Fitness Guru Ken Meeks
Retiring gym owner inspired thousands to get fit.
I know you just started reading this, but stop.
Stop and look at the picture next to this story. The picture of Ken Meeks – 65 yearold Ken Meeks, who weighs 240 pounds.
The Ken Meeks with muscles bulging from muscles. The Ken Meeks with 11% body fat.
Can you believe he used to be “skinny”? “Think of what 6’3”, 163 pounds would look like?” Meeks asked.
That looked like the Ken Meeks who was a wide receiver on Louisiana Tech’s 1973 NCAA national championship football team, before transferring to Northwestern State University.
“I didn’t know how skinny I was,” Meeks said. “When I got to college, I started working out. It really wasn’t until after college that the results started to show … I knew I needed to be stronger. I needed all the tools to be better. I kind of got addicted.”
That “addiction” turned into countless hours in the gym. Meeks figures he has worked out well over 10,000 times, doing somewhere between 4-5 million reps. Then, there are the countless hours Meeks spent owning a gym. Over the past 37 years, he has owned seven gyms in Shreveport- Bossier.
But not long ago, Meeks – known as The Godfather of Shreveport-Bossier fitness – got an offer he couldn’t refuse. So, Meeks is retiring, and selling his last gym – Plex Fitness, on Shreveport’s Meriwether Road – where it all started July 1, 1984.
“It was in foreclosure and bankruptcy,” Meeks remembered. “It was one of the ‘Fountain of Youth’ gyms when I got it. That’s the one that became Sport City, then Gold’s (Gym), then The Plex.”
Along the way, Meeks has trained men and women of all ages – from all walks of life. Several of those have gone on to own their own gyms. Competitors? Yes. Adversaries? No.
“You inspire other people, then they want to do what you’re doing,” Meeks said. “I guess that’s the ultimate compliment that anybody who owns a gym can get. You have your members who want to go out and do what you’ve been able to do your whole life.”
One of those was eventual gym owner Rick Brown. Nineteen years old and looking for extra money outside of working at General Motors and going to college, Brown started working part-time for Meeks, folding towels and cleaning showers.
“He took me in like a father figure,” Brown said, “and taught me how to run the business at a young age.”
Part of running the business was selling new memberships.
“He had me going to safety meetings at Wal-Mart,” Brown said. “We had to pick a couple of places every month to go. I had Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowe’s. I went to their safety meetings, whether they would be on a Saturday or early mornings. I would teach them about why you should be in shape. We started educating the city. It was crazy. All the sudden, somebody would come to the gym and say, ‘Remember you came to the Home Depot and showed me how to work my back?’ He (Meeks) ended up educating the people in the city. That little bit of extra time you spent with someone really went a long way.”
When Meeks first started in the gym business, he says Shreveport-Bossier needed educating.
“I think it was a little less than four percent (of the population) worked out, and something like 76 percent of the people hunted and fished,” Meeks said. “Still, 76 percent of the people probably hunt and fish, but we’ve got a little higher number on the workout part.”
Being in the fitness business has not been easy. As a gym owner, you are always looking to increase membership – replacing those who leave.
“Most people don’t get into it before they quit,” Meeks said. “If you were selling bodies instead of selling the tools to get the body – if you were selling fitness instead of the tools to get the fitness – I would be the wealthiest man in the world.”
Another hurdle Meeks had to overcome was hospitals opening – and promoting – their own fitness centers.
“You had unlimited money with the hospitals as far as their advertising budget, and there we were struggling,” Meeks said. “We couldn’t put a billboard on every corner.”
“They were looking for a patient base when they got into the fitness business,” Meeks said. “They didn’t get into the fitness business because they love working out. They got into the fitness business because it was patient-based. If these 5,000 people join our club, they’re going to join our hospital.”
But none of that is Meeks’ worry anymore. Now, instead of “working,” he can concentrate on working out.
“That next morning (after the sale), I will be right there in the same place I have been for the last 37 years.”