SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ – Taking the Max Challenge in South Brunswick is not just about getting in better shape, but becoming part of a “family.”

“It is an amazing program, people think it is a gym, but it’s not a gym,” Kendall Park resident Al LaGratta, 66, said. “The first 10 weeks I lost 35 pounds and 10 inches.”

LaGratta, who has been with the program for more than two years now, said the program is more like “a community” with varied physical workouts, nutrition, and spiritual motivation, providing an “amazing” atmosphere and culture to get anyone into better shape and health.

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“I’ve had a lot of serious illnesses, and it has helped keep my mind off that,” he said. “It has taken away some of the medications (I was taking). The support system is incredible, both nutrition and the physical part.”

He said the mission statement of the Max, “fitness, nutrition, motivation, results,” “says it all.”

LaGratta’s story is not unique and is the big reason owners Dinesh and Amanda Ramchandani opened the franchise in South Brunswick.

Dinesh, 38, worked in retail with Best Buy when he noticed a real change in a co-worker.

“I had been struggling with weight all of my life,” Dinesh said. “I saw one of my friends, who was the director of (Max) franchise sales, and I saw some great changes in him. I bugged him to join. In my first 10 weeks, I lost 23 pounds, but more than that, I came home and my wife (Amanda) said ‘what are you doing? I love you more and you are more positive.’”

Amanda, 34, said she was on her own journey for better nutrition at the time after falling into the common trap of eating at fast food places and ordering pizza to keep pace with a busy lifestyle.

She said she realized that it was not a healthy way to live and she was fighting an auto-immune deficiency.

“I was sick and tired of being sick and tired,” she said. “I loved (The Max) mind, body, spirit connection. I’m a big believer that good health is a ‘wheel’ and you have to tend to each of the spokes.”

The Max program filled all of those needs and more for the couple and they decided to bring the program to the community, opening in 2013 and sharing space with a dance studio in the South Brunswick Square Mall on Route 1.

Since that time, the program has picked up steam and members, allowing Dinesh and Amanda to expand to their own facility at 3790 Route 1, behind a small shopping plaza just north of Wendy’s in Monmouth Junction.

The couple has collaborated with close friends Kedir and Alissa Webbley to open three other locations in Hillsborough, Somerset, and Bridgewater/Warren.

“We jumped right into this,” Alissa, 32, said. “It really changed my life altogether.”

She also worked in retail for 10 years with a children’s clothing store before getting swept up into the Max Challenge opportunity.

“It (started) strictly supporting Dinesh and Amanda,” she said. “They were starting a new venture and we wanted to show them our support.”

After about six months from the time the South Brunswick program opened, Dinesh and Amanda asked them to help open another location.

She said she always thought she would have stayed in retail, but this new venture has led her and her husband into something they are very passionate about.

Seeing the difference the program makes in the lives of participants makes all the difference in the world, she said.

“The first time someone says ‘I did this because of you,’ ‘I’m a better person because of you,’ is the best feeling in the world,” she said. “There is no way to describe it.”

Along with the amazing results experienced by clients, both Dinesh and Amanda say it is the feeling of “family” and “community” that really sets the program apart from other fitness facilities.

“(The Max) brought everything I had a passion in my gut for, healthy eating that was not complicated, working out that was not overdoing it, yet it is powerful enough so that anyone can do it, and taking care of our spirit, making sure we are living happy, fulfilling, positive lives,” Amanda said. “The fact that the Max brought all of that to the table was nothing I had ever seen before in our lives.”

The program begins with a “10-week Challenge” that combines fitness, nutrition, and motivation to produce real results quickly.

Dinesh said the best part about the nutrition aspect is that it uses real food and does not require special purchases.

“It is real food. You look at (the ingredients) and if it’s ‘clean,’ you can eat it,” he said.

The Max runs four of these challenges during the year with the next one beginning on March 27.

Classes start at 5 a.m. and go into the afternoon and evening so that everyone can fit it into their schedules.

The 10-week challenge consists of classes 5-days a week, catering to cardio, weight training and kickboxing, along with nutrition and motivation.

Amanda said that the instructor-led classes are intense, but are also tailored to the individual so that anyone can take part and modify the physical training to their situation.

It normally costs $499, but newcomers can start for $399, which is offered with a full guarantee.

In addition, the program offers a $1,000 prize to whoever is most changed during the 10 weeks, but it is not just for the most weight lost, Dinesh said.

The prize goes to the person that has the greatest overall change, inside and out, including the attitude and the way they see the world during the program, he said.

“If you don’t love the program, you get a full refund,” Dinesh said. “We guarantee the results and we guarantee the program. We want to make sure everyone who joins us, absolutely loves us.”

The instructors, known as “life-changers,” provide varied workouts throughout the facility and make sure each class is different from the last so that it is never “routine” or boring, Amanda said.

“Every time you walk through these doors, you never know what (kind of class) you are going to get,” Amanda said. “You are never going to lose motivation because you are not going to know what to expect.”

In addition to what happens inside the building, the program also has a private Facebook group for members to interact and help motivate each other.

“(The members) are there, sharing motivational quotes, pumping each other up,” she said. “The motivation consists of a community of us, our members, the life-changers all being there for each other.”

For more information on the program, or to take part in the next challenge, contact The Max Challenge of South Brunswick at (732) 943-3336 or visit themaxchallenge.com.