How Bev Francis’ Powerhouse Gym became the most legendary bodybuilding center on the planet.
BEV FRANCIS NEVER WON THE MS. OLYMPIA CONTEST, THE MOST COVETED TITLE IN ALL OF WOMEN’S BODYBUILDING, ALTHOUGH HER CONTROVERSIAL SECOND-PLACE FINISH TO LENDA MURRAY IN 1991, AN EVENT TELEVISED LIVE BY ESPN, MADE HER THE BIGGEST ICON IN THE SPORT.
The rivalry between the “mainstream” physique of Murray and the highly developed body of Francis went on to further define a debate—immortalized a few years prior in Pumping Iron II: The Women, which pitted Francis against Rachel McLish—which has raged for generations. It cut to the heart of the meaning of femininity, of double standards between the sexes, of whether society was ready for the advent of strong, powerful women who refused to bow to the expectations of others. It also made Francis synonymous with strength and a hero to bodybuilding purists everywhere.
In the midst of Francis’ competitive heyday, she and her husband, IFBB judge and former competitive powerlifter Steve Weinberger, opened a small, unassuming gym in Syosset, NY, a suburban hamlet near Long Island’s North Shore. Weinberger made a fateful decision when he named the 5,000-square-foot space, purchased with the help of a home-equity loan, calling it Bev Francis Bodybuilding Gym when it opened its doors in 1986. Just like that, a hallowed lifting locale was born.
“Bev’s name was already synonymous with hardcore training,” Weinberger says. “Opening a gym had been a dream for us both, and we were excited to take this big step. We worked very hard and very long hours, and the gym grew slowly and steadily.”
Getting the word out on their new facility became part and parcel of an already-busy schedule, as Francis continued to compete while the couple promoted contests. “We started promoting the Bev Francis Classic Bodybuilding show in 1988, which developed into the Bev Francis Atlantic States Bodybuilding, Fitness, Figure, Men’s and Women’s Physique, Men’s Classic Physique, and Bikini Championships,” Weinberger says. “Bev was competing every year in the Ms. Olympia, and many of the members would go to watch her, especially when the show was held in New York City from 1987 to 1990.”
2015 IFBB NY PRO, LEFT TO RIGHT: Victor Martinez (2nd), Steve Weinberger, Juan Morel (1st)
Those fans began flocking to Bev’s to soak in the sights and work on their own physiques. “The hardcore training atmosphere was attractive to competitive bodybuilders and other devoted trainers, and the gym quickly became the place for those interested in the competitive side of the sport,” Weinberger notes. “We designed the gym to be accommodating for the committed lifter, with a large number of training pieces for every body part, and made sure to be open every day with long hours, because from our own experience, we knew that serious trainers hate to miss workouts.”
Dexter Jackson winning the 2016 IFBB NY Pro
From very early on, pros from the local area made their way to Bev’s. “Albert Beckles, who was the Mr. Olympia runner- up to Lee Haney in 1985, was a good friend and was the first big-name pro to be a regular in the gym,” Weinberger recalls. “Early regulars also included Mike Ashley and Jim Quinn.” Famous icons from other walks of life joined as well. Tap dancer, actor, and singer Gregory Hines was a regular visitor and was actually the very first member.
That growth continued in 1990, when the gym expanded and was rebranded as Bev Francis Gold’s Gym. In 2005, the club—at that point already renowned—became Bev Francis Powerhouse Gym. Now 30,000 square feet, it boasts a full range of physique-sculpting equipment, including five squat racks, seven bench-press stations, IFBB-pro-friendly dumbbell racks up to 220 pounds, and a regulation-size boxing ring.
“Over the years, we broke down walls and took extra spaces until the gym grew into its current size,” Weinberger says. “We have lots of equipment and multiples of all pieces. We chose a variety of pieces from different companies, because every piece feels a little different. Our equipment comes from Cybex, Life Fitness, Hammer, Nautilus, Icarian, FreeMotion Fitness, King, Nebula, Precor, and Body Masters, to name a few. We also have a large cardiovascular area, again equipped with a variety of different machines.”
WHERE THE PROS GO
Yet it’s not simply the amenities that propel its popularity. As Weinberger says, it’s the atmosphere. Bev’s offers the opportunity to catch the world’s top amateur and pro bodybuilding competitors in their natural habitat, training all out in their quest for competitive success.
The men and women athletes who have walked through the doors make up a who’s who of the physique realm, past and present. Six-time Mr. Olympia champ Dorian Yates would settle in for a month before his title defenses. Four-time Mr. O Jay Cutler has heaved iron there, as has three- time Arnold Classic champ Kai Greene and 2007 Arnold Classic winner Victor Martinez.
LEFT TO RIGHT: Phil Heath, Steve Weinberger, Juan Morel, Hany Rambod
“So many great pros have trained in our gym, like Lee Haney, Flex Wheeler, Branch Warren, Kevin Levrone, Rich Gaspari, Sonny Schmidt, Adela Garcia, Anja Langer, Davana Medina, Iris Kyle, Cory Everson, and Rachel McLish,” Weinberger recounts. “More recent competitors visiting the gym include Dexter Jackson, Phil Heath, Evan Centopani, Marco Rivera, Roelly Winklaar, Jon Delarosa, Hidetada Yamagishi, Guy Cisternino, Flex Lewis, Tara Scotti, Mark Anthony Wingson, Latorya Watts, Camala Rodriguez- McClure, Candice Greene, Swann Delarosa, India Paulino, and Jennifer Hernandez.
“We are also proud to be the home gym for an elite group of competitors, including Kevin English—who is our morning gym manager—and Juan Morel, Maxx Charles, Arash Rahbar, Sadik Hadzovic, Matt Acton, Angelica Teixeira, and Juliana Malacarne.”
David Henry and Kevin English
Even WWE Superstars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson or Paul “Triple H” Levesque have stopped in to lift, as well as a number of players from the ranks of the NFL, NBA, and NHL. At any time, you could look up and find that you’re repping out a set of dumbbell presses or barbell squats alongside a superstar.
The drive to excel is palpable. Visit and you’re almost guaranteed the workout of your life. Once, a workout of eight-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman busted right through the front doors of the place, as he took a pair of 125-pound dumbbells into the parking lot for his famous leg-day finisher, the walking lunge. The mighty Texan strode 100 yards to the street and back without a pause, as Weinberger recalls.
2013 IFBB NY PRO WINNERS, LEFT TO RIGHT: Sadik Hadzovic (Physique), Jose Raymond (212), Yeshaira Robles (Bikini), Juliana Malacarne (Physique), Candice Keene (Figure), Mamdouh “Big Ramy” Elssbiay (Open)
AN IRON BOND
With such feats of strength a common sight at Bev’s, those among us of more standard might and build might walk in with a sense of trepidation. Yet, as Weinberger is quick to point out, those who frequent Bev’s create a communal ambiance, not an inhospitable one.
“No one’s here to be social,” he once admitted to Muscle & Fitness during an interview about Bev’s. “But everyone’s friendly, and everyone helps one another out. Bev always gave help to anyone who needed it, and that same spirit has lasted through the years.”