Whenever I travel or go on vacation, I always look for a place to train.
In my quest to find a quality place to train when I’m traveling, I have learned to avoid the LA Fitness/Bally’s commercial gyms. These gyms are sorely lacking in one piece of equipment that is most useful to me, and should be a mainstay of any gym—a barbell. But they do have plenty of machines and dumbbells, and usually a sad airbrushed sign with a woman curling a 10lb dumbbell with an adjective like “powerful” written somewhere close by. If this were my only option, of course I would pay the ridiculous fee to get my workout in. Also, it always seems like the staff members are inconvenienced by having to sign me in for the day, as if they’re doing me a favor. So I’ll gladly go somewhere else.
Here are few gyms where I have trained that are the complete opposite of commercial gyms and are great places to train.
Coffee’s Gym – Marietta, GA
Two years ago I was in Atlanta, Georgia for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) Conference. Before going, I did some research to find a place to train and a friend suggested Coffee’s Gym. Since the gym is in Marietta, it was about a 40-minute cab ride away from where I was staying. As soon as I got the conference schedule, I decided which day I could make the trip.
One morning I woke up and hailed a cab and got there just as the gym was opening. I knew it was going to be a great place to train when I looked over and saw a dog laying on the floor beside the desk. The walls were decorated with old posters of Olympic lifters, bodybuilders and powerlifters. There were also newspaper clippings and plenty of medals won by John Coffee’s lifters.
That day I trained deadlifts, followed by some chin-ups and one arm rows. Then I talked to the one guy working who had just finished training a client. I was wondering when John Coffee would be in, and asked about the gym, trying to delay so I could talk with Coach Coffee. The guy said he was surprised Coffee wasn’t there yet. I didn’t have much time and the cab I called back was waiting on me.
While riding back to the hotel, my cell phone rang. I answered and it was John Coffee. He apologized for missing me and asked about my workout and talked about my lifts and said if I ever compete at the Arnold to look him up so we could meet. I was very surprised by the call and happy to have made the trip. It was definitely a place I would revisit.
World Gym – Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Last November when I went to Ft. Lauderdale and watched NPC Bodybuilding Nationals, I lifted in World’s Gym. You could tell the place had been around for a while. The bars were well used, the dumbbells were not fancy, the machines were also likely from a generation before.
I remember training back. Starting with chin-ups, I found the only pull-up bars between two cable machines. Being that I’m short, I looked around for a box to use so I could jump up and step down easily. I did my chin-ups, and Yates machine rows, then bent over rows.
When I started taking the weight off I remember an older woman came up and said how great it was to see me training. Another guy wearing an NPC tank top quizzically asked if I was competing in something this weekend. I replied, “No.”
When I went to check out the guy working asked where I was from. When I said, “Philadelphia,” he was thrilled because he was from the Northeast and loves Philadelphia and grew up not too far from me. Small world. I bought a t-shirt then left, and would recommend training there.
Atili’s Gym – Wildwood, NJ
Aside from places to train that are on longer travels, one of my favorite places is Atili’s Gym in Wildwood, New Jersey. The gym has been around since the 70’s. The walls are outlined with 8×10 bodybuilding pictures in wooden frames. Most of them are signed and most of them in black and white. I love it.
As I’m training, I’ll get a few sets done and start looking at the pictures trying to guess who’s who, then do another set. I continue to do this—finish a set, look at pictures, back and forth—till I’m done lifting. Sometimes I go home and try to search for the competitors to see if I can find the same picture. Some are obvious—Arnold, Platz, Ferrigno, Lenda Murray, Bev Francis—but others I’m still trying to guess. Closer to the front desk there are current, colored photos signed from recent competitors. It’s cool.
And there isn’t really anything “new.” No foam rollers and I haven’t seen any people use bands to warm-up or for their actual workout. It’s barbells, dumbbells, machines. The place is usually packed. There are a few TVs over the cardio equipment, which is outnumbered by the amount of weights which is rare. They also have a few heavy bags and an outdoor area with stuff like tires if you’re into that.
The owner, Chris, is a good guy and the staff is all friendly. Chris used to be there often, but in the past couple of years he opened two more Atili’s Gyms in the adjacent beach towns (Avalon and Sea Isle). They are nothing like the original. Even if I were at a neighboring beach, I would venture to Wildwood to train. Anywhere else just isn’t the same.
The one thing I never forget when I go to another gym is that I’m a guest. Training is so important to me (at the end of the day, you’re health is all you’ve got), so I don’t try to negotiate the training fee. A good gym is worth it to me. I always put my weights back. I wait my turn if there’s only one bar. I’m nice to the people who work there, even if they’re doing something dangerous with a client on a bosu ball or cable machine. Gym etiquette seems sort of strange now days. It’s different everywhere you go. But I try to remember that I’m a guest.
Those are just a few gyms that I have enjoyed training at on the road. If you have any quality gyms that you’ve traveled to and would like to recommend, please share them in the comments.