Bells and Barbells trainer Katherine Bahlburg works exclusively with engaged couples
“I have a passion for fitness and for helping people.”
That’s Katherine Bahlburg’s explanation of how she is able to work 17 hours a day as a personal trainer and still be brimming over with energy, excited about the work she does and the clients she works with.
And while having a passion for fitness and for helping people may not be unusual traits for a personal trainer, it is Bahlburg’s clients that set her apart from the pack: She only works with men and women who have gotten engaged and are trying to get in shape for their wedding day.
Bahlburg moved back to Dallas a little less than two years ago and started her own business, Bells and Barbells Wedding Fitness a little over a year ago. She said with Bells and Barbells, she feels like she finally found her niche, and she has been going full speed ahead ever since.
The road back home
Bahlburg was born in Dallas, but, she said, “I never really grew up here. I never really made friends here when I was a kid, and I never really felt like I was from here.
“I’ve always been a nomad,” she said.
She went away to a boarding school in New York and from there, moved to Florida o attend the University of Miami and the University of Tampa. When she finished her undergraduate degree, Bahlburg headed to Arizona to attend graduate school. But her restless spirit nudged her out of Arizona, and she headed to California “to live on a sailboat for awhile.”
Then she moved again, this time heading across the Pacific to Hawaii where she planned to get a master’s degree in business administration.
“Then I dropped out to spear fish and sky dive,” Bahlburg said. “I had all kinds of jobs in Hawaii. For awhile I tried to do the corporate thing because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do — you know, the whole nine-to-five thing, with the briefcase and all. But that didn’t work. I worked in a Costco in Hawaii, where I had to wear this horribly ugly muumuu. I was a nanny for awhile.”
But through it all, Bahlburg’s passion for fitness stayed with her. She had been a competitive swimmer since childhood, and involved in Olympic-style lifting since college. In Hawaii, she became involved in cross-fit, and paddling “in old-fashioned canoes. She started coach and working as a personal trainer, too.
But the restlessness set in again, and Bahlburg headed back to the mainland, stopping first in Seattle because her father has a house there. From Seattle, she set out for Dallas, taking two weeks to make the trip stopping to work out at a new gym every day of the trip.
“I decided to come back to Dallas because, first of all, my parents still have a house here, in Frisco. The economy was good, and I felt like it would be a good place to be,” she explained.
At first, Bahlburg said, she was “all over the place. I would go to one place to teach rowing, then somewhere else for spin classes, then somewhere else for a different class. I was spreading myself too thin. And then one day, I woke up and I realized I was miserable working for other people. And that’s when I had a little mini nervous breakdown in my apartment.”
Finding her niche
That breaking point, Bahlburg said, was when it became very clear to her that what she really wanted was to operate her own personal training and fitness business. And she realized, like a bolt from the blue, that focusing her attention on training brides- and bridegrooms-to-be would set her apart and make her business unique.
“That was about 13-and-a-half months ago, and business has just been growing exponentially,” Bahlburg said. She has been steadily adding new clients, helping each and every one reach their wedding day goals.
But, she added, as much as she helps them, her clients have helped her, too.
“Every single client has added some incredible element to this whole thing,” Bahlburg said. One client helped her write up a business plan, another has helped with marketing — and the list goes on.
“I believe that light attracts light,” Bahlburg said. “You help others, and others will help you.”
Another aspect of Bells and Barbells that sets Bahlburg apart from other personal trainers is the network of vendors she has built, something that gives her clients added value for their money. Bahlburg explained that when she first started out, she tied business cards to little pink barbells and took them to every business she could think of that newly-engaged couples might visit — everything from bakers, to florists, to wedding venues, to photographers and more. And as they have helped her build her business, she has helped build theirs by referring her clients to the vendors in her network.
“My clients get a B-and-B membership card, and they can take that card to any of the vendors in the network and get a discount — on a cake, on flowers, on photos, just whatever,” she explained.
Bahlburg offers her clients a variety of personal training services, including three-month programs and six-month programs leading up to their wedding day. She also has a weekly free class for clients, encouraging them to bring someone from their wedding party with them to participate.
“Maybe you don’t know your future mother-in-law very well. Bring to my class with you, then afterwards go out to brunch together,” Bahlburg suggested.
And while she started out focusing on brides-to-be, she is branching out, offering training for bridegrooms-to-be. And it’s not just opposite-sex couples; Bahlburg wants same-sex couples to know she is eager to work with them, too.
She added that every client gets a workout personalized specifically for their goals. “They tell me what they want to accomplish. They bring in what they are going to wear for their wedding. They tell me what they want, and I create a workout to help them get there,” Bahlburg declared. “That’s why you see my clients just crushing their goals.”
For Bahlburg, clients often become family. She is often invited to their weddings, and many want to continue training with her beyond their wedding day. To make that possible, she said, she has come up with #FitHubby and #FitWifey.
“Even though I work mainly with people who want to get in shape for their wedding, it’s not just about getting fit for the wedding. It’s about helping them get fit for the rest of their lives,” she declared.
Katherine Bahlburg’s Bells and Barbells Wedding Fitness business is growing so fast, that she is planning to open her own studio soon, in a space on the eastern edge of the gayborhood. She also plans to add personal trainers to her staff “so maybe I can have a day off now and then.”
Bahlburg said she plans to hold auditions at the end of May for trainers to join her business, and hopes to open her studio in June or July.
For more information about becoming a Bells and Barbells client or trainer, visit Bahlburg’s website, BellsAndBarbells.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 6, 2016.