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Why Lion’s Den Fitness Is a Hidden Gem on South Congress

Led by a father-daughter duo, the speakeasy-like gym offers kickboxing, HIIT training and more

A tire shop turned fitness center is packing a punch in the historic and quirky South Congress district. Practically hidden from the street and with a focus on kickboxing and high intensity workouts, members describe Lion’s Den Fitness as the “speakeasy of Austin gyms.”

A new locally owned and operated facility, father-daughter duo and native Austinites, Deanna and James DeLeon, offer classes for four people at a time, ensuring a more intimate setting and allowing for a more personalized training experience that includes the camaraderie, connection and accountability only a group setting can provide.

“We are a really tight knit community,” says Deanna. “We are family run, and we like to treat our members like they are our family as well. We are here to give advice on things like nutrition as well, because we really want to push them to their full potential and see them do great.”

Father-daughter fitness duo Deanna and James DeLeon.

“It’s really personalized to every person. Coach really likes to take into consideration your goals and recognize them,” says member, Ursula Jaimes. “I think he really cares about his clients. He wants his clients to be happy. It doesn’t feel like a regular gym where you just get your workout.”

Lion’s Den Fitness is located on the west side of I-35, just on the outskirts of St. Edward’s campus and down the road from Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden. The idea for the new workout center started to come to life in late summer of 2020, after the original tire shop owner kept trying to get James, who is a certified personal trainer, to take the garage and turn it into a kickboxing hub.

His daughter Deanna, who was wrapping up a bachelor’s degree in business from University of Houston, got involved and helped with the 2021 opening. Today, less than two years later, Lion’s Den Fitness is seeing major client success stories.

“After seven to eight months of going to the gym with Coach, I lost seventy pounds,” says James. “It wasn’t anything that was extreme. It was completely healthy, just him teaching me about nutrition and how to take care of my body and still feed my body and give it fuel for energy.”

As a coach, James is no stranger to the challenges of fitness. He, himself, once went from a pants size of 38, down to a 32.

“I was getting close to almost two hundred pounds, and I’m short. I’m five-foot-four,” says James. “My body fat percentage was around thirty-something percent. I didn’t realize how unhealthy I was.”

To help others, Lion’s Den Fitness offers two different types of workouts — kick boxing and strength and conditioning. A high-intensity workout with body weight exercises mixed with martial arts is the best way to describe the kickboxing class, while strength and conditioning is mainly performance based. James uses years of experience and talent to develop the programming for each workout, and then modifies as needed, depending on the skill level of each class participant in the small group settings. Class attendees move through three different performance bays within the garage-like structure.

“Everybody’s squat looks different,” explains James. “My ideal is to get the bar on their back, but not everybody has proper form, so I may have to modify what they are doing with smaller weights and stuff like that.”

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Lion’s Den Fitness is packed with multiple fans to keep everyone cooled down, even in the Texas summer heat. Five classes are offered each day, which includes two in the morning and three in the evening. The gym allows for two free sixty-minute workouts to anyone who would like to try something new.

“I had never kickboxed before,” says Lion’s Den Fitness member, Olivia Little, who moved from Virginia to Austin six years ago. “My background is in dancing. Two years ago, I was looking for a new form of physical activity and to get out of the house and try something new.”

“I think fitness looks different for everyone,” says Deanna. “What may work for one person is not going to work for someone else. Just finding something that’s fun for you and that you can enjoy that doesn’t have to be a chore.”

Consistency is key, according to James. That, and drinking plenty of water and incorporating an abundance of vegetables into a diet. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests that adults do strength exercises on all major muscle groups at least twice a week, with a focus on legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, and shoulders. It’s important to lose weight the healthy way, practicing moderation; for example, the Centers for Disease and Control recommend losing as little as one to two pounds a week, depending on your current body size and height. Accountability workout partners help too, along with a fun location in a relevant neighborhood.

“I love the location. Saturday when we have workouts, it’s really nice, because I’m able to run errands. It’s a great location, and it has Austin vibes,” says Ursula.

“That little stretch of South Congress is one I’m at daily. My dogs go to daycare right up the road at Wolf and Work,” says Little. “It’s very close-knit, like a boutique gym. It’s not a big box gym; it’s very personalized. You really get a sense of community where you are making friends. People hold you accountable for showing up, and I think that’s really important in anyone’s fitness journey.”

“It’s really cool being off South Congress. There’s a lot going on here,” says Deanna. “One of our favorite things is that we live really close by, so that makes it a lot easier. I love whenever there’s local businesses that can stay for years and years — it really establishes the community.”

In the future, both James and Deanna hope to grow their gym and grow their fitness community even more. Lion’s Den Fitness currently has around 20 members. Gym membership isn’t required, and anyone is able to schedule a class at any time.

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