Tag Archives: Lifestyle Family Fitness

LA Fitness Lacks Balls

By Pete Williams

Not quite Globo Gym

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.

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When White Goodman Buys Your Gym

By Pete Williams

The “New LA Fitness”

Dear LA Fitness:

Thank you for your email this morning offering me two free coupons to experience the “club opening” of an LA Fitness where I’ve been a member for the last seven years.

Of course, I’ve never been a member of LA Fitness. The address and phone number of your “new LA Fitness” is that of my Lifestyle Family Fitness, the St. Petersburg-based health club chain with 33 Florida locations you acquired last week.

Details are sketchy at the moment, with neither you nor your new LFF friends talking to anyone. There’s been plenty of time, however, to shoot out an email letting me know that “your first billing will be automatically collected on 8/2/2012, unless your membership has previously been activated.”

Huh? This will not end well. Long before cell phones and bundled digital media services, the health club industry made the act of writing fine-print, bait-and-switch, hard-to-break, convoluted membership contracts an art form.

The next Visa bill no doubt will be interesting.

Here at the Clearwater LFF, we saw this coming ever since you opened your glitzy LA Fitness nearby four years ago. For years, our LFF has gone downhill. Equipment is replaced less often and there’s not one rusty bike in the spin room without a broken part. A facility that once always smelled of fresh paint now is chipped and dinged. Only recently did LFF add a few token flatscreens. The meathead posers and fitness model babes have long since moved four miles south to the glitzier LA Fitness.

Those of us remaining have felt like Peter LaFleur’s gang at Average Joe’s, coming for the camaraderie of the group fitness classes and because we’re used to the quirky three-level layout of a building that once was a four-screen movie theater.

I’ve been taking the same Tuesday morning spin class long enough to have seen the instructor go from being a recent college graduate vowing never to get married to a recently-married thirty something.

Unlike a lot of (ahem) larger gyms known for letting anyone with a mail-in fitness credential carry a clipboard and train members, most of our LFF trainers hold CPT certifications from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) that are a bear to obtain. (I know; I spent six months studying for the exam and somehow passed. Good thing I’m not actually looking to become a personal trainer as the LFF trainers don’t know what their futures hold.)

A number of pro athletes who could train anywhere choose to toil in our gym despite its mismatched dumbbells and broken shower heads. James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays began working out with a trainer there before the 2011 season, when he lead the American League with 11 complete games.

Our LFF isn’t located so close to Globo Gym, I mean, LA Fitness, that it will be razed for a parking garage. But it’s close enough that it’s hard to imagine LA Fitness keeping it open.

Some members will head to LA Fitness. Others will go to Anytime Fitness around the corner. The triathletes will find somewhere else to spin. I’ll probably spend more time at TNL Tampa, the CrossFit gym near Westchase where I already spend Saturday mornings training for obstacle races.

It seems a shame, though, that LFF will go out with a whimper. Maybe we should take a page from Peter LaFleur’s original playbook and send it out Irish wake style. It’s already falling apart. Let’s have one last party and bust up the place.

Then again….we could play dodgeball.


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