Go to the Gym, Gain Five Pounds

Or maybe 14 pounds. Or so it seems when you’re used to weighing yourself naked and dehydrated in the morning on a flaky bathroom scale and then you step onto a balance scale in the locker room in your gym clothes at 1:30 in the afternoon. So, currently, I weigh somewhere between 239 and 225. Who the hell knows?

me at Pure Austin FitnessBut yes, I went to the gym, for the first time in about two years. This was over 24 hours ago, and I’m not as debilitated as I might have expected. Still, I’m envisioning serious tendonitis setting in sometime tonight. At the same time, I feel really good. It still works! It’s amazing how the body remembers what health and activity feel like and how quickly it comes to adapt to and crave them. I think a big part of it is chemical—testosterone, growth and repair hormones, endorphins. Your body pumps out this stuff as a defense mechanism but your brain soaks it up like a drug. You go from not being quite sure you’ll make it out of bed one more morning in a row to believing you can lift heavy objects and bend them to your will. In one day.

So, how does this fit in with “the plan?” Well, only one day behind, for starters! And it probably wouldn’t have happened at all, I have to admit, without the encouragement, and yes, the slightest bit of good-natured badgering (and really, have you ever met any bad-natured badgers?) from you, my faithful friends, readers and googlebots. Actually, I’m still waiting to hear from the googlebots, but I assumed they wanted me to go to the gym as promised. This was the first gym on my list to check out: Pure Austin Fitness (formerly Powerhouse, which is how I mistakenly referred to it in the previous post). It’s more upscale than my memory of 24 Hour Fitness, but still in the same range. It’s definitely no Mecca. Though there are some Mecca-like touches, which are really nice.

First impressions: When I got there at about 1:30 in the afternoon on Friday, the place was dead. Not totally, but it’s so cavernous and the sight lines are obstructed enough that even though there were at least five gym employees, two or three people working out with trainers, and maybe another five people working out solo, I often felt like I had the place to myself. I had the men’s locker room totally to myself both when I checked it out during my tour and later on when changing into workout clothes. There was one other guy in there after my workout.

The girl who gave me the tour was cute in an overly-made-up sorority girl kind of way, but other than that totally vacuous and useless. She never introduced herself, knew less about the gym than I did from visiting the web site earlier in the day, and couldn’t be bothered to actually take me on a tour of the facility without me pointing at things and saying, “Show me that now, biatch.” The one factoid she offered up to me was that “the owner goes to Vegas every year and brings back all the best equipment.” This was also the one time she really became animated as it seemed to really impress her. That made one of us. Though I have to admit I had some interesting visuals of what a fitness convention in Vegas must be like. I’m sure it will be on CSI next week. Only through cross examination did I hear about the climbing wall, the swimming and kayaking quarry lake, the sand volleyball court, the kick-boxing studio and, saving best for last, the free towels. Oh, the other piece of information she volunteered, which I don’t count because it violates the first rule of checking out gyms—which is: it is what it is, anything they promise will happen “soon” will never happen—is that they plan to install a heated, outdoor “junior Olympic” (again, more great visuals) swimming pool “by May.” Since it’s basically March now and there’s no giant hole in the ground out back, I assume this is somewhat optimistic.

membership bookAbout half way through the tour when I asked about rates she said, “Oh, this is yours,” and handed me a three-ring binder she had been carrying around and which contained a bunch (19 pages) of information about the gym. You know, by the way. Okay, B+ for the physical presentation, but they really need to work on the delivery, literally. Since I had my backpack with training shoes tied to it over my shoulder the whole time, I assumed she would offer me a chance to work out, but apparently she didn’t get the message. At the end of the tour I said something about checking out some other gyms and only then did she mention that they offered a two-week free trial membership. I know what you’re thinking: this is good salesmanship—wait for me to ask before offering anything free, in case I’m ready to sign on the dotted line immediately. But it wasn’t. I really don’t think it had occurred to her beforehand. I mean any of it: not that a goofy bag and goofy shoes might mean I wanted to work out, not that I might want a trial membership, not that I might or might not sign on any dotted lines today. I just don’t think she cared one bit. Then she asks me if I want to work out today. Um, yeah.

As far as the workout, pretty standard stuff. I did ten minutes on a Precor elliptical to warm up and wandered around finding and trying various resistance machines for probably an hour before finishing up with 35 minutes on a different elliptical machine. All the machines have heart monitors, which is nice, so I knew that during the cardio portions of my workout I maintained between 135 and 152 bpm heart rate with an average of 139. For my age and fitness level that’s pretty good and relatively non-life threatening. And at my weight it means I burned a whopping 600+ calories on the elliptical alone. Woo hoo! Taco salad, here I come! I wish. Anyway…

Environmentally, this is an absolutely beautiful gym. Everything is brand new and super clean. The views out the back are as phenomenal as you get for suburban real estate in Austin. The value of being able to stand on any piece of cardio equipment and see—out one window—water, rocks, trees, ducks, and girls playing beach volleyball (okay, this last part is just my fantasy, since it’s about 50 degrees here right now) cannot be overestimated. The gym personnel are cool and detached, which makes some sense since many of them appear to be Swiss. Oddly, most of the gym staff didn’t look like they work out, though presumably they have free memberships. I’m pretty sure the girl who gave me the tour wouldn’t have been able to operate a treadmill to save her life.

Setting everything else aside, I could probably join just for the locker room. Again, spotlessly clean and, incredibly, sunlit! Who ever heard of windows in a gym locker room? It’s brilliant. Spacious lockers, shower stalls with curtains, nice tile, free hand lotion, mouthwash, and Q-tips. I have to stop and talk about the Q-tips for a moment, because this is a real parity-determining issue for me. I had actually thought about Q-tips quite a bit during my phase of considering re-upping at a gym. Mecca had Q-tips and 24 Hour didn’t. For me this was a dividing line. I had decided that the ability to maintain Q-tips in an open container in the men’s locker room marked the socio-economic separator line between the cheap gyms and the high-class gyms. I’m going to be classist and non-pc here for a minute, but you really do get a better class of people at a more expensive gym. I’m not saying Mecca never had problems—they keep changing towel policies because people were stealing them (in fairness, they were really good towels!)—but when I was at 24 Hour they couldn’t keep soap dispensers on the walls in the men’s locker room because people kept tearing them off. People are animals. Rich people just direct their animal tendencies in more decadent directions than destroying their own gym, or stealing Q-tips and Q-tip dispensers, I think. Considering Pure Austin is half the price of Mecca and “only” $20 more per month more than 24 Hour, I was astounded to find Q-tips. I had assumed there would be none and simply forgot to look for them. I only discovered the Q-tips while taking advantage of the free mouthwash. That almost pushed me over the edge. Q-tips!

On the way out, I passed the girl who gave me the tour. In the almost two hours I’ve been there, I can’t imagine more than four people came in the front door. Yet when I say “bye,” I get the blankest stare, the mutest open-mouth gape imaginable. So unless she has a twin drooling in boredom at the same job (which I seriously considered, the look was so blank), the girl simply didn’t remember talking to be two hours before. At least the girl at Mecca used to pretend to recognize me! These people need lessons in working it. Then again maybe the feeling they’re trying to conjure in the consumer is “refreshingly irrelevant.”

What’s the bottom line? I’m going to do my two weeks. And then I’ll go over and do two weeks at 24 Hour and either decide I can rub elbows with the hoi polloi or that I can front the extra $250 a year for posh surroundings and intact soap dispensers. And Q-tips. Or, I might decide to get hard-core and do a trial at Gold’s Gym. Now that place will put hair on your chest! You know, before they make you wax it off.

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