My triceps burned as I pumped 35 kilograms of weight, and I wondered how Meny Elbaz had convinced me to work out for the first time in over a year and lift weights for the first time in, well, ever.

With massive muscles that can at first seem intimidating, Elbaz, a former champion bodybuilder, has an uncanny ability to never give up on anyone, from me with my puny muscle tone to a client recently out of a coma and walking on crutches. It’s a necessary skill he brings to Sky Gym, the boutique training space he recently opened in Jerusalem’s Rav Chen mall with his wife, Lia Elbaz, also a bodybuilder and the former winner of Ms. Bikini Israel, a national women’s fitness competition.

Lia and Meny Elbaz, Ms. Bikini and Mr. Israel (Courtesy Sky Gym)

Lia and Meny Elbaz, Ms. Bikini and Mr. Israel (Courtesy Sky Gym)

“We opened our personal gym so that people don’t show up [at a gym] and get lost,” explained Meny Elbaz. “We [tend] to see people better than [they see] themselves, we [don’t want to] see them lose motivation.”

Sky Gym client Alana Shipp and Meny Elbaz in training (photo credit: Dani Bronstein)

Sky Gym client Alana Shipp and Meny Elbaz in training (photo credit: Dani Bronstein)

When he works one-on-one with a customer, Elbaz views his personal training as his “donation to that person,” hopefully leading to success in the gym, and throughout life.

The concept of Sky Gym includes personalized training regimens, nutritional advice and individual workout guidance. The Elbazes also offer a “Biggest Loser”-style workout based on the popular weight-loss TV show, with Sky Gym teams whose members motivate each other to lose weight. With a mixed but growing clientele of lifetime bodybuilders as well as a large following of never-stepped-on-a-treadmill-before adults, they have also trained a recent Ms. Israel, customer Alana Shipp, who prevailed in last year’s competition and is considered a favorite for Ms. Universe next year in Germany.

Alana Shipp, at the Ms. Israel competition (Courtesy Sky Gym)

Alana Shipp, at the Ms. Israel competition (Courtesy Sky Gym)

Shipp, a former United States Marine noncombat soldier currently living in Israel with her family, first came to Elbaz’s private training business with the goal of losing five kilos in a month. When he mentioned her genetic potential to become a bodybuilder, she figured she had nothing to lose and worked with Lia Elbaz on her diet and nutrition while weight training with Meny Elbaz. Within six months, she went from overweight to nine percent body fat and entered the Ms. Israel competition.

“It’s all about his training,” she said, pointing to Mr. Elbaz.

Like Shipp, the Elbazes came to bodybuilding later in life. Meny, namesake of Menachem Mendel, the Lubavitcher rebbe, grew up in the French Chabad community, and was training on his own for acceptance in an elite Israel Defense Forces unit when he first became acquainted with bodybuilding. Lia, 33, was born in Russia and moved to Israel as a child, and had been working in gym management when she began working out regularly, eventually training more seriously in bodybuilding.

Lia and Meny in love with each other, and the human form (Courtesy Sky Gym)

Lia and Meny. In love with each other, and the human form. (Courtesy Sky Gym)

“We each have a love for chiseling the human form,” said Lia Elbaz, whose 10-year-old son from a previous relationship has been “doing sports since he was three months old.”

While their family unit is no longer Lubavitch, Meny Elbaz’s tefillin bag, emblazoned with the number 770, the address for the Brooklyn, New York Chabad headquarters, is always on prominent display on the Sky Gym reception desk. Perhaps it’s alluding to his love for Lubavitch Judaism, a constant for him.

The pillars of an observant life are still part of their family life, Lia commented, although modesty, not easy to come by in the bodybuilding world, is more of a struggle.

“We’ll never solve the dissonance between what we love, and religion,” she said, but “giving up on the sport is not an option.”