That Glorious Day When My Gym Kicked Me Out For Working Too Hard

This one is for my first serious training partner, Ethan. Good times, buddy.

This is where Barney the dinosaur used to live until he got kicked out for singing too loudly.

I used to have a gym membership. That is, until the day one particular “fitness” club kicked me out for… get this – working TOO HARD?!

That’s right. I was working out too hard for the management’s comfort zone, and they gave me the boot. But there’s a little more to the story.

This was your typical 24-hour health club. I signed up because they were running a special offer at a ridiculously low rate with a no-penalty “cancel anytime” policy. Their business strategy appeared to be “get as many signups as we can, and hope most of them don’t actually come and clog up the gym floor.” This particular gym was my go-to spot for over a year. I made some great gains there, and by anyone’s standards, I was milking my membership for all it was worth.

Now, when I say this was a typical health club, I’m sortof, kindof, maybe stretching the truth just a bit. This place was FAR from typical, and FAR from anything I’d ever want to encounter again – both as a customer and personal trainer. Let me paint a word picture for you…

The gym colors are purple and yellow. PURPLE and YELLOW – both colors that are meant to soothe, calm, and relax you (I think… calm as Hindu cows). The walls, machines, and support beams are all painted this way making you feel like you’re in a giant adult-version of a kids play-place. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but when you’re working out, the words “calm” and “relaxed” aren’t exactly at the forefront of your mind. At least they’re not in mine. Sure, I try to relax through intense exertion, but it’s a far cry from sitting in a lounge chair on a sunny beach in Maui while sipping a chilled, sweet-something-or-other. To me, that would be relaxing. Not jerking a heavy barbell over my head, or doing 20-rep sets of squats, or 20 more parallel bar dips than you thought you could when you started. I had to mentally settle with the gym atmosphere, assuring myself that my intense focus could drown out the negative effects of their Barney-the-dinosaur theme. I’m still wondering if that environment truly didn’t affect me though… I mean, does the color purple really lower testosterone levels like that old guy told me…anyways…

To make matters worse, this gym had an alarm bell that went off frequently. No, it wasn’t a fire drill, or a defective circuit. It was an alarm bell that went off whenever someone was working too hard – affectionately labeled the “lunk alarm.” They even have a a definition printed in giant text on the side of the gym walls reading:

A lunk is someone who grunts, drops weights or is judgmental of other exercisers.

Whenever someone would grunt during a heavy set, accidentally drop weights, or otherwise make anyone in the gym uncomfortable, the alarm would sound and the whole gym would stare at the culprit. Sounds like a judgment-free zone to me!

What they didn’t explain on the wall is that the lunk alarm can go off for any number of reasons including: using un-approved equipment, upsetting the management in any way (I hope you catch them on a good day!) and even breathing too loud. That’s right, my training partner, Ethan, was confronted for breathing too loudly during a dumbbell exercise. The NERVE!

It’s true, that I was on the receiving end of the lunk alarm several times myself. The management likely made a note in my file for being a repeat offender. I practically got to know the manager on a first-name basis after our cute little chats of

“you can’t do that here.”

“do what?”

“do that exercise, use that equipment, make that much noise… blah blah blah.”

“oh……k.”

Sometimes, I would try to reason with them. In the beginning, I’d stick with a safe response, “I’m just trying to get a good workout.” But they wouldn’t hear it, so I reasoned that “the human body needs progressive and adaptive stimulation in order to improve…” That didn’t get me anywhere either, so I resorted to affectionate comments like “I think you’re a very bad person.”

But they wouldn’t budge. It was their policy, you see. Good ‘ol HQ wouldn’t allow it – that was their usual excuse, but I think they just didn’t like my red hair.

Anyways, on to that oh-so-glorious day that I actually got kicked out. It was a normal day at the gym. The ladies were chatting away on the treadmills, and the guys were flexing in front of the mirror. You had your average couch potatoes looking like they’re passing a kidney stone while doing lateral raises with the 10 lb dumbbells, and there was the usual guy yelling into his cell phone like a loud-speaker. Ipods were strapped to sweaty, pulsating toothpicks… I mean biceps, and I was tucked away in the very corner of the gym where I would hopefully be left alone. They kept the squat rack where nobody could see it. I wasn’t using it though. I just had the barbell on the floor and I was working on my clean and jerk that day.

Now, over the course of a year, I had mastered the art of working extremely hard without making so much as a peep. Said another way, I could move some iron with a forceful exhale that didn’t make much noise at all (or so I thought). It was like a throaty puff of air that didn’t register much on the baby monitor the staff insisted on attaching to my hip before every workout. (kidding)

I treated my Olympic weightlifting more like practice than training. I usually did many low-rep sets. 15-20 sets of very gradual weight increases was typical, and my last few sets were almost always a heavy single. So, I was in the middle of this session, and I must have caught the management on a bad day because they came over to me telling me they didn’t allow this exercise in their gym. I must have been having a bad day myself because I told him how ludicrous I thought that idea was, especially since I had done the Olympic lifts many times before. The manager walked away after telling me I had to stop and do something else. He suggested that I use some of the machines instead, which irked me even more. Well, being a defiant individual since my good mother brought me into this world, I continued on with my workout. I was already beginning to think of getting an Olympic barbell set of my own, and that thought was holding me over until I at least finished my workout for the day.

But alas, the manager came back, this time with another personal trainer who had apprehended me many times, and they asked me to leave immediately. I was tempted to start a brawl, but I decided to leave respectfully and never return. I canceled my membership that day, and have never stepped foot into a gym like that since, and I pray I won’t again.

This whole story happened years ago, but I was reminded of it this week when I had a sudden realization. If you truly want to achieve some remarkable physical goals, you’re going to need to go against the grain of what society expects of you. Our culture has unspoken dogmatic policies, and so long as you’re part of the system, you’ll be pressured to conform to those policies. That also usually means you’ll have a hard time achieving your goals. A good rule of thumb is that what is often necessary is also the OPPOSITE of what the majority is doing. If you want the body you’ve always dreamed of, you’re going to need to break the rules and become a fitness outlaw. You choose.

Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible. Saint Francis of Assisi

CST, CST-KS, NSCA-CPT
Fitness Professional

20 Responses

  1. That’s a hilarious story. What kind of a gym does that sort of thing?

  2. John Paul Tan

    You know John, this gym had been mentioned before at T-nation.com for being such a ridiculous idea. I don’t blame management since all they did is create a business serving the needs of stupid people. Maybe I should create a gym opposite to the one mentioned in the article. Instead of a judgment free zone, I will have a bullshit free zone. Every time someone does something bullshit in the gym, a PA system will announce the bullshit and a simple message to the offender to “Please get the fuck out and go back to watching Oprah.”

    • It’s a GREAT business idea. I was just the wrong customer. Funny you mention the BS-free zone, I’ve got one of those in my home gym.

  3. Fran Lehen

    I would take a guess that Oprah has been the biggest influence in helping middle-class America learn more about themselves than any other one person psychologically, physically and nutritionally.

    • Probably right, Fran – and I’m not sure if that worries me or assures me.

  4. Wow, I had no idea such places exit… I guess that’s the kind of crap the masses are having to put up with these days huh? I think I’ll stick to grunting at home as I swing the bruiser around :-)

  5. Oh my land sakes alive! That is a classic.
    John is right. PF is a business with a target market of people who do not understand or generally want to train properly. Some people will use their PF experience as an entry step into real training. It helps them form the habit of going to the gym and training. That’s good.
    Most use it as an excuse. “I go to/belong to a gym. Therefore I am exercising.” That is the way of the world.
    I have no experience with PF. I have seen their “Judgement Free” marketing and thought it was a good idea to get people to go to the gym if they felt uncomfortable about measuring up. I had no idea it could be applied this way.
    I’ll be thinking of this story for a long time. Laughing.
    Thanks.

    • I’m glad you got a good laugh out of it, Dave. I certainly do when I look back on it.

  6. Jimmy Svitak

    Hahaha, Great story John!!!

    What a failure of a gym!

  7. That’s ridiculous. Isn’t the first time it’s happened either:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQ6OrO1f610&NR=1

  8. LOL Ilarious….
    My last experience with “zen fitness style” gym and “fatbuilders” was years ago… practically I was using a space of 3×3 meters in the lunch time to do some functional training with barbells and bars and bodyweight…
    a group of “fatbuilders” looking and smiling like You can smile in front of a cow trying to dance… one day one of them ask me what I was doing..
    I’ve tried to explain and soon I ask… “want to try”? He agree..
    He was probably 15 kg heavier than me and 15 years younger..
    I’ve start to warm up..and after 10 minutes of warm up/ work out..he was purple in face and when I’ve start my session of barbell clean and press with 30 kg. he quit!
    Next day no fat-builder even smiling…just respectfully Hi..
    The guy start to work out with me and now he ‘s a KB fan and in good shape..
    That was my last month in a “quiet and no thanks I prefer bench press” gym..

  9. I’d see how many times i could make it go off in one session!

  10. bigdeadlifting dude

    Funny story, but however, this is the style that most gyms are now adopting. Personally, I wouldn’t last five minutes in that gym since I have a 780ish deadlift lol. I do know what you mean. I sometimes go to a lesser gym where I live and it doesn’t meet my needs. Let me tell you a little story about when the gym owner confronted me. He said, “Sean we need to talk.” he said that I am scaring old people, tearing up equipment, and get this, the female members are afraid of me, because they thought I was going to assault them!!!This was after a super heavy deadlift session with 700 lbs @ 6X3, complete with controlled drops. Holy crap, the stereotypes live very well these days. I am also the nicest guy in that gym, who helps other people, and gives them advice. Needless to say, I found another gym that encourages heavy lifting. In fact the owner at my new gym was rooting me on when I was maxing out on my deadlifts. In the meantime, I only use the former gym for my assistance exercises such as floor presses, good mornings, JM presses, etc. However, I was called out for doing floor presses and JM presses, because according to them they looked dangerous. Needless to say, I ignored what they said to me. When I went into the gym the next day there was a sign on the wall that stated…..”According to the medical and chiropractic association of America, floor presses and good mornings are dangerous and should never be performed”.

    I am pretty sure that those posters were made just for me sigh. The personal trainers in this gym are a screaming joke. For example, the head trainer brought in two bags from Mc Donalds. One bag was loaded with fries and the other with burgers and he had a large 44 oz. soda. He was eating this trash in front of a client he was training. This trainer has a large gut and two chins. Furthermore, his clients show no signs of progress whatsoever, and in fact, they come to me for advice and I give it to them. My advice has helped them lose weight, muscle up and improve their health. However, I am probably going to be kicked out of that hell hole soon, even though I use this place twice a week. The pussification of America is now complete!!

  11. John, one of these purple and yellow establishments opened up less than a mile from my house about a year ago. They had the big membership drive. I heard they signed up over ten thousand members in the first two months! They have forced every other gym in the area to make ridiculous price drops just to stay in business. I’ve never set foot in the place but it is always packed when I drive by. So sad!

  12. I’m a female runner. My goal is to run 10K in under 40mins by spring. Perfectly realistic goal considering 5K isn’t much of a problem for me.

    In order to achieve this goal I have to learn to run faster and for longer. Sounds logical, right? The day I increased my speed, I got kicked out of the women’s section of my gym for get this: Running too fast. 6.5mph isn’t fast. At least in road racing. Doing that speed for 10K won’t win you any awards. To make matters worse, it was the overweight cleaning lady doing the complaining. And I’m the only target. Today I sent the gym an e-mail citing discrimination for no reason, and letting them know I’ll take it to the BBB if need be. Perhaps I could tell them I’ll race them there. Oh wait, I’d probably be running to fast for them again.

    I’m now looking into other places to get my much needed running in. IMO, some people at gym’s need to work on their reasoning skills.

    Thanks for your post. It really was a good laugh, and I can believe it’s true too.

  13. Hi John,

    I really admire what you said in the last paragraph, that going against the grain is a step toward success. It’s so hard to do unorthodox workouts in a gym where everyone expects girls to stay with the cardio and the gym rats stare because I try to work in some boxing and lifting. Thanks for all your videos, it’s been helping me out a lot!

  14. James V. Jones

    I belong to a gym called Fitness 19. It’s a gym with a mixture of exercise equipment and a mixture of people. We have machines and freeweights, young people and old,men and women, first-timers and more experienced. Surprisingly, we all get along and no one complains (that I’ve seen). We’ve got the serious bodybuilders that are in great shape. Most are younger and built way better than me, and it would be very easy for me to get discouraged if I constantly compared myself to them. Here’s the thing; I don’t. When I go to the gym, I’m there for me and not worried about anyone else. I’m there 3 days a week; some of my workouts are light, some are more intense. Occasionally, I grunt if I lift something heavy or breathe hard if I’m doing cardio. No one has ever called me a lunk or made me feel like less of a person for not being a fitness model. This place you describe sounds like a new concept in gyms, and not a place I would ever go. Why would you discourage someone who’s pushing themselves and going for the gold? I can be happy for the serious bodybuilders and still be ok with myself. I would not join Gold’s Gym, that’s a little too intense for me, but I wouldn’t discourage guys that want to go there. We all have to do what’s right for ourselves to meet our own goals.

Leave a Reply