Getting older isn’t for the faint of heart, but as my late mother used to say, it sure beats the alternative. The aging process results in aches and pains in previously unknown body parts and learning about medical specialties one never knew existed. Then there are the increasing “Do you remember calls,” when one is asked if they recall a former classmate, camp bunk mate, or family friend, only to be told that person died. Junk mail also changes as one ages, with solicitations for newsletters about how to avoid or manage various diseases, invitations to steak dinners featuring “retirement specialists,” and offers on burial plots and cremations.

Aging does come with one great benefit: The “seniors” discount. Some companies offer their products and services at a lower cost to older folks who choose not to kill themselves because of depression resulting from their junk mail. One such benefit is “Silver Sneakers,” which comes with many supplemental Medicare plans, including mine. The benefit gets you free access to various gyms around town, as well as some other goodies.

I was a die-hard gym rat beginning in my teenage years, lifting weights when the sport was relegated to small, poorly ventilated rooms reeking of body odor and populated exclusively by men distinguished more for their brawn than their brains. My influence was Ulysses “Crazy Legs” Curtis, a legendary former Toronto Argonauts football running back who was my gym teacher one year when I attended the Toronto Talmud Torah Hebrew Day School.

Curtis was aghast at the fitness level of my scrawny classmates and me and advised us that when we got older, we’d want to sleep with women, and that women were only attracted to men who could do lots of pushups.

Obviously, Curtis would be canned if he made that comment today, but it proved life changing for me. I’ve been doing pushups ever since.

The pandemic derailed my lifelong near-daily gym pilgrimages. Since the outbreak, I worked out in my garage, which I transformed into a mini gym. Nearly ten years ago, I purchased what I still regard as two of the best cardio machines ever invented — the Cybex Lower Body Arc Trainer and the Octane Commercial Elliptical – and during the pandemic I added a slew of dumbbells. Training solely with dumbbells is limiting, but working out at home has its own benefits, such as never having to wait for equipment and being able to listen to one’s preferred music at one’s preferred volume.

The downside to working out solo is the inability to benchmark against others. In addition to Curtis, my other major fitness influence was the book, Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You’re 80 and Beyond, by my former New York City internist Harry Lodge and his patient Chris Crowley. Lodge and Crowley argued that daily rigorous exercise was the key to staying young, and they recommended working out at gyms with lots of younger people and benchmarking one’s fitness level against them, not arthritic older folks with limited mobility.

I recently decided to return to the gym, and skeptically looked at participating gyms included in my Silver Sneakers membership. I figured they would be depressing community centers catering to people requiring wheelchairs and walkers, but much to my surprise, the membership gave me free and unlimited access to Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach.

Referring to Gold’s as just a gym is akin to simply referring to the Western Wall in Jerusalem as lingering stone blocks piled high or Lourdes in France as spring water.  Gold’s, likely the most famous gym in the world, for decades has been a global mecca for serious body builders. The place was made famous in 1977 by the docudrama Pumping Iron about professional and amateur body building competitions and featured Arnold Schwarzenegger, a six-time Mr. Olympia champion.

Schwarzenegger, who in Los Angeles is known as Arnold and no longer has a last name, went on to become a movie star and governor of California, but until Pumping Iron, few outside the body building world had heard of him.

The original Gold’s Gym has been converted to a private residence, and after being in a Santa Monica storefront for a few years, in 1981 it relocated to its current spot around the corner from its original home. It’s a spacious two-story warehouse that nearly spans a city block, and there is considerable equipment stationed outside, a legacy from the pandemic days.

Upon learning I had a free membership, I rushed over to Gold’s to check the place out. Jarrad, the gym’s amiable Ohio-born manager, was available and personally gave me a tour. It took him a good 30 minutes to show me around and answer all my questions, but Jarrad was remarkably patient.

I shared with Jarrad my excitement about working out at the gym and asked if Arnold had ever visited the current location.

“Arnold still works out here,” Jarrad shared.

“It would be so awesome to work out here and see Arnold working out,” I replied.

“He’s here most mornings,” Jarrad said.

“Is he friendly?” I asked.

“Real friendly,” Jarrad said. “Always says hello to the people he sees regularly.”

I was stoked. I’m typically not into celebrities, but an opportunity to see Arnold at Gold’s Gym would definitely merit a blog post. I fantasized about him coaching me on the Arnold Press, a dumbbell shoulder exercise he pioneered.

On a scale from 1 to 10, I give Gold’s a 9 for the selection and diversity of its weights and machines. It’s chock full of both the latest contraptions and some of the great oldies I haven’t seen in years. Gold’s has two of my favorite equipment brands, Hammer Strength and Hoist, although it lacks Hoist’s seated mid row machine, one of my all-time favs. I dinged Gold’s rating for lacking Atlantis equipment, a Canadian line of fitness machines once popular with bodybuilders, which I still regard as the best on the market.

My only beef with Gold’s is its poor choice of cardio equipment, a common issue with every California gym I’ve ever visited. I’m told it’s due to California’s moderate climate, which encourages outdoors cardio activities like running, biking, and hiking.

Gold’s attracts an eclectic crowd of all ages.  It still has legions of hardcore body builders, and it’s exciting watching them train. I always imagined competitive body builders trained only with free weights, so I was surprised to see many of them utilize machines as well. The gym’s clientele is about 70 percent male, but without exception every woman I’ve seen in the place was a very serious trainer and had the developed muscles to prove it.

Gold’s has its share of what I call campers, selfish people who occupy machines and talk or text on their cells, blissfully indifferent to others waiting to use the equipment. There are also some male narcissists who train naked from the waste up, which I consider a health hazard. But overall, most people who train at Gold’s are considerate, gladly agreeing to share equipment between their sets.

Gold’s, which is owned by a German-based fitness conglomerate, plays what someone characterized as “European club music.” Fortunately, there are issues with the audio equipment, and the music usually shuts down after playing for a brief period.

My Gold’s Gym membership came with a free training session, and Jarrad recommended Alex after I shared that my biggest priority was mastering good form. Like Arnold, Alex hails from Austria, so I thought that was a good omen. When it comes to fitness training, I’m tough to impress, but Alex knows his stuff and like me he’s a stickler to detail. I loved training with him.

About 10 minutes into my training session, Alex out of the blue commented that, “Arnold looks great for 75.”

“Arnold Schwarzenegger?” I asked, wanting to make sure I wasn’t mistaken.

“Yeah,” Alex replied, “He’s over there.”

Someone was blocking my line of sight, but Alex suggested I take a few steps to the right, and there he was: Arnold training on a piece of Nautilus equipment within a stone’s throw away from me.

I lacked the courage to approach him, but the fanboy in me hopes that one day Arnold will see me sufficient times where I’ll merit a hello or a nod denoting familiarity. Perhaps he will even help me perfect my Arnold Press.  

For this lifelong weightlifter, that would be pretty awesome.

As for Gold’s Gym in Venice, the place is definitely, positively, Starkman Approved – an opportunity for a quintessential Southern California experience to pump you up.

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