For the past 23 years, I’ve had a pretty awesome mom. When my brother and I were wee little lads, she and my dad started teaching us to appreciate culture, nature, and instilled in us a belief that education is very important. I continue to learn from them in my old age, and now I appreciate that I can teach my mom a thing or two on occasion. We’ve been training at the same gym for the past 3 years, and while we don’t work out together, we frequently have conversations about different exercises people should be doing, and more frequently, the ineffective/unsafe exercises that people spend most of the time doing. Momma G likes to head in at the break of dawn, and I’m more of an afternoon/early evening lifter, so we’ve got lots to discuss. My favorite conversations are the ones when I get to explain something new to her; it’s like I’m paying her back for teaching me thing through life! Thanks, Mom!
Last night we went out with my brother to celebrate my Grandma’s 89th birthday (see picture above), and between bites of veal and lobster ravioli, she told me a little story about an early morning interaction she had at the gym. At the JCC in Oceanside, our bank of aerobic equipment faces a wall with windows and 3 televisions. A kind member donated 4 brand new gigantic flat screen televisions, and it wasn’t until Tuesday morning that the maintenance staff got around to mounting the 4th television. While they were installing it, some members were discussing what channel/kind of shows were going to be playing on that 4th set. Out of the weight room comes a gung-ho guy who begins to complain that they don’t need yet another tv in the ‘cardio area’, and that if it was a real gym, they would put a TV in the weight room. In response to this, my mom says:
“Real gyms don’t have TV’s in them!”
Way played, Mom! That’s showing those folks she’s her son’s mother! I was so excited when she told me the story, I told her I had to write about it. ( I did tell you, didn’t I?) I’m not sure if my brother or Grandma knew exactly what we were talking about, but it’s a discussion I’ve had with plenty of people. In fact, when the TV’s were donated, I made a point to request they were nowhere near the weight room, which is already rather crowded. We don’t exactly need another distraction, do we? The mirrors are bad enough!
When it comes to gym design and equipment, I can get pretty excited about the latest gadgets and toys, but when you think about it, it’s important to have quality strength training equipment, and little else. Our commercialized bubble on Long Island tends to define ‘sports clubs’ and ‘wellness centers’ as gyms that have brand new ellipticals with personal TVs, bamboo floored yoga studios, the newest, shiniest machines and dumbbells, and saunas and massages for relaxation and rejuvenation. In some cases, those may very well be appropriate to use, but in my opinion, those things aren’t in real gyms. (Related point: Massages in gyms are awesome, but it’s probably not legit if it’s called a massage. If it’s more about fascial manipulation and torture than soothing the soul, it’s probably legit.)
After insulting 99% of the gyms in my area, and likely one that you may go to, you may be wondering, “Well, Harold, what the hell is a real gym?” Perfect question, because now I get to tell you! Take this picture for example. It’s a view inside the famed Westside Barbell in Columbus, Ohio. It is generally considered to be the best powerlifting gym in the world, producing world record holder after world record holder. This is what it looks like:
If we compare that to a ‘regular’ fitness center or health club, there’s a huge difference. Google Images shows pictures of either weight machines or aerobic equipment, and everything looks pretty nice. I know that Westside isn’t a gym catering to general health and wellness, and the athletes there are focused on powerlifting performance. Maybe it isn’t a fair example, so I’ll show you some other ‘real’ gyms that cater to slightly less specific populations. Let’s start with a place that’s still specialized, but not as severely. The folks at Cressey Performance work with mostly baseball players, other athletes, and fitness enthusiasts. How does this picture compare to what your gym looks like?
Most gyms, including mine, don’t compare to this. For example, we have 7 treadmills compared to one squat rack. These guys have 6 racks and 1 treadmill. That’s awesome, ain’t it? I know what you’re thinking though; it’s still an athletic performance facility. I can agree with that, but I’ll counter; most gyms that offer great results are going to have some sort of athletic performance training going on. Athletes want great results, don’t they? Of course!
Outside of professional and collegiate sports, most people don’t consider themselves to be athletes. Maybe athletic, but we reserve the title of athlete for those that are competitive at a higher level. I’ll refrain from getting into societal definitions, but I’d like for you to stop defining athleticism purely based on high level competition. If you’re movin’ and groovin’ in any way, you’re an athlete. If you consider yourself an athlete an a broad scale of athleticism, you’ll realize you should strive to be training in some athletic context as well. That’s rather vague, isn’t it, so let me ask you a rhetorical question. Does your training feel athletic?
Let’s wrap up this conversation with a short video clip from Impact Performance Training in Newberg, Oregon. Dewey Nielsen’s got a great gym that trains both athletes and general population clients, but they all get to do some pretty cool stuff. After watching the video below, you’ll realize what my mom meant when she said “Real gyms don’t have TVs!” and why I completely agree with her.