by Mark Rippetoe
“Any degree program that claims to prepare the student for more than just a graduate program in the same discipline must be commercially relevant, and this is defined by the terminal application of the material. So it is hardly surprising that machine-based isolation exercise is what you learn in school, what you’re tested on in school, what you are certified in by the NSCA/ACSM/AFAA/IDEA/ACE/ETC., and therefore what you think you know to be correct.”
When I first started in the fitness business in 1978, I worked at the Spa International and Nautilus Training center in Parker Square. I had been fooling around in the old weight room at Midwestern for a while, I decided that I needed a more full-time job than the weekend DJ gig, and I was every bit as qualified as anybody working there at the time. More so perhaps, I thought, because I was beginning to think logically about the things a 21-year-old kid is capable of thinking logically about due to my science background (we science majors liked to think this was as important to everybody else as it was to us). But really, nobody gave much of a shit about this except me because this was essentially a sales job, just like it is now. I could run the exercise floor any way I wanted to as long as membership sales were where they needed to be. The industry then as now was about sales, and very early on I had begun to confuse it with strength coaching. My job was to sell memberships and to show the new members what to do, in that order.
The club was open six days a week, Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday being the “men’s” days, MWF for the ladies, as well as Tuesday and Thursday mornings till noon. It was a co-ed club in the sense that men and women were members, but at that time it was felt that women would not exercise if men were present to watch, or “gawk” as men will do, so we segregated the membership this way. Remember: this industry is about sales – always has been and always will be – so this policy reflected the current thinking of the sales guys at the time. Times change and attitudes about modesty, social interaction, and the best places to get laid change, and the sales guys change with them, and the effectiveness of the policy with respect to the exercise itself was not then and will never be a factor in the decisions made in the fitness industry. The perception of the effectiveness of the exercise paradigm is shaped by the folks with whom the consuming public comes in contact with most frequently in that context, and three days per week for the guys was enough to train because that’s what we told them, and we were the experts. Ladies need more days, of course, since their exercise could not be as strenuous and relied primarily on stretching and moving around a little in a class-type setting, blah blah blah. But really, the club had more women than men as members, so the women’s membership was given more options for using the club. This segregated model also saved the club money when it was built, since separate locker, restroom, and wet area facilities were unnecessary.
We had a helluva jacuzzi, a fun place to be after hours with a major dance bar just down the sidewalk. In fact, those of you that have seen “The Last Picture Show” have seen it featured in the movie. I shall save the stories for when you buy me the beer.
We had two separate exercise floors: one was equipped with older selectorized machines, a squat rack, a bench press, a bunch of dumbbells, a few flat benches, a couple of those machines that had a vibrating belt attached to them that you could put around your waist and make the fat vibrate off but which were actually pretty good back massagers, and me. The other exercise floor was the Nautilus room, equipped with what were at the time the most advanced, state-of-the-art exercise machines in existence, and Shaddrack Brown, a large, simple individual with 19” arms. Shaddrack and I would of course work in each other’s areas, depending on whom I had sold a membership to that day and what I had told them, and what Shaddrack’s “trainees” expected to do based on what the other sales guys had told them. Shaddrack was not a salesman, and he was seldom found in the offices up front, but if the manager sold a contract, or on rare occasions one of the sales gals sold a membership, Shaddrack usually got the member for the program set-up. The rest of his time was spent brutalizing the established members on the Nautilus equipment. Shaddrack could make these guys launch lunch anytime he wanted to, and – then just as now – there were lots of people who thought that vomit was the primary indicator of effective exercise.
As a complete off-the-wall aside, here’s a funny story about Shaddrack, which I can tell now because I have not seen him in 25 years and he probably won’t kill me. We were having a staff meeting one night, and Elaine, one of the sales gals, brought her little walking-mop dog to the club. Shih Tzu or Llasa Apso or some such hairy little bug-eyed dog, but sweet. We were in the office for about 30 minutes when Bob the manager said, “Where is Shaddrack? He’s supposed to be here.” I said I’d go find him, and I walked around the club until I got to the Nautilus room. We had a massage table in the corner of that room that we used for everything but massage, and Shaddrack was standing on the table, leaning into the corner, visibly disturbed, with the dog sitting on the floor looking at him. I said, “Shaddrack, what in the HELL are you doing up on the table? Are you actually afraid of this sweet little puppy?” Shaddrack said, “I…I…you…you don’t know if that dog bites, d-do you?” I picked up the dog and took her back to Elaine, and then I had to come back and get Shaddrack off the table after promising him the dog was in the car. Dogs are funny creatures, no?
I tended to stay in the room with the more conventional barbell equipment. I knew how to teach the members how to use the standard twelve-station Nautilus circuit, because it only takes about ten minutes to learn. But I preferred the barbell equipment because I liked the fact that there was an aspect of technique involved that I could coach, and I preferred the absence of vomit. I have never enjoyed the smell, and I am personally averse to retching – as of this writing it has been sixteen years since I have puked, and I assure you that this is not a function of a lack of training intensity or having not had the flu. In 1994 it was associated with Cuervo 1800, a type of tequila apparently made from gasoline. Puking associated with exercise is a learned behavior, I’m convinced. Shaddrack taught it, I did not. My advice to you is to unlearn it now.
The adoption of Arthur Jones’ Nautilus equipment by the industry in the mid-70s was an important step in the process of the growth of the fitness industry in several different ways. I have written before about the obvious logistical problems solved by an exercise method that can be learned easily enough in ten minutes that anyone with fingers dexterous enough to set a pin in a plate stack can function as an employee. But it has only recently occurred to me that 35 years of exposure to machine-based exercise has also changed the assumptions about exercise made by those whose job it is to provide guidelines for its effectiveness.
If you are going to practice exercise prescription as a profession, you are going to have to
function within the context of the commercial fitness industry because that’s where the equipment is
located. Unless you get really really serious and build your own gym at a considerable expense – and
therefore at considerable risk to yourself financially – you are going to be training in a facility owned
by someone or something else. This usually means a privately-owned or corporate facility modeled
after the standard industry paradigm, because that’s what makes money. The members of this club will
have signed a contract for 12-24 months of membership that represents paper worth between $300 to
$600, which will usually then be sold to a finance company for 70-80% of the face value and collected
by this third party. The members’ value to the club after this event is primarily as a source of referrals
for more members, which they will be regularly asked to provide. Or you could get a job in a rehab
facility, which relies primarily on third-party (insurance) payment, in which case the atmosphere will
be different. But the equipment will be the same.
May 19 Training Camp (Deadlift & Clean) : Atlanta, GA
May 17-19 Starting Strength Seminar : Newport, NC
May 25 Training Camp (The Squat) : Chicago, IL
June 7-9 Starting Strength Seminar : Wichita Falls, TX
July 12-14 Starting Strength Seminar : Denver, CO
August 9-11 Starting Strength Seminar : Springfield, MO
September 6-8 Starting Strength Seminar : Brooklyn, NY