The more I read and travel, the more I find the same issue coming up time and time again. I hear it from fellow powerlifters and get a ton of questions on how to deal with it. Though I train at Westside, my traveling and busy schedule still allow me to experience this firsthand. The issue has to do with finding a good training facility.
I was introduced to the sport of powerlifting and training in a small 20 feet by 40 feet private “pit” of a gym in Findlay, Ohio. This place was a hole in the wall but had everything we needed to get bigger and stronger. We had one power rack, one platform, a lat machine, and some benches. During this time all I would ever dream about was getting out. I would read magazines like Muscle and Fitness and see the huge training centers and knew this is where I had to be to get bigger and stronger. Is this not where the strong get stronger and the big get bigger?
As luck would have it, I found one of these places during my time in college. This place had all the best machines, mirrors, locker rooms, aerobic equipment, juice bar, and hot chicks walking around from time to time. It took me about two weeks to figure out I uprooted myself right into HELL. I ran into many of the same issues many of you are still dealing with. These include but are not limited to the following:
Gym Owners and Other Staff
These are the same people who love you the minute you walk into the door but then realize you are “hardcore” and bad for business. They feel you are bad for business because you scare the members away and break down the equipment. What they do not see is the time you spend giving lift-offs, spots, and advice to these other members while the staff is busy on the phone or whatever else they spend their time doing behind the Iron Gated Front Desk.
Did you ever wonder why the other members ask you for advice and spots? Is it because you are the only one there who looks like you know what you are doing? Or is it because the staff can’t be found when they need help? I can remember early Saturday morning workouts where I would walk into the gym for a bench session and have to wait half hour for anyone to show up so I could get a spot or at least someone to call 911 if I killed myself. God forbid I ask the geek behind the desk who is too busy confirming his (his?) nail appointment for a lift-off or spot. After a couple of weeks you either get a personal phone call, letter, or a legal summons to see the manager about “your issues.” At this point you are asked to tone down your training because you are scaring the other members.
First, I would love to see the member that goes to see the owner and says, “I am afraid of that fat skinhead. You know the one, right? He grunts when I’m trying to talk on my cell phone. So loud in fact, that I can barely hear the TV when I’m on the recumbent bike. He scares me so much that I may just take my business elsewhere. I am going to join the gym down the street."
Note: There is no one more freaking lazy than the people that use these bikes. Whenever I see some fatass pedaling on one of these things, I feel like taking that useless towel he or she wears around the neck (this signifies that he is “getting fit”) and snapping his ass right out of the gym.
I think this is all a bunch of bullshit that they use to get you out so they can have their “happy place” of geeks in spandex. Second, what about the people that wear spandex but don’t quite have the body for it? I understand the freedoms of America, but spandex is a privilege, not a right. I guarantee that most people in the gym would like to see these people go well before I get canned. I am all for people having a positive opinion of themselves, but let’s not get carried away.
This is one I never really understood. Chalk and barbells go together like bread and butter. They have been together forever, but these places have done their best to separate the two. Could you imagine a gymnastics center with a big sign that says “No Chalk”? The only way I found to combat this was to smuggle in my own half block of chalk stuffed into a small butter dish. This act was in itself a renegade move and it did provide some satisfaction. But imagine trying to get ready for a big lift and having to sneak into a bag, pop open the butter dish, pull out a small piece of chalk, and color your hands with it. This does not go over well when you are trying to get into an aggressive state for a big lift. You are supposed to be able to go over to the box of chalk and chalk the hell out of your hands. This is part of the process they do not understand.
The purpose of the no chalk commandment is to keep staff members from having to clean it up. If the staff is not helping members with lift-offs, advice, and spots then what are they doing? Sorry, I forgot — they are on the phone. This also has to make you wonder if they clean the pads on the benches and machines. My advice to you is, when you are in these kinds of facilities, use chalk and use it liberally. Defy the laws and stand up for America.
America? But what does chalk and commercial gyms have to do with this great country?
If we use chalk, and I mean loads of chalk, these gyms will be forced to hire people to clean up after us. More and more people will catch on and use chalk. This leads to more of a mess and thus more jobs are created. This helps the economy and helps to feed families across America. This is also why I never bus my tray at McDonald’s.
I could go on forever about this one; the power rack is the shrine of any gym and should be treated as such. Unfortunately, I have seen many gyms that do not even have one rack! And those that do have racks have what I call junk racks. I have always been a wide squatter and could never find one rack I could squat inside of. So you have to set the rack up so that you can squat outside of it. Now the rack has pretty much lost its effectiveness.
Then you have the J-Hooks. They are about 10 inches deep and you have to do a freaking half squat just to get the bar out. If this was not bad enough, the hole spaces are about four inches apart. So you either do a half squat or a standing calf raise/shoulder shrug to get the bar out. Then you have to walk it out for your set. Once you are done with the set, you have to figure out how to get the bar back into the rack. After all this (the calf raise to shoulder shrug to shuffle to squat to shuffle to shoulder shrug to calf raise) you wonder why your back is so fried from the squat session. But hey, the rack looks nice to the other members who will only use it for barbell curls (or is that a reverse-grip clean?) and 135-pound shrugs. This is a whole other issue not to be discussed in this article. But yes, I also have had to wait up to 45 minutes for Captain Upper Body to get the hell out of the power rack so I could squat. These are the same assholes that discuss and debate whether or not you should do shrugs on shoulder or back day.
Remember the owners and staff that do not like you because you beat up all their equipment? Well, if they purchased real bars then they would not get beat up. There is nothing worse then walking into a gym to squat and all you can find is a bent 1000-pound test bar with no knurling in the middle. Trying to find a real piece of equipment like an SS Yoke Bar, Texas power bar, or cambered squat bar is like finding a straight man at a Cher concert. No need to worry, there are five or six curl bars you can use.
Do I really need to go into this? There are many studies that have shown music can have a positive effect on your training. These studies must have been misread by these gym managers. Britney Spears may increase my test levels but does nothing for my training. Enough said.
I never realized how bad a mirror can screw you up until the day I started squatting in front of one. First off, I am much uglier that I thought I was, but that is another issue. Second, you have to learn how to position yourself in space during a big lift so that you learn how to make corrections. The mirror distracts you from this process. They are good for one reason and that is not having to tweak my neck when I check out the lady (not the heifer) in spandex doing bent-over rows.
Much like the power rack, there is someone running around the country selling these guys a crock of crap on what is and what is not a good bench press. I have been on benches with nine-inch wide pads with half-inch foam, J-Hooks that are, once again, about 10 inches deep, racks that are set so you have to do a half rep to get he bar out, safety posts that get in the way of the press (I never understood this one; if I miss, the last thing I want to do is toss the bar back toward my head), benches that are 12 inches off the floor, and flooring that is too slick to get any leg drive.
And what about bands, chains, weight releasers, etc.? Do you really want to see the gym owner freak out? Walk in on your next squat day with a box squat box and an arm full of chains and bands. They will first look at you with wonder. Then after you get it all hooked up, they may or may not let you finish your training session. Even if they don’t say anything right away, you are guaranteed to hear something. “You can’t use this stuff here” will ring in your ears for the next few days. You were all excited about trying out some of the best advanced training methods and now they won’t let you. You are told you will get hurt. My question is, how do they know? And what about the Smith machine that could perhaps be the most dangerous piece of equipment ever invented? Then again, they would not know this, because they are too busy on the phone to say up to date.
There are many more issues but these seem to be the ones I run across the most. The other one that kills me is the new weight plates. What is up with the iron grip plates? The ones that have the handles cut into them so they are easier to pick up. If you are not strong enough to pick the plate up then it should not be on the bar! Then again, some of the trainers may not be strong enough to pick them up when they are loading them on the bar for their clients. Forget this one. It now makes perfect sense.
This article would not be complete if I did not give you options on how to avoid these pitfalls. Overcoming these issues is one of the missions of elitefts. I will provide you with some of these options that have worked very well for others who share the same training frustrations you have.
There are many good gyms out there. You just have to keep looking. By the time you finish this article you will know what to look for. Make a visit to every gym in your area and don’t settle until you find the one that will work for you. When you find one that you feel may work, schedule an appointment with the owner or manager of the place. You want to talk to the chief decision maker of the place. This is the guy that will go to bat for you if problems occur later down the line. Let him or her know what you will be doing and how you plan on training. Make sure they know you will go out of your way to help other members when asked and will clean up your mess before you leave. Get a good understanding of their concerns and let them know yours. Then pay month-to-month for a while “just in case.” When looking, do not rule out high schools and universities. Many of these (not all) will be more than happy to have you come in and train at their facilities.
I was just reminded of one other place you may find some help. Tony Hutson, a Baptist church pastor, started a local place with other members of his church called the Chain Gain Power Gym. You may find a great place to train by using your church as a starting point.
Visit A Powerlifting Competition
This is where you will find the same type of people with the same passion for the iron you have. While you are there, check out the t-shirts these guys are wearing. You will not see very many commercial gym shirts. What you will find is the name of many hardcore gyms that may be your next training palace. Take the time to talk to these guys. They can help steer you in the right direction.
Start Your Own “Hardcore” Gym
You can have your own place like those gyms in the gym directory and on the t-shirts of the powerlifting competitors. I spend time on the phone every day helping lifters get their private or garage gym started. It is not as expensive as you might think. If you have any questions, visit www.elitefts.com or call 888-854-8806. Part two of this series will focus on how to set up your own training center.