Squash City. Health City. Fit for Life. Fitness First. The preponderance of English-only names of health clubs in Amsterdam seems curious.
Stepping into any of them (I'm a proud Squash City member) reveals a few local habits that are even more curious, at least to the North American gym-goer:
- Shyness: I don't think there is a word for it in Dutch. (Well, technically it is verlegenheid, but you get the idea). Whether it's the girls from reception entering the men's room regularly (and unannounced) to sweep and tidy up - pausing only to get you to step out of the way - or the spandex-clad guy splayed out on the incline bench press as though he's seeing a gynecologist, it seems modesty is for wimps.
- Nudity: In the same vein - varicose or otherwise - the sauna area is co-ed. This means that the person next to you on the treadmill or the yoga class may well soon be next to you in the shower, steam, or sauna as well. This can either be a pleasant experience or a "my eyes, my eyes!" event that haunts your dreams.
- Hygiene: everyone on the weight room floor has a towel with them to put between themselves and the apparatus they're working on, and you quickly feel strange without one. However, ten minutes after the workout you'll see fully naked people plunk themselves down on a bench in the steam room, sans towel, with only a quick squeegee sweep performed beforehand.
- Effort: At least twice per visit, I hear the loud, repeated exhalations of PHHHEWW or WHHOOF from a guy as he enters the men's locker room, as if to announce: "I have worked out hard... behold me, the hard-working worker!"
- Service: As with most establishments in Amsterdam, it is real hit and miss. The hit is fine - cordial, normal, helpful people - some exceptionally so. The miss, as I've seen around town on occasion, is a real miss, on a level where you want to either strike the person or ask them why they decided to work at all with other humans. A recent encounter:
Can I leave my bag here for 10 minutes (behind the trainer's desk in a corner of the gym, nowhere near any person or traffic)?
Meathead (actually the Fitness Manager, in a tone with an unreal jerkiness that is difficult to convey in print):
It's not for nothing that we have lockers, you know.
Me: (stunned silence, shaking head)
- Tanning beds: These still exist in abundance at many gyms, and they're being used all the time. You can use the fitness benefits to fight off the melanoma.
So, come join a gym in Amsterdam - there are definitely some good ones. Places like Health City include free coffee and juices; many have a buikspierkwartier, 15 minutes of core strength that will help bring out the abs; there are lots of excellent group fitness classes, spinning in particular; and most places still emphasize Dutch gezelligheid, the coziness that has been mentioned in this blog a number of times.
There's a wide range of prices, from David Lloyd's preposterous 85-100+ Euros/month to the bare bones Fit for Free's 10-20Euros/month (which, technically speaking, doesn't sound very free).
True to Dutch form, there is nothing free in any gym though - the trial workout does not seem to exist here, though most places will refund you the cost of a day pass if you join.
And wherever you go, remember to bring your towel, your spandex, and your systematically beaten down expectations of customer service.