimal Living Initiative—which offers speakers and advisers on health awareness issues such as nutrition and fitness, meditation and stress management—for Satori Capital, a Fort Worth-based private equity firm. And he continually makes it a priority to connect with other people. Just like he connected with his first personal training client and just like he connected with program manager to get his own radio show. It’s no wonder North attributes the ongoing success of his clubs to offering something a little more than do the myriad competitors that come and go.North sums it up succinctly: “What makes us thrive is our culture. We care about people.”