COVINGTON, Ky. -- Despite being an athlete, Stephanie Tieman struggled with her weight growing up. At one point in college, she carried 185 pounds on her 5-foot, 6-inch frame.
"I was strong. I ate clean. I worked out, but I never felt good," said Tieman, who's now 36.
It wasn't until she was in her early 30s that she learned she had severe allergies to pollutants and found that proper nutrition was the key to her health.
That experience informs much of what she does now at CoreStrong, the Covington group personal training studio she started in September 2014.
Inside the 9,500-square-foot former warehouse at 812 Russell St. are punching bags, water-filled rowing machines, a rack full of free weights and straps for TRX training. Here members do cardio, yoga, bar exercises, rowing and other group fitness classes in which every workout is designed by Tieman.
They can use heart monitors to keep their hearts beating at the ideal rate for them and help the staff personalize the workout. They can also hop on a treadmill to have their metabolism tested to find out how many calories their body really needs, Tieman said.
What you won't find at CoreStrong are the wall-to-wall mirrors that are omnipresent in other studios.
"We want people to come in and be comfortable, with no one judging them," Tieman said.
Independence resident Amy Schworer, who's been a member for about a year, calls CoreStrong a no-judgment zone. She and her husband, Marc, have worked out at other gyms, she said, but there's something about CoreStrong that's "infectious and fun."
"I love the instructors … and the welcoming environment," she said.
As a side business, Tieman has also developed a program called Core Healing from the Inside Out, which teaches clients how to eliminate all the inflammation in their bodies through diet and exercise. In this case, core doesn't just mean the muscles around the abdomen but also one's spiritual and emotional core.
"If you're sick on the inside, based on stress … no matter what you do in the gym, you won't succeed," she said.
Her approach seems to be catching on. CoreStrong now has nearly 300 members, she said, and average month-over-month revenue is up 21-22 percent over last year.
She'd like to learn how to franchise the concept and open more CoreStrong studios, as well as buy out her partner, who keeps the books for the business. It cost about $150,000 to buy all the equipment and start this studio, she said.
Her desire to go it alone prompted her to join the latest Launch class at Bad Girl Ventures, a Cincinnati business accelerator for women-owned enterprises. She hopes to learn how to handle financials and write a new business plan. She's confident that since she's made money with CoreStrong, she can borrow money to expand.
She'd also like to put her nutrition program online and take it to doctors and hospitals, she said.
This isn't the first business she's owned. She has been a personal trainer since graduating from Thomas More College in 2001, and before CoreStrong, she ran a successful Boot Camp Challenge franchise. But owning and running CoreStrong has taught her a lot, including the importance of letting go.
"I learned to ask for help," she said. "It's a big challenge to let someone else teach a class."
She's also learned that simpler is better.
"Being innovative is great, but sticking with what you know and perfecting that has been a key to what works here," she said.
And, finally, she has to let go of the purse strings, too.
"You have to spend money to make money sometimes, and that's hard, especially for a small business," she said.