Growing old means we lose our illusions no matter how much we want to cling to them. Today, I witnessed the worst personal trainers in the world, lost a long held childhood ideal in circumstances that made me want to simultaneously laugh, cry, and once or twice gasp out loud. And it was all because I decided to have a workout at Golds Gym in Venice, California.
Now for those of you whose life hasn’t revolved around bodybuilding at one time or another, you may not be aware that Golds Gym in Venice, Los Angeles, is the one place in the world that has consistently been regarded as the Mecca of bodybuilding. In a slightly different venue down the road from it’s present location, it is the gym that Arnold Schwarzenneger honed his physique to perfection in the iconic movie Pumping Iron, and in it’s day in the 1970s and 1980s it’s remarkable gravity pulled in countless world class bodybuilders from all over the globe, all keen and eager to benefit from some of that “Gold’s Magic”. And magic is how it seemed to young men from around the world, such as my teenage self in gray and damp Yorkshire, who would read all about it’s atmosphere and equipment in wide eyed awe hoping that one day we could somehow drink from the Holy Grail! Now we all know that things change, and the rampant commercialism of the fitness industry has watered down every hardcore message, especially in America where it seems that any association with bodybuilding is taboo and the financial kiss of death. I’d actually visited Golds Gym in Venice on two previous occasions, once in the late 1990s in my own bodybuilding heyday, and then about five years later whilst on a business trip. So I already knew it wasn’t what it once was, and each visit conveyed less and less of a ‘serious’ training environment, but still nothing could have prepared me for the God awful experience of this morning and my brush with the worst personal trainers in the world!
Picture the scene, I’m full of enthusiasm for my training, finally refeeded on a few carbs following yesterday’s amazing photo shoot with Jason Ellis (much more on this in later blogs), and wanting to really hammer myself in the gym. My expectations weren’t too high anyway, Charles Poliquin told me that he’d heard Golds had gone even further downhill, so all I really wanted to do was to pump up aggressively on some nice bits of kit and ideally be lifted by the atmosphere of a new environment and a large, hard working gym. Golds by the way, is immense, three times the size of any regular gym with so much equipment it’s bewildering – I was like a kid in a candy store trying to work out what to start with. I opted for some old Nautilus leg extensions and leg curls (similar to a couple of pieces that I’m trying to pick up for our new Mayfair personal training gym), simply because they inspired a bit of a nostalgic aura for me. These must have been 30 year old machines, painted in that old Nautilus blue, and whilst not the smoothest or the best maintained, things were a bit wobbly here and there, I had a lot of fun in one dark corner of the gym blasting away. Note that I wrote in one dark corner, so I was pretty isolated from the Golds zoo and wasn’t in a position to pay all that much attention to what was going on around me. That changed when I moved more centrally for my next movement, a really nice Precor slide / squat machine. I guess that under normal circumstances I’m better at zoning out distractions but in my defence I’m still pretty tired and depleted from all my shoot preparations, and come on, I was training at “The” Golds Gym so I deserved to do a bit of gawking! And that’s where things went wrong, my own training session lost a bit of momentum (nevertheless it was still reasonable and I was able to switch things up a notch as and when it was required), and at times I was just flabbergasted by the comedy that was all around me.
Here I am, in shock, surrounded by the worst personal trainers I’ve ever seen, trying to take a surreptitious photo of what is otherwise a really wonderful gym!
The first thing I really noticed was quite non-specific. There appeared to be a whole bunch of people, all rather shabbily dressed, just shuffling around doing nothing in particular. It took me a few moments to twig that these were actually personal trainers who were supposed to be working with clients. Then I started to pay a little bit more attention, and it seemed that everywhere I looked there was some circus show example of appalling personal training. I’m not sure where to even begin to start dissecting this litany of ludicrousness!
How about with the personal trainer putting his overweight female client through a series of unnecessary shoulder circuits, presses, every type of lateral conceivable, then onto tube presses, rows, and laterals on some sort of ten minute continuous loop…all whilst doing a Michael Jackson style dance routine with music blasting out of the headphones that were on both ears!
Then, directly to the left of this clown (who incidentally was swathed in some sort of swaddling clothes and a robe with hood pulled up like an African American version of Kung Fu) there was a mini bodybuilder (I write mini not to disparage his physique, rather he simply cannot have been over five feet tall even in his trainers) who despite the fact that he must have utilized ‘proper’ exercises to develop his own physique, saw fit to have his overweight female client (spot the trend in clients here) perform some sort of one two jab cross combo with dumbbells in each hand whilst lunging to each side in a way that made the poor woman’s knees buckle on each and every repetition.
It got better…I quickly knocked out a hard set of 15 continuous tension reps and made the mistake of glancing over to the squat racks behind me. Now bear in mind that there must be at least seven squat racks in the first main room at Golds, and I had seen no one squatting at all, so at first I was excited when a rather flaccid looking middle aged Guido trainer with a tight blue Lycra top and a small protruding belly (I’ll be kind and call it a gluten belly rather than a beer belly) set up a bar for his, yes you guessed it, overweight female client. This was as good as it got however, as Guido lost interest very quickly in his client, the one unifying feature I noticed in at least 80% of the trainers at Golds was their total disinterest in anyone other than themselves, and started to style his hair whilst his client struggled to achieve anything like decent squatting form. I was honestly transfixed, to me this was pure car crash television as it is the entire opposite of the way we do things at UP. I had seriously never seen anything like it and could only watch in horror as the poor woman’s butt stuck back further and further and higher and higher as she tried to push her way through her reps. Guido wasn’t interested and it was only when she yelped a strangulated cry of fear and performed a rep so bent over that her hips were higher than her shoulders (I sadly exaggerate by only about five per cent here) that he jumped up (yes he was sat down whilst checking himself out as close as possible in the mirror), shouted “Way to go girl!”, helped her rack the weight and then high fived her. That was obviously quite strenuous for him as he then walked off without saying another word to talk to another (equally lazy I suspect) trainer for over five minutes. I know it was over five minutes as I was so gobsmacked I couldn’t help but time him surreptitiously.
With the exception of just two trainers, one of whom introduced himself to me and was a fellow Brit Martin Almanango, a former national bodybuilding champion I’d heard of way back in my teens, I have never seen such a bunch of bored downbeat characters in all my life. A personal trainer is supposed to be inspirational, and you’d have thought in the ultra competitive Mecca of bodybuilding only the cream of the crop would survive. This was hardly the case, and a number didn’t even look like they trained at all. In fact, their only exercise is probably adding extra donuts onto their plates when Dunkin has a special. And please, please do not get me started on the trainer screeching out a 30 rep count to his client doing crunches. It was all more than a bit over the top, but I understood everything much better when a second glance at the grey haired, overweight, man boobed personal trainer appraised me of the fact that he had painted finger nails. And not just in one boring colour, oh no. These were half red and half white on each nail. It says it all really.
All in all I’ve been rather disappointed with Los Angeles. I met some great and very genuine guys at Stark Training in Orange County when I popped by to see the back end of a PICP class, but other than that there are too many flakes, bull-shitters and oddballs for my liking. It seems that too many people are on the make, as typified by the attitude of the “worst personal trainers in the world” at Golds, and doing things in a straightforward and reliable fashion is beyond normal west coast expectations. This was brought home in spades to me today when a scheduled and twice confirmed appointment to see a personal training business supposedly similar to my own ended with me making a two hour plus round trip from Santa Monica to Chino Hills, paying $320 in taxi fare (this I was expecting and was prepared for), and waiting an hour in vain for the highly unprofessional owner of Fitness Concepts to have the decency to turn up. Of course, he didn’t and was later full of excuses by email. Perhaps I’m hard to please and have high standards, but on today’s evidence Sam Bakhtiar is not a guy I’d want to rely on for anything.
I know that Los Angeles isn’t all bad, far from it. So cheer me up and piece together the shattered dreams caused by the Gold’s clowns…tell me some positive west coast stories in the comments section below and let’s spread some love! And don’t forget to ‘like this’ and ‘share this’ if you feel like helping me to grow this blog!