In September or October 2013 I joined a gym called OTG Athletic in Umhlanga. I’d tried a few commercial gyms before that and I can tell you with reasonable certainty that everything you’ve heard about commercial gyms is true. They are truly wretched places.
Firstly I’d say 90% of the people in commercial gyms are going through the motions because their doctor told them to and will be replaced in a few weeks by more of the same doing the same thing, 8% are there to flex and be seen in their new gear, and about 2% are actually there to get stronger and fitter. There are too many people there, too much sweat, too many TV’s and adverts and silly machines that don’t actually do anything. They stink of mediocrity.
You might say this is unfair, especially if you own or work at one of these gyms, you might say that you provide a great service to unfit people, and you’re right, you do. However, commercial gyms are precisely that, commercial. They exist to make money from the 80% of people who are signed up but never attend. If all the members actually went to gym it’d be too full for anyone to do anything.
So after trying the commercial gym thing and being totally put off by it. I returned to my sedentary life. My girlfriend at the time convinced me to do a kettlebell class with her at Fluxmotion Umhlanga after an unrelated health scare. I actually enjoyed for a while. It was all kettlebell and body weight exercises and a good start I suppose. We went for a few months and started to see results, if a bit slowly. The issue I have with kettlebells is that the primary movement in most of the exercises seems designed to set off my lower back spasm.
After our wedding we went to a few more classes until we heard about a new gym down the road being opened by one of the trainers we often saw at Flux. It was called OTG Athletic, which stands for Off the Grid. Lil Bianchi and Terrence Mitchell were responsible and we were amongst their first clients.
I’ll never forget my first session there. Well, to be honest it is more of a montage of the first few months. It brought to bare the stark reality of just how weak I actually was. I could barely do ten push-ups and a pull-up or chin-up? Don’t be silly.
I kept going and to be honest, I don’t think it was because I had a program tailored to my specific needs, or that my sessions were booked in advance. I kept going back because everyone else in the gym was stronger than me, at least at the beginning. I kept going back because there was no prancing and flexing or going through the motions. I kept going back because the workouts were simple, there are no fancy machines, just weights, bars and benches. Everybody in the gym was there to get stronger. Everybody was in the gym to get better, fitter and healthier. It isn’t an underground bodybuilders’ or powerlifters’ gym specifically either. It was, and is still, just filled with people who want to get stronger.
Results took time but they came. I am stronger; I can do many, many more than 10 push ups. And I can do pull-ups and chin-ups as well. I have some pretty good targets I’m trying to hit. I’m not the weakest person in the gym anymore, but I’m still way off being the strongest. I had to join another gym for a short while because I’d moved and Umhlanga was too far. That gym was always empty and when it wasn’t, I was the strongest person in it. I didn’t like that. It made me want to go home and eat pies. At OTG I got my results because I was constantly challenged by my environment and the people in it.
And that brings me to the issue I have with the new SupeRugby format they’re introducing in 2016. Like the wretched commercial gym it is going to be filled with too much stuff. There are too many games, too many teams, too many adverts but most importantly, there are not enough good players. With that dilution of the player pool we’re going to end up in a situation where people like me, the average Joe at a gym full of strong people, ends up at another gym full of even more average people and end up being the strongest, and visa-versa, you’ll get the strongest guy at gym full of strong people going to one where everyone is average. Chances are, instead of being challenged and getting stronger and better as he would when surrounded by players better and stronger than him, he’ll end up complacent and instead want to go home and eat some pies.
To excel strength needs to be matched against strength. Strength needs to be challenged to better itself. There are few better ways to weaken something than to dilute it. Just ask any curry. Instead of strength you’re faced with mediocrity, and I don’t know about you, but that’s not something I want to watch.