By Pete Williams
About five years ago LA Fitness moved into the Tampa Bay area, opening a gym three miles south of the Lifestyle Family Fitness I’ve frequented since 2004.
It was tempting to move to the glitzier facility, but like an Average Joe’s loyalist, I remained at LFF. But when LA Fitness bought the Florida-based Lifestyle last month and offered LFF members free access to LA, it was hard to resist.
I held out until late yesterday afternoon. Presenting my new LA Fitness card at the front desk, I felt like a traitor, expecting White Goodman to welcome me. I scanned the gym’s massive layout, row upon row of cardio equipment and weights, the four-lane swimming pool, thinking they’ve got to be here somewhere.
I made two laps around the building before finding a familiar face, an LFF trainer who now works with clients at both locations.
“Where are the balls?” I asked.
He shook his head knowingly, pointing to a couple of sad, undersized, under-inflated physioballs. “They have nothing for functional training,” he said.
Technically, that wasn’t true. In addition to the physioballs, there was a BOSU ball, a couple of foam rollers, and one measly medicine ball in an off-to-the-side area that included a large gym mat and a couple of desks.
No rack of medicine balls and physioballs. No stack of BOSUs or bin of foam rolls. No TRX devices or resistance tubing.
There’s something to be said for old-school, throwback gyms. But this is 2012. Even the biggest Arnold disciples and figure model types will concede that today’s fitness industry is about functional movement, creating a lean physique that’s long and lean, flexible and strong, fast and agile, and sexy as hell.
LA Fitness, rapidly becoming the nation’s largest fitness chain, apparently didn’t get the memo.
I felt like I had traveled back to 2002. Back then, I was starting to write a book with Mark Verstegen, a pioneer in core training, who since the early 1990s had been showing elite athletes how to become stronger and more functional by focusing on all the tiny core stabilizer muscles around the hips, shoulders, and midsection. Instead of popular bodybuilding routines, he trained his athletes in the movements of everyday life and sport. The results were impressive, with Mark’s athletes dominating sports across the board.
As we wrote the book that would become the groundbreaking Core Performance and inspire four other books (with a sixth in the works), we included routines with physioballs, medicine balls, stretch ropes, and foam rollers. As much as I liked the program, and began using it myself, I wondered if the book would be embraced since gyms didn’t typically have any of that equipment.
At one point in the fall of 2002, I went to Ballys, Golds, Lifestyle, and other gyms in the Tampa Bay area. Sure enough, I couldn’t find much more than the occasional under-inflated physioball gathering dust in the corner.
“Trust me,” Mark said. “Within a few years, all of this will be standard equipment.”
He was right. These days, even small hotel gyms usually have a physioball and a couple of “med” balls. CrossFit gyms, which market their old-school training techniques and focus a little too much on Olympic lifting for my taste, use medicine balls and physioballs as part of their core exercises, pun intended.
Here I was thinking I’d get a taste of LA Fitness’ modern facilities and never walk into Lifestyle again. Instead, it was nice to get back to LFF this morning and see its racks of balls in every size and color.
LA Fitness probably will close the Lifestyle locations it purchased, consolidating everything into its bigger, newer facilities.
I’m okay with that, so long as LA gets some balls.