Suddenly, she’s jolted by a loud, piercing air-horn like noise that blares through the speaker in a column near her machine. She looks around, trying to determine what that was about, before shrugging her shoulders and going back to her walk. She begins reading her magazine, and laughs at an article when the noise sounds again. She looks over at the front desk, and notices the employees are staring at her. Suddenly feeling very self-conscious, she decides to investigate. She walks to the front of the gym and asks “what is that noise that keeps going off?” The employee gives her a disapproving look and responds “oh that? That’s the laze alert. It goes off when people are being comparatively lazy and not putting their all into their workout.” Her eyes grow large as she understands, and is furious. “Are you saying you set off an alarm…because I wasn’t working out hard enough?” The employ tries to calm her down “you have to understand, ma’am. This is a judgment-free zone. We want our members to feel comfortable and motivated. Seeing out of shape, undedicated people in their gym bums them out and brings down the energy. Technically, we’re not even supposed to allow you to have that magazine, that’s been banned, because it’s a casual thing, and we like to focus on people who take their training seriously.”
The woman was understandably enraged. She quit the gym and walked out, aghast that a facility in this day and age could operate this way.
Pretty horrible stuff, huh? Well, I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is, this was a work of fiction. The bad news is, it’s not far from the everyday practice of a popular national gym known as Planet Fitness. Siobhan and I joined our local PF recently. It’s still in the process of being built, but the grand opening should be soon. I’ve be SO excited over this. I haven’t been a member of a gym in three years. I’ve wanted to; I’ve DESPERATELY wanted to, but there isn’t one near us that we could afford the monthly price of. Our rent keeps going up, our cars keep breaking, and every time we have to go to the doctors, it’s a fight just to get Blue Cross to cover it. I’m STILL fighting bills from months ago. We cancelled cable TV well over a year ago to allow us to afford our living expenses.
So when we got the flier from planet fitness, we thought we’d found salvation. It was close – less than 10 minutes away, and it was cheap - $10.00 a month, with no commitment. Finally, I could get back to working out and feel like myself again. Lately, however, I’ve been hearing more about this sorry excuse for a “gym.” First of all, the free weights only go up to 65lbs, and there are no weight benches or squat racks. On top of this, you’re NOT ALLOWED to do dead-lift. With the arguable exception of the barbell squat, the dead-lift is the single most effective exercise to work your lower body, bar none. PF’s reasoning “it’s a power-lifting move, and we’re more focused on first-time gym goers.”
Can someone tell me how STOPPING people from getting the most effective workout possible is going to stop new gym-goers? They tell me “we have trainers that will tell you which machines to use to work the same muscle groups.” No. You don’t. Do you know WHY the dead-lift is used by power-lifters? WHY hardcore gym rats do it instead of machines? You think the guys with mountains of muscle are somehow just unaware of how amazing machines are? The REASON dedicated gym members do dead-lifts is because it’s effective in a way that machines never could be. When you use a machine designed to work a muscle, that’s pretty much all you’re working. The bars keep the machine’s movement restricted to a precise track, which means the all the smaller stabilizer muscles that are normally recruited when you do a free weight lift with a natural range of motion are largely ignored. They’re better than sitting around on your butt all day, but compared to the free-weight equivalent? They’re useless.
But what’s even worse is the “laze alert” equivalent. Anyone who truly pushes themselves and finds themselves facing enough exertion to emit an audible grunt, of if the weight plates can be heard, the staff blare a “lunk alarm.” A loud, screeching air-horn like noise meant to publicly shame the person for getting in a hard workout. Implying that having muscles taking your fitness seriously makes you a “lunk head.” This is all done in what they bill as “a judgment free zone.” I don’t know about you, but knowing that people are watching me and setting off alarms to draw attention to me if I push myself for maximum effect? Knowing that they’re essentially saying “hey everyone, doesn’t this guy make you uncomfortable? Look at him, all focused and serious. What a lunk!” Doesn’t really make me feel like I’m not being judged.
At the peak of my training, I weighed 230lbs and had 8% bodyfat. That doesn’t mean I judged the smaller guys, or the people with more fat. I never scowled at them, or mocked them. I damn sure never blew a freaking air-horn to call attention to them. There’s something you need to understand about the big guys at the gym: they don’t give a crap about you. And I don’t mean they don’t like you, I mean that to them, you’re a non-factor, because they are focused on their workout. Because that’s what you do when you’re determined to get in shape. You put your headphones on, you keep your mouth shut, and you work. Period.
And this is the same gym which, in many locations, serves candy and bagels, and once a week offers pizza. This isn’t simply being non-judgmental. This is pandering. This is desperate, transparent fear that people will think that PF is a gym, where people who are serious about wanting to get healthy go to do just that. And why is that such a horrible thing? I live in the fattest country in western civilization. A country in which more people die from obesity-related illness than aids. Than cancer. Than meth, crack, cocaine, heroin, and every other illegal drug combined. And there’s a lot of reasons that we’re this fat. I don’t want to over-simplify the issue. Over-processed, artificial food is much cheaper and more readily available than healthy food, which is a major concern in a bad economy, for example. But as much as any other reason, it’s our attitude. It’s this idea that the single largest cause of preventable death in this country should be catered to instead of discouraged. No one likes the school-yard bully that picks on the fat kids, but that doesn’t mean we should be ignore the issue. We don’t cater to bulimia or anorexia, neither of which have had the devastating effect on our average standard of health that obesity has. Yet, instead of encouraging people to use the most effective exercises, PF is limiting them to ineffective machines and handing them junk food.
I’m so frustrated – so angry right now. Life has driven me to the point that I try not to get too excited for things because they tend to not work out the way I envision them; but I really thought I was going to be able to get back to the my old lifestyle. I feel crushed. And this certainly does nothing to ease my growing frustration over living in a culture that increasingly demonizes masculinity. I feel so out of place in the modern world.