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I Joined a Commercial Gym: Here’s Why


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I’m coming up on two decades in the fitness industry and this week I did a thing for the first time in my professional career.

No, I didn’t recommend a juice cleanse to a client.

Nope, I didn’t perform my first kipping pull-up.

I joined a commercial gym.

Copyright: Daniil Peshkov

Who Cares? And, Why?

Admittedly, I can understand why some of you reading might be thinking to yourselves “ooooookay, Tony.”

It’s quite an inane thing to announce.

I mean, people join commercial gyms all the time. Much like they brush their teeth in the morning, make a grilled cheese sandwich or, I don’t know, shop at The Gap.

People do shit.

What’s the big deal?

Well, nothing. But you made it this far so you may as well keep reading…;o)

1990 (or 91)

That was the year it started.

I was 13 and that was the year Mariah Carey dominated my bedroom walls I got my first weight set. You know, one of those sets that was always on sale at K-Mart and came with a bench, a barbell, and cement weights covered in plastic.

I loved that weight set and Mr. Random Black & White Male Model On a Poster Who, In Hindsight, Wore Shorts That Were Way Too Short became my mentor.

I followed that poster to a “T” and, along with my Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco rookie cards, it became one of my most prized possessions.

Soon I entered high-school and was then old enough to be allowed to use the weight room, located in the basement of the school itself and quite literally a dungeon. By then shows like Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, In Living Color, and Martin were dominating my cultural landscape, along with baseball, and the idea of playing it at the collegiate level.

Also, not for nothing: Salma Hayek entered my life.

I spent just about every day after school between my sophomore and senior years lifting weights in that dungeon. It had one of those universal gyms complete with a chest and shoulder press station, pulldown, leg press, leg extension/curl, and dip station. There was also a squat rack (if I had access to a time machine I’d go back and tell myself to start using it sooner), a few barbells, and a smattering of weight plates that were rusty enough to have required a yearly tetanus shot

I have fond memories of that dungeon.

It’s where I benched pressed 135 lb (the BIG WHEELS) for the first time. It’s also where I got stapled by 135 lbs for the first time when I attempted a second rep.

1996

In 1996, while home for summer break after my freshman year of college, I was punched in the face (in a good way) by the welcome surprise that a commercial gym had opened up in my hometown.

My hometown didn’t have a fast food joint (or a traffic light), but it now had a gym.

I was beyond the moon.

It wasn’t perfect, but it came with all bells and whistles I had never had access to prior…

  • Two squat racks (at this point, still not a fan. Dammit Tony!)
  • A litany of selectorized machines
  • More weight plates than I could count
  • And even the token old-timer meathead who, much to my mother’s gasp, told me to put raw eggs into my protein shakes

It was glorious.

It was mine.

And then…

2002-2021

In 2002 I became a fitness professional.

For the first five years of my career every workout took place in a menagerie of gyms I was employed by, except for the one year Eric Cressey & I drove to Stratford, CT  2x per week to train at South Side Barbell (a powerlifting gym) amongst giants.

That gym doesn’t exist anymore, but it was one of the best training years of my life.

Then, in 2007 I helped co-found Cressey Sports Performance and ever since I’ve lived in this peculiar strength & conditioning bubble where people perform full-ROM pull-ups, are more inclined to squat on Monday than bench press, and shrug it off as no big deal whenever someone deadlifts 405 lbs for reps.

It’s been 25+ years since I’ve paid for a gym membership because I’ve either worked in one or “owned” one.

For the past 15 months, however, I’ve been sequestered in my own 500 sq. ft. studio.

It gets the job done and I have everything I need to fulfill my training goals:

✅ Keys to the door.
✅ Ample weights.
✅ Specialty bars.
✅ Power Rack
✅ Sick hip hop beats.

That said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t confess I’m sometimes bummed I don’t have access to certain types of equipment.

Think: Hammer Strength machines, functional trainer, or, cue dramatic chipmunk…

 

…a leg press

That, and as a writer always looking for fodder to write about, selfishly, meandering about a commercial gym has always provided me a bevy of content.

It’s the ultimate anecdote to writer’s block…😂

That said, I hit a tipping point recently and came to the conclusion I needed a change of scenery; even if only 1-2x per week.

Now, it’s not lost on me I’m complaining about something many would have killed to have access to the past year, but working out where I work has been getting monotonous and boring.

I needed a change of pace. A break. A separation of church & state if you will.

After doing a bit of reconnaissance I ended up joining a neighborhood commercial gym this week, and so far it’s been a splendid experience and a welcome jolt to my training.

Granted, I don’t miss the incessant “peacocking” of dudes walking around or the perplexed looks I’ve received whenever I ask someone if I can jump in on a piece of equipment.

Based on some reactions you’d think I asked them what their favorite protein powder was in Klingon.

Relax.

I’m only going to take 30 seconds and then you can do your 47th set of seated rows.

Regardless, thus far the benefits have far outweighed the drawbacks. A different vibe was definitely needed and it’s offered a chance to disconnect and just focus on my training.

Plus, I never thought I’d be so smitten to see a pec deck.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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