The Key Thing

November 24, 2011

It turns out that one of the biggest obstacles to having a good workout is just getting through the gym’s front door. Now I don’t mean this in a motivational or philosophical sense – I mean literally having a gym employee remember to get out of bed in the morning and go unlock the front door.

Over the course of my fitness career, I’ve seen dozens of gym parking lots fill up with restless and angry members, regardless of the city or the brand. In fact, I belong to more than one gym, in part so I can escape fiascos like the one I came across today.

Given all the ways gyms try to entice people to join, I think I’d start my own franchise with an access guarantee and the most basic of slogans: “We open on time.” (I should also mention my idea for a gym in Washington D.C. near the U.S. Capitol called, “The House of Reps.”)

In any event, whenever my workout gets sidetracked by a gym’s deadbolt, I often consider trashing them on the Internet, either lighting them up on Twitter or naming names on this blog. But in reality, I don’t think damaging their business helps me in the long run. In point of fact, I need all my gyms to stay open, so that one of them does indeed remain open.


Out of Order

March 19, 2011

There has been a flurry of gym openings in my city recently, a development I approach with a mix of optimism and trepidation. An established gym, by its very existence, discourages competitors from opening nearby; a gym in operation also (tries to) dominate the membership market in a three to five mile radius. Bottom line: If a couple local gyms clutter up their floors with second-rate equipment and stylish contraptions, I am pretty much condemned to years of unsatisfying workouts.

My only other option, currently in practice, is to drive all over the area with a keychain full of gyms’ plastic barcodes. When individual gyms fail to offer an adequate equipment selection, I have to join multiple gyms (or a club with multiple locations) and string together a powerhouse program one machine at a time.

For the record, here are four core pieces of equipment every serious health club should offer (also a good checklist when scouting a new facility):

  • Free standing dip bars, thick enough to remain stiff under the load of weighted dips
  • Seated pulley row machine
  • Decline bench
  • A quality leg press machine

I know this list seems simple enough, close to the assortment you’d find in the basements or garages of many homes. However, between the dozen gyms to which I’ve belonged, and the scores more in which I’ve worked out, I know of exactly one gym, in Fairfax, Co. Virginia, that has implemented this list 4-for-4. Of course, when that gym underwent a renovation a few years ago, they got rid of the dip bars and the leg press – and me.

Although I travel to multiple gyms weekly, I’ve never considered driving to separate gyms for the same workout. I couldn’t imagine starting to exercise in one location, and finding something so deficient that I’d have to finish somewhere else. Well, here we go. Let’s just say that today, I had a lot of bran cereal for breakfast; in the middle of my workout, I found in the men’s locker room this sign taped to the door of both bathroom stalls:


Heavily Armed

January 30, 2011

I worked out at a gym today that recently fastened this sign to the front desk:

In case it’s a little hard to read, it says: LIFE TIME FITNESS BANS GUNS ON THESE PREMISES. Whoa. Now I get the prohibition of guns around locations such as bars and courthouses. And certainly any establishment has the right to institute these kinds of rules. But within the context of a health club (and considering the shock value to a guy who just wants to use the Stairmaster) this sign seems rather misplaced. Would a sign that says – LIFE TIME FITNESS BANS CHICKEN WIRE ON THESE PREMISES – feel any more foreign?

Really now, if you’re going to post a sign for gym members at the most conspicuous spot in the club, how about something a little less menacing – and perhaps more motivational?

Play like a champion today

In any event, maybe management wants only to maintain the gym’s foo-foo atmosphere; what they really mean is just no big guns:

Arnold Schwarzenegger guns


From Top to Bottom

January 22, 2011

I’m a fan of basic, compound movements that work large muscle groups. I’ve even read that powerful movements like squats and deadlifts can cause the body to release a flood of growth hormones. However, sometimes due to necessity, sometimes choice, gym members spend a great deal of time focusing on smaller body parts. Here are 10 exercises for secondary muscles that people can probably do without:

10. Rear delts/forearms: The poor condition of gym equipment often makes self-maintenance unavoidable. For example, when you want to adjust the setting on a hamstring machine, you’ll first build your forearms trying desperately to unscrew the knob that has rusted and stuck. When that fails, you’ll build your rear delts by lifting up a 5 lb weight plate and smashing it down on the knob.

9. Neck: It’s one thing to flip through a magazine while riding a stationary bike. It’s a whole different kind of workout to read while bouncing up and down on a treadmill. This activity requires tremendous neck strength in order to lock your gaze in place. The woman I saw recently performing this feat was even reading some dense academic journal with tiny 9 point font. I know I can’t do it.

8. Wrist/hands: Though the failure of members to wipe down their equipment after use is a literal gym plague, there’s one guy at my gym who is a massive over-wiper. In addition to wiping down the equipment pads, he’ll soak the machine’s handles, dust the frame, and clean the machine’s cables. Dude, it’s not like you’re even sweating in the first place.

7. Jaw: I took clarinet lessons when I was young, and my teacher held a yearly recital for all her students. One year, a saxophonist played through his entire concerto with gum in his mouth, sometimes chewing. Whenever I see someone at the gym chomping her way through a workout, I am reminded of this performance: not remarkable for its quality, but for the ability to combine previously mutually exclusive activities.

6. Muscles of the orbit (eye): I know that many gym etiquette sites take issue with women who exercise in outfits intended for the beach. Personally, I don’t know what the problem is. If you have genetic gifts or you’ve earned your body at the gym, then do whatever works for you. However, interesting things happen when a scantily clad woman sets up next to a guy working out with his wife/girlfriend. The guy’s intense focus on his significant other, combined with the obvious straining of his peripheral vision, provides superb conditioning for the eye muscles.

5. Lips/gums: I give this one guy at the gym a large berth, but I’m still able to observe from afar his astonishing verbal stamina. He doesn’t stop talking when he’s lifting his weights, he doesn’t stop when someone is talking to him. He doesn’t stop talking when he’s taking a sip of water. It’s a cloud of noise, like a lawnmower, that annoys more or less depending upon your proximity.

4. Achilles Tendon: The explosive fibers in the back of the leg often come in handy jumping out of the way of – or running away from – fellow gym members. For example, the guy lifting weights while perched on a swiss ball is a danger to himself and the people around him. Likewise, I’ve hightailed it out of the gym’s sauna when a fellow member began the process of burning the whole place down.

3. Diaphragm: Hard laughing can put a substantial stress on the muscles of the lower torso:

I was on a treadmill once and the guy next to me thought he’d jam his speed up to the max … next thing I know he’s making some god almighty noises and trying desperately to stab at the controls while continuing to run. Several seconds later just when I thought this guy’s head was gonna blow off he managed to slam his hand down on the emergency stop and the sudden deceleration launched him into the mirror in front of the machine … don’t you just hate trying to cover up a major attack of hysterics?!?!

2. Forearms/front delts: You could perform an entire workout just putting other people’s weights back where they belong. I’ve never understood the mentality of loading up a barbell for squats or bench presses, completing your sets, and then simply walking away. This behavior is the equivalent of going to a food court, having your lunch, and then leaving behind a tray scattered with an empty milk carton, used silverware and half-eaten sandwich.

1. Elbow: When your fellow member launches his weights through the gym window, and your mouth falls open at the spectacle of a barbell rolling down the carpark, you’ll use the flexibility in your arm to reach up and return your chin to its default position.


Coming Soon

December 29, 2010

Many years ago, before cable television, I remember seeing an amazing contraption at the house of a family friend. The dad had connected his television to his exercise bike so that the bike powered the TV. He could watch television only while converting calories into literal energy. The timing of his workouts determined what was available to him for entertainment.

Recently, my gym installed a “cardio theater,” a room with a large screen facing an array of treadmills and stationary bikes. Gym members often stop at the front desk to ask “what time does the movie start?” and schedule their workouts accordingly. Today, the timing of the entertainment determines when people are available to work out.

This week’s sign of the fitness apocalypse isn’t just the waste of gym resources (money and floor space) now required to persuade people to break a sweat. To my mind, watching a movie while you exercise is similar to trying to read a book. If you’re concentrating enough to truly follow the plot, you’re not focusing adequately on the task at hand.

But regardless of the philosophical issues, I got to thinking about what films might provide the necessary workout inspiration. How about Sylvester Stallone in Rocky IV? A loop of Schwarzenegger flicks? Anything starring Sophia Vergara?

I poked my head into the theater today and saw a staff member working on the electronics. I asked her what type of movies they had loaded into the video player. “UFOs and stuff,” she said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Oh, end of the world movies, that kind of thing.”

“Gotcha,” I said. Now I’m inspired.