Intentionality is infused into every aspect of the new Meta Fitness Liberty Park, from the luxury gym’s accessible layout to the spa water literally infused with herbs from owner Hunter Freiberg’s garden.
And while camel leather exercise benches, warm bamboo-wrapped machines and other upscale touches (Did we mention the spa water?) certainly differentiate this place, it’s the people —both trainers and clients—who make Meta the truly unique place it is.
“We are intentionally making an effort for this gym to be welcoming, accessible and accommodating to all people,” Freiberg notes. Proving his point, Meta’s fast-growing client base includes neighbors from Liberty Park, as well as those who drive across town to work with the gym's elite trainers. Freiberg quips, “if you are a human being with a pulse, you can train at Meta Fitness."
After training at Meta for a few months, I’ve come to understand this is not an empty promise—this is a mantra and mission for Freiberg as he builds a diverse, elite, accessible—we’d even say inspired—fitness space.
How it happened
“If you are in the fitness community in Birmingham, especially in Mountain Brook or Vestavia, you are aware and know of Matt Crane and Meta,” Freiberg says. Not long after selling his previous business, the stars aligned rapidly, with many signs pointing Freiberg to partner with Crane and open a second Meta location.
“Matt has a respected brand. After one three-hour dinner at The Fig Tree, we had a handshake deal to open the gym,” Freiberg says. Fourteen months later, Matt Crane and his team stood shoulder to shoulder on Meta Fitness Liberty Park’s opening day.
“We love Liberty Park—our brand-new, gorgeous building in Cahaba Station has plenty of parking and great neighbors [EW Motion Therapy]. The pouring out of people from Liberty Park and Mountain Brook—and really all over Birmingham—has been astounding,” Freiberg says with a smile.
Meet Stephanie Southward
It takes about one minute of speaking to Hunter Freiberg to ascertain that he is an extroverted people person.
“The people are the key element, and all the right people showed up,” he tells me. “One by one, the right people just presented themselves.” He is speaking not only about Matt Crane, Mae Beth Sandlin and the gym’s trainers, but his clients. All clients seem to become part of one big Meta family, but there is one in particular who can regularly move Freiberg to tears.
Stephanie Southward was working out at another local gym when she found out about Meta. She was taken aback by the fact that the gym is outfitted to be accessible for people in wheelchairs. She has cerebral palsy, and her primary caregiver is her mother.
"The gym has been my haven, my church and my therapist, and Stephanie and I connect on that," Freiberg says. "My job is to help people see themselves the way I see them. I don’t allow negative self-talk in my presence. You are going to talk to you like I talk to you, at least when you are here for an hour! And let’s put systems in place so you start speaking to yourself that way on your own."
"She is going to become a certified personal trainer," he adds, beaming. "She will be our resident trainer for anyone who comes in here who has a physical handicap. She is going to bring in her own clients and create the training programs herself."
Freiberg points out that becoming a trainer will give Stephanie the confidence she deserves – and serve as inspiration for countless others. "It occurred to me that Stephanie hasn’t been a caregiver, and this is going to be her opportunity to care for others," he notes. "She has been dependent. Stephanie is so strong—she did a body weight pull-up the other day. That’s so inspiring, not only for someone with a disability but to any able-bodied person!”
Train in a spa-like environment
“Movement is what we wanted,” Freiberg says about the elements as you enter Meta—from the curved desk to the 11-foot waterfall to the chandelier that mimics water droplets. In working with local designer Mae Beth Sandlin, it was important to create a luxurious and inviting environment.
“I’ve been to Thailand and Bali, and I enjoy the calming energy of many Asian countries. I wanted to use natural materials like bamboo throughout the gym. Having the sound of water as you enter was intentional; everything was designed to put you at ease. For many people, the gym is an overwhelming place. Our aim is for people to walk in and immediately be put at ease,” Freiberg says.
Meta Fitness Liberty Park trainers
- Tray Davis
- Taylor Chambless
- Jamella Stroud
- Julie Van Hoy
- Jaiquan Crook
Hunter’s Voice All Stars
Trainer Jillian Torres had “always been an athlete—exercise and being active was a huge part of life,” but when her youngest child, Hunter, was diagnosed at age 2 with autism, her journey changed. Now, Jillian’s bigger purpose is “to live as long as I can.” As her son's sole caregiver, staying mentally and physically healthy is a top priority.
Jillian started Hunter’s Voice while living in Chicago. The organization, now a 501c3 supported by Meta Fitness, hosts workouts to raise money for children and adults with autism. The primary use for funds is to assist with “potty training boot camp” for families of children with autism, as potty training can be especially challenging for many children on the spectrum.
Hunter’s Voice also envisions creating a community and an outlet for the families of children and adults with challenges. "Often parents can feel isolated…their child might not get invited to birthday parties, for example” notes Freiberg. Monthly gatherings are kicking off this summer, and excitement is building for this new community resource. The vision for Hunter’s Voice—and indeed Meta’s overall vision—is one of building camaraderie, forming deep friendships and transforming lives for the better.