Michael Johansson wants to give back to the fitness community by creating the ultimate training mecca.
By Mike Carlson
What does a vacation for normal people look like? Sitting by a pool. Fried food. Day drinking. That sounds okay for maybe 24 hours. After that, it becomes like a fat guy’s version of Groundhog Day: The cheap food, the lousy hotel gym, all that sitting quickly becomes a nightmare.
Michael Johansson has a different idea for how people in the fitness community—his people—want to spend their leisure time. The concept is essentially fitness tourism. His vision is embodied by Destination Dallas, a massive training facility that is to fitness what Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory is to candy.
Opened three years ago, Destination Dallas is 15,000 square feet devoted to the spectrum of physical culture. Elite-level bodybuilders and physique athletes train alongside pro football players, CrossFit’ers, powerlifters, and strongman competitors. In Johansson’s view, they are not separate tribes, but rather all part of the Iron Community. Passion and intensity are the common bonds and are far more powerful than the differences between how two people choose to lift weights.
“I describe Destination Dallas as a home for anyone who is serious about fitness and living the fitness lifestyle. Whoever you are, there is always an open-door concept with us,” Johansson says. “It’s all about the community and feeling included, and not excluded. No matter where you come from, we want to make sure you feel you are a part of something.”
The open-door concept is not just empty-marketing speak from Johansson. One recent evening, all members of the gym were invited to Johansson’s own house for a barbecue. Once a month, the gym hosts a morning activity and the gym sponsors a free breakfast for members.
The idea of a nationwide—even a worldwide—community of like-minded iron brothers and sisters is not new. The feeling of being connected to other people who share a fundamental passion is something that has always attracted Johansson. Destination Dallas is his way of taking that to the next level.
“Joe Weider had a platform that we all took part in,” Johansson says. “We utilized the magazines and everything he did in the early days. I felt like we were traveling on his road, which is fine, but we also want contribute with our own road. Everybody went to California and to Venice Beach, but we need to made some additions so that people who travel can live the lifestyle. This is our contribution to that.”
Another way Destination Dallas is solidifying the fitness community is by tearing down the superficial walls that athletes use to separate themselves from each other. Bodybuilding has always sequestered itself from strength sports. Gold’s Gym in Venice is the Mecca of Bodybuilding and has plenty of strong dudes there, but it’s no haven of competitive powerlifters and Olympic lifters. Johansson was a very successful bodybuilder, and his deepest passion lies with that sport. But he ultimately wants lifters of all types to comingle, share information, and inspire each other. The differences—powerlifters do a heavy three to five reps, while aesthetics-driven gym-goers do eight to 12—are nominal. The commonalities of intensity, love of exertion, and the drive to improve oneself are what really matter.
If someone is ready to unleash hell on the iron in any fashion, Destination Dallas wants to be their gym. With that in mind, they have outfitted the gym with nearly every implement and tool imaginable. The training area has two monolifts, multiple power racks, three deadlift platforms, dumbbells that go up to 200 pounds, and a menagerie of strongman gear. Chalk is not just allowed, it’s provided.
Destination Dallas is particularly well-suited for NPC and IFBB Bikini and Physique competitors. A microwave and refrigerator are available for convenient pre- and post-workout feedings. The gym has private posing rooms and even hold a weekly posing class for those looking to get onstage. Destination Dallas also houses an Ultimate Sports Nutrition shop for members’ supplement needs.
“Physique is very popular, and it is a natural part of our community. But diversity is very important,” Johansson says. “What we learn is to embrace everyone who’s serious about training. Not just competitors. It’s like half a marriage if you only have competitors. For a complete marriage, you need all kinds of people as long as they are serious.”
Johansson is the CEO of Swedish Fitness, which produces the popular clothing lines Gasp and Better Bodies. The two brands—gritty no-frills gym-wear from GASP, and fashion-forward aesthetics of Better Bodies—cover the gamut of fitness personalities. Johansson is devoted to servicing his customers, and that means his products must meet their expectations in both quality and authenticity. Destination Dallas—which contains a retail showroom for both apparel lines—is the perfect laboratory for testing his creations.
“For a long time, we’ve wanted to have some kind of facility where we could train ourselves and also use it as a workshop for product development of the clothing. People who join Destination are all ages and are in all directions in society—where they work and where they come from. It is an awesome platform to develop products for the future,” he says. “It’s a way of keeping it real. Products for consumers need to be real and come from the needs of the athletes and what they see as trends. This is an organic development of people’s interest and fashion.”
To better understand his customer, Johansson is interested in knowing more about the person than just their workout habits. For instance, Johansson competes in motocross and enduro competitions, and the desire to be a better rider drives his workouts. A community of people who share a love of fitness and motorsports has sprung up at Destination Dallas. Catering to the whole person is the next level of service that Destination Dallas aspires to deliver.
“We want to examine the person behind the gym-goer. What do you do when you’re not in the gym? What are you training for?” he asks. “Maybe they are preparing themselves for some cool adventure: wakesurfing or climbing mountains or doing street bikes or motocross. We have cool people in all kinds of directions. There are some cool people with cool jobs and interesting travels. That’s what we want to show.
Phases 2.0 And 3.0
The always-ambitious Johansson already has the next evolution of Destination Dallas in mind. He has secured the lease on the building next door, which would add another 15,000 square feet. This will possibly become a performance arena for the type of athletic and functional training done by football players, MMA fighters, and CrossFit competitors. Between the two properties is a 5,000-square-foot outdoor multipurpose area that can be used for strongman training, boot camps, or social events for members. Some of the new space will be devoted for the car- and motorcycle-enthusiast members as well.
First next door, and then the world. As a Swedish national living in Dallas, Johansson already sees the world as an interconnected and accessible space. Destination Dallas has spread its influence across the globe with body-transformation challenges that attract people from all over the globe. The next logical step would be to erect gyms in their own front yards.
“We see Destination in more parts in the word. We have friend of GASP and Better Bodies in Russia, Spain, China, and all over the place. There are endless possibilities of Destinations throughout the world,” he says. “We have a mission to transform the world into living a more fit lifestyle. That is our big focus. That is why we want to bring Destination to them.”
For may people, the idea of fitness tourism sounds like a bad joke. When they go on vacation, they want to get away from their gym and the obligation to exercise. What Johansson understands is that fitness is not a compartment that can be jettisoned from a lifestyle. It flows through our life, nurturing and feeding off the other aspects that together form the whole person. Fitness is not something we want to escape from. It’s akin to kindness, humor, empathy, or creativity. It’s a part of our very fabric. If that can be expressed or enhanced while travelling or vacationing, show us where to sign up.
“That is what unites us,” he says. “We want a serious environment, to have fun, be passionate, and inspire each other so we can be a strong community together.” IM