Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pumpin' Iron, Brazilian Style, Part 1

I consider myself to be a bit of a connoisseur of gyms -- crappy gyms, fancy gyms, old people gyms, young people gyms -- and I have been to many gyms in many countries -- Austria, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Scotland, Thailand, etc. -- and frankly, I've seen a lot of weirdness. For example, at a gym I visited in Krems an der Donau, Austria, they had signs designating different areas of the gym: arms, legs, cardio, ladies. The "ladies" section consisted of one of those ab rocker things and a couple of mats. I guess that makes sense. Or, what about the time I joined a gym in Chile where they insisted on measuring my body-fat with calipers before I joined and then told me I was "gorda" (just a shade under "obesa") and thus REALLY needed the gym membership? That was flattering.

Even though they have called me fat, I have a special fondness for South American gyms. These gyms tend to have a few key, endearing characteristics in common: an abundance of Velcro leg weights, a legion of overly-attentive trainers with mullets, floor-to-ceiling mirrors, and, if you're lucky, techno. You guys already know what I'm talking about -- I've written at some length about my experience at the Academia Reebok, the fanciest gym in Sao Paulo, which I am actually considering re-joining for my four months here. But I've never really written about the other type of South American gym - the horrendously crappy apartment gym. This is a whole 'nother kettle of fish.

Today, after a series of events which conspired to prevent me from joining a real gym here, I decided, in a moment of desperation, to use my new apartment building's in-house fitness center (or, "o feetchy-ness," as the Brazilians pronounce it). Now, I have seen a lot of terrible apartment gyms in my day, so it's a rare treat when I see something so bad it surprises me. That's why I was both horrified and delighted today when I entered the feetchyness, which consists of two treadmills, a bike, and a few free weights, and saw the treadmill, in all of its glory.

The treadmill seemed normal at first glance, except for the fact that I had to stick a plastic key in the front of it to make it turn on. No big deal - I've seen weirder. After inserting the key, though, I couldn't figure out how to make the belt move. There were no buttons. No keys. And then I noticed the wheel. Yes, that's right, this treadmill's speed was controlled by a weird, plastic wheel -- you turn clockwise for faster and counter-clockwise for slower.

The problem with this system, as you might imagine, is that a wheel is an extremely imprecise way of determining the speed of a moving belt, especially when it is being controlled by someone running on said belt. Treadmill runners don't have the steadiest hand, which is something this wheel seemed to demand. I would touch it a hair to the right and the belt would jerk wildly forward, and suddenly I was sprinting. I'd turn it back and the belt would grind to a slow crawl, pitching me forward. Who invented this? Oh, that's right, a Brazilian engineer in 1973.

Ah, Brazilian gyms! Stay tuned - I am planning a pilgrimage back to the Academia Reebok this week, so expect an update. All I hope is that they haven't installed any wheel-treadmills since I was last there and that there are still plenty of Velcro leg weights to go around.


  1. we just joined a gym in munich. i had my first body fat percentage measurement ever and learned that i am apparently in the worst category which is somehow so vast or i am somehow so obese that i share such category with 1000-lbers and the like. of course, i blame the test. meanwhile personal trainers charge more per session than gyms in the us charge for monthly memberships.

  2. i just re-read this post. absolutely amazing, especially the part about the wheel-driven belt speed.