…says the big sign is set up right next to the aerobics room. The seven-foot-tall sign proudly lists all various offerings at my 24 Hour Fitness, which took over from Bally’s, which opened here in 2004.
It’s pretty much the same stuff all the gyms offer. Personal training, aerobics, spinning, yoga. Same building, same people, new owner.
Before Bally’s, hell, I can’t even remember any more. Oh yeah. Holiday Spa.
In the early 1970s I worked out at an Army gym on a Washington DC post and was the only female in sight. In 1977, I convinced my parents to buy me what was then still legal: a lifetime membership at a health club in a downtown Holiday Spa DC location. They had clubs all over the United States. In 1979 I moved out west. My membership was good everywhere, even internationally.
That membership, a birthday gift from my parents, turned out to be one heck of a lifetime investment. Because we’d bought a premier membership, each time the local gyms in Colorado got bought, I was grandfathered in. Bally’s bought Holiday, and hung in there a good long time. It sold out its eight Colorado locations in 2014, and 24 Hour took over in 2015.
By this time, my annual maintenance fee- don’t hate me- was $10 a year. A year. I buy in decades. Gyms make most of their money on folks who purchase memberships and don’t show up. Broken New Year’s resolutions are their bread and butter. I’ve been a spin trainer for my gym; it’s a total racket.
The iron-heavy part of the gym was like a corporate boardroom: women weren’t very welcome. However, as a middle-schooler I could lift a hundred-pound barbell. When guys realized that I was a serious gym rat, they left me alone. A few offered tips. That’s how I learned to lift. That, and reading Joe Weider magazines full of photos of Arnold in his steroid-pumped prime.
On one occasion in the early 1980s, I saw two women come in to the gym’s hardcore area and do a series of very impressive pull-ups. Never forgot how powerful they looked. The rest of the time, women primarily came for aerobic classes and eschewed the weight room. Except to flirt. I was most at home with the sweat and the chalk and the grunts and the farts. Lots of cities had women-only gyms, with pink outer walls and machines that jiggled your cellulite. Which, by the way, does absolutely nothing other than make you feel superior, after which you head for the nearest coffee shop for a donut. One has to recover from one’s exertions, doesn’t one?
Tonight as I was finishing my reps on the incline chest press, I caught the reflection of a woman doing a series of difficult squats with heavy weights. She had terrific legs and impressive arms. We gave each other a friendly nod and continued our business. In fact, the whole free weights area was full of women. There were at least as many women punching iron as there were men. They were confident, strong. Women in their teens to their seventies. It’s been changing for a long time but tonight, I made a point to really see it. These women have stopped using that ancient argument that they “don’t want to get all muscular” to stay out of the gym. In the first place, it takes years and years of hard work and dedication to build those muscles. In the second place, due to body type, some of us never will.
Besides, that’s not the point of doing weight work.
At nearly 65, I’ve spent my entire adult life handling dumbbells, barbells and working my way around the sweaty confines of a Gold’s, a Bally’s, whatever the name happens to hang on the door this month. I’ve seen people show up, make a lot of noise and disappear. A few of us stay for life. Strong bones and powerful muscles serve us in every aspect of our lives. Lifting not only supports our other sports, but also because as we age, weight-bearing work keeps us strong, tight and upright. The body builds muscle as long as we ask it to do so.
The gym was where I worked off the ninety pounds I padded on during a terrible time in my life. The gym is where I rehab after epic accidents that occasionally happen on my adventures. Because of this hard work, my injuries have been very serious but didn’t kill me. On more than one occasion a doctor has told me that had I not been in this shape, I’d be dead or a quadriplegic.
If nothing else, I sport the body of very fit forty-year-old. I can’t speak for anyone else, but that alone is what keeps me coming to the gym religiously, three nights a week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. My six pack isn’t genetic. It’s the fruit of decades of intense hard work and thoughtful eating.
If there is one sea change that gives me the greatest pleasure, it’s to see women of all ages, shapes and sizes join me in that part of the gym which for a long time was a male bastion of pumped muscle and posturing. These women want to be strong, healthy and vital- and better at skiing, boarding, running, cycling, climbing. For them, seeing other chicks with iron in their hands is the norm. They’ve never known anything else.
I have. Like others of my generation, I remember the unfriendly male stares when I picked up my first dumbbell. Today I am proud to share the iron corner of the gym with that not-so-gentle sex, my fellow female athletes. To see these women “work the room,” is deeply impressive. Besides, it keeps the guys from farting.
So perhaps the sign should read, “SEE THE DIFFERENCE.” Or for that matter, “SMELL THE DIFFERENCE.”
Because I sure do.