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North Barbell: Masters of Movement

Walking along the 1000 block of West Dauphin street, a few blocks north of Temple’s campus, there is a nondescript set of three row homes lined with red bricks. The residence in the middle of what used to be a large carriage house has a mailbox with a sleek-looking letter ‘N’ painted in white and leaning on an angle. That ‘N’ stands for North Barbell: a soon to open gym which teaches the shared philosophies of competitive weightlifting and yoga.


Exterior of North Barbell./Thomas Weir

Chris Taylor and Tessa Johnson are the co-owners of North Barbell. Their club focuses on open format training and structured group classes with professional coaching and programing.

The business partners live together in the house above the gym. Taylor is a former Marine turned registered nurse and Johnson is a yoga teacher who is currently in the application process of a PHD program at Temple University for Psychology of Movement. Both have committed to making this gym their passion and career. Between them, the shared mentality, his a focus on weightlifting and hers on yoga, is all about movement and controlling the human body.

“Those who tend to make small, ‘safe’ life changes usually come up short over and over again,” Taylor wrote on his fitness blog. “Maybe they’re too afraid to leave their comfort zone. Maybe they’re afraid of their own success. Maybe they don’t actually want what they say they want. Whatever the hold-ups, they’re too timid to take that bold move.”


Chris Taylor./Thomas Weir

Shortly after high school Taylor joined the Marine Corps. He served his time, got out and then entered nursing school. He described being at school as the first time he really excelled at something he was truly committed to.

“I never really thought of myself as a smart kid. I was always getting B’s and C’s in high school.” Taylor said.

But then he graduated from nursing school with a 4.0 and realized it wasn’t hard for him. He did well because he actually liked and had a passion for it. This success excited Taylor and he wanted to see how else he could excel with this newfound ability and confidence. He found an outlet in competitive olympic-style weightlifting.


Standing tall at 6’2’’ he was recruited by the crew team at Rutgers University where he attended college. Strength training and conditioning for rowing introduced essential lifts and techniques to Taylor. After school, he was introduced to competitive training through CrossFIt and then he was hooked.

He moved to Philly around this time and trained at a CrossFit gym in Northern Liberties. He did that for about four years, then he got into coaching. He spent the next four years developing the program that would become the ethos of North Barbell.

“[N]ow I realized I can do it on my own, I don’t need someone else to host me. I can do it the way I want to do it.”

Johnson is applying for the Psychology of Movement PHD program at Temple. The focus of her studies coupled with Taylor’s knowledge of the human body gives the couple a scientific edge.

“I think, basically, by getting the scientific background and really trying to figure out the nuts and bolts of what makes humans move and move efficiently and move heavy weight, is the best way we can help our athletes.”


Chris Taylor./Thomas Weir

How important is mixing the practice of yoga to competitive weightlifting?

“It’s absolutely vital for the weightlifters that compete for me. I make them go to yoga. Even 15 minutes before bedtime they are doing stretches. To be an elite athlete that is the stuff you have to do—whether you want to or not.”

“If you have a barbell on your back with 400 pounds you’re going to have to borrow some of those movements that are found in yoga.”

Taylor chose this non-commercialized section of north Philadelphia as the location for his gym because it’s a relatively underutilized area for this type of business. “It’s tough because [the market] is so saturated.” Taylor said. “Temple is the untouched part of Philadelphia. And with Temple being so great at athletics, I think it’s a great market to tap into.’

Because the couple lives above the gym, their overhead cost is relatively low. Anytime someone wants to come in and get some personal hands-on training either Taylor or Johnson will be there. Gyms often make money on the members that don’t show up. At North Barbell, they don’t need 100 members who sometimes show up. They need ten that really care.

Taylor is seeking two different types of people. The first group are competitive weightlifters. North Barbell is sanctioned and licensed by USA Weightlifting (USAW) and Taylor wants to create a national or international level team of olympic weightlifters through the training program. The other group of people Taylor is seeking are athletes or regular people trying to get an edge on their fitness.


/Jordan Cordner

Personal training is expensive and most people can only afford a trainer for one day a week. But that one day isn’t going to show results. If you could do two or three days a week, that would give you a vastly greater experience. This is what Taylor wants to offer, “Personal training is hard. It costs a lot of money. What I want to do is create a package that’s affordable. All I need is enough to turn the lights on and turn the heat on to keep the place running.”


Taylor on his Triumph motorcycle./Thomas Weir

On Friday, February 12, North Barbell will host their Grand Opening party at 1023 West Dauphin Street.

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