Good Works and Workouts
New fitness app turns your body into an engine of change
It’s a given that exercise is good for the body and mind. But a new website and app called Calamity Gym wants to make sure that each time you exercise, others benefit as well.
Created by Mike Lyon, a Dallas-area video producer and kickboxing instructor, Calamity Gym features 32 workout videos ranging in routines from yoga to kettle bell to boot camp workouts. Each video is shot by Lyon and his crew exclusively for Calamity. Users work out along with the videos through their laptops, tablets or mobile devices and keep track of their progress.
There’s also a social component to the workouts, because exercisers can create private groups for friends, family and coworkers across the country to take part in the same routine.
“Calamity is this opportunity to turn your body into an engine of change.” — founder Mike Lyon
“Our culture is very mobile and social, so we expect to have everything on our phone,” Lyon says. “We wanted to add that to fitness and leverage the technology.
“If you want to be part of the group, you turn the camera on, watch the video on the screen and share with others," he says. "You can be spread about but still have that social community. In my class, that’s part of the fun; you’re sweating with other people. We’re taking what happens in brick-and-mortar gyms and putting it in your living room.”
But what really separates Calamity Gym from other online workout routines — and from most businesses in general — is that 25 percent of all its profits go to charity. After signing up for a membership, each user is allowed to pick the charity he or she would like to support. While video production and fitness are two of Lyon’s passions, it is this philanthropy angle that excites him most.
Lyon says the name is partly a nod to Wild West legend Calamity Jane and partly a reference to how a quarter of the profits go toward helping with “calamities” around the world, whether it’s a natural disaster where early responders have boots on the ground or a local women’s shelter.
“There are a lot of companies that give ‘a percentage of profits,’ and I like that,” he says. “That’s great, but it’s a little ambiguous. ... Giving should sting a little bit. If you have $10 million and give $1,000, there’s no sting. With 25 percent, there’s no way anyone can look at that and be cynical.”
Lyon says that the large percentage scared away some potential investors when he began working on Calamity three years ago. But he has found a dozen that believe in the mission as strongly as he does.
“Some of the investors I walked away from wanted their money back before we started giving,” he says. “That’s not what we do. The model shows that you can help people and still have a strong ROI. They’re not mutually exclusive.”
Since launching in September, Lyon says Calamity Gym has started strong but hopes to attract more users with updated content using instructors from across the country that have a following in their cities. He plans to shoot videos with Navy Seals from Carry the Load to provide a “Seals Workout” on Calamity.
But whether users hang with the Seals or just take part in the Desk Exercises series, Lyon says that using Calamity creates the opportunity to make exercise a less naturally selfish endeavor.
“Calamity is this opportunity to turn your body into an engine of change,” he says. “We all like the benefits of exercise, but it can be narcissistic and about me.
“Something you do every day can help a military vet or to help dig water wells in Africa or help kids get out of child prostitution rings. It takes something you do every day and gives it a bigger purpose.”