Army Veteran Opens Local Powerlifting Gym, Forms Community Around It

American Barbell Club owner John Hollier stands in front of the powerlifting section of the gym. Here, “people actually care about getting in shape,” Hollier said. “It’s more of a hardcore training environment. You gotta put in the work.”
American Barbell Club owner John Hollier stands in front of the powerlifting section of the gym. Here, “people actually care about getting in shape,” Hollier said. “It’s more of a hardcore training environment. You gotta put in the work.” Christine Flammia / WUFT News

American Barbell Club is a powerlifter’s paradise.

Inside the warehouse-type garage, the unfinished walls are trimmed with pieces of chain-link fences and a large American flag. Above the professional-grade equipment, expletives are stencilled on the wall like graffiti.

This gym is no fuss, no frills and no joke.

Gym owner John Hollier, a burly 28-year-old, officially opened American Barbell Club’s doors the first week of March.

He personifies the gym’s rugged feel. While his dark beard, beanie-covered hair and abundance of arm tattoos seem intimidating at first glance, Hollier is anything but. He speaks slowly but confidently with no shortage of smooth profanity, knocking his fist in his hand at each sentence.

Hollier is a U.S. Army veteran who toured in 2010 and 2011. He was then stationed in Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, before moving back to his home state of Florida with his wife, Olivia. He began to lift competitively in 2013.

Because there were no gyms with powerlifting-grade equipment, he set up shop in an area of his home for training last summer. Friends and fellow powerlifters started coming to his house to use the equipment.

Jake Suggs is a local powerlifter who started training at Hollier’s home after being introduced by a mutual friend.

“[Hollier] is probably the most hospitable person I’ve ever met,” Suggs said. “He just let us work out there for free.”

Suggs and other trainees joined American Barbell Club when when it opened in March. The gym has fitness equipment specific for competitive powerlifters. The list of specialty equipment includes a monolift for safer squatting and standard powerlifting bars used in competition, including a Texas Deadlift bar, a Texas squat bar and Texas power bars.

“Everyone is here to train,” Hollier said. “Everyone has a purpose. They’re doing it for something, not just ‘the gym, bro.’”

The American Barbell Club is housed near downtown Gainesville at 250 SE 10th Ave. It’s mostly concealed off a nondescript side street, but the sweaty gym members pushing sleds and flipping tires in the parking lot give it away.

“It’s his baby,” Olivia Hollier said. “It’s been kind of a whirlwind. I’m really, really proud of my husband as far as putting his mind to something and doing it. He’s really pulled through.”

She said when he got out of the army, he couldn’t find a gym he liked. And after his stint in the military, he didn’t want to have a 9-to-5 job. So, this gym became his venture.

John Hollier said he was used to being in a competitive environment after about six years in the military.

“I don’t really feel like you can turn competitiveness off,” he said.

Competitive lifting and his gym became the replacement.

About 50 members have joined since the gym opened, and about half of those members lift competitively. Before the opening, those training for competition struggled to find the proper equipment. Lake City, about an hour’s drive away, was the closest spot they could train properly.

The gym welcomes the intensity that often accompanies powerlifting: dropping weights, grunting loudly and dusting chalk.

Jared Skinner, the gym’s strength and conditioning consultant, said he was almost forced to find a gym where he was able to train freely.

“As a power lifter, not a lot of gyms welcome you,” Skinner said. “They have this generalized persona that you’re just a meathead that just picks things up with no regard for equipment or people.”

This gritty gym might look like the “Fight Club” gym of Gainesville, but members keep coming back for the supportive environment Hollier created.

Skinner said what separates Hollier’s space is the members’ levels of knowledge about lifting. He wants to raise the standard of powerlifting education, Skinner said.

“There’s a lot of education involved in here, and not the run-of-the-mill certification anyone can get over the weekend,” said Skinner, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in exercise science. He is currently a doctoral candidate in applied physiology and kinesthesiology.

Others have or are getting doctorates in physical therapy and exercise science. He said this is important to both Hollier and the gym because the experienced, educated staff not only brings their own lifting experience and perspective, but they can also back it up with research.

Gym member Jake Suggs said he loves the camaraderie in the gym.

“Even though the people who work out there want to train themselves to the highest level,” he said, “they’re still really friendly.”

Hollier expressed similar feelings.

“It’s kind of turned into a family,” he said. “If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, you’re not going to like it here.”

About Christine Flammia

Christine is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing

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