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The forgotten beauty of old school gyms

Why it's sometimes best to go back to the fitness classics.

When you hear the phrase ‘old school gym’, what might come to mind is the sweat, the smell, the old taped-together punching bags and vintage boxing rings about to collapse under their own weight.

In today’s modern world of fitness fads, is there any room for the classics? be. magazine went in search of a place that still uses the tried and true techniques – places built from vintage practices.

What we found is a mix of traditional techniques modernised for today’s gym goers. The old school aesthetic may have changed, but there are places that still hold onto the old ways.

To find out more, we spoke to Martyn Girvan at Apollo Gym in Melbourne. Martyn comes from an exercise science background and has a degree in psychology. When he’s not acting as Collingwood footy club’s strength management coordinator, he’s running Apollo Gym and the Elite Sports centres with his business partner.

Apollo Gym was first established in the 1950s by strongman Paul ‘The Mighty Apollo’ Anderson. Paul Anderson is credited as a pioneer of modern gym culture, combining martial art techniques and strongman training in Australia and developing many of the practices that are still used today.

Walking in to the gym, you see metal dumbbells and kettle bells strategically placed in a row beside the door. White gym chalk handprints line the massive bars used for dead lifting. Heavy metal chains lie around on the floor.

Apollo Gym’s message is clear. “We look at breaking down fitness into simple terms – good movement and function first, then we look at strength,” Martyn says. “There has been a change in how things are done, especially for women, where cardio work is not going to get it done. We’re getting back to methods that have worked for a long time while also looking at that current research.”

In the last five years there has been a resurgence in doing basic movements like squatting, bench presses, dead lifting, overhead pressing and Olympic lifts, as well as CrossFit, which has been a big factor in getting people back to lifting weights.

Nostalgia aside, the most important part of training is a good diet, Martyn says. “Without it, you don’t train well and you don’t recover well, and this has been documented for a long time.”

Classic boxing and martial arts techniques still influence today’s body movement patterns. If you look at the biomechanics and science behind it, it’s all about generating force, your work capacity and your ability to buffer lactate and repeat efforts. By looking at what people intuitively did years ago, a lot of gyms can now research, quantify and refine those classic practices.

There are only three basic ways you can train with weights: you can lift very heavy weights for a few reps, lift lighter weights but faster for more explosive power, or lift moderate weights with more reps in between for more hypertrophy or muscle gain.

Martyn would, though, like to remove a myth about classic gyms: that you have to be fit and strong before you start going. “It took me a long time to realise, and because people didn’t understand what we did, they would try and get a little bit stronger before they came down here. And I asked why? Especially women, they thought they needed to bench press 300 kilos and that’s not what we do. Come in as you are and we’ll build you up from there – that’s the reason we don’t have mirrors in here.”

Apollo Gym is all about combining new and old techniques.  People have been getting strong for a long time with bars and weights, and kettles bells, which have been around since the 1900s. “The clock always comes back around to 12,” Martyn says. “There have been some definite shifts in my time, for example, moving to pure cardio and machines, but now there seems to be a real movement of getting back to fundamental movement patterns.

“If we’re really talking about classic techniques and old school gyms – one thing that is always tried and true is making people feel comfortable in their environment.”

Check out what Apollo Gym has to offer at apollogym.com.au

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