In my first column, I promised to return to my longtime gym and report on what it was like for those of you still on the indoor fitness sidelines. Beyond lingering COVID concerns, I had my own trepidations to overcome: Would the classes and instructors be the same? Had my lockdown workouts kept me in decent shape? And how safe would it feel to share air with a roomful of hard-breathing exercisers? In search of answers, I ordered a bag of KN95 masks in assorted colors to match my workout wear and headed back to Gold’s Gym, where I’ve been a member since 1991.
Even if you’re not a member, you probably know Gold’s. The original in Venice Beach helped bring bodybuilding into mainstream culture, but the offerings these days are a lot more diverse than the cartoonish bodybuilder in their logo suggests.
What makes it a gym and not a club? As far as I can tell, it’s the lack of a pool — and the marked absence of exclusivity. I run into everyone from high school students to my elderly neighbor at the gym, and while the weight floor is mostly men, the fitness classes I take are made up of (and taught by) mostly women.
Membership in Gold’s is the fitness equivalent of a cable subscription: Sure, you’re paying for some stuff you never use — for me, the cardio machines — but if you were to cut the fitness cord, where else would you find yoga, mat Pilates, spinning, free weights, and elliptical machines all under one roof?
I was disappointed to find that some of my favorite classes, like Friday evening yoga and Saturday barre, didn’t survive the pandemic. But I was delighted to find that others — such as Thursday evening Hip-Hop Cardio and Sunday morning Retro Aerobics — were still on the schedule. The cardio machines and weight benches were in high demand, while popular classes like Hector’s Zumba and Hattie’s BodyPump packed the group fitness room.
I caught up with instructors and workout buddies I hadn’t seen in many months. Cat Myklebust started her own online fitness site, but she still likes trying out her hip-hop choreography in live classes. During lockdown, Veronika had exercised with her grandkids on the machines at the Cabrillo Ball Field, in the shadow of the Chromatic Gate. It was fantastic to work up a sweat with friends and to do the cumbia without crashing into the printer in my home office.
I ventured out of my comfort zone to try some classes I’d never taken before, like the ominous-sounding BodyCombat. I was half expecting a workout inspired by cage-fighting, so I was relieved when instructor Melissa announced at the start, “You’re not going to punch anybody.” With the Beastie Boys on the playlist, we were just fighting for our right to party. Following the combinations of punches and kicks was like learning a dance routine — after all, the bottom half of what boxers do is called “footwork.” And there was no equipment to put away at the end of class. Consider me a BodyCombat enlistee.
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One of my reasons for belonging to a gym has always been my suspicion that I wouldn’t push myself as hard if I worked out on my own. I report with chagrin that my hypothesis has been proved correct. After taking Suzie’s barre class for the first time in almost two years, I was sore for four days — despite having done barre workouts at home during the pandemic. Yeah, it’s not the same.
I appreciate how Gold’s instructors emphasize safety and good form, demonstrating how to avoid injury and vary your workout according to your fitness level. Regarding COVID safety, it’s more of a mixed bag. Spray bottles of disinfectant and rags are prominently displayed, and some people use them to wipe down equipment after a class. On the other hand, I’m the only one wearing a mask in the classes I’ve been attending, even though masks are still strongly recommended indoors even for the vaccinated. And there’s no requirement to show proof of vaccination, so if you want assurances that the person using the decline bench or mounted on the spinning bike next to you is fully vaxxed, you’re probably not going to be comfortable working out at Gold’s.
How will other gyms in Santa Barbara compare on all these fronts? Stay tuned.
A platinum Gold’s Gym membership gives you access to the three Santa Barbara-Goleta locations as well as all 24 Southern California locations. All S.B.-area locations offer free weights; cardio and resistance machines; group fitness classes, including spinning; and towel service. Add-ons include Bikram hot yoga and Pilates Reformer at Uptown, and personal training at all three locations. Uptown and Goleta locations have free parking and dry saunas in the locker rooms. There will be a grand reopening of all three locations in June with promotions and membership specials. See goldsgym.com.