TEAM BLOG: ADVANCEMENT '13

A blog by the Next Level  2013 Advancement Team.  

This blog provides the insight, in-jokes and inspiration of a team in action.  Each post is by a team member as their journey continues.  

In The Next Level, an "Advancement Team" is a team built of experienced athletes designed to "advance" the program.  The spring 2013 Advancement Team is comprised of eight men: Tom Keon, Phil Cohen, Stephen Cyr, Seth Carbonneau, Stephen Forgione. Phil Biondo, Yarza Winn and Chris Noonan.  

Each post represents only the views of it's poster, and is not intended as a reflection of the opinions, views or beliefs of any other teammate, the team as a whole or The Next Level.  

Follow these men as they make their marks on a small corner of history.

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Gym Hunting and Gym Finding: The Manhattan StrongMan Edition

Posted by Tom Keon

The Union Gym in Boston – home to both Tom Keon and at one point The Next Level – shown here in it's hey day.  Ironically, it currently looks only slightly less gritty than this.  And that is actually a VERY cool thing.

Even before I moved to New York City last October, I was worried about which gym I would end up at. My favorite gyms in the past were the independent ones I had managed to find (R.I.P. Metro Fitness of Wakefield, MA; how I miss you, BYMCU turned Union Gym, you neglected, wayward child of the Boston gym scene, and erstwhile Next Level home), and my perception—limited as it was—of New York City gyms was that you had to choose between Equinox, Crunch, NYSC, Planet Fitness, or some other overbearing chain.

Once I moved here and finally started to consider gyms seriously, I quickly learned that those chains were not the only ones around—plenty of independent gyms exist—and that some of those chains were actually perfectly nice in their own way. I’d never previously stepped foot in a Crunch, for example, but I was almost tempted to shell out the money for it after I took my first tour. Equinox is well out of my budget, so I never really considered it, and I don’t know if I could get used to such a clean gym anyway. NYSC is... fine, but there really aren’t any near my house. And Planet Fitness is what it is, but again, not near my apartment.

And that’s the other thing, I live in the East Village in Manhattan now, and much like wanting a grocery store within walking distance, I was determined to find a gym that was close by to cut down on any unnecessary gym-commuting time. There is one independent gym just two avenues west of me on the same street, but the small space made it seem like you’d be constantly bumping into other gym-goers. And if I were to move out of the East Village at any point in the near future (not planned, but certainly a possibility), this gym is not commute-worthy just to fulfill a membership contract.

I finally found a smaller, NYC-local chain that wasn’t too far away from the apartment and didn’t cost too much. It wasn’t independent, but it did lean toward the slightly-run-down, dirty-ish environment of a gym that I was accustomed to. The guys at the front desk were vaguely thuggish and the free personal training session available at the start of my membership more closely resembled a threat than an offer. Strangely, there was something comforting about it. I wasn’t ready for a long-term commitment with these guys, but I was willing to date a little bit, so I paid for a month-long membership.

Yep.  To someone who wants to train heavy in Manhattan, this looks about right . . . 

I really don’t know what made me keep looking, other than still holding out hope somewhere in my mind that there was something better. Long before I moved to New York, I had googled “New York City strongman” and came across just one gym in the city, Global Strongman Gym. It was on West 29th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues. Good to know, I thought, but I had a lot of other life logistics to deal with and didn’t put a whole lot of thought into it at the time. Frankly, I probably discounted it slightly (and naively) as a watered down “Manhattan version” of a strongman gym. That said, I can only claim insanity and a slough of other priorities (like finding employment) as my defense for not thinking about it again once I moved here.

StrongMan may not be for everyone, but Hans Pirman wants it to at least be AVAILABLE to everyone.

Fast-forwarding back to the future, about a month or so ago I decided to look into it again after visiting my new chain gym for a workout. I sent off an email to the owner, Hans Pirman, asking about the gym and how memberships worked there. I immediately got a response from Hans telling me about the membership options and encouraging me to come take a look at the gym anytime. I was intrigued and was there the next night to check it out.

My experience with strongman gyms is more limited than that of plenty of people, but I’d wager to say it’s more extensive than the general population’s. I went to see Global that first night and was ready to cancel my other chain-gym membership before I walked out the door. Here was a small, independent gym with, as far as I could tell, all the strongman stuff that I wanted, and an owner who was passionate about making sure that he had built and maintained a gym that would be welcoming to anyone and give anyone a chance to try strongman training. I’ve trained in strongman before and competed twice, but I’m by no means the largest guy and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still plagued to some degree by the “Am I going to be the scrawniest guy there trying to lift heavy stuff?” mental tick. So Hans’ philosophy instantly put me at ease. The other members have all been really friendly so far (being who I am, I probably fall on the side of the more seemingly standoffish of them, actually) and include women and men at various points on the goal spectrum of all-around fitness to competition level.

This is what a "good gym" is supposed to look like for those looking to lift heavy.  

Seeing the gym instantly made me forget about wanting a gym right by my house. Global is 25 street blocks north, and 9 avenue blocks west of where I currently live. Not necessarily far by Manhattan standards, but not exactly steps from my apartment either. It’s not really walking distance if I have other things to accomplish in my day. I usually bike it, but sometimes take the subway. Either way, Global is definitely a commute-worthy gym and its benefits make me not even think about the fact that I probably pass dozens of other closer gyms on my way there. Coming from someone who values proximity as much as I do, that’s saying something.

Seriously, the gym is a dream come true. It’s on the second floor of an office building in Chelsea, where you’d never expect to find it, and its footprint is the smallest (by far) of any serious gym I’ve ever worked out in. Nonetheless, Hans has managed to efficiently pack in an unbelievable amount of stuff. Stones? Yup. Conan’s Wheel? Yup. Tires? Yup. Kegs? Yup. Sand bags? Yup. Farmer’s? Yup. Yoke? Yup. Viking Press? Yup. Logs? Yup. Squat Rack? Yup. Deadlift platform? Yup. Treadmill and stationary bike? Yup. Lots of other standard, non-strongman-specific benches, machines and dumbbells, and a massage table? Yup. If you’ve ever been challenged by having to do a lot with a limited amount of space, it’s worth spending some time looking at all the stuff you can find here. And Hans runs it like a well-oiled machine at this point, so the "bumping into other members" issue really isn't one.

Hans has been in the business for years as a personal trainer, competitive bodybuilder, and strongman competitor. I asked him the other day how much of the equipment he had at the time that he opened the gym a few years ago, and he said probably 85%. He’d been slowly purchasing it over the years on Craigslist or elsewhere, and storing it away for when he was ready. He had a dream and had to make it happen, he said. When I said above that it was a dream come true, I meant it.

Hans gave me a first training session, on him, to familiarize myself with the gym, and I’ve subsequently done a number of additional sessions with him to get back on the wagon after several months off. I’ve left there multiple times never so happy to be bruised, scraped (results not necessarily typical), and ready to pass out. And having made some great gains. I look forward to training at Global for a long time to come, and possibly doing another competition in the near future.

So, all this is to say that if you come to New York City and need to squeeze in a workout, check out Global Strongman Gym (http://www.globalstrongmangym.com). You won’t be disappointed. And if I sound too much like a paid spokesperson, just ask fellow Next Level teammate Steve Cyr to corroborate my story. He prepped there for Central Maine Strongman 6 while he was in town a few weeks back.

Hans Pirman and Sven Karlsen.  With names like this, it's like an old SNL skit come to life . . . 

All this is also to say that if you think you can’t find something in New York City, it’s worth looking just a little harder before giving up. That’s not an earth-shattering realization, I admit, but my search for a gym was a good reminder of it. And yes, I instantly canceled the other membership.

This coming weekend, I’m participating in a 2-day strongman seminar at Global with Hans and World’s Strongest Man Svend Karlsen (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svend_Karlsen). It should be intense. I’ll try to post about that soon.