The Magic of Gold’s Gym Venice!

golds-gymThe Magic of Gold’s Gym Venice!
by John Romano

Motivation is the key to bringing any of your physical aspirations to fruition because it’s consistency, above anything else, that brings on results. It’s always easy in the beginning, but after a while everyone finds the urge to get-up-and-go to the gym waning. For some it’s a passing thing – like a cold or the flu – for others, it’s their downfall; something they can’t escape. It beckons them to the couch like Mohamed to the mountain; the remote gets stuck to their hand, their muscles shrink and their bellies swell… it’s not pretty.

It’s frustrating if you get to that point, waxing poetic your past personal accolades – “I used to look like that,” “I used to go to the gym,” “I used to be a bodybuilder.” “When I was a ……… I used to lift………” even if it was only a few months ago. How could anyone let themselves go? Baring any true physical impairment, it can only be due to lack of motivation or a motivational element.

I believe you can make yourself do anything if you can get sufficiently motivated. You can always make time to go to the gym and make sure your nutrition is squared away. If it means you have to get up at four o’clock in the morning to do it, if your motivated enough, you will. For some people, their lack of a motivation is a psychological thing that stems from other issues, but for most of us it doesn’t cut quite so deep. As far as building your body goes, what you see in the mirror is a direct result of how well you’ve motivated yourself – if Peter Griffin is staring back at you, you need more motivation.

I think where you train can be the most motivating factor out of any of them. In retrospect, I’d have to say that for me, it was. I got sucked into bodybuilding when it was really taking off in the early 80s, and during that period there was no where on Earth more motivating than Gold’s Gym in Venice, California.

I got there just after it had moved from 2nd Street in Santa Monica to a slot in some big warehouse type building three blocks from Venice Beach where it still stands today, taking over the entire edifice like kudzu takes over a forest. It’s an awesome place; even back then. Its huge room (now there are four) was filled with enough iron to build a battle ship and it contained the biggest guys I’d ever seen lifting that iron to a back drop of blasting rock’n roll. Most of them were training for the contests I’d only read about in magazines; the Mr. Universe, Mr. America, and the Mr. Olympia. What I saw when I first walked in stopped me in my tracks– Bertil Fox, posing in the mirror! He hit a most muscular shot that drew his traps up almost past his ears; the veins in arms bulged the size of a garden hose, and his chest exploded into a fray of densely packed striations that looked like rock. Holy, shit! In high school I was one of the most bricked guys in my class; there, in the hallowed walls of Mecca, I was a dweeb. I no more belonged there than arrow heads belonged on the moon.

I stood in the doorway of a veritable muscle factory where physiques were cranked out out like GM churns out trucks. I went in and stayed for the rocket ride the fitness industry took for the next decade and a half. I saw it all. Staying motivated was never a problem at Gold’s. There was always something to see. And over time it got more and more interesting as an ever morphing brand of crazies found their way to Mecca. Soon it wasn’t so much the overt expression of muscle that kept me motivated – it was the entertainment.

Arnold and the rest of the old guard trained down the street at the decidedly more austere World Gym. No music, no bad behavior, no nut cases. Joe Gold wouldn’t hear of it. So, if you were one of life’s cast-offs or felt comfortable amongst them, and you also happened to be in the muscle game, you trained at Gold’s. It was hard core with a twist.

A kid named Chuck worked there for a while; he was the guy who picked up the weights off the floor and put them away. He’s a gazillionaire now after enough late night infomercials hawking the home exercise equipment he designed. But then he occupied a seemingly superfluous position if the members would have just cooperated and followed the rules. But remember who we we’re dealing with; I doubt half the guys could even see the sign that said to rack all your iron. Chuck became a bodybuilder because he thought the legs on the frog he dissected in biology class were cool, and he fashioned himself quite a pair over the years. His vertical jumps were astounding, able to touch a beam in the ceiling 11 feet up from a dead stop (he was only five-three). He attributed this prowess to “frog training.” His obsessive quirky nature had him intent on picking up 45 pound plates flat off the floor with one hand! Try that sometime. He did it by splaying his hand out over the hole and grasping the hub with his fingers and lifting straight up like he was palming a basketball. What the hell; he had to pick them up anyway. It took him two years but he finally did it, then he quit his job.

Two ex-cons did some pretty impressive bench presses. Not because they lifted particularly impressive weights, but because they were able to survive the way they dropped the loaded bar on their chests; especially the smaller of the two– as wiry and tightly wound as the core of an electric motor. He’d get under 315 with a pile of towels on his chest so thick it cast a shadow on his forehead, and reduced the distance the weight would travel by two-thirds. His “training partner” would help him heave the bar off the pegs, then let go, and the little dude dropped that weight like a wrecking ball on his sternum. He used the recoiled effect of his ribcage springing back to help him rifle the weight back up into his “training partner’s” waiting grip – about two inches away – who would then lift most of the weight for him. Then he’d let go again, and wham!, that little ribcage would fold up again. It was ludicrous. How he didn’t defibrillate his heart, I’ll never know.

A huge guy named Pete from Hungary showed me a bullet wound in his calf he got from the Russians that cost him the Mr. Hungry contest. He still seemed nice enough and drove a bus for the salvation army. Then there was a tall lanky guy about 50 who trained in dress slacks and a button down shirt. He wore little ankle weights around his black sox that he used to add resistance to some bizarre ballet-type move he referred to as his leg workout. What I defined as a leg workout was Tom Platz cranking out leg extensions about three feet away. You could have lost a quarter in any of the cuts that sprang out of Platz’s legendary quads as he pushed the load. When the Raiders moved to LA, Lyle Alzado trained at Gold’s. He was there right up until he died of cancer. Magic Johnson trained there too. There were always actors, and sports stars wandering around, some with a trainer in tow.

There was this big chick from Jersey who wore getups as gaudy as a circus bill with shards of fish net barely covering an acre of cleavage who would dance in between sets like she was partying at a club. She wrestled schmoes in her living room to pay the rent; hustlers were everywhere.

More and more women started training there, especially when they discovered what it could do for their ass. Some did a fine job of it too, proudly displaying lusciously developed gluteals no man could ignore – clad in anything scanty, tight and lewd. Some of these babes had booties so pert and round they could make the Pope resign. The girls had tight little abs and toned limbs too. But, when they discovered what silicone could do for them the scenery really improved! Then some of them got their hands on their boyfriend’s gear and took too much. After a while it looked like we had transcended the bounds of a two-gender species. I thought I heard two guys arguing behind me once while I was doing a set. After I dropped the weight and looked over, I saw that only one of them was a guy – the littler of the two!

Then amid this circus of actors, sports heroes, directors, rock stars, assorted lunatics and Joe Blow bodybuilders, were the stars of the show – the bodybuilders who built the sport. When the bodybuilding scene hit its peak in the late-eighties almost all the top level competitors trained there yet were outnumbered twenty to one– proof, they reckoned, that they were the genuine article, since in any community it’s the few that do the crucial work. And in this case it required too much sacrifice and too much suffering. But to train among them was motivation with a capitol M. I remember when Dean Tornabene, Charles Glass, Tim Belknap, and Mike Christian – all winners of their respective weight classes at the Mr. America, were training for the upcoming Mr. Universe. You could cut the competitive tension with a knife. The winner would likely be offered a lucrative endorsement contract and actually get paid to train. The psychological warfare was as grueling as their workouts. All through contest season it was like that – bodybuilders getting ready for shows training right next to the guys they would compete against. Just being witness to it all was more motivating than a Tony Robbins seminar.

The scene was so diverse and weird, in an exciting sort of way, that you couldn’t resist going – especially on the weekends. By about eleven on Saturday the party was in full swing. Powerlifters went for records while the who’s who of bodybuilding cranked out reps and hit poses in the mirror when they finished. Pro wrestlers worked in with them here and there too. A few of the Lakers chatted with a couple of pro ball players. Actors talked to agents and directors while the meter ran on the personal trainers. Some competitor who recently won his show would be doing his photo shoot there. David Lee Roth strolled in with two female bodyguards that would make any WWE Diva run for cover. A shock of purple hair here, a belt of bullets there, tattoos, piercing that made you wince. Guys rode up on custom Harleys, tricked out Porsches Corvettes, Ferraris, and rickety old bicycles. Some came to train, some came to be seen and some came to look. Some came because it was the only place they felt they belonged.

I’ve seen a bit of the world since those early days at the Mecca, have done my share of crazy things and have seen humanity with all the varnish off, naked and raw. But I never since experienced the electricity that poured out of that warehouse on the corner of Hampton and Sunset, nor such a parade of individuals. It was awesome and so motivating that there isn’t a day I can’t say I didn’t look forward to going. It was the most hardcore scene you could imagine. I even lived around the corner for a couple of years right next door to the notorious Steroid Guru, Dan Duchaine.

Gradually the hardcore got diluted. Some left to go to other gyms in other parts of town or the country, or the world; some ran out of genetics or drug money, or both; some got overtake by mortgage payments and domestic strife and hung up their lifting belts, while others became personal trainers and still inhabit the place, smaller, wiser and richer. I’ve been back there recently and it’s just not the same. Nothing ever is. But, look up on walls and you’ll see pictures of all the great champions that were there before and you can’t help but feel a buzz. Perhaps that’s why bodybuilders still make the trek. From all over the world they make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Some come to stay; others just come to see it. They’ll buy a Gold’s Gym tee shirt and a get few pictures of themselves shaking hands with some of their favorite bodybuilders under the sign if they’re lucky enough. They’ll definitely go home with an urgent need to hit the gym.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about most gyms the world over. But at least these days there are gyms -great gyms that have their own unique character and band of lunatics that keep you coming back to see what they’ll do next, or what they’ll wear next or what they’ll lift next – they’re there if you look. Your first stop should be the Hardcore Gym Registry.

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