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The Gray Iron Fitness Newsletter, Issue #161 Were gyms better in the old days?
May 01, 2015

May 1, 2015

In this newsletter . . .

"Old school" gyms

I’ve belonged to or worked out in a lot of different gyms. Some, when I was young, were big iron sweat palaces with lots of grunting, groaning, and strutting . . . and where weights were ceremoniously dropped to the floor when a set or lift was completed. Ed Yarick’s in Oakland and Walt Texiera’s in Hayward, California, were like that. Don’t get me wrong, they were great places, but knee-deep in machismo. Unless you had true muscle-head aspirations you didn’t hang around. I had true muscle-head aspirations.

Back in those days, the 1950s and early ‘60s, you’d never find women lifting on men’s days, Alice Yarick and Abbye Stockton being two of the few exceptions that I knew about. There were always separate spaces or women’s hours and men’s hours. If you’re under 60 you might think I’m making this up, but I’m not. I know there are some people today who still prefer separation of the sexes in health clubs. “Women only” gyms do exist but aren’t the rule.

Was it better then or better now? It depends. I think having women in the gym at the same time as men tends to have a civilizing effect on gym etiquette and behavior, usually. But have today’s gyms lost some of their toughness? You can walk into a modern health club today and find some members halfheartedly pedaling recumbent bikes while reading a magazine or playing with a smartphone. Be careful, you think to yourself. You might break a sweat. In days gone by, he or she would have been ridiculed out the door. Get lost fella. If you’re not sweating or eking out that last tough rep, you’re taking up valuable space.

Where I workout today there’s a mixture of training intensities. To be fair, most people move efficiently through regular routines. And a few train very hard, though there are no Olympic style lifters or hard-core bodybuilders. It’s a clean, civilized gym and the boisterous (but fun!) behavior in the gyms of my youth wouldn’t be tolerated. Today, if you want to lift heavy, fine. If you choose to sleepwalk through a routine, that’s fine too. Personally, I'm there to workout. No standing around talking or reading magazines. Not everyone shares my attitude. Still, at my age, I prefer this more democratic gym format. Live and let live.

Yet some old school habits were decidedly better. For example, I don’t see many training partnerships these days, people who regularly work out together. In the old days training partners were the rule not the exception. Once you got acclimated, you'd buddy-up with someone. You would count your partner’s reps and if he wasn’t giving a 100-percent effort, you’d push him a bit to get him there. Three people training together were even better than two. The recovery time always seemed perfect with each of you doing a set in consecutive order. And when squatting or bench pressing there was always a spotter at each end of the bar. One thing a new trainee should barrow from the past is having a training partner or two. Your progress will soar.

I’ve never worked out at a Cross Fit gym, but I’ve watched some of their videos and the atmosphere kind of reminds me of old school gym camaraderie. A few years ago, I went to one of Pavel Tsatsouline’s kettlebells workshops and got a similar feeling of good fellowship. I can’t imagine people sleepwalking through workouts in those places.

On the negative side of old school, ripe, unlaundered, sweat-soaked workout clothes worn while training or left in dressing room lockers to ferment was not uncommon in those days. In today’s well-run, modern gyms and health clubs that kind of thing is unusual. Women member presence, I think, tends to discourage poor housekeeping and reeking workout gear.

Of course we always have the option of creating a home gym, if we tire of commercial health clubs. They can be as spartan or as elaborate as space and budgets dictate. But even in a home gym, training partners can boost your enthusiasm and hasten your progress.

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The Gray Iron Fitness Newsletter is a free publication sent twice monthly to subscribers. The purpose is to provide honest and realistic fitness information for people age 50 and above.

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Logan Franklin
The Gray Iron Fitness Newsletter

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