Gym Jones has a mystique. It is ultra-exclusive. One look through the stark black and white photographs of chiseled bodies pushing through agony and dripping with sweat can make the average fitness enthusiast feel inadequate for entry. It's a place many fantasize about but never feel like they can walk through that hallowed door off of 300 E.
It's a place where you imagine being beat by a drill sergeant until you're lying in a pile of your own puke, broken and defeated. It's a place you are sure you can't hang, unless you are an elite-level professional athlete or someone who has had to literally carry fallen bodies out of a battlefield.
So, imagine my emotions, when the owner, Lisa Boshard, told me I needed to attend the Fundamentals seminar on February 17-18. Abject terror. Of course, I said "absolutely!" (I'm not sure if I'm a masochist or if my mouth knows by now to say yes to challenging things before I have a chance to overthink them.) And then, I promptly caught the flu.
When I showed up on Saturday morning at 9AM, I was a hot mess. I hadn't trained regularly in half a year and had been sick since Christmas, plus the post-flu cough was still easily triggered by any aerobic activity. I was clearly the soccer mom out of the bunch, in way over my head. But I was greeted with genuine smiles and real handshakes.
The seminar itself is designed to teach you the fundamentals of Gym Jones philosophy and training programs, plus take you through some of their trademarked grueling workouts and team-building races. It lasts two full days, but somehow feels like it flies by in a few hours. It is either the first step in becoming a Gym Jones Certified Instructor or an excellent foundation of training knowledge for an athlete or PT to take back to their gym and use to reach their next level.
The first killer they hit you with, to break your ass in, is a workout called "Tailpipe" - a relay between two teammates who take turns between rowing 250 meters and holding two sufficiently heavy kettlebells in the racked position, for 3 rounds. Tailpipe did not go well for me. After one of my rows, my body went to jell-o and I couldn't bring the kettlebells up. Then, the last vestiges of flu phlegm caught in my airway and I couldn't clear it, so I saw spots and the lights dimmed for a second. I dropped the weights down my body and stumbled. The guys just hoisted them back up onto my chest for me and yelled some things that were probably encouraging, but I really couldn't hear them. I was just screaming internally to myself that I could not fucking faint in this place on the first fucking day before anyone even knew my fucking name. I finished. Our time was probably a minute - minute 30 slower than it should have been, but it wasn't horrifying.
And in the end? It didn't fucking matter because times and numbers at Gym Jones aren't tests to get in, like I thought they were. They're just guideposts to see where you are at and eventually surpass. Our time got wiped from the board before the afternoon, to make way for class.
To be honest, I thought I was going to hear all about how you need to go hard, every day, no rest and how overtraining is a myth. I thought I was going to be preached to about the Paleo diet and quasi-religious CrossFit style nonsense that didn't apply to anyone who isn't on PEDs and has enough money in the bank for three more knee and shoulder surgeries.
Most of all, I thought Gym Jones was simply about suffering.
I was wrong.
Although the tongue-in-cheek theme suggests adherence without question to some asshole guru, the Gym Jones philosophy seems more to be "If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room," as they draw upon expertise from many different sources to combine the most efficient and beneficial system they can program, without rendering your body broken (beaten, for sure, but not broken.) And yes, mental suffering is a part of that program - it is one of their core beliefs. The Mind is Primary. Train your mind to accept suffering and it will allow your body to push past limits you thought were absolute.
And this is where I might've had a few sips of the Kool-Aid.
I have had panic disorder, anxiety disorder and bouts of subsequent depression all my life. Honestly I have it to a point where I shouldn't be functional, especially unmedicated, yet here I am. I have slips, as most of you know who have been here for a while. I occasionally lose my shit, drink too much, go numb and all that typical headcase shit. However, I persist, and that is the theme I always bring to you. But I have a secret.
As much as I have had to push way out of my comfort zones to simply live a functional life and raise a family, there are certain bits of control I haven't relinquished. Physical activity that requires the loss of air is one of them. Once my airways are compromised, the risk of triggering an all-out panic attack skyrockets and then I truly can't breathe and there is no mastering anything until it passes. It terrifies me.
I can lift weights until my body gives out. I can learn to be efficient while I'm fighting, rolling or sparring with someone. But all out sprints on rowers and airdynes? As ridiculous as it sounds - fucking hell no, no to the no-no. Is this skill something I need to overcome to be fit or a happy human being? Also no. But is this fear holding me back from doing all kinds of other things in my life? Yes. Yes it is.
And therein lies my bullshit.
The only workout I was good at last weekend was a pull up ladder. I didn't need assistance until the end, and although I could push myself until my arms stopped pulling me up without any doubts or fears, the workout after that, "28 Minutes of Hell" - a HIIT style bodyweight conditioning killer - made my hands shake because I didn't want to have a panic attack in front of a bunch of hardcore strangers.
This translates in my life to saying no to things like high altitude climbs or far off the beaten path adventure. It's half the reason I quit during Jiu-Jitsu tournaments, it holds me back from striking sports, it keeps me from doing any fun relay races with friends, or actually seeing how far I could go if I wasn't scared of myself. There are other ways my disorder holds me back and keeps me from ever letting out my emotions on full blast, but this is pretty significant nonetheless.
So, on the last day, we did a 4000 meter relay on each: the skiier, the bike and the rower. I knew I was my teams weak link, so I just said, "tell me what to do and when, so you guys have a chance." And these guys were great. They were encouraging and they knew when to skip me a round because I suck. Literally, I was sucking wind - obviously working hard, but they weren't going to kill me or shame me about it. (Plus, they probably wanted to win.) When the instructors started jumping in and having fun, it was like a huge weight was lifted off of me. I didn't feel like the old lady sack of flu-ridden shit holding everyone back, I felt like they just wanted everyone pushing their fucking limits and breaking through to the other side - you know, the Fundamentals.
So is Gym Jones the kind of gym anyone can walk in off the street and thrive in? No fucking way. It is tight-knit and challenging and exclusive for a reason. But not for the reason you think. It will spit out the elite athlete that thinks they are going to strut in and smokeshow and strut out. It will spit out the person who thinks they're into fitness, but they're only into doing a few exercises that are comfortable and make them look good. It will spit out the people who quit. And most importantly, it will spit out the people with bad attitudes: elitist bullies and whiny excuse-makers, alike.
As Lisa Boshard put it, "This is a gym where we have all kinds pushing their limits and becoming better people. There's a place for the shitshow (she pointed at me) and Captain America (she pointed at a sun-tanned, buff trainer with a 1,000 watt smile.) We're all in this together."
After the weekend was over, I sat in front of a fire with what was going to be my last drink for a month. I was called out. I was given a gift. I'm about to change my training, let go of control, and hopefully break through my bullshit to become something better than I was. I'm sure there will be tears, but I'm just as sure I won't give up. Because that is the thing we overlook - when we imagine those drill sergeants, those juiced up jerks yelling at everyone that they aren't going hard enough - we assume we can't be like them and stop ourselves from even dipping a toe in that water. But the reality is, any person is capable of doing extraordinary things if they are willing to do what it takes. And all who are willing, are welcome.
Check out Gym Jones www.gymjones.com
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