I love listening to people talk about their passions. There is something incredibly inspiring about watching someone’s eyes light up as they share what sets their soul on fire. For Kevin Kist, his passion is actually his business (living the dream, right?!) …Risk to Succeed Barbell.


RTS Barbell is a strength gym located in Walnut Hills; in Kevin’s words, it is a “refuge for the dedicated,” and no one knows the meaning of dedication better than Kevin himself. I met Kevin in 2013 when we were both freshmen at The University of Cincinnati. With the goal of becoming a collegiate strength coach, Kevin was working hard in school while also learning all about the fitness industry outside of class. It didn’t take long for him to realize that his dream was to be an entrepreneur, and in 2015, Kevin quit school to pursue his vision.


When Kevin started telling friends and family that he was going to open a gym, no one was surprised, but fitness wasn’t always Kevin’s devotion. Growing up, he was bullied about his weight, and it wasn’t until his sophomore year of high school that he realized he wanted to make a change. What I love about Kevin’s journey is that he was not trying to fit a mold or an image perpetuated by his bullies; Kevin’s focused on his health, and he knew that neither his body nor his mind were in the right place until he started lifting weights.


Kevin started his fitness journey unable to do a push-up or a pull-up – I’m adding that in for dramatic effect because, guys, look at where he is now! – and by the end of high school, Kevin had lost 80 pounds and gained not only strength, but a whole new perspective. 



Kevin’s mission was to create a place that did not yet exist in Cincinnati – by the time he was working towards opening his own gym, he knew the city’s fitness industry pretty well, and he knew he had a void to fill. Kevin wanted to create a place that felt like home for anyone serious about lifting, or anyone seriously interested in learning what it’s all about. After leaving college, he spent the next 2-3 years working around the clock to transform his dream into reality.


For about 2 years, Kevin trained out of a friend’s garage.


He says that “he is built upon by an abundance of kindness, generosity, and people believing in him and his goals”.


People gave what they had and Kevin took any help that was thrown his way. And get this, Kevin actually started out his entrepreneurial endeavors by screenprinting (self-taught,) onto t-shirts, and selling them to promote the RTS Barbell brand. Not long after, Kevin shifted his focus from t-shirts to building his gym, and one of Kevin’s friends bought the screen-printing equipment from him, just so that Kevin would have some extra money in his pocket to keep going. That’s the level of generosity and kindness we’re talking about here, the real deal.




With the support of friends and family coupled with Kevin’s own sacrifice and dedication, the gym began to flourish. Risk To Succeed Barbell is now a 24/7 strength gym – Kevin emphasized that they are not a powerlifting gym, they are not a cross-fit gym, and they are definitely not a men’s club… and I can vouch for this! In the short amount of time I spent working out in the gym, four of the seven members that came through were women.


Now, I’ll admit that I was stoked to interview Kevin. I was, however, a little leery about working out in his gym – I was completely out of my element. I’ve been to plenty of group fitness classes, I’ve worked out in gyms before, but I had never immersed myself into the world of weight lifting. I knew next to nothing about it, and, to be completely honest, I really wasn’t so sure I was strong enough to do this type of workout.


All of my doubts quickly vanished as Kevin and his girlfriend Madison led me through the basics of weight lifting and strength training. (Side note, Madison is Kevin’s girlfriend and biggest supporter.) She is a registered dietitian, a competitive powerlifter, and she is one of the sweetest people I have met.. They are the dream team!


During my workout, both Kevin and Madison were there to provide guidance, support, and a whole lot of encouragement. Safety is Kevin’s top priority, followed closely by ensuring that the environment he has created remains one of inclusivity. There are plenty of gyms that boast the promise of being “judgment-free,” but RTS Barbell truly upholds this value. When working out at other gyms, I know I’m not alone in admitting that I’ve always avoided the weights like the plague. While weight lifting intrigued me – who doesn’t want to get stronger? – I had no idea where to start.



For those who want the help or who have never lifted a day in their life (holla at ya gurl,) Kevin is more than happy to help with technique. As I’ve said, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but Kevin and Madison both kindly led me through a workout. In Kevin’s words, whether you’re there for the day or have been a member for a year, you’re part of the family now.


I also loved that the workout was so easily modifiable. You don’t have to be super strong to start strength training, and some of you may be rolling your eyes at that statement thinking “Duh”… but that was absolutely one of my misconceptions! I got a full-body workout that left me sore (the good kind of sore,) the next day, and I loved every minute of it… even if I didn’t necessarily look like I was loving it at the time 😉


Do I think I’ll become an olympic power-lifter? Probably not, but if there were any place that could make me feel as though I had the potential to become one, it’s Risk To Succeed Barbell. Kevin’s kindness, passion, and positivity speak volumes; his giving spirit is seen through the way he personally greets all of his members, making sure everyone is happy.


Kevin has successfully built more than just a gym; he is fostering a community where all you need to fit in is the desire to better yourself. In his words,” all you need to do is show up, do the work, and things will happen”… and Kevin is a living and breathing example of this mantra.

Check out the RTS Barbell website here and all of the amazing things happening inside the gym on their Instagram account here.

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