broadsideblog

Why Do Gyms Have To Be So Disgusting?

In design, sports on October 6, 2009 at 9:15 am
Gym Cardio Theatre Category:Gyms_and_Health_Clubs

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So, feeling lazy, (pooped from my bike ride, OK?), I Googled the words “gorgeous gym” and dug down three pages. In vain. I found gorgeous gym clothing, mats, men and women in gyms. But those are two words, Google be damned, that do not go together.

I’m speaking here, specifically, of public gyms, not the shrines that might exist on some Ivy college campus or in a pricey spa or hotel.

The word gymnasium comes from the Greek word gymnos, meaning naked, which is how those using gyms in ancient Rome showed up. Sadly, now, the more accurate word is gross: banks of fluorescent lights, ugly machines, worn-out mats, sweaty surfaces, lots of dirt and dust — and icky locker rooms where you can pick up all sorts of infections. The appearance of most gyms remains totally thoughtless, a sort of visual f—k you to all of us who keep showing up, like fat little lemmings, (or crazed skinny lemmings), to do whatever we can, whatever we must, to battle obesity and/or waning muscle mass.

What’s the problem here? Too many people? Not enough manners? Too-low fees? (Sorry, but $80 a month, which is typical in New York, and low for nicer clubs seems like a lot to me.)

Think about almost every other public space where people pay, let alone commit to a monthly fee, to go there: restaurants, hotels, bars, nightclubs, to name a few. We look forward to the choice we’ve made, confident that — except for the most low-budget and utilitarian of spaces —  the carefully chosen lighting, furniture, flooring, ceiling, sound and accessories will make the space welcoming, relaxing, elegant. Because they are designed to be that way; some designers focus exclusively on these spaces, trained in selecting colors, fabrics and materials that are both attractive and durable. When a space is well and thoughtfully designed, we want to go there and, once we’ve arrived, we want to stay there. And we want to return. And we do, happily.

I swear, I would go to the gym every damn day if it were clean and beautiful.

The key word is designed. Katie Drummond blogged here yesterday about a Manhattan gym, David Barton, which has made an effort in this regard, and found another gym in Paris (quelle surprise) that’s actually attractive. But why is this such a rarity? It’s as though creating a good-looking workout space — and a gym is truly a place where people really need to feel comfortable, welcomed, energized and encouraged — is just too difficult. Instead, they all look drearily, depressingly, don’t-make-me-go-there the same: slam in some mirrors, some fluorescent lights, a bunch of machines and…you’re done.

I studied interior design at a great school, The New York School of Interior Design, and learned a lot about what makes a great space. One simple yet cardinal rule most gyms break is this:  experience the space as the user(s) will. What does it sound like? Smell like? Is it spotlessly clean? How will those sexy materials actually stand up to daily use and daily cleaning? Every single time I lie down on one of the worn-out, pre-flattened exercise mats in the gym at my local Y I’m eye-to-eye with streaks of grime on the baseboards. Eeeeeeew! (And, yes, I’ve complained so often the Y director knows exactly who I am.)

The reason I rant so much about fluorescent lights is this. They’re ugly! And blinding. At a gym, it is highly likely you will be lying on your back for some portion of your time there, and staring up into a bank of glaring white light is simply grotesque. I can’t believe people find this experience pleasant. It’s boring and painful enough doing all those damn crunches. Can you make me a little less miserable, please?

Have you ever, anywhere, been to a gym — not a fancy shmancy spa or private club that most people cannot afford — that was gorgeous?

Do tell!

  1. Well said. I think the problem is that gym companies don’t need to appeal to aesthetics to bring in customers – they’ll show up, even with cement floors, fluorescent lighting and dusty machines. And what if gym-goers were to rise, en masse, and *demand* better quality by boycotting these fitness meccas? Then we’d miss our morning workout! And all get fat! (Horrors!)

  2. What a depressing thought this is, although, clearly, you and they are correct in this contemptuous assumption. How many other spaces are so dismissive of what people desire, other than providing acccess to machinery they have no room or money for at home? Maybe a car wash.

    This notion that beauty in public spaces is a frill drives me out of my mind. Beauty, for many of us, is really important, and being surrounded by ugliness is a real assault on our senses, and our hard-earned money.

  3. Ah well…a rare opportunity for civic boosterism:

    I think you need a trip to Los Angeles, we have lots of gyms, the original Gold’s Gym, World Gym, Bally’s, 24 Hour Gyms and tons of YMCAs the ones in Santa Monica and Downtown are quite impressive. There is no such thing as a dirty gym, Even the old boxing gyms downtown are clean in fact they are not even gyms, they are clubs and they are spotless. I have been going to gyms since graduating from High School a million years ago and have seen them evolve here from garage size, (the original Gold’s) to lux editons like the Sports club. Some are expensive, most not, but being an old guy I bought a lifetime membership to a Vic Tanny gym which became Holiday Spa that was bought by Bally. so currently I pay $64 a year. Individual TV’s on all cardio machines, the latest in machines, workers whose job is to keep the equipment and mirrors spotless on the job…swimming pool, steam, sauna, all pristine.

    So come to what, our friend, Bill Dupray calls morally depraved Hollywood and find gym nirvana. Oh, and there’s plenty of eye candy as well.

  4. I think you answered your own question when you said “One simple yet cardinal rule most gyms break is this: experience the space as the user(s) will.” My experience with past gyms is that they are run by suits who only care about the numbers, and managers/staff who don’t actually work out and therefore are totally clueless. The suits just want you to sign a contract and then they move on to finding the next client. The managers/staff don’t pay attention and dont’t care because they don’t use the facilities. I responded to Katie’s post yesterday in defense of David Barton and I find his gyms work because a)he works out, so he knows what clients need and b)he’s in his gyms all the time looking at the space, talking to clients, etc. Getting a nice, clean functional gym is possible. He does it, I’ve heard Equinox does it; but it doesn’t come cheap.
    Your money talks; if a crappy gym is still in the black, there’s no reason for them to make improvements. I complained constantly at my old gym and nothing ever changed. Suddenly when I told them to cancel my membership, they were all over me to get me to stay. I didn’t. I pay more to go to DB than my old gym, but considering how much time I spend there and the fact that I enjoy it pretty much every time I go, I think its money well spent.
    And my old gym filed for bankruptcy. Sweet!

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