Though health clubs often spend lavishly to make the gym experience more pleasant, I’d rather see the money put towards making the time more productive. For example, I appreciate the unlimited supply of gym towels, but I’d just as soon have my sweat drip all over a new StairMaster. Likewise, I enjoy watching SportsCenter in the locker room, but I’d prefer to make my own highlights with a better leg press machine. In fact, I’d crap in a gym’s outhouse and shower in recycled seawater if it meant I could establish a long term relationship with my favorite equipment.
There is one gym amenity, however, that is absolutely indispensible: the sauna.
Years ago, during my first winter in Ann Arbor, I discovered the best way to begin a pre-workout warm up: head directly from the outside into the rec center’s sauna. I stripped off my ski hat, gloves and parka only after I was stationed securely inside the heated cabin. (Bonus fact: MSN Weather says average January temperatures in Ann Arbor are colder than in Anchorage, AK.)
Though the weather I’m dealing with today doesn’t quite rival the Rust Belt, I frequent gyms whose approach to the sauna still leaves me cold. At one gym, an out-of-order sign has hung from the wood door since October; another gym’s sauna shuts itself off after about 20 minutes and requires a manual re-start (a huge disappointment if you’re the first to enter); a third gym has no sauna at all.
By its nature, a gym is a cold place, filled with iron bars, vinyl-covered equipment pads and high drafty ceilings. Furthermore, when I work out during lunch, my gym clothes have been sitting in a parked car for hours; imagine the exact opposite sensation of putting on clothes fresh out of the dryer. In total, my deepening chill isn’t just uncomfortable, it’s downright dangerous: cold muscles don’t react well with heavy weights.
With the sauna unavailable, I’ve developed a new strategy for generating locker room warmth: I point the nozzle of an electric hand dryer skyward, pull my shirt over the vent, and gleefully press the button.