“Is that a basin of holy water?” my client Nadine asked, peering over at the stainless steel bowl jutting out from the wall across the room.
“Close,” I said. “It’s our new chalk bin. But since fitness is our religion here, I suppose it amounts to the same thing.”
Many of our members refer to Movement Minneapolis as their church, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. For many, their gym serves as their “third place.” The first: your home. The second: your workplace. Your third place: your communal place. A term coined by author Ray Oldenburg, a third place is a welcoming and comforting spot that involves regulars. A place where, as the theme song to the old TV show Cheers goes, everyone knows your name. (Not to mention, it’s a healthier alternative to a bar. Maybe someone should tell Norm.) Our environment has enormous influence over our lifestyle choices and factors greatly into the creation and implementation of new habits, so this gym-as-third-place scenario can be a real blessing for your fitness regimen.
Though there are exceptions, I’ve seen privately owned facilities cultivate this sense of community better than large gym chains. This is likely the result of having smaller membership populations, a greater emphasis on group classes, a more specific fitness focus (i.e., kettlebells, cycling, yoga), and more emphasis on member retention. Going to the gym is an experience you want to repeat over and over when you not only love the workouts but the staff makes you feel like family and fellow gym-goers become your friends who ask after you when you aren’t there.
Membership fees can be more expensive (CrossFit gyms are a good example), but places that create a strong sense of belonging can pay you back in other ways. You can reap benefits in terms of developing positive relationships with those who hold similar values, of course, but also by decreasing medical bills. Simply put, greater consistency leads to better health and feasibly fewer doctor visits. When people ask me what the best workout program is, my answer is always the same: the one you will do. And a third-place gym is well worth finding for that very reason.
So how do you find yours? Do some comparison-shopping. Scope out the vibe at the gyms you visit. Do the activities they do there interest you? How readily do the employees answer your questions? How happy do the members look? Do they interact with each other? Are you introduced to others? If you’re looking for someplace to do something other than put your head down and earbuds in—if you’re looking for a place to truly congregate—these questions are relevant.
You’re drinking from the holy grail of health so it’s important to experiment until you find the right place match for you. Meanwhile, I’m off to mass at the church of the barbell.
Jen Sinkler is a longtime fitness writer and personal trainer based in Minneapolis who talks fitness, food, happy life, and general health topics at her site, jensinkler.com, and writes for a variety of national health magazines. Earlier this year, she authored Lift Weights Faster, an e-library of over 130 conditioning workouts for fat loss, athleticism, and overall health.
Jen works with clients at The Movement Minneapolis, a facility that uses biofeedback-based training techniques. She is a certified kettlebell instructor through the RKC (Level 2) and KBA, and an Olympic lifting coach through USA Weightlifting; she also holds coaching certifications through Primal Move, Progressive Calisthenics, CrossFit and DVRT (Ultimate Sandbag).