As the first light of dawn painted the late autumn sky in hues of pink and orange, Chris Brandt embarked on a serene, early morning drive. This attorney-by-trade embraced the abnormally quiet road that mirrored the stillness of the hour. Getting across town easily, he arrives quickly at his gym, Maximum Performance Physical Therapy & Fitness.
Stepping inside, the gym hummed with quiet energy and the confident anticipation of an invigorating day ahead. A few people were already fully engaged on elliptical machines and exercise bikes. Others, like Chris, began to stretch and warm up for Maximum Performance’s Functional Fitness class.
Functional Fitness is a meticulously crafted, dynamic program with the goal of enhancing functional movement. Tailored to accommodate individuals of every fitness level, exercises are adjusted to suit each participant's capabilities and pace. Rooted in the core principles of strength and conditioning, Functional Fitness classes are engaging and lively, steering clear of excessive technicalities. The program encompasses a diverse range of equipment, including barbells, bodyweight exercises, and more. Every athlete is equipped with an advanced training document that enables real-time tracking of their progress. This straightforward and efficient digital tool empowers each athlete to gauge and document their daily advancements in every workout.
The engine behind Function Fitness is lead instructor Brenton Leighow, MS, CSCS. A certified strength and conditioning coach with a master’s degree in Kinesiology, Brenton cares for clients by providing personalized support, motivation, and guidance. A strength and conditioning coach, especially one focused on Functional Fitness, plays a crucial role in helping individuals improve their physical performance and overall health.
For about an hour each day, at either six or seven AM, five days a week, Brenton carefully studies the movement of each athlete. With a smooth and steady – yet stern – voice, he can make anyone from elementary school to the golden years respond. That same voice constructively offers technique suggestions throughout the hour, while helping to move the class along. Each day, his focus remains simple: maximize motion and movement for a better quality of life.
“I would say it really comes down to movement proficiency,” he says. “We do a lot of things to work on mobility. Some days are fairly simple movements, other days are a little more intense as we’re training different energy systems. Today’s a little more of a lower body. Tomorrow’s going to be a little more of an upper body. Then, we’re going to get into a total. Beyond that, recovery is key.”
Beyond seeing a better quality of life for people through movement, Brenton has another set goal: pain-free living. “I want everyone in this class to be able to do things without pain outside of here,” he sincerely exclaimed. “For example, a couple of the people in here right now had different pains when they came in, and now look at them. I'm not saying that this fixes everything, but when addressing everything that is wrong with somebody, and things are done right, you can achieve a pain-free life in most cases. Every case is a little bit different, but through stressing the body, the body's going to adapt to stressors because of that stress.”
His motivation for teaching movement for pain-free living is further spurred on by the fact that he is now a father himself. “Imagine if your kid asks you to go play with him and you tell him, ‘I can't, my back hurts. Go play with someone else's dad.’ How would that feel, not to be able to play with your kid? That's one of the big reasons for me now. My daughter is six months old. I couldn't ever imagine not being able to do something with my daughter. I always want to be able to do something with her.”
Brenton keeps that same energy throughout the day as he gets ready for the afternoon’s Performance Training class. Catering to athletes spanning from middle school to college, Performance Training focuses on areas such as strength, power, speed, agility, and balance – all to help younger athletes maximize fitness for sports.
One such athlete includes Manhattan High senior, Reagan Neitzel. A dedicated softball player, Reagan has been enrolled in the Performance Training class since her freshman year. “I wouldn’t be anywhere as an athlete if it wasn’t for Maximum Performance,” says Reagan. “I didn’t really know my full potential until they really taught me how much strength I have. I’m always pushed to do one more rep, and if I were working out by myself, I don’t know if that would be the case. They push me to get better every day.”
With aspirations of being a college softball player next year, Reagan knows she’s going to have an advantage. “I feel very prepared going into college next year. I know this will make those workouts half as hard, and I’ll be able to do stuff that some others won’t.”
A lot of how both Brenton and Reagan feel about their missions at Maximum Performance mirrors the vision of founders Scott and Stephanie Johnson. Both Kansas State graduates, and physical therapists themselves, they really wanted to provide a specialized product of continuity from physical therapy to fitness. At the time, structured elements such as functional fitness and high-intensity interval training programs, like Crossfit, hadn’t quite evolved yet. However, they wanted to move in that direction and provide a space where people could do those types of activities.
After finishing college, they began their careers in Colorado, before eventually moving back to Manhattan to start their own practice. In 2002, Maximum Performance Physical Therapy & Fitness opened at 426 McCall Road. A second, physical therapy-exclusive location would open in west Manhattan at 4201 Anderson Avenue a decade later. The 10,000-square-foot main location, which recently went through a big renovation in 2022, offers three different types of classes, personal training, and equipment for independent workouts. Beyond the gym space are private physical therapy treatment rooms that offer dedicated space for individualized sessions.
“I really like the aspect of being able to work on getting better. Whether it’s injury related, or surgery related,” says Stephanie. “Then, taking just that small specific thing, and being able to grow it into ‘what is my overall health like’? How can I turn that hardship into something changes my life and makes me better forever? That’s one of my favorite things about Maximum Performance.”
Leading us back to the finish of the morning Functional Fitness class, and near the water fountain with Chris Brandt. As he stands there relaxed and covered in quickly drying sweat, he is officially fully focused for the day. He’s relaxed in this moment because of the workout, and because he knows he has plenty of time to get home, shower and be at work by eight AM. He loves these early morning workouts because you’re left feeling accomplished on the day already, no matter what happens with your professional life. He does, however, mention there is one exception to that: “It’s good - just as long as you don’t have to walk up too many stairs after a leg day like today!”
To explore Maximum Performance Physical Therapy & Fitness, get a free day pass, or sign up online, visit maximumperform.com
"How do you make something you didn't want, become one of the best things that's ever happened to you? You take that first step into here" - Stephanie Johnson