The Factory Gym, Louisville

The location is the first indicator. This is no casual gym.  Way south of downtown Louisville, past the airport, a couple exits off the interstate, past the university and Churchill Downs.  A turn off a four-lane highway, dotted with tractor trailers, followed by another left into an industrial business park, and then about three-fourths of the way to the back.          

The man at the front desk eats pistachios.  He looks up momentarily from his phone as I enter.  I explain I am from out of town and want to work out for the day.  He points toward a binder with a sheet and names on it.  I print and sign my name and give him two five-dollar bills.  They disappear in his wide hand.  The locker rooms are down the hall and the gym is straight ahead through the door in front of me.  I walk through.  The gym stretches across several spaces of the industrial park, a few hundred feet across and several hundred feet deep.  Even bigger than it looked online.

I love the sounds of gyms.  The hard rock music, the clang of weights, the coaching among lifters.  Loud, but comfortable, a pleasant distraction.  Gyms have a familiar smell too.  Musk and chalk with a faint hint of disinfectant.  The musk seems deep in the walls here. Not a stink, but a sign that this place has been a gym for a while. 

Part of the allure of gyms is looking at people.  I geek out on muscles.  I love good calves, the way that really strong ones show both bulbs of the gastrocnemius.  Same for trapezii.   The trapezius runs from the neck across the shoulders.  Big traps make men look like houses.  But I equally appreciate quieter striations like the definition of quadriceps and bulbs of deltoids. 

I took Weight Training in 10th grade.  Mr. Williams served as the strength and conditioning coach for the football team.  A massive man, barrel-chested but also kind.  That class helped me to start managing my weight.  The weight room was one of the few places I felt confident.  Lifting helped everything.


The weight machines are not what you find in hotel fitness centers.  These seem medieval in comparison.  Exposed gears and wheels, pads worn in places.  I walk to the cardio section to warm up, get my bearings, and look around.  I am generally comfortable while also a little overwhelmed.  I head for one of several step machines.  This one has wear marks on all of the buttons from age.  The plastic has faded in places.  Imagine if a step machine from a hotel gym sat out in the Wyoming sun for a couple years, and then came back inside.  You’re getting close.

The only people on the cardio equipment are me and a woman who could be in her 70s.  Everyone in the gym might be able to kick my ass with the exception of her.  Cardio is not the focus here.  I scan the place a little further and see more body types than simply the musclebound cast. A mixed bag in terms of age as well.  A lot of 20s and 30s, with a smattering of older decades. 

I start out on the bench press in the corner, run through a chest routine, and then move around the space.  Tentative, I try some machines I’m not familiar with.  Some feel uncomfortable, like I might not have the right form.  I keep going. 

The massive garage doors at the back of the gym are open.  Between sets, I glance outside.  Several massive tractor trailer tires sit in the afternoon sun, shadows stretching back against the asphalt.  They are not in use right now but it looks like they are part of some outdoor workouts.  Three passenger tires are also there, dwarfed comically by the large ones.  Much like I felt when I walked in. 

I arrived at the gym for weight management.  I stay for the mental health.  Strength training calms me.  This seems ironic since I do it while weights clang and Metallica blares.  When I am lifting, especially heavier weights, I get to this quiet point in my head where I block everything else out.  Everything reduces.   I am more even-tempered the rest of the day.    

One machine I have never seen before that I stop at is called Jacobs Ladder.  It is a series of rungs, set at about a 65-degree angle in a self-contained unit about 6 feet tall.  The rungs sit on rollers.  I buckle the thin belt around my waist and then step up.  As I ascend, the rungs roll down.  As I go higher on the machine, the rungs move faster.  I increase my pace.  I climb deliberately, my arms and legs alternating, moving carefully but swiftly.  My whole body works in synchrony with itself.  The world falls away.  My heart roars, my breath flows, I climb.

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