“Fancy and Expensive Gyms” – BEWARE OF MIXED SIGNALS!

“Fancy and Expensive Gyms” – BEWARE OF MIXED SIGNALS, Fortis Fitness, Sean KellyWith many so called “gyms” these days, there is an almost direct correlation between how much money we pay and how far we are removed from ever attaining our health and fitness goals. I submit:

Generally, the fancier and more expensive your gym, the more likely you will remain fat and unhealthy.

I believe most people can relate to the type of “fitness facility” to which I am referring. The fanciest of these gyms are sure to be in the heart of the largest, most well traveled cities – New York, Paris, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, London, etc. These spaces are always fabulously opulent, satisfying those with the most mandarin tastes. Everything is exquisite; the finishes, the fixtures and the art on the walls. These gyms scream out luxury, exclusivity and privilege. The fees at these gyms can start at $5,000.00 per year for a base membership and not even include the racquet sports, personal training, meal plans, and massage or spa treatments.

I have visited many of these gyms in cities like New York, Hong Kong, and Miami – I always take careful note. A friend accompanied me recently. We chatted with the beautiful attendant at the front desk and she mentioned some of the celebrities who often drop by. The attendants and trainers at these gyms look like Victoria’s Secret models who “just decided to get into the fitness industry instead”. The Dudes are just as physically attractive as their gorgeous female counterparts. This place was no different.

The change rooms trumped anything I’d ever experienced for sheer extravagance. There were stacks of soft, fresh towels everywhere smelling slightly of lavender. Everywhere we looked there was marble, granite, rich mahogany, and the most beautiful and expensive bathroom fixtures imaginable. Huge flat screen televisions were all over the place, white cotton robes, massage chairs, the requisite steam room and saunas, even a Eucalyptus room – this place had it all.

So luxurious, so high end, SO COMFORTABLE! Let me sit in one of the massage chairs and read one of those thick, glossy magazines. “Let’s see, we’ve got “Yachts Quarterly”, or “GQ” or…Hey! “Dupont Registry!” That’s my favorite!” This magazine advertises the most expensive, most ostentatious used sports cars, yachts, and homes for sale from around the world. “Yeeeesssss…alright. Let me just…adjust and stretch right back into this …WHOAAA! …almost horizontal….ridiculously comfortable, auto-massaging leather easy chair.” “Dude…I just found a 72 foot 1964 yacht for sale for like, $18,500.00. It has 4 state rooms…” “What’s a state room?” “Imagine the ladies we could get with this thing!” “I bet we could it for like, $14,000…seriously. Dude, what kind of money do have laying around right now?”

An almost uncontrollable exclamation then fired out of my mouth “I FREAKING LOVE THIS PLACE…!” Just then, my friend, sitting beside me chuckled and asked philosophically “Why are we here?” I put down my glossy magazine for a second and replied “Uhm…it’s a gym, Stupid….is that a rhetorical question? We just paid close to $50 each for visitors’ passes to get our workout in, Dumbass! Why do you think we’re here?!” I shook my head and went back to the “1971 used Rolls Royce” section of my magazine. I added, “Dude, can you go get us two cappuccinos? I’m buying! C’mon! You’ll get to see the gorgeous ladies at the front desk again and the other Super-Hottie at the smoothies and coffee bar. Besides, we could use the caffeine to get hyped up for our big workout”

Upon his return with the coffees, I desperately tried to defend our purpose at this gym. “Just look at all the latest tools they have to get us into shape. We passed all that stuff on the way in! Didn’t you see those awesome cardio machines with the personal televisions and padded treadmill tracks? They don’t even allow your foot to come into contact with a hard surface. Then there was that big room full of the most beautiful, color coordinated, padded muscle machines with that nice new carpet.” Indeed, the sights sounds and scents in this place were strictly beautiful. They were only allowed to be pleasant. Everything smelled “new”.

Among the huge assortment of isolating machines, there was even one big, colorful rack with some shiny new rubber coated Olympic plates with hand grips built right in. There were also a few Smith machines, and those awesome vibration machines – you just need to sit on that baby and it does all of the work! I was almost ready to get using all this stuff, I just needed a few more minutes in the massage chair to finish my coffee and prepare mentally. Unfortunately, 30 minutes later, we were still in our thick cotton robes, in the chairs, talking and drinking more coffee.

There is always an inner sanctum, a “business within a business” within the walls of these ultra expensive fitness centers. These inner spheres have one purpose. That is to REALLY get down to the business of separating money from those who are willing to part with it unconditionally, and “ad nauseum”. This is the place where only the most exclusive clients shall receive their most expensive and necessary “treatments”. The name is always the same at all of these high end centers of fitness and wellness – the Spa.

The spa is always the nucleus of these places. It is the jewel within these businesses. All of the most intense comfort and pampering this core represents radiates throughout the rest of the space. Consequently, the “Spa” creates a rather distracting sensory seduction. It represents the source of the most indulgent mollycoddling. Unfortunately, all of this stuff has one big drawback. All of these things represent terribly obstructive signals; ones that are never conducive to preparing for a grueling squat rep PR with 405 lbs. on your back.

To say that typical treatments available at such high end spas are superfluous, superficial, insanely overpriced, relatively useless, and steeped in the worst pseudo-science ever concocted is, I would suggest, the understatement of the Health, Fitness and “Wellness” industries.

As far as some of the services available, here are just a few (…I kid you not):

  • 24 Carat Gold Signature Facial
  • Male Brazilian Bikini wax
  • Apple Stem Cell Anti-Aging Facial
  • Detoxifying Mud Wrap
  • Caviar Indulgence Signature Facial
  • Maple Sugar or Lavender Skin Smoothing Body Polish
  • Strawberry or Chocolate Facial
  • Full Body Souffle’ wrap
  • “Chakra balancing” Diamond (or emerald) massage
  • Wine (or Evian water) bath

Obviously, people may spend their money on whatever they wish and my opinion is unimportant. The issue I have with these facilities is that they “mix up’ of all of these strong signals and messages of comfort with the idea of losing fat, gaining muscle and getting into exceptional physical shape. In terms of effectiveness, these things go together like oil and water. I have witnessed this over and over again.

The problem is that that you will not always be conscious of the strong effect these signals can have on inhibiting your physical and mental improvement. Unfortunately, most gyms have these symbols and signals of comfort to some degree.

Many gyms emit these mixed signals to various degrees. The comfortable and relaxing massage chair and lifestyle magazines may be right next to the cardio machines. They may have useful, functional equipment, but completely indulgent, pampering change rooms.

There seems to be a new gym concept out there which exudes all things intellectually and spiritually esoteric. These gyms highly resemble art galleries. Please don’t be fooled by purposely “muddied waters”. An art gallery is one of the last places where you would be motivated to create the stimulus to cause real physical adaptations.

Regarding the folks who patronize these gyms, sure, there is the odd wealthy athlete you will see navigating the room. There are usually a few passionate, fit and mentally strong members who are able to somehow ignore all of the obvious sensory nonsense and actually get in a decent work out, albeit with less than useful equipment. Yet, the typical member seems to be rather confused. These people seem to be struggling – more with the concept of “what one does at the gym” than against any difficult resistance. They are often fumbling with a piece of isolating equipment, or making a mockery of a free weight exercise, usually with tiny dumbbells in hand. Most often though, these members are getting pampered (mentally and physically) by a highly paid personal trainer.

I fervently believe that spending any sustained period of time in such a gym environment endeavoring to “get into shape” will generally create the following:

A fatter, softer, pampered, stone-massaged, Brazilian waxed, microderm-abrased, chocolate, strawberry and lavender smelling “Dumbass” with less strength, less speed, weaker bones, weaker connective tissue, less function, weaker concentration, much, MUCH less mental fortitude and worse overall health who still has the dirt from their last “detoxifying mud wrap” under their otherwise perfectly manicured toe nails.

I suppose this person could consider it a consolation that at least he has skin as soft as melting butter (even if less healthy)!

So, would he be happy? Is this really what he was after?

Would he want more of THIS?

I highly doubt it. Hopefully, no one will have to witness his soft, white, naked ass any time soon. Just himself, when he stumbles out of the luxurious marble and granite, shower with the gold and silver finishes, directly into his own mirrored reflection – a fat, doughy, dimpled and pampered, 4th century “Roman Senator” of a physical specimen. This ugly realization would arrive in the very gym where he spent over $30,000 last year on the most expensive “self improvements” on the planet,….ALL TO END UP AS…AS…THIS!?

Are rich people really this stupid and gullible? Really? Most I know are very bright. That is how they became wealthy. So this seems to be one of those strange micro-economic anomalies yet to be fully understood. I can summarize this warning regarding the most expensive, pampering gyms as follows:


I think it’s important to look at the opposite end of the spectrum. I recall a visit to the 3rd Street Boxing Gym in Miami, Florida years ago. Most of the equipment looked broken but it was actually “Gerry rigged” to work with duct tape or an ugly re-weld. A grizzled fighter had just finished a really tough sparring session and sat at the end of a bench on a cable row with a towel over his head. I was a few feet away at the dip rack on the other side. Still catching his breath and recovering from the sparring, he removed the towel and he looked up at me for a moment. He nodded at me and then paused in what seemed to be deep thought for a few more seconds. He then proceeded to attack his next exercise with an unyielding determination. The effort this guy displayed even though he was obviously deeply fatigued was incredible. He had a ton of scar tissue on his face and head. I figured he was veteran club fighter, probably drove a cab or something on the side, just to make a living. I thought to myself – “wow, what a tough life”.

I found out shortly thereafter that the rugged individual I had witnessed was none other than World Cruiserweight Boxing Champion, Glenn Johnson. I had seen him right around the time of his legendary victory over Roy Jones Jr. I also found out that Glenn was worth millions, and drove a new Hummer. I think Glenn fully understood the importance of one’s training environment and the signals it conveys. Indeed, there is an oft repeated quote in boxing that helps to describe the eventual downfall of many champions. It goes something like this: “It’s hard to find the motivation to get out of bed at 5:00 am and run in the snow when you’re sleeping in silk pajamas.”

At the best, most effective gyms I have visited there is a strong awareness of all of these positive or negative symbols and signals and of their deep power. As far as “Golden Rules” regarding this topic, the best gyms all seem to subscribe to the following:

  • Keep only the most effective equipment needed for physical improvement – NOTHING more
  • The equipment needs only to function, not look “pretty” or new
  • Keep the premises relatively clean (apparently an optional rule, even if preferable)

That’s about it. There should be no signals of luxury or relaxation, rest or comfort – NONE. No marble, no easy chairs, no distractions of comfort or ease whatsoever. Quite the opposite – strong black coffee, perhaps some inspiring quotes on the wall and the loud verbal motivation of other members or the music.

I think this is one thing for which Crossfit deserves immense credit. Regardless as to what one might think about Crossfit methods, I believe they nailed this from day one. Crossfit, gives the gyms I have described herein one big, emphatic “middle finger” for their relative existential worthlessness. The truth and effectiveness of following these rules has got to be one of the reasons Crossfit has been so successful.

The typical Crossfit box is a Spartan, garage looking space with stacks of bumper plates, bars, ropes, chin up racks, and plyo boxes, concrete walls and black rubber floors. The signals here extol only the tools of effective physical progression. They tell only of the sweat, effort and hard work that is the currency of real physical and mental improvement. Nothing else is allowed in these gyms because it is inferior and/or less than effective to the goal of getting members in shape, based on the Crossfit methods. These spaces are then brought to life by a “tribe” of like-minded, supportive individuals. You will never see anything at a Crossfit box even remote to the nonsense so flagrantly displayed at these most expensive, high-end gyms.

The message to patrons of the exclusive gyms described herein is simple: these businesses are giving you what you want, NOT what you need. They are telling you what you want to hear, NOT what you need to hear. At the same time, they are taking as much of your money as possible and laughing all the way to the bank.

Other than perhaps spending the money instead on a worthy charitable donation, I still think there is great reason for those with the financial means to still attend this type of gym. I would simply add one giant caveat:

DO NOT go there to workout. Go there only AFTER a real workout that you had ELSEWHERE at a real gym designed for your optimal physical improvement.

Have a cigar, enjoy a protein smoothie. Hell, have a gin and tonic! Take a relaxing massage or steam bath. These places are so damn luxurious and relaxing that they are going to be fantastic (although exorbitantly expensive) for recovery and restoration. They are also some of the greatest places in the world for networking – socially, for business or both.

Conversely, if you try to work out at one of these facilities, I promise you that relative to a gym truly designed solely for your maximal physical improvement, it will dull, dampen, minimize, and otherwise ruin the possibility of the mental and physical adaptations that your “workout” must cause for you to optimally improve your fat loss, health, fitness and strength.

….THAT, after all, is why we went to the damn “Gym” in the first place!

Sean Kelly,

Owner and Trainer at Fortis Fitness http://fortisfitness.ca

Author of The Eco Diet http://eco-diet.com

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