By Katie Roiger

“Exercise” isn’t a dirty word for Jo Radlinger.

Ever since she can remember, working out and staying in shape have been business as usual to the former Wisconsin girl. Growing up on her family’s dairy farm, Radlinger was another pair of hands for her busy parents and she quickly grew to appreciate the values they instilled in her.

“I think everybody should have the opportunity to grow up on a dairy farm!” said Radlinger. “You learn a lot about work ethic. Everything I learned about being super responsible and active has carried over into running a business.”

Photo by Don Lipps - Jo Radlinger of Jo's Fitness Garage busy with lat pull-downs
Photo by Don Lipps – Jo Radlinger of Jo’s Fitness Garage busy with lat pull-downs

Lifting feed bales and directing livestock required muscle. Radlinger realized early on that she liked being active and fit. Later on, in college, she was frequently in the weight room, working with dumbbells instead of grain sacks. She quickly became a fan of strength-based weight training. This type of workout focuses on using resistance, such as dumbbells or even body weight, to tone the body and increase lean muscle mass.

I had an epiphany that I needed to get back into shape, because I didn’t feel good in my body. That’s what really kicked off Jo’s Fitness Garage. Jo Radlinger

“I love the feeling of being strong,” said Radlinger.

She enjoyed the feeling so much that she considered pursuing a fitness degree. At that time, however, most colleges only offered degrees in physical education. Radlinger didn’t feel called to become a high school teacher, so she graduated with a degree in business administration and began working at corporations as well as the State of Minnesota.

Finding motivation

Some fitness gurus find their footing by completing a difficult challenge, like a marathon. Radlinger’s call to rediscover her love of exercise came from a different but no less strenuous source: Pregnancy.

“I had an epiphany that I needed to get back into shape, because I didn’t feel good in my body,” said Radlinger. “That’s what really kicked off Jo’s Fitness Garage.” Her second pregnancy had been so high-risk that her doctors counseled her against performing any kind of workout. After giving birth to a healthy baby girl, she felt strongly motivated to start working out again.

When they come in, I’m test-driving them too – I’m looking for their commitment, I’m looking for their inner champion. Jo Radlinger

Radlinger’s rediscovered appreciation for her body’s abilities made her wonder how many other people were in a similar position of wanting to feel better in their skin, but unlike her, didn’t have the knowledge or skills to begin. Serious soul-searching confirmed that working for corporate America wasn’t going to fulfil her interests, so she quit her job to become an independent personal trainer.

“I’ve never looked back,” Radlinger said of her decision 12 years ago.

Photo by Don Lipps - Jo's Fitness Garage client Wendy Keenan at work
Photo by Don Lipps – Jo’s Fitness Garage client Wendy Keenan at work

Matchmaking

The location of Jo’s Fitness Garage has changed a few times since she first opened it in 2008, but the gym’s goal remains the same. Every morning when she steps into her studio on West Duke Street in Mankato, her sole focus is on helping her clients achieve their goals and feel good long-term. Meeting with new students always begins with helping them determine what they want to gain from a workout regimen, as well as allowing them to decide whether Jo’s Fitness Garage is a good fit for their personalities.

“I’m looking for them to test-drive me,” said Radlinger about her first-time clients. “Camaraderie is super important. I tell them to ask me a ton of questions. When they come in, I’m test-driving them too – I’m looking for their commitment, I’m looking for their inner champion, and I’m looking at whatever we need to do to make sure their program is geared 100 percent toward their goals and abilities.”

It seems like there’s always more of a question mark: Does a female know as much about strength-based training as a male? Over the years I’ve seen a swing where there’s as many female trainers as male trainers Jo Radlinger

Radlinger fine-tunes her tutoring in strength-based cardio and weight training to fit a variety of circumstances, from autism to hip replacements, and young adults to seniors. Her current clientele is a nearly 50-50 mix of men and women. This can be no small feat in the world of physical fitness, which has a history of male trainees preferring male instructors.

“When I started my business, it seemed that there was a credibility issue,” Radlinger said. “I do strength-based training, and that’s a more male-dominant area. It seems like there’s always more of a question mark: Does a female know as much about strength-based training as a male? Over the years, though, I’ve seen a swing where there’s as many female trainers as male trainers, and I’m super happy to see that.”

Photo by Don Lipps - Jo Radlinger of Jo's Fitness Garage coaches client Luke Keenan
Photo by Don Lipps – Jo Radlinger of Jo’s Fitness Garage coaches client Luke Keenan

By example

Radlinger’s philosophy is to lead by example. She said that she never asks more of her clients than she is willing to do herself, and happily embraces a clean-eating lifestyle in order to encourage gym members to do the same. Before and after her daily appointments, she can nearly always be found at a secondary gym, working out and having virtual meetings with her own physical trainer.

“There’s an old saying that you can’t pull from an empty vessel,” Radlinger said. “It’s hard to give back to my own clients if I’m not giving to myself.”

There’s an old saying that you can’t pull from an empty vessel. It’s hard to give back to my own clients if I’m not giving to myself. Jo Radlinger

Radlinger said she that she also hopes to encourage fellow mothers, who may often feel that their own fitness needs are secondary to their other responsibilities.

“The reality is that you’re actually doing yourself a favor by wanting to get back into shape,” Radlinger said. “You set the example for your kids, whether you’re eating healthy or whether you’re working out. It sets a message for them going forward.”

Another way Radlinger fills her own bucket is by training for the Open and Masters events of the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation, a professionally-produced annual competition for athletes and bodybuilders all over the world. During the 13 years she entered, she placed in the top five category nine times, has received third place twice, and second place once. She has also judged for the Federation and trains interested clients to enter.

Her most important piece of advice for hopeful bodybuilders is simple.

“‘Have fun!’” Radlinger said she tells her students. “‘You’ve won before you even get onstage because you did the work to get there.’”

Photo by Don Lipps - The driving force at Jo's Fitness Garage
Photo by Don Lipps – The driving force at Jo’s Fitness Garage

Adaptation

Radlinger applies her champion attitude to everything she does, including adapting to COVID-19 related challenges. When the pandemic mandated changes to business models, she recognized that her gym is uniquely situated to accommodate social distancing. Although she has the same varieties of workout equipment, Jo’s Fitness Garage is smaller than chain gyms and her customer base generally has the option of working out in privacy.

“I’m super lucky,” said Radlinger.

It’s so amazing to watch someone make that transformation. It’s so emotional. I love what I do and I love being able to help people and inspire them to become the best version of themselves. Jo Radlinger

When making future plans, Radlinger has no intention of slowing down. She said that she enjoys the thrill of helping a client achieve their goals – and then set new ones – as much as she loves living her best fitness life.

“It’s so amazing to watch someone make that transformation,” Radlinger said. “It’s so emotional. I love what I do and I love being able to help people and inspire them to become the best version of themselves.”

Author


  • is a freelance writer who works out of the Greater Mankato Area. She enjoys exploring every town she visits and knowing where to find the best Mexican restaurant in any 40-mile radius.