The point of summer vacations is to “get away from it all”, but that doesn’t necessarily include training. You’ll have a lot more fun traveling if you know you’re not getting fatter and weaker because of it, so if you’re hitting the road between now and the end of the season, I’ll guess that you plan on hitting a gym somewhere in the town you’re en route to.
Don’t settle for the hotel “fitness center” or the local Bally’s when you may have a world-class, if not legendary house of iron within a reasonable distance.
I made a list of some of the biggest cities in the country, or places you may find yourself in this summer, and did a little research on what they offered in the way of true strength training. I found some facilities that are all-out hard core, and others just so special you’d be crazy to miss the opportunity to check them out. In fact, you may want to relocate permanently once you see what you’ve been missing.
Pack your creatine and pull out your map…
NEW YORK CITY – Global Strongman Gym, Peak Performance
This is my hometown, and I’ve searched far and wide for good training accommodations. Sadly, there ain’t much, at least as far as an intense, motivating atmosphere goes. (And as I’ve posted in the past, this is my top priority.) However, I have recently joined and fallen in love with Global Strongman Gym in the Chelsea neighborhood. It’s a small hole-in-the-wall, but it’s packed with good, goal-oriented people—some of them competitive amateur strongmen, but mostly regular folks who aren’t afraid to train for strength to achieve a number of other goals. Hans Pirman, who competes in local contests, is the owner, and he occasionally flies former World’s Strongest Man Svend Karlsen out to do seminars.
You can drop all the deadlifts you want in here, and experiment with equipment you won’t see many other places. Hans will be happy to take you through a workout of Atlas stones, Viking presses, tire flips, and yoke walks.
Another great option with a little more polish and space is Peak Performance, owned by top-notch trainer Joe Dowdell. Also in Chelsea, this is where celebrities, Wall Street tycoons, and supermodels work out, but don’t get the impression that it’s all chrome and no cojones. There’s plenty of Prowler pushing, sandbag carrying, and Olympic lifting (they even have a platform for it and bumper plates), proving that everyone—regardless of their goals or their mindset—can improve by training like an athlete. The only knock on Peak is that it’s for trainers and clients only, but they do occasionally make exceptions.
BOSTON – Total Performance Sports, Cressey Performance
CJ Murphy is one of my most trusted training advisors for the fitness magazines, and his Everett gym, TPS, is like a factory for making people strong. Almost every trainer claims to offer expertise in disparate fitness disciplines like powerlifting, martial arts, and kettlebells, but Murph really knows how to do and coach all these things well. There’s probably nobody in his gym who can’t move a mountain or run through a wall, and that includes the women. They also have a boxing ring and a bunch of machines—which Murph will tell you are for candy asses, but he’s such a nice guy he’ll let you use them anyway.
Cressey Performance, in nearby Hudson, features Eric Cressey and Tony Gentilcore, whom you already know if you’re at all interested in training and happen to have internet access. Both are very well-educated on subjects like prehab/rehab and strength, but they’ve carved out a niche as baseball performance specialists, working with MLB standouts like Curt Schilling. I’m heading up to check out their place in a few weeks, and I’m sure I’ll follow up with a more detailed, first-person account when I get back.
Of course, there’s also Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning—a Boston institution. The North Andover location offers Ben Bruno, one of my favorite up-and-coming trainers. He’s a master of body-weight progressions, and a beast himself.
PHILADELPHIA – Iron Sport Gym
Training here you’ll easily burn off a few Philly cheese steaks. Although I’d guess that most of the patrons consider that an unfortunate side effect. Based in Glenolden, minutes away from the big city, Iron Sport Gym has hosted strongmen, powerlifters, football players, and pro wrestlers—it’s all about getting big. Owner Steve Pulcinella is a former World’s Strongest Man competitor, and his 30-plus years of training experience make this a one of a kind facility. Watch their Planet Fitness spoof video on Youtube, and you’ll see why the training going on in South Philly today makes Rocky look like a pussy.
OB is in Oviedo, Florida—about 20 minutes from downtown Orlando. The home of Brian Schwab, an elite powerlifter who has bench pressed 565 pounds at a body weight of 148 (read that again!), it’s clearly THE place to get strong when you’re that far south. I’m sure Brian and his team can help you put on some pretty beach muscles too, if that’s what you want, or give you a place to pump up before you ride the teacups at Disney World. The day rate is only $10.
TAMPA – Elite Strength and Conditioning
This so-called “man cave” where you can “get your swole on” appears to have all the ingredients of a great facility: good equipment (including a reverse hyper and glute-ham raise), red paint on the walls, and rap metal on the stereo. Quite frankly, that’s enough for me, and it ought to be for you, too. Especially if you’re only going to be there for a day.
Anywhere in TEXAS – Metroflex
The Arlington location is the home of Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman and current top bodybuilder Branch Warren, but the franchise also extends to Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth, and several other Texas cities (and is quickly expanding elsewhere in the southwest). I don’t know if they all reek of toughness like the original (Ronnie’s stomping grounds), but the Metroflex name is becoming synonymous with serious, hardcore training nationwide, so I wouldn’t walk in there expecting a Planet Fitness. The Arlington location used to boast of getting up to 100-plus degrees in the summer. There wasn’t any A/C in there a few years ago, and I wouldn’t expect they’ve made that investment since.
ALSO: If you’re in Dallas, you owe it to yourself to visit Doug’s Gym. Open for the last 50 years (yes, it precedes even the original Gold’s Gym), it’s still run by the same guy, Doug Eidd, who also happens to be the gym’s only staff member. It’s a tattered, sweat-soaked, workout log page out of history. They have one of those fat-jiggling machines—the kind that I Love Lucy made famous, and it still works (er, still runs, I should say)—but no Nautilus types. Smoking IS NOT prohibited, and former patrons include Chuck Norris and Jack Ruby, the guy who assassinated Lee Harvey Oswald.
INDIANAPOLIS – IFAST (Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training)
Bill Hartman and Mike Robertson have been two cornerstones in the fitness industry for as long as I’ve been in it. Between the two of them, you couldn’t ask for a broader skill set. Apart from first-class amenities, Hartman and Robertson’s gym can customize your training like no place else,giving you a full assessment and then a finely-tuned plan to achieve whatever goal you have. IFAST has been ranked among the 10 best gyms in the country by Men’s Health for several years.
CHICAGO – Quads Gym
I don’t know what the hell kind of porno music they’ve got playing on their site. I certainly hope it’s not the same stuff they play in the actual gym. But going by its reputation, Quads Gym SHOULD be the only place to train if you live in Chicago. It’s where Ed Coan—only the greatest powerlifter of all time—got his start, and it’s still home to a bevy of bodybuilders. It’s been civilized enough to attract mainstream gymgoers these days (this might explain the music on their site), but I doubt anything could soften the atmosphere of a place with that much of a hardcore history.
LOS ANGELES – 4 Star Gym
Of course you’ve got the original Gold’s Gym in Venice, but 4 Star Gym in El Segundo seems (I haven’t been there) to offer a little more as far as camaraderie, and not much less in terms of history. The gym opened in 1969, and the day rate is still $10. They have their own in-house powerlifting meets and a ton of good equipment.
SAN FRANCISCO – Diablo Barbell
Ok, it’s not really in SF but in Concord, which is roughly 40 minutes east. If you truly love training, this isn’t asking too much. And judging by the following testimonial I found online, you’ll get your time and money’s worth.
“My genetics kinda suck. I’ve never really been strong and I was never an athlete while growing up (prototypical Asian nerd). What I did possess was the ability to work hard…” The anonymous patron says he now squats 775, benches 500, and deadlifts 665 at 242 pounds.
“The instruction and atmosphere is handed to you on a silver platter,” he writes.
SEATTLE – Endzone Athletics
Situated in Kirkland, about 25 minutes outside the city, this gym offers two things you can’t get anywhere else: Joel Jamieson and the Omegawave. Joel is one of my favorite trainers in the industry because he’s so cutting edge, and the Omegawave—a piece of Soviet technology that can determine recovery and readiness to train—is not the least of the reasons why. Train here and you’ll likely run into a few UFC fighters and NFL players, and you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about your body than you ever could otherwise. If I were to move to another city purely to train, it would be to Seattle so I could work with Joel.
Did I miss a great gym in one of these cities? Can you recommend one in a town I didn’t cover? Please share.