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CEDAR FALLS — Physical therapist Amy Van Arkel has been envisioning a highly specialized gym since she was in college studying to become a physical therapist assistant.

More than 15 years later, that dream was borne out in GentleGym, which opened in September at 924 Viking Road.

GentleGym is a wellness facility for people with chronic pain, bariatric issues, diabetes, joint replacements, pre- and post-surgery needs and other health issues that may limit their experience in a traditional gym setting.

“We really wanted to make it useful for a population that really needs some TLC,” Van Arkel said.

GentleGym houses equipment to enhance the body, mind and spirit. There are treadmills, stationary bicycles and dumbbells, as well as a stretching cage that helps with mobility and balance. Unlike a traditional gym, you won’t find heavy barbells, squat racks or mirrors.

“If you’re training for a marathon, this probably is not right for you,” said Emily Mangrich, GentleGym program manager.

To quiet the mind, there’s the Healing Corner, which features an infrared sauna, a massage chair and a relaxing space for quiet meditation.

“It’s known that anxiety, depression, trauma and grief often go hand-in-hand with chronic pain. This is a chance to connect the mind and body, to really stay on the cusp of growing research,” Van Arkel said.

A comfortable seating area near the front encourages social interaction between gym-goers.

“Chronic issues can be isolating,” Mangrich said. “We want to help remove those barriers.”

A 7,000-gallon therapy pool, heated to a toasty 92 degrees, features an underwater treadmill as well as current to walk, run or swim against.

The gym is staffed during business hours, with physical therapists and physical therapy assistants at the ready to instruct members on equipment, proper form or other issues.

At the outset, GentleGym members receive a one-hour assessment, which includes a health history, fitness tests and posture and movement assessments. A FIT3D Scan machine measures body fat, posture and other metrics. From there, staff create an individualized program for each member.

GentleGym is adjacent and open to Agape Performance, which patients with sports-related injuries.

Van Arkel has been a physical therapist assistant with Agape since 2003 and is now its executive director. As she began researching what the GentleGym might look like, she discovered a barren landscape.

“There were almost no examples anywhere. We found a facility in Oregon that was similar, but really we’re on the frontier of this,” she said. “GentleGym is going to be the model for everywhere else.”

For more information, go to www.thegentlegym.org.

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