Check Your Head!

Most NYC gyms leave a lot to be desired. Typically they’re crowded, cramped, sweltering places filled with equipment that was already out of date back when Arnold was flubbing his lines shooting Hercules in New York.


As such, I joined a franchise gym that allows me to bounce around from location to location.

Mostly this was to alleviate stress — if I get annoyed trying to squat to “Groovy Kind of Love” at the Chelsea location, I can head back to the East side to try benching with barbells so bent you’d swear they we’re smuggled out of the prison gym at Rikers Island in some unlucky drug mule’s overstretched rectum.

The good thing about my vagabond approach is that I’ve come to meet a few members, and two youngsters in particular stand out.

At one gym is Dave, one of the most detailed bodybuilders I’ve ever met. His workouts are carefully structured with volume phases, intensity phases, deloads, and lots of restorative work.

He also maintains a laser-like focus on his diet, and can rattle off the macronutrient content in any food like the bodybuilding equivalent of Rain Man.


At the other gym is Kevin. Kevin’s a hell of a nice guy but unfortunately couldn’t program his DVR to record Two and a Half Men, much less program his training. He benches too often, doesn’t train upper back enough, and despite being able to squat like a beast spends too much time in the leg press (especially when I want to use it).


His diet is also decidedly poor. While he eats a lot, he obviously doesn’t put much thought into it considering he once asked if Pop Tarts and milk was a decent breakfast on leg days (as opposed to on arm day?)

Both guys are of similar age and seem very similar genetically. And neither say they’re taking or appear to be taking steroids.

Yet one guy is making lights out gains while the other hasn’t grown that much in a year — and the guy doing all the growing is Kevin.


The difference between them is that Kevin absolutely brings it every workout. Clearly he missed all the well-intentioned articles that Dave read about not taking sets to failure because Kevin busts his ass every time he picks up a weight.

He does drop sets, supersets, and every other Weider principle that pops into his head. He goes for PR’s on every barbell exercise, dumbbell exercise — even machine exercises — and deadlifts heavy week in, week out, always trying to add more weight.

This is a sharp contrast to Dave’s intelligent, measured approach. Because while he might have a lock on weight training theory, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Dave push himself once.


Sure, I’ve seen him train hard but never really go that extra step — into the zone where everything sort of falls away and there’s nothing left but you, the weight, and the pain you’re trying to block out along with the Dirty Dancing soundtrack on the sound system.

I know, it’s not smart to take every set to the kill zone, and it’s never a good idea to continue a set past the point where your form resembles a grand mal seizure.

However, if you’re training for fat loss or hypertrophy and can’t remember the last time you left the gym feeling smashed, you’re doing this here training thing all wrong.

Change training partners or trainers, and if you’re going it alone, consider hiring a good trainer — even just for the occasional session. Experience how hard you can push yourself, and how amazing it feels when you’re done.

For example, as a reward for suffering through commercial gym purgatory another week, I sometimes like to do my Saturday squat workouts at Peak Performance under the guidance of Dan Trink. And I usually need to rent a wheelchair to get around Manhattan the rest of the weekend.


This session is my personal gut check, as it reminds me of how hard I can really work when I’m tempted mid-week to just mail it in.

So bring the heat once in a while. Just if you happen to be at my Chelsea gym, don’t expect the music to motivate you.