Little gym, big gym

Last Saturday Carlton and our family and friends celebrated his fourth birthday at The Little Gym in Snellville.

Carlton and friends at The Little Gym
See? Smiles everywhere. Carlton and his friends had a blast.

Though Carlton only took classes there for six weeks, he often asks to go back. The birthday party was the perfect excuse.

The folks at The Little Gym were organized, well-staffed, professional but personal, and they made the entire experience a pleasure. We got to watch the kids have fun and take pictures while the staff ran the party. I can’t recommend The Little Gym enough. There’s a reason Parents magazine named The Little Gym the number one place to host children’s birthday parties.

Along with my recent job change, I’ve changed gyms as I seek to find a schedule that makes sense for me. I’m no longer at the Fitness 19 around the corner, though I had a good experience there for several years.

Campus Recreation Center at Georgia Tech
The BIG gym. Actually, it’s the biggest gym I think I’ve ever been in.

Now, I’m at the palatial Campus Recreation Center at Georgia Tech, the modified former venue of Olympic swimming and diving. It’s massive, with 14 machines of every type, and the equipment is so new I don’t even know what to do with some of it.

All this gym talk had me thinking about the similarities and differences between Carlton’s gym and my gym. So here’s my analysis, using the five senses as an organizing principle:

Sight: The Little Gym is full of bright, primary colors appropriate for children who are learning such basic concepts. The big gym has the appropriate Georgia Tech old gold and white with the navy and black accent colors tastefully and athletically applied. Both are well lit. Obviously, the patrons of The Little Gym are quite a bit shorter but after a rousing game of follow the leader or parachute circle, no less sweaty than their larger equivalents at the big gym. The key difference? The Little Gym people have way more smiling going on.

Carlton gets dizzy with the parachute game
No skydiving required for this parachute, but Carlton still got a little dizzy.

Smell: Without putting too fine a point on it, adults who are exerting smell bad. Children who are exerting have no real smell; unless they are so busy playing they forget to take a potty break. Both gyms smell of antibacterial cleanser, although I have to say The Little Gym has some of the “Scentsy” candle air fresheners that are aromatherapeutic–a nice added touch.

Taste: When I’m at the big gym, all I have is water. It’s pretty much tasteless, unless some of my salty sweat drips down my face while I’m at the water fountain. At The Little Gym, we had juice pouches, popcorn and cupcakes. Now that is fuel for a workout! I do eat a protein bar and a banana or apple after my workout, but as far as breakfasts go, it’s lacking.

Sound: Both gyms have up-tempo music playing to help you get revved up. At The Little Gym, they played a number of hits from the ‘50s and ‘60s such as “Tossin’ and Turnin’,” “Rockin’ Robin” and others. At the big gym, it’s typically a mix of hits from the ‘90s, dance tunes, and hip-hop. It’s enough to make me want my ear buds, but I tend to tune it out most of the time.

The view from the high dive platform
Mere mortals are not allowed up on the high dive platform, but it does make for a really nice view of the big gym’s pool.

Touch: Nearly everything at The Little Gym is padded. There are parallel bars, a high bar, rings and other apparatus that feel the same for the kids as they would the grownups, but overall, it’s soft place to fall, jump, tumble, flip and bounce. The surfaces of the big gym are less forgiving. There is a rubber floor, which absorbs the impact of dumbbells and barbells, and the four or five mats do offer some padding for stretching, yoga or other forms of fitness-related torture. In general, though, the big gym isn’t a place you’d want to fall down.

OK, so what’s my point? All of this is obvious, you say. Well, it’s clear that kids have more fun at The Little Gym than adults do at the big gym. And I think the reasons are in my analysis above. But more than the atmosphere and the physical setting, it’s about attitude.

No matter what color the walls are painted or how the place smells we can all bring a little more child-like play to our fitness. Not only would we enjoy it more, we would probably get healthier in the process.

I think I need a little more Little Gym in my big gym.

OK, it’s your turn. What do you like about your gym? What don’t you like? Have you had any experience with the Little Gym or places that are similar? Leave a comment below and share!

Running on fumes

Glowing like a nightlight in my reflective vest, I barreled down the hill as a Parkview school bus chugged past. On the last leg of a four-mile pre-dawn run, my lungs filled with the noxious fumes the bus belched as it crawled up toward the intersection.

Diesel fumes
Who wouldn't love a face full of this stuff to help get them going on a morning run?

In my 18 years as a runner, this scene has played out roughly the same so many times I can’t even count. What made this notable was that it was my first diesel fume blast of the season.

I have no experience with inhalants or hallucinogenic drugs, so I can’t really compare the sensation you get when your muscles, starved for oxygen are instead fed a helping of
carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and aldehydes
. Let’s just say it feels as if all of your energy seeps out like air escaping from a leaky balloon.

You don’t need a code orange smog alert from the Clean Air Campaign to know this really isn’t good for you. Our awareness is probably greater here in Atlanta because of the annual emissions tests our cars have to pass before we can renew our tags, but I think in general people who walk or run for exercise are the most sensitive to the contents of our air.

I remember watching the marathon during the Beijing Summer Olympic games as the athletes choked through smog so thick it was visible on television.

“That can’t be good,” I thought.

I’ve already written about the prevalence of asthma inhaler use I’ve noticed among kids in the Atlanta area, and I’ve used this space to tell how I relive my grandmother’s cooking when I smell bacon cooking. Diesel fumes cause a similarly evocative experience. While I’m coughing and gagging and losing precious seconds on my split times, I’m simultaneously transported back to the fall of 1991 when I interned in Washington, D.C.

You can insert your own political commentary about how the smell of pollution makes me think of our nation’s capital, but during that fall, I didn’t have a car. I really didn’t need one because the Metro took me everywhere I needed to go. But to get to the Metro, I walked. And as I trod upon the sidewalks around the Capitol, dodging the homeless and avoiding the picketers, I was frequently treated to a puff of diesel fumes from the ubiquitous transit buses.

The Capitol
Maybe as much air pollution inside this building as outside.

Maybe it’s the combination of the fall air with the smell that makes me think of that semester I spent in D.C., but once again, last Thursday as another school bus rumbled past me, I thought about that time on Constitution Avenue with my four roommates as I learned the way journalism works or doesn’t work inside the Beltway.

I know buses are a necessary evil. I know clean air should be a right not a luxury. I know alternative fuels come with their own set of problems. But, I look forward to the crisp, fall morning when a jog doesn’t have to result in a face full of toxic fumes.

Guess I’ll just have to get up earlier.