Back in the day going to the gym was a no-frills experience. There were no fancy body washes in the shower or neatly folded towels at the front desk. In fact, at Gold Gym Venice, Joe Gold didn’t even play music. If you brought in a portable radio (as some tried), he’d kick you out. He believed that we were there to train, and that’s all.
We didn’t have iPods, headsets, cellphones or any of the modern toys you see in the gym today. There were no distractions to our training. There were also no treadmills or Precor machines or stair masters. All we had was weights and a few machines, and it got the job done. There was no such thing as cardio at all, in fact. As we would often tell those who came in looking for a bike or treadmill, "Cardio never built big arms.”
Gold's Gym circa 1973 would probably be unrecognizable as a gym to many today. Looking back, it was a completely different animal. There were no lockers, just a coat rack upstairs where you could hang your jacket, so people usually came in their gym clothes and left in them. There was only one shower, and Joe only had it built so the place could pass inspection. Of course, being that there was just one shower, it was often shared by guys and girls. No one seemed to care though—it was the 70's.
The atmosphere and the attitude was different then as well. If you wanted to work in with someone on a bench it was never a problem, and whoever was there would always spot you and help push you to the max.
Today’s gyms are different. I see so many unqualified trainers who clearly are there just to make a buck, and who would be doing something completely different if a better offer came along. They appear disinterested and passionless about what they're doing. Lots of them don’t put weights back, and they talk on their cell phones while training clients. Many just count reps and have no problem when their clients take a call in the middle of a workout. What kind of focus is that?
Nowadays I constantly see people sitting on machines, socializing, reading books or newspapers, or texting. Then, when you ask them if you can grab a set they'll tell you that they’re using it. This lack of gym etiquette didn't exist at gyms in the 70's, but starting in the 80's it's become more and more prevalent. You're supposedly at a gym to do work, so do it, or leave.
Back in the day there was a clear protocol when it came to keeping the gym clean. Weights were returned to racks, and if you didn't return them when you were done you were tossed out. Today I see so many people leave bars loaded up and dumbbells on the floor, never for a second considering putting anything back.
We didn't stand for this kind of behavior back at the old Gold's Gym. One time someone left weights scattered all over the floor where I was about to train. I found the guy and asked him politely to clean it up. He just shrugged his shoulders. So I literally grabbed him by the ear, pushed him down to the floor and made him pick every one of them up. Never saw him again.
Owners like Joe Gold and Vince Gironda took pride in their gyms and made sure that the rules were kept. Today it’s all just hourly employees who look at it as just a job, without really caring what happens out there on the floor. If you ask them to speak to someone, they’ll just make an announcement on the PA, which no one listens to, I'm guessing because they’re afraid to confront the person creating the problem.
I just see so many things going on today that would never have been tolerated back when I was coming up. People leave their sweat on benches without cleaning up after themselves. I see people washing their faces in the fountain and spitting in it. Then there's everyone having loud conversation phones while doing card. What happened to respect for those around you?
Then there are all the guys who make exaggerated huffing and grunting noises while lifting, and those who bang dumbbells together at the top of each rep. It's all totally unnecessary and would have resulted in a termination of their membership 40 years ago. But then, it isn't 40 years ago, is it?
It's not that I can't appreciate new gyms—they're plush, pretty and full of state of the art equipment. But I really miss the old gym etiquette. If there was a way to combine modern gyms with old school etiquette I think we'd have the perfect situation. Still, if I had to pick one or the other, I'd take old school every day of the week. Those were truly amazing times that I'll always look back on fondly.
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