AC4 Fitness Keeps It Simple 

No Towel Service but 24-Hour Access to Clean, Quiet Clubs

Amy Ramos at AC4 Fitness | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Tony Calhoun wants you to know that he is not a prude. The fitness industry veteran and owner of AC4 Fitness explains that the reason his clubs have a dress code is so new members who aren’t in the best of shape won’t feel intimidated by the sight of someone else’s six-pack abs or massive pecs. All AC4 Fitness members, regardless of gender, must wear a shirt — not just a string tank or sports bra, please.

Amy Ramos at AC4 Fitness | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Recently, in this space, I wrote about a gym that offered group fitness exclusively. In the spirit of all those trainers who advise you to vary your workouts for optimal fitness, I’m switching things up to share my experience at AC4 Fitness, a gym based on the “key club” model. AC4 Fitness members swipe an electronic fob to gain entry to its two locations (Goleta and La Cumbre), which can be accessed 24 hours a day.

Calhoun, who used to own the three local Gold’s Gym locations, wanted to operate a simpler business after his experience as a corporate franchisee. Keeping it simple means AC4 Fitness doesn’t sell any merchandise or provide towel service — and it doesn’t offer any group fitness classes.

Simple doesn’t mean Spartan, however. Although the model may conjure up images of a hotel fitness room, each AC4 location is about 6,000 square feet, staffed during the day and early evening, and stocked with a wide range of cardio and strength equipment, as well as free weights, kettle bells, foam rollers, Bosu balls, and more. Because members might be exercising at times when there are few other people around, there’s an emphasis on safety, with self-spotting Smith weight machines to prevent a weightlifter from getting trapped under a too-heavy bar.

A fitness evangelist who cites statistics about Americans’ alarmingly high rates of obesity and inactivity, Calhoun set out to provide an environment where people of all activity levels can be comfortable. Members typically range in age from 18 to 80, he says, noting proudly that one 90-year-old member — a local entrepreneur — works out at the Goleta location three days a week.

My visits to the two locations bore out his description. I observed a solid demographic mix — twenty-somethings to sexagenarians, women as well as men. Most people were working out alone, but I saw some pairs as well.

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AC4 Fitness is noticeably quiet. There’s music playing on the sound system (Pink Floyd, REM, Jane’s Addiction, Weezer, Marvin Gaye), but a lot of people have their ear buds in, and nobody’s grunting or dropping weights, even when they’re working out hard. The TV is tuned to a sporting event — collegiate women’s softball, Grand Slam tennis, World Chase Tag — but the sound is off.

The pace and intensity are up to you. I observed some who were working up a serious sweat; others evoked Sisyphus with their painfully slow upward progress on the stair climber. Some trudged on the treadmills as if on a forced march, while others ran at a quicker pace. Everyone is doing their own workout, not performing for anybody else.

All new members get an orientation, and for fitness novices, Calhoun says the circuit of machines that comprises the “30-minute workout” can help them establish a routine quickly — and stick to it. He included the circuit in the design of the club because the number-one reason people don’t maintain their commitment to exercise is lack of time. I can attest to the circuit as being an effective way to get a full-body strength workout in a short amount of time.

The two locations are similar in size and equipment but different in physical layout, with the La Cumbre location having an open plan while the Goleta location features more semi-private spaces for stretching and functional training.

Amy Ramos on the HydroMassage table at AC4Fitness | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Each club has a tanning bed, which seems like a throwback to the heyday of Jersey Shore — Calhoun jokes that when the club first opened in 2012, some members seemed to view it as a tanning salon with a gym attached —but as an olive-skinned person, I’m not the target market for this service.

An amenity that I did find appealing, despite some initial skepticism, was the hydro-massage bed, which sends a jet of warm water up and down the length of your body for 10 relaxing minutes while you stay dry. Whether you’ve been lifting weights or using a cardio machine, this is a very pleasant way to finish a workout.

AC4 Fitness 411: Locations at 3883 La Cumbre Plaza Lane and 52 N. Fairview Avenue. Open 24 hours; access by electronic fob. Lockers provided for storing personal items. Dressing rooms are all-gender and private (with locks); some have attached showers. Bathrooms are gender-specific and separate from dressing rooms. Plenty of free parking. Membership includes access to both clubs, tanning, and hydro-massage.

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