Honey vs. Vinegar

April 13, 2011

It’s been a while since I’ve been scolded by gym staff for dropping my heavy dumbbells at the end of a set. Not only do I try my best to treat gym equipment with care, but most gyms have also upgraded to rubber-encased dumbbells. Iron missiles now impact resilient, high-tech floors with barely a thud.

Still, gym staff trying to look busy can always shuffle over to the dumbbell rack and hassle someone training hard.

Over the past few years, the fierce competition among gyms has perhaps caused the demeanor of gym staff to improve; or possibly, the modern gym’s high ceilings and bright colors have softened the typical employee’s disposition. Either way, I have to say that the reprimand I got this morning almost made my day: “Hey there – yes you – you need to be more careful about dropping your weights … otherwise, I was very impressed.”

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:

What’s Old is New

March 11, 2011

For all our modern sophistication, real scientists and armchair sociologists are discovering the benefits of co-opting the lifestyles of our distant ancestors.

For example, proponents of the Paleo Diet believe we should consume only the foods available to original humans; we were genetically adapted to diets high in protein, with abundant fruits and vegetables, that contained no grains or dairy.

When it comes to theories of physical attraction, a well-trained Pick Up Artist will play paleo-mind games with women, striving to create the impression that he is the leader of a tribe.

And some pundits have begun to note how the cubicle farms of the modern workplace create an unnatural environment for human hunter-gatherers. One writer laments the obligatory assertions of mail-room cheer – “Hangin’ in there!” – that run counter to male programming.

But for all the challenges of civilization, we still rely on the gym to serve its paleo-purpose, right? We can safely go through the motions of hunting woolly mammoths and fleeing from saber tooth tigers – all in a climate controlled environment.

Well, maybe not. Here’s a sample of gym conversations I’ve overheard this week:

Guy 1: “Hey man, you’re looking fit today.”
Guy 2: “Thanks bud, but at least you have some sweat on your body!”


Dude 1: “Hey pal, are you working hard or hardly working?!”
Dude 2: Practically falls over with laughter.


Fellow 1: “How’s your training going?”
Fellow 2: “Well, I used to bulk up this time of year. But as I’ve gotten older, I focus just on maintenance.”

Fellow 2 looked to be about 28.

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

Tipping Point

January 27, 2011

What if all the supposed health benefits of gobbling up your fruits and vegetables were nothing more than a fancy marketing campaign? That’s the controversial claim raised this week in an article out of the UK, and amplified by talk radio. Not only is the five-a-day message nothing more than an advertising slogan conjured up by a group of produce companies, but recent studies also suggest that a diet of roots and berries provides no health advantages:

[A large study], which examined half a million people over eight years, reported that fruit and veg offer no protection against breast, prostate, bowel, lung or any other kind of tumour. Those eating the most fruit and veg showed no difference in cancer risk compared with those eating the least.

I’d like to look more closely at the internals of that study. But what if working class fruits and vegetables, and their royal kin – açaí berries, pomegranates – are in fact the icons of a new religion? For eons, people have worshipped a higher power to achieve good health and guard against misfortune. Perhaps we now expect the same security from Superfoods – and apparently without any evidence.

However, I believe the article goes too far in its attack on fruits and fruit sugar, noting that fructose “goes straight to the liver, and is stored as fat. Very few people understand or want to believe this biochemical fact.”

But surely, since you need calories for energy, you are better off consuming your sugars from a natural source? The author provides no real alternative. Before declaring fruits to be literal eye candy, I would recommend the author take a trip to this country, where even the donut shops offer a drive-thru window.

In any event, the article concludes that natural fats (as opposed to trans-fats) are “essential to our wellbeing”:

According to a recent survey, the British people are deficient in vitamins A, D, E — all of which are fat-soluble. If we added a dollop of butter to our portion of vegetables, they would be better for us — not worse.

Do we really need more fat in our diet? Again, I think a stateside visit for this author would be eye-opening. The image below is not a Photoshop, but an actual item coming to store shelves near you:

Essential to our wellbeing

(H/T: laughingsquid.com)