For almost 2 years I’ve been training with a group of powerlifters and strongman competitors at Raleigh Barbell, a small gym catering to strength athletes. The place is absolutely awesome, and features top notch equipment and knowledgeable lifters.
As a powerlifter, joining this gym was a no brainer. There’s a dedicated crew, awesome music, chalk, yelling, name calling, slamming the weights… GRUNTING. Even though my lifts have been going up consistently in this environment, and I’ve met some awesome lifters and friends here, I have to admit; I kinda miss the stupid s*** that goes on in big box gyms!
Here are the top 6 things that I miss the most, in no particular order.
6 Things I Miss About Training at a Big Box Gym
1. Being stronger than almost everyone
Nothing drives me to improve more than training with guys who are stronger than me, and there are no shortage of beasts here at my powerlifting gym. Not only drawing on their help and experience, but just the motivation of trying to catch and pass guys in the crew is a huge driving force in training for me. The watchful eyes of experienced lifters keep everybody accountable, and the lifts are safer and form is great.
But in a big box gym, you’re suddenly a freak in a sideshow that everyone stares at. When you’re overhead pressing more than the guy in the rack next to you squats, people are going to look. Some are going to hate you and avoid eye contact, while others just assume you're juiced out of your gourd and stare.
I’m not gonna lie, it's pretty cool to be stared at. The only downside is that when people gawk, they tend to TALK. Then you’re stuck listening to a bunch of insecure fellas telling you why they can’t lift heavy anymore. I seriously don’t care fella, now excuse me as I lift your mom and girlfriend at the same time.
2. Laughing at everyone
There’s nothing funny about a 700 pound squat, unless the guy s*** his pants to get it… or s*** his pants and DOESN’T get it, that’s even funnier.
We have a lot of fun in a powerlifting gym; lots of jokes and filthy language, but the majority of the laughing is WITH people, not AT people. And that’s a problem for an a-hole like me.
Luckily at a big box gym, there are PLENTY of people to laugh at. I laugh at the half-bench press reppers, then I laugh at the guy sitting backward on the lat pull down having a seizure. I laugh at the bantamweight doing cable flyes and growling at himself in the mirror, and I laugh at the guys doing knee bend squats with a pad and shadow boxing between sets.
And then I laugh at THAT GUY... you all know who I'm talking about. The young aspiring bodybuilder fella who brings his girlfriend with him, so she can spot, load and put his weights away. Yeah, I get a good chuckle at that fella.
Nearly every time I stepped into a box gym, I saw at least 3 stereotypes that fit the bill for a social media roast. I honestly thought I was on a hidden camera show or something. Nothing (and I mean NOTHING) is funnier than the moment when they realize you’re laughing at them so hard that you have snot hanging out of your nose.
Walk of shame, go on… have the EMT's check on your ego. I’ll put your 25-pound plates away. God I look jacked today.
3. Bending bars that STAY bent
I love pulling on the Texas deadlift bar at my gym. That thing is great, with lots of slack off the floor. It is also thin and has excellent knurling. But this is an expensive bar, so we don’t throw it around like a bunch of apes. Since I give a s*** and want to keep the equipment in good working order, I practice controlled rage. This means no crazy deadlift lockout bar slams like the juice-heads you'll see on YouTube.
However, in big box gyms… F'N RACK PULLS! Don't feel like racking your shoulder press? TOSS!
I absolutely love bending those cheap Made in China knock off bars. If you don’t then you’re either a liar or just HATE FREEDOM.
I take great pride in knowing that I've ruined bars in 8 states and three countries. Bending steel with gravity ignites something primal deep within the testes. I’m no scientist but I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.
It seems insane that I ever trained in a place where chalk was “outlawed.” I use it for everything now. Dumbbell rows, lat pull downs...even abs! It’s like Frank's Red Hot.
4. Freezing my a** off in the summer
Air conditioning? What’s that? It gets hot in North Carolina but it gets even hotter when there are hundreds of pounds on your back. There ain’t no AC down in the powerlifting gym, and honestly I like it that way.
But have you ever walked in to a big box gym in the middle of a hot summer afternoon? The moment you crack the seal on the gym door you go from the blistering hot misery of the parking lot's blacktop to a nipple-cracking arctic blast.
My buddy Fat Mike once made the mistake of letting the moisture from his backside freeze against a dumbbell rack. They had to call the fire department to free him with a blow torch.
Humans weren’t meant to lift with goose bumps, unless they are beta-alanine induced and located on your face. Still, it's fun to see your breath steam when you're turtling in the locker room.
5. Hiding chalk like it’s crack
I take lifting chalk for granted now. It seems insane that I ever trained in a place where it was “outlawed.” I use it for everything now. Dumbbell rows, lat pull downs...even abs! It’s like Frank's Red Hot, I put that s*** on everything. But it wasn’t always that easy.
We used to have to smuggle that contraband in like a balloon of heroin at customs. When it came time to use it, we’d reach into our gym bags or pockets and grab a pinch. If any spilled on the floor, you would snap a towel and scatter it with the wind before anyone stepped on it. Once this happens, that crap becomes part of the floor forever. Can’t really deny using chalk when your shorts and shirt are covered more white powder than Robert Downey Jr's sinuses.
I do miss the feeling of breaking the rules, and screaming “call the f****** cops” as they’re throwing me out though. Running to my car before the police showed up was actually pretty decent cardio, come to think of it.
6. The have a machine for every plane of motion humanly possible
When I first joined a powerlifting gym, I was first taken aback by how basic it was. Huge power rack, heavy duty bars, a competition bench, chains, glute-ham raise, dumbbells, tons of plates and bands. That was pretty much it. This was all I needed, as I would later find out. With limited equipment and an unlimited imagination, I added pounds to my lifts and pounds to my pecs.
Still though, I did miss the variety of having at my disposal 8 different Icarian donkey calf raise machines, the 17 differently-angled hammer rows and the lat pull down machine that I could max out on even when I had the flu. No wonder some guys have "delt day" at these places; there are over 600 machines and cables to use... And they have directions with an illustration printed right on them! How could you NOT get jacked there? Oh that's right, the Rhianna song blasting on the speakers. Your bad.
There are a few other minor things I miss. The wall of televisions playing MMA fights and football, the smoothie bar that makes the peanut butter protein shake on the spot, the way I look in the locker room mirror with just the right amount of overhead lighting; and of course let's not forget... the VIEW! It's bittersweet to have replaced yoga pants with a bunch of overweight men screaming at each other, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
Even though I gave up the sight of ladies in the Pilates class for the sight of my obscenely hairy buddy looking like he's wearing invisible handcuffs when he puts his bench shirt on, getting stronger is still more enticing to me. Besides, I can literally just Google image search yoga pants between sets.