the Little Gray Gym

Life passes by so quickly, even the material things that remind me of my own personal past sometimes disappear. My memory of weightlifting in the eighties is always colored gray, is subterranean and was shaped like a cave. I was one of the lucky ones who lifted through the eighties in Marty’s Gym in the basement of the Record Barn.

The Record Barn was a building that sat in the area which is now the little parking lot on the east side of the China King restaurant. Marty Collins sold records and electronics on the main level, there were some apartments upstairs while downstairs held my interest-the gym. The basement of the Record Barn was accessed via thick-treaded, uneven steps painted gray. Most of the basement was concrete and painted that same gray color. The gym was about twenty feet wide and maybe forty feet long with a small bathroom mounted on a riser of concrete. There was one overhead leg press, a few benches, some pieces of Universal equipment and a ton of iron weights. It was perfect-no distractions, no sauna and no earthly reason to be there unless you wanted to lift weights.

Eighties weightlifting was pretty basic. There is so much information and misinformation about health and fitness today that you can find a work-out to achieve whatever fitness goals are important to you. However, my education in weightlifting came from my high school football coach, Mr Gebhart. I also had some suggested exercises I received while at UND football camp and many issues of “Iron World” magazine which featured only black and white pictures and was on the newsstand at the old Piggly Wiggly store.

I think most of us in Marty’s Gym wanted to be strong; we didn’t care about pretty “beach muscle.” There were always a few “fake tough” guys who would do their lifts improperly or incompletely in order to lift more weight. I focused on a few basic lifts with as much weight as I could lift for 3-5 repetitions. Part of this work-out was that I drove from Fosston three times a week because they wouldn’t let me work-out at the high school gym. I had to make my work-outs count so there was no time for triceps kickbacks, endless bicep curls or gazing lovingly at myself in the mirror.

Today, I watch the pictures appear on Facebook as people “discover” the basic powerlifting exercises that really make you strong, particularly in John Clay’s “Go Beyond Fitness” classes. I really enjoy the pictures of Clay’s students as they hit new personal goals. Many of the lifts they perform are considered “old school” and I’m happy to say there are several of us who are alumnus from that school. My nephew, Derik, and some of his buds also have a place where students of physical culture can be serious and that makes me happy too.

When I think of the little group of us in the basement of Marty’s, I get a little nostalgic. We were all young and perhaps na├»ve about proper lifting yet we worked hard and did some of the best lifting in Minnesota for our time. I wish you could have seen Marty’s Gym but it’s now gone and all of that effort is buried under asphalt, Thanks Marty, for that little gray gym and all the great memories.

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