The Art of the Dive Gym

By Andrew Court

Sisyphus received a punishment worse than death. For all eternity, according to Greek myth, he was condemned to push a heavy boulder up a hill just for it to roll back down, again and again. The story of his ceaseless and futile task is a metaphor for hopelessness.

Going to the gym always makes me think of poor Sisyphus. The weights go up, and they go down.  Some minor improvements over the months or year are the best that can be expected. Disconcertingly, there’s the nagging suspicion that I need to do it just to keep my fat ass looking the same.

There are two solutions to this agony.

The most common one is to ameliorate the suffering through luxury. These are the fancy gyms, with spas and lockers and wellness coordinators. Yoga starts at 9 a.m. with leisurely Pilates at 10 a.m., set under a halo of eucalyptus fragrance. All the luxury doesn’t really change the pain and repetitiveness of exercise. This overdose of comfort, in fact, makes it even harder to go and do the real work. 

The other option, as ex-Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg once condescendingly told yuppy women, is to lean in. French Philosopher Albert Camus wrote “the struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Previously I’ve written here about the Dive Bar, now let me introduce you to the dive gym.

What you really want in a gym is just short of a tetanus shot—a lot of rusty metal. The irony is that as weightlifting becomes more mainstream, these sorts of gyms are far less common. Cops and construction workers also need a place to work out. Personal training at these old school gyms is a guy in sunglasses telling you to do more weighted dips. They are like dive bars, iconic slices of the old word that are being decimated by gentrification and bad millennial taste.

The rust doesn’t in and of itself improve the exercise. It does, however, give motivation. Lifting an ancient barbell makes you feel like you’re Rocky—that what you’re doing is essentially manly. Remember Rocky III, when Balboa goes to work out amongst glitz and glam only to be destroyed by Clubber Lang? Our hero doesn’t make the same mistake twice and by the fourth film is training in a barn in the Siberian steppe. 

In an effort to recreate this vibe I joined the Police Athletic League gym, which is smack in the middle of South Beach. The PAL is housed in a run down art deco concrete building which could easily be a Miami Vice trap house. The inside is small and the anemic AC keeps the temperature nice and Latin toasty. Most of the equipment is from the 70s and 80s, with a few new pieces from the cheaper end of the Amazon basics range. The floor is dirty and the walls are covered with 80s era inspirational quotes.

When you get here, you know it’s time to get down to business.

Why’s this better than the competition? Miami Beach is filled with lavish gyms catering to OnlyFans trash, gay bartenders, and bored housewives. Gymage, a Spanish chain, even has permanent selfie tripods. Equinox, at $250 a month, isn’t where you want to drop the soap.

Now we get back to PAL. It’s 5 p.m. on a Wednesday and the gym is packed. Tatted up ex-cons wearing Timberlands and wife beaters do bicep curls while school teachers try and hit 225 on the bench. To keep the energy level up the Cuban staff make cafecitos. The music playlist is straight from 2003.

In a world where everything is getting bougier all the time, the simpler option is the best option. We are always pushing for new and better but your dad’s old oil drum grill might actually be superior to that fancy Green Egg. A Rolex Explorer can’t show you emails, but it’s still the shit.

Beyond the gym, this philosophy can be applied broadly to life. Resist the urge to add unnecessary luxury. If you have the opportunity, go camping instead of staying at the lodge. Don’t try to smooth out all of life’s rough edges.

Like Sisyphus, you must learn to be happy with the discomfort.

From the FE Films Archive

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