The strength training pioneer is dead

Werner Kieser died at the age of 80. The day before, the Swiss was still training in one of his fitness studios.

Werner Kieser

“A strong back knows no pain.” Everyone who has been to one of Werner Kieser’s fitness studios knows this sentence. The medical strength training program developed by the Swiss citizen and named after him has helped countless people to get rid of the pinch in the neck or shoulder. On Wednesday night, Kieser died of heart failure at the age of 80 in his home in Zurich. On Tuesday he visited one of his studios with his wife and business partner Gabriela Kieser, who was 20 years his junior. It was the last weight training session in his life.

It was by no means predetermined that Kieser would one day become a pioneer in strength training. He was a trained carpenter and ran an amateur boxing ring in the 1950s. He himself also knew very well how to use his fists. In one of his fights, he hurt his pleura painfully. During the injury break, the young, ambitious athlete met a Spanish professional colleague who, contrary to the doctors’ instructions, advised him not to take it easy, but to do targeted strength training. The method worked. Not only did Kieser get better faster, he got stronger, and that sparked his interest in this type of exercise.

The first studio opened in Zurich in 1966

For his first studio, which he opened in Zurich in 1966, the trained craftsman welded the training equipment himself from scrap iron. In the years that followed, he repeatedly demonstrated a similar spirit of improvisation when it came to overcoming financial bottlenecks, finding the right advertising methods or swearing customers to his training ideas. “I’m not a good manager, but I always wanted to be autonomous,” he said many years ago in an interview with the FAZ

Quite the inveterate entrepreneur, who did not let setbacks get him down, he liked to point out the mistakes he made on his way – almost a little flirtatious with them. In his autobiography he described almost with relish how he opened a second studio in Zurich in 1981 – and promptly fell for two young franchisees who actually had no equity at all, but “classy cars” instead. The expansion in Germany did not go like clockwork at first either: The location of the first studio in Frankfurt was in the notorious Bahnhofsviertel, of all places. Kieser dared to take the next step in Hamburg. But initially there were hardly any customers.

A marketing talent

Over time, however, the concept became more and more popular, to which Kieser’s marketing talent also contributed. The rather small, friendly-looking man with the broad cross, the silver-gray stubble hair and the distinctive black wire-rimmed glasses convinced a lot of people of his idea that proper and constant strength training makes life easier overall. One of his maxims was one of his maxims who is strong, carries more easily on himself. Another, much quoted saying goes: “The old are spared to death.”

Despite all the coincidences that shaped his life, the man who was born in a small village always had an unerring sense of the obstacles he had to remove in order to spread his idea and how much discipline and rigor would be required. His studios, although equipped with increasingly sophisticated training equipment, always worked according to Kieser’s principle: “We just train.” And: “If a good idea is too boring for you as an entrepreneur, you quickly get bogged down. And you have to be very rich to be able to afford it. ”The focus paid off. Via franchisees, the “back pope” built up a chain with 160 branches in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, which he sold to his long-time managing director Michael Antonopoulus and his board member Nils Planzer in 2017. In doing so, the Swiss power man made a prediction come true: “The chain and the idea will outlive me.”