Fitness with friends: Finding community at the local gym

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Courtesy of YMCA of Silicon Valley
Members of the El Camino YMCA on Grant Road in Mountain View take part in a spin class.

When Spa of Los Altos (formerly Lydia Young’s Health Spa) closed nearly a decade ago to make way for the Packard Foundation’s new digs, members scattered. Many had belonged to the women-only club for decades; they lost a convenient place to work out as well as a sense of community. Gathering for yoga or step classes, chatting on the treadmills or simply lounging in the Jacuzzi, the women had formed friendships while getting fit or soothing their aching muscles. 

Members joined a variety of other local gyms: 24-Hour Fitness, the YMCA or the pricier Equinox or Oshman Family Jewish Community Center. Some stayed with their new club; others gym-hopped for a while until they found a proper fit. Fortunately, the local area has many options.

In the swim

Show up anywhere regularly, and people are bound to notice eventually. With time, the aloofness of strangers gives way to smiles, greetings and conversations.

The fellowship of an early-morning pool group at 24-Hour Fitness is one example. Seeing the same faces day after day led to an easy camaraderie, and members now look forward to the “morning social.” They hold occasional impromptu contests for underwater swimming, and have taken to doing underwater handstands. They start to worry (or at least wonder) if a regular doesn’t show up for a day or two.

“I go to the gym to start my day with exercise, to try to stay healthy,” said Palo Alto resident Rob Levitsky. “Seeing the same people every day, there’s familiarity, and to some extent, safety” (in the pool).

Levitsky likes to finish his pool session with a lap or two underwater. This has led to some friendly competition – though his friends say he remains the undefeated champion. He said this habit began by “just goofing around” in the pool.

The pool setting encourages playfulness, even with adults, and some regulars try to impress each other with their underwater handstand prowess.

Mountain View resident Rick Wolfram, who uses an elliptical machine before exercising in the pool, said the workout starts his day out right. He recently received a birthday card from his pool friends; the front featured a photo of a handstander’s legs sticking out of a pool with the message, “Don’t just stand there – have a happy birthday!”

The Monday-Wednesday-Friday aqua aerobics class attracts a crowd of all ages and abilities, many of whom have become close friends. An early-morning boot camp class at the same gym celebrates participants’ birthdays, with healthful treats like fresh fruit – and sometimes cake.

At the larger and cooler pool at the neighboring 24-Hour Super Sport club, some more serious swimmers meet regularly to put each other through the paces, saying a bit of friendly competition makes a routine workout more fun.

Getting to know you

Gym conversations, over workouts on elliptical machines or treadmills or in steam rooms, pools or locker rooms, can get personal. In addition to discussing politics, travel and the latest books, acquaintances share triumphs and losses, news of births and deaths. Or they might just enjoy a few laughs.

Emily Wu, a 12-year member of Palo Alto’s Equinox, said she’s made friends in the various dance and yoga classes she takes.

“There is a community, especially within the (dance) classes ... because it’s more social and you’re physically near people,” she said. “I think also, people are friendly because they’re happy. They’re exercising, and that creates endorphins, so people are in a good mood.”

Of course, one can always keep the headphones on and get in and out without much social contact, but it can be comforting to know that the option for camaraderie is there.
As Wolfram said of the friends he’s made at the gym, “They’re just good people.”

Local gym options
Following is a brief rundown of local gyms, which all feature a variety of fitness machines and weights. Visit their websites for their latest class offerings, prices and child care availability.

El Camino YMCA, 2400 Grant Road, Mountain View; 969-9622;
The family-friendly club features an outdoor pool, swim lessons, basketball and group classes ranging from Zumba to martial arts, yoga and aqua fitness.

24-Hour Fitness, 550 Showers Drive, Mountain View; 941-2268; 24-Hour Fitness Super Sport, 2535 California St., Mountain View; 935-9064;
Part of the large 24-Hour Fitness chain, these neighboring clubs are quite different from one another. The older one, closer to Trader Joe’s and The Village at San Antonio Center, is smaller and has a more intimate feel than the Super Sport version, which boasts a larger, colder pool and a basketball court. Both clubs offer a variety of group classes, personal trainers and a whirlpool.

Oshman Family Jewish Community Center’s Richard & Rhoda Goldman Sports & Wellness Complex, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto; 223-8700;
The JCC offers nearly 100 weekly group classes ranging from various types of yoga to cycling, the mind-body Nia technique and Feldenkrais, a gentle movement method. Facilities include a shallow indoor pool as well as an outdoor pool, separate saunas for men and women (but no whirlpool), basketball, massage, towels and other amenities.

Equinox, 440 Portage Ave., Palo Alto; 319-1700;
The club features an outdoor saltwater pool, Pilates and yoga studios, dozens of group classes, spa services, towels and other amenities.

City Sports, 1040 Grant Road, Suite 165, Mountain View; 429-4085;
Offerings include basketball, group fitness classes, personal training, a sauna, a pool, a whirlpool and towels.

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