Close viewers of my Instagram stories know that I moved to Los Angeles last month, which means that I am once again looking for a new gym. (Don’t worry; my home outdoor gym is coming back, but some of its pieces have been scattered to the four corners of the world like it’s the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, and I have to reunite them.) But this means I’m coming to grips with how gyms are different here.
I haven’t been here long, but I have visited LA and California a fair amount in my adult life, and visited many of its athletic establishments. Some of the things I thought were odd on these one-off visits are turning out to actually be normal regional quirks of gym culture. I love this kind of stuff, so much that I will go to gyms on vacation (e.g. McFit in Germany). Here’s what I’ve noticed:
- There are seemingly no “dead” times at any LA gym. Caveat that I have not been absolutely everywhere. But so far, every gym feels at least a little crowded all of the time. There are no times you can just walk in and expect equipment to be available. There are no peaceful midday hours, no quiet late mornings, no pre-rush-hour lull. This has thrown me for a loop mentally, because I love an empty gym, and a lot of my “easing oneself into working out” stuff rests on having access to a gym a handful of times when it’s not a zoo. I mentioned this to a friend, and she said, “Welcome to California, where no one has [conventional, real, normal] jobs.” (At least, enough people who are also blessed with time, energy, and interest in gyms.)
- Everyone faces all their plates inward. This might seem minor, but give me a second. You know when you put plates on the bar, and the plates have a printed face (with the brand name, weight, etc.) on one side, and they are blank on the other? Everywhere I’ve been on the East Coast, people face the plates “out.” As in, if you are putting the plate on the bar, the printed side is facing you. On the West Coast everywhere I have been, people face the plates “in,” toward the lifter. Why? Any inquiries I have made of either group of people results in them saying some variation of “because that’s how you are supposed to do it.” To me, plates facing inward feels unnatural, almost like you are trying to hide what you are doing and how much weight you are lifting. (The notable exception is sport-oriented lifters anywhere, who know the absolute “correct” way of facing plates is to face the first plate inward and then all subsequent plates outward. I would love to know how people tend to face plates wherever it is you are, if you would leave a comment!) The reason this matters is that everyone replicates this in how they put plates away, and plates are more annoying to pry off a peg when they are faced in. I’m sure Californians et al. feel the opposite, though I have no earthly idea what their reasoning could be; so far they won’t articulate it to me.
- There’s a lot of gaggle-based working out. I’m far more likely to see groups of three to seven people, especially yutes, entering a gym as a squad, collecting around a given piece of equipment and carrying on an animated three- to seven-person conversation while they rotate in and out of using said piece of equipment. While this is incredibly irritating when I want to use that piece of equipment, overall it gladdens my heart to see young people pumping iron in a way that is not about achievement or punishment, and IS about having fun with friends. One thing I’d heard or read (I forget which) before coming here was along the lines of “People work out Hard at gyms in New York; in LA they’re just kinda meandering through their workouts.” I haven’t found that to be specifically true, but I do think people in New York tend to be on their Rocky Balboa attitudinally, noise-canceling headphones on and appearing to be Going Through It.
- There are way more oddball independent gyms than I’ve previously seen. You know me; I love a kooky offbeat indie gym. I’ve long said there is probably an independent gym with no weird shady contracts and a deeply loyal clientele closer than you think and cheaper than you think, but LA is indexing very high for such places. Somewhat cheaper space x a love of the game, I guess.
- They love when you lift. This is more of an “old” memory, because I do think lifting has become so much more normal now. But I have multiple distinct memories of being in LA and having this exact exchange: I’m in a gym, slinging my plates and dumbbells around, minding my business. Another guy in the weight room comes up to me and goes with beatific grin on his face, “You… lift?” “Yes.” “That’s… great!” This never happened to me in New York.
- People just… keep things outside here. Not sure what to do with a thing? Put it outside. That’s the California way. Not outside on the curb, but outside of your house in the open weather as a liminal third location while you figure out the object’s destiny. If that turns into that object living out there? Normal. This is, to me, a mind-blowing reflex, and it carries over to gym equipment. Many gyms here have an outdoor area, and they have the luxury of scattering thousands of dollars of equipment around out there. As someone from a region where it precipitates, or threatens to, more days than not, I think in the absolute this is great. But I’m not sure I will ever get over my fascination at this sort of… trust, in the outdoors and the weather. My old gym in New York held classes outside for a while several months into the pandemic, but they involved the head coach, bless his incredibly generous and literally heroic soul, bodily carrying about ten squat racks and mats and benches outside and then back inside, every damn day.
- Whether a gym has parking is make-or-break. It pains me to say this; or maybe it doesn’t, actually, because if you want your gym to have only local clientele, LA has an ironclad way of making that happen: simply choose a location that provides no parking at all. If you have a gym you love that just has a massive free parking lot you’ve taken for granted, you’d better go kiss its ground right now. I'm going to fight for cycling as transportation with everything I have.
~Discord Pick of the Week: This really belongs in the Rest section, but: new Netflix series called Human Playground. Is it a little maudlin? Yes, but not as bad as that Wrexham show I will never speak of. It’s good to see some less-conventional sports get some airtime!! In the first episode, you will see a man do a full flip over a bull running directly at him. A nice watch for when you are having a post-lift couch chill, like a nature-y David Attenborough joint but for athletics.~
I went to see The Woman King the Sunday before last, and it is SO amazing, GO see it IMMEDIATELY. I laughed, I cried, perfect cinematic experience, incredible characters, loved the story; note that it is not historically accurate, but neither is Braveheart; let people take some liberties.
Anyway; the @LakeShowYo tweet above is noted not just for its accuracy about Draymond Green but that it contains the signature Agojie move that different characters do a few times in The Woman King: leap at a person legs-first, lock your legs around their head or torso; swing your own torso down and around, pulling the person off their feet and to the ground (in my recollection of the movie, the attacker ends up somehow upright while the assailee is ass over teakettle? But that doesn’t happen in the video above). I am compelled by powers greater than me to learn this move. I don’t even know what it’s called. Does it have a name? When I learn it, how will I stop myself from simply doing it to passersby on the street? Many questions.
It was really hard to choose a top story for this section this week, I’ll say. But this one, while a strong contender that ultimately lost, carries itself: It’s Fat Bear Week, as of Wednesday. Get your votes in for your big boy of choice. Bears are out there dragging your Chewy boxes off porches, and I hope they don’t stop there; let them reclaim what is rightfully theirs.
The Brad Pitt Fight Club Body, Explained. Incredible choice of subject and framing by friend-of-the-blog Brett Williams!
A piece from one of our own in the Beasties Discord!: A One-Handed Lifter’s Adaptive Fitness Recommendations.
In my gym search, I came across this pretty extensive set of head-to-head comparisons of chain gyms, including LA Fitness, 24 Hour, Crunch, Equinox, Gold’s etc. My warning would be that locations can really vary in what they offer, but this isn’t a bad place to start.
From Trail Runner magazine: Eat Food That You Enjoy. When Anne Helen Petersen posted on Twitter this week asking for marathon recovery recs, I was deeply dismayed by how many replies I saw pushing some variation of “prop up your legs at exactly 40 degrees, rub your quads in a counterclockwise direction, breathe in for 4 counts and out for 8 for nine minutes, and recite a prayer for the fleet-footed god Mephistopheles.” Not a single person said “eat food.” Eat food! Eating is the number one recovery thing that no one who works out on this earth is ever doing.
I speak from the experience of running multiple half-marathons, not following them with a very large meal, and feeling my legs harden into two logs. I’ve also had the experience of running a half-marathon, eating a very large meal, and then being mostly fine. I know which experience I prefer. Eat! Food! Eat Food!
[discussion] Evidence for unilateral lower body work being beneficial over bilateral? No one really arrives at an answer here, mostly because the definitions of “better” or “beneficial” could be almost anything. But my takeaway is: diversity in training stimuli seems to benefit almost everyone who is not already an Olympic-level athlete who requires a high degree of specificity for their sport. Almost any stimuli is going to have carryover potential for us normies, to some degree. More directly: yes, doing unilateral moves like split squats will almost certainly help you become better at regular old bilateral squats, especially if you’ve only ever trained bilateral, regular squats.
Not unrelated to my “Eat Food” outburst above: The FDA wants to define “healthy food.” Oh boy. I mean, look: Healthy food is good. Healthy food for all. Here is the thing: We would not need to give so much guidance on what healthy food is if other parts of the government were not so busy subsidizing companies shoveling so much garbage onto shelves. How isn’t this going to devolve into “good/bad” foods? It is okay to eat foods that have more than four grams of saturated fat, sometimes! This is going to backfire so bad; look at the “good/great source of protein” fiasco that has never helped a single person identify a protein food
Shower thought: “For some reason, She Hulk doesn’t lose her shirt when she transforms, but regular Hulk does.” For some reason. For some reason. For some! Reason!
Finally finally finally, the weed legalization train is actually moving! Here come cannabis pucks for all. This reminds me how much I love the ad hoc weed sales venues that have cropped up in New York.
Related, I wasn’t familiar with Annie Ernaux but now I’m about to be!
Just a really good internet page: the Consumer Aesthetics Research Institute.
Related: Marginalia, an independent search engine that strives to turn up the opposite of the SEO gobbledygook that Google does.
OGs of this newsletter may remember that when it started, I was having an obsession with YouTube channels where people explore old abandoned mansions, hotels, etc. On that note, some good lists: a ghost town in every state, abandoned towns you can visit, abandoned places in California.
That’s all for this week! I love you for reading, thank you, let’s go—