Friday, October 13, 2006

Commercial Gyms, Body Transformation and Beyond


I keep a membership at several different fitness centers or gyms if you will, all of which are part of national chains. Like many, I do this out of convenience, also because locally owned and operated gyms are becoming increasingly more difficult to find. Nonetheless, for the most part I have found all of the facilities at the chain gyms to be more than sufficient to get a great workout. Keep in mind, I have been weight training for over twenty-five years, so it is much easier for me to get what I need out of almost any gym environment. For sure, I can get a “workout”, but I am concerned with the current atmosphere that has become common in commercial gyms everywhere. When I stop and take time to look around, it is easy for me to see that the elements that gave me years of physical and mental sanctuary are gone. From my perspective, it seems that opposing forces of social interaction and inner peace that can play such a big part in your quest to get a better body, have been replaced by rows of cold soulless exercise paraphernalia. As a result, the participants come to do their workout as if it is another job, mindlessly going through the motions. Yes, the proliferation of fitness centers has undoubtedly made it possible for more people to access the tools necessary for change, but in the process, the mystery, art and inspiration needed for a truly remarkable experience has been lost. In my opinion, the gym as a place of refuge from the problems of everyday life is now just another location to stunt your creativity and “blend in”.


Why Lasting Body Transformation is ‘Spiritual’ NOT Mechanical

It wasn’t long ago that gyms were defined by their members’ collective personality. A place for individuality and community, gyms provided the cultural seeds for personal growth that went far beyond building your body. For years, I never really knew why it was so easy for me to get pleasure out of going to the gym. I now realize that my view of going to the gym is much different from people today. My memories of belonging and individual expression are the foundation for the feelings of extreme pleasure that I have whenever I think about going to the gym.

I suppose if I were to start exercising today, I too might think of it as just another place to punch the clock, hindering my progress and weakening the positive influence exercise has in my life. It is difficult for me to explain, but the more mechanical knowledge that becomes hardwired into our consciousness, in the realm of body transformation, the more we must find the courage to listen to our unconscious mind to inspire us to continue our quest. In the end, I believe lasting body transformation is a journey where numerical formulas and logic can de-motivate the most able-bodied individual. Simply put, the most rewarding things in life penetrate the spirit; relationships, music, art and creative freedom, the most unrewarding are mechanical, like many mindless tasks.

Understand your potential for body transformation has no boundaries; allow each step of your journey to become a perfect experience…

So When Did The Gym Experience Change?

I personally witnessed the biggest change in gym life with the introduction of Nautilus weight training machines, and the “express workout” phenomenon that started in the early 1980’s. While I have no problem with Nautilus machines per se, or a fast paced workout, I do believe the concepts that were popularized when this equipment was marketed, cut into the very soul of gym life. Like most things, the modernized approach to training during the Nautilus gym era took the endeavor from spiritual to mechanical.

The Necessary Evils of Mechanical Body Transformation
Above all else, I truly believe in understanding the fundamentals of training and nutrition. That said, a certain amount of mechanical knowledge is necessary to gain a grasp on the fundamentals. The truth is, when it comes to understanding how to map out your body transformation plan or any workout thereafter, you will need to set some basic guidelines or ‘mechanics’, that will provide a roadmap for your program. The mechanics of fundamentals involve how to perform individual exercises, sets, reps and proper weight selection, and of course, the numbers associated with your nutrition program. I am not trying to downplay these basics, however I do not believe that they need to be something you dwell on all the time. The fundamentals are a tool, not a hindrance, and so they need only to be reviewed periodically to adjust different facets of your program. As time goes on you’ll notice that by becoming more instinctive in your training, you begin to enjoy the process and this allows you to access higher levels of performance.

You’ll be training in the moment, not outside, looking backwards or forward.

On the other hand, I like to use the Nautilus gym era as an example of how the gym experience can become overly mechanical. I know this company can’t take all the blame, however some of the basic principles set forth during this era, are easily traced back to a demise of cultural body transformation and the rise of mass marketed gym chains. The list of Nautilus principles below, with my remarks clearly points this out.

1. Train to all out muscular failure or don’t train. Talk about mechanical, what is the mental cost associated with do or die training principles? In essence, this belief means that nothing less than shear all out effort can be associated with your training. If you’ve ever tried using this to motivate you to go to the gym each day, let me state for the record, it doesn’t work. You begin to resent the gym, because no one can pull a peak performance on demand, not to mention every workout. Peak performances come from the unconscious state top athletes call the ZONE. Mechanical programs make training in the ZONE nearly impossible.
2. Do the exercises in pre-determined succession. While this might be good for a specific goal, it is by no means the way to stay motivated year after year. Again, the result is boredom and resentment, because the program becomes like a rigid ball and chain.
3. Progress ONLY comes from lifting heavier weights. This concept is a half-truth. Yes, getting stronger will bring about gains in new muscle size. However, strength is dependant on many factors, including order of exercises, rep range, rest between sets and the time it
takes to complete a single set or rep.


Getting the Best out of a Commercial Gym
I have a simple analogy for getting the most out of training at a commercial gym. To me it is like driving a car for the experience, not to be confused with driving to get from point A, to point B. Once you get the fundamentals of driving a car down, you can begin to drive with a certain feel for the road. The first order of business is to remember that each drive (or workout) should be a new and exciting experience. No rules are set in stone, but here are some tips:

  • You can start with an ‘exercise map’, but when the gym is crowded you need to be flexible and creative (don’t stand around).
  • When you veer off your map, you should pick exercises like choosing an open lane on the highway. That means go for whatever exercise is available that allows you to hit the target muscle.
  • Once you begin to exhaust a muscle group it is counterproductive to wait around for a specific exercise.
  • Once you begin training a target muscle group, the primary goal is to keep it on the run (doing WORK).
  • Your flow from exercise to exercise becomes your workout tempo.
  • Your training tempo is the ‘heartbeat’ of your workout.
  • Maintaining tempo throughout your workout will enhance your mental focus for maximum results.
  • A focused tempo forces you to avoid the exercises that require you to wait too long (like a traffic jam), and you immediately look for alternate exercises (routes) that will unlock your intuitive thought that creates YOUR unique experience.
  • You push your muscles like an engine; gently pushing to devour more open road yet holding back ever so slightly because you know you will drive again.
  • This is not a do or die race, it is a time to communicate with your senses, to experience the rush, and feeling each ridge in the road (your muscles contracting).
  • Done correctly, each workout will become a new driving experience, even if you travel on the exact same road another day.


It is not likely that local gyms that are more personal will rule the exercise world anytime soon. However, by exercising your mental and physical body when you go to the gym, the experience will certainly be much more rewarding and eventually an activity in which YOU thrive.

The next paragraph can be printed, cut out and kept in your gym bag

The Gym Is My Personal Arena
My gym is the arena where my mental and physical quests and adventures take place. This arena is where exercise allows me to ignore the minutia and insanities of the world. This arena is a parallel universe where my mental and physical being leaves the mechanical world, and I get in touch with my unconscious dreams. I practice my art in this arena to get closer to my inner sense of possibilities and further from the heavy world of facts and probabilities.

Train hard,


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