As I have mentioned numerous times, the first few of months in every year can be a nightmare for us regular gym goers, as overnight the average class attendance doubles or even trebles with well-intentioned part timers making their annual appearances. Unfortunately it has been exacerbated this year by the new online booking system my gym in Bromsgrove, which seems to have allowed folks to book onto all manner of sessions the minute they become available and then not bother to turn up, meaning classes I have been going to every week for the last 12 months suddenly tell me they are full, whilst others I have squeezed into often turned out to have loads of spaces on arrival.
For some reason, this barrage of bookings only seems to have taken place at my particular gym, so as a result the wife & I decided we would take the opportunity to try out the others in our local area. Now there are five David Lloyd gyms around Birmingham , all within about 30 minutes of where we live, and although our membership gives us full access I had only tried out a couple of them before. So following last month’s investigative journalism report, I decided to make it my mission to explore the others in the first few months of 2016.
First thing I have to say is that they are all pretty similar. And that is a good thing: DL is one of the top gym brands in the UK and you would hope they are all of a good standard. But the more time I spent in each, the more it reminded me of the conversation between Jules & Vincent in Pulp Fiction when discussing Europe. So just like my gym, they have he same shit over there that we have over here, it is just… the little differences. Example… well here you go:
First on the list to visit was Worcester, a relatively new place which opened a couple of years ago. The location is great for access, straight off the motorway and next to the Warriors rugby club, although a little out the way for me to visit regularly. Now one of the first things I do when using a new gym is check out the equipment on offer, and this inevitably results in one of two feelings – jealousy or superiority. On this basis the fact that Worcester is a few years old now actually work against it, as most of the other clubs have since been through a refurb, so some of their kit now seems a little dated, although it is a great looking gym overall.
We got onto a Body Attack class which was taken by one of the instructors we had trained with occasionally back home, and quickly discovered another of the aspects of our place had followed us: the cliques. I suppose all places will have these, and being a regular in Bromsgrove probably means I notice ours more than others, but this had a classic group of ‘regulars’ bunched together at the front, with their own special moves, shouts, in-jokes and so on. Not that this was an issue though as everyone still gets on with the class, but I know that it can be a bit annoying to others in the class when you go regularly.
Next on the list was Solihull. For some time I had been confused, as although I had been there before, when I looked online there seemed to be two addresses provided. I subsequently learned that there are actually two clubs in town, and more confusingly they are pretty much next door to each other!
The first of these, known as Cranmore, is clearly the posher of the two, with a really smart gym area on a sort of mezzanine floor surrounding the pool. You can also tell it is a fancy place by how smart it looks, particularly as there seems cleaners working there than there are members of staff in other places, and as a result the studio floor seemed to have been polished to within an inch of its life! During our Body Combat class I nearly broke my neck numerous times during the kick tracks, and actually had to change to my reserve trainers the second time we visited to avoid a Bambi on ice situation.
Despite this obviously huge budget, I still had to smile to myself when one of the most common problems at our place arose: the air con. Now this is hugely important in a gym, where you have 20 or 30 people working hard and giving off a lot of heat. It turns out that wherever you go it always seems to either break, or have a remote control more complicated than something you would find at NASA, and as a result the room will be either freezing cold, or hotter than the sun. In one of our classes the other week it got so bad that the mirrors started to gradually fog up, starting in one corner and visibly creeping along the walls like that bit in Jurassic park where the raptors breathe on the glass, giving the impression we were in the steam room, which is ironic as I later found out the actual steam room downstairs was out of order. Now I know why… To be fair, there always seems to be something broken at our gym, be it the audio equipment, microphone, batteries, air con or fan. But being British we don’t get annoyed -in fact much like the weather it is something of an expected conversation and ice breaker.
I mentioned earlier about gym cliques, and had I been carrying my DL bingo card I would have easilly achieved a full house here. All the clichés were present and correct: gangs of hulked up guys hanging out by the mirrors, cheering each other on to grunt out one more rep. Check. Overly made-up girls, walking on the treadmill whilst gossiping on their phones to their mates to tell them how hard they are working out. Check Check. And of course my favourite, the competitive Solihull Dad, pushing his kid (who was around 5 or 6, although I am guessing as all kids look pretty similar at that age) into length after length whilst he prowled the side of the pool. The poor fella was only around 4 feet tall and at points looked like he was barely above the water, but fair play to him as he kept going. Maybe a future Olympian in training?
One way DL seems to like to try and justify our huge membership fees is by having TVs in the changing rooms, which basically show Sky Sports News on a loop. Now this is reasonable enough to give you something distracting whilst changing, but I would add a special message for Cranmore, that it does not make it a place to congregate especially to watch the results, particularly when I am trying to change next to it!
After checking out one of the clubs in town, it seemed only right to try out the other, known as Solihull Fitness, so we booked onto an Attack class one evening. From the outset it is clear this is the poorer relation, as for a start the gym area seemed to be furnished with the cast-offs that were replaced last year in our gym – I wondered where all that Technogym stuff had gone! As a mitigating factor I did notice that they had a Corby trouser press in the changing area, although I am not convinced anyone had ever used it (for any overseas readers, a Corby trouser press is one of our proudest British inventions, which does what it says on the tin). They were also the only place I had been where you could hire (for £50 per year!) your own locker. £50, seriously… just to have the same locker each time?! I have never experienced a shortage at any other gym, but who knows, maybe they had to sell some of theirs to the other place…
The class itself was good fun, although notably the studio was lined on all four sides by mirrors, which was a little distracting. It was probably for the best we were not doing a Combat class as I had all I could think about was the hall of mirrors in Mr Han’s lair from Enter the Dragon, and any minute I was about to be attacked by a dude wearing a claw!
The last place on our list was DL Dudley, which was a bit of a trip into the unknown being on the other side of Birmingham. The only thing I knew about it was from one of our instructors who teaches in both clubs, who loves to use an interesting motivational tactic to spur us on by regularly telling us we are being quieter than her other class in Dudley, seemingly alluding to some sort of hitherto unspoken ancient rivalry between us and our Black Country cousins, in the belief that will make us shout ‘Kiai’ a bit louder. I assume it works both ways, so if some sort of civil war breaks out between our two towns we will know who to blame… Still, it seems to work, well for me anyway, although as I am often one of the only guys in the class I do feel I have a bit of a duty sometimes!
The club itself seems to be huge, with loads more facilities including what seemed to be a built in hotel. Funnily enough we did not actually go to a class there, but wanted to visit the shop having had a voucher for Christmas, and it did have a decent range of gym kit (as a regular gym goer you can never have too much merch!). We took the chance to have a wander around afterwards, and it was big inside too, but seemed a bit lifeless. Despite it being a Saturday afternoon there did not seem to be many people there, and it lacked some of the atmosphere of our gym, although saying that, they seemed to be advertising all manner of events on site, from comedy nights to tribute singers, so perhaps the locals don’t venture in until after dark.
So there you go, all five David Lloyd clubs in the my part of the West Midlands visited. Having been a member of mine for nearly 10 years now it has been interesting to see some of the others, as well as quite reassuring that not only is mine one of the smartest, with the best equipment, but all of the niggles and problems that come up are the same everywhere else. Now we are approaching the end of February and booking system seems to have eased off, so I can actually book onto classes without having to plan 10 days in advance each time, I guess I will spend a bit more time closer to home, but it is nice to know there are other options available, and I am sure it won’t be the last time I visit some of these clubs in the near future.