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Part I of a Renegade's lament to Big Box gyms


Some time ago, I found myself traveling frequently around the United States as a professional musician. Although I loved my life singing lead for a touring band, it made my exercise habit a tough one to hold on to. I was forced to join several of the growing number of “big box” gyms in order to ensure every city in which I stopped would have a place where I could find the equipment necessary to continue improving my body and my life through exercise.

As I drew toward the end of my time with that particular band, I had whittled the list of fitness centers needed down to one, now ubiquitous, massive franchise. I kept my membership at this particular fitness chain with the not unreasonable hope that I could continue my workouts in whatever city I settled in perpetuity.

As I began my adventure in the great city of Boston, Massachusetts, I was therefore  pleased to discover one of their locations was merely a few hundred yards from my new front door.

I want to preface this next section with a few words about this chain’s, and countless others like it no doubt, business model. My main annoyance is with some of the rules and regulations that are found, in my experience, in all but the most athlete friendly locations . You may notice my choice of words: athlete friendly. I use this particular phrase specifically because athletes need to train dynamically and explosively, constantly challenging themselves and, inevitably, working until failure in some instances.

This particular chain, we’ll call it Joe Fit for the purposes of this article, frowns on a few basic things. At Joe Fit, there is no throwing or dropping of weights, audible “grunting” is not allowed under any circumstances, including injury or work to failure, and no “judging”. I want to be very clear; I agree wholeheartedly with not passing judgment on others for any reason. While I do agree with the basic tenet, I feel like Joe Fit has created an atmosphere that, while not judging the least fit of our very unfit American society, it actually encourages, at an institutional level, the negative judging of the most athletic and fit section of our society. It is obvious to me now that Joe Fit’s business model is not based on improving lives as Hordon Health’s is, but getting people who will not use the facility on a regular basis to feel comfortable enough to sign a long term commitment.

We have all levels of exerciser at Hordon Health; from formerly chronically injured, overweight non exercisers, to current and former elite competitive athletes and former Olympians. It is our goal to make everyone feel welcome and excited about improving their lives through Renegade Fitness. We never judge, and always encourage. It seems that Joe Fit could find no way to make everyone comfortable, and therefore arbitrarily separated society into two groups, the fit and the unfit, and decided to alienate and pass judgement upon the smaller of the two groups.

Although I agree that the weight being used for any particular exercise should never exceed the athlete’s ability to control it with grace, there are times when the sheer amount being moved, and the manner of the movement, will create an audible byproduct. Among the unacceptable audible byproducts at Joe Fit are; the celebratorial whoop after busting a personal record, the forceful expelling of air on the last rep of a hard set, or the inevitable and positive jingle of an Olympic Bar at the top of an explosive lift. All of these are sounds that I make on a regular basis while working out, and have been scolded for making at several Joe Fit locations across the country.

Check back here next week, and I will recount how my time as a Joe Fit member came, unceremoniously, to an end.

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