Public Observation Essay

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Public qualitative observation: WOW Fitness Center

WOW Fitness Center is a part of a chain of gyms which offers a wide variety of weight machines, cardio machines, and fitness classes. There is also a juice bar located within WOW. WOW charges monthly membership fees that are relatively low in cost and thus it attracts a wide representation of persons from the larger community of varying levels of fitness. It often offers trial membership subscriptions to lure new people to the gym and free weekly passes for those people who wish to try out WOW. To do my observation, I obtained a one week free weekly pass. The gym is large and sprawling, with several rooms boasting various types of equipment. Although some rooms have more cardiovascular equipment or more weight machines than others, there is no specific room devoted to one or the other.

Televisions hang above many of the pieces of equipment, enabling people working out to watch television to distract themselves. There is also loud techno music gently throbbing in the background at all times. The machines and carpeting is grey and the walls are painted a generic shade of beige. There are many colorful posters advertising various amenities at the gym, like personal training and new types of classes.

There are two rooms specifically devoted to fitness classes. One is filled with weights and boxing gear for the kickboxing and boot camp workouts. Piles of weights and bars lie to one side while punching and speed bags lie at the other along with mats. In the other fitness rooms there are yoga mats and steps for the yoga and Pilates classes and the step aerobics and cardio classes. These classes require an additional membership fee so there is a card 'swipe' outside of both rooms.

A few sections of the gym seem to be designed for specific types of athletes: there is one area which has many free weights and mats and seems largely designed for serious bodybuilders. Other weight machines are much more user-friendly and have instructions on how to use the machines appropriately and safely. However, in most sections of the facility, cardio equipment vastly outnumbers the weight machines, given the likely demand for this area of fitness. The types of cardio machines were very diverse, spanning from treadmills to stair climbers to bikes. By far the most popular type of equipment was the elliptical machines which provide a relatively low-impact workout with a high calorie burn. The machines were not particularly new and were well-worn, although sufficiently plentiful to ensure that there was no wait, even during busy times. There were paper towel 'rolls' besides each piece of equipment to encourage people to wipe off the machines after they had finished using them -- some people did do this, others did not.

Patrons check into the gym at the front desk, where a young woman watches them swipe their cars. When I was there, the receptionist did not look up from the book that she was reading as they did so. Many people passed in front of her and she did not greet any of them specifically by name although when I asked her a question she was friendly and helpful. After checking in, most of the patrons headed to the locker room. The locker rooms for men and women contain small lockers in which members can store their things and put a temporary lock on the box to ensure their clothes and wallets were safe. There is a shower along with toilets in the locker rooms, but few people were used them when I was there. Still, the locker room was hot, windowless, and uncomfortable as a sauna (although there is no sauna or pool at WOW). The amenities were not particularly attractive and contributed to a sense that this gym was a place where people hurried to 'get their workouts in' rather than stayed to luxuriously indulge.

People

WOW boasts a wide cross-section of people and does not cater to a single demographic. The typical WOW patron was a middle-aged person of moderate fitness, hurrying from somewhere (either to work or to a function with their children, like dropping the children off to school or daycare). There were also people who seemed to have been 'prescribed' the gym for health-related reasons given their evident unhappiness in using the equipment. Some patrons, particularly young, fit males, seemed very confident using the free weights and weight machines and strode around with their 'gear' on (back support, gloves). Some apparently newer patrons (I assumed they were new because of the clean condition of their sneakers) seemed to be very tentative, using the weight machines with great hesitation as if wondering if they were doing things 'right' and merely walking very slowly on the treadmills. One or two older gym members seemed very frail and slightly unsure, but no one was walking around the floor of the gym to help them. There was one personal trainer in the corner coaching a woman, but they were evidently having a private 'session' together and did not pay much attention to anyone else.

Some very young, athletic women dressed in sports bras and shorts were parading around, running on the treadmills and looking like something out of a fitness commercial. However, these individuals were relatively 'few and far between' and overall the gym did not seem like much of a pickup 'scene.' People were there to work out as part of a typical day's activity. Most people wore basic workout clothes: supportive tops, shorts, or stretch pants and no makeup. Others wore gym shorts and t-shirts. Everyone was wearing sneakers and many of the women wore fashionable, brightly-colored Nikes

There were varying levels of interactions amongst patrons. Some people seemed to know one another and chat, particularly the very fit males and one or two groups of mixed couples. But most came and used the gym in silence, plugging their iPods into their ears, staring at a television and sweating profusely on the cardio machines. The majority of the working out that took place was a very isolating experience. Some people appeared to enjoy their workouts, smiling quietly to themselves while others struggled, holding onto the bars of the machines for dear life.

Participants in the fitness classes that were observed likewise seemed like a varied group. In the Body Pump (group weight-lifting) class I observed, some of the women (most of the participants in the classes were female) were able to lift very heavy weights while other participants struggled with simply lifting the bar or fumbled with putting the weights on the bar. The instructor, a young, perky curly-haired woman with long hair and bulging biceps kept up a cheerful patter while giving instruction but did not give assistance to the people who were struggling. I noticed that even in a weight-lifting class, most of the participants were female. In contrast, most of the users of the weight machines were male.

In the yoga class in the other fitness room, the appearance of the typical patron was somewhat different. Many of the women were garbed in Lululemon-branded yoga clothes that seemed unsuitable for intense working out, had perfectly coiffed hair and were wearing makeup. A long, lanky instructor was demonstrating various poses slowly and deliberately. By the end of the class, none of the women had broken a sweat before they lay down on their mats to cool down and relax. The yoga attendees left without touching the weights or cardio equipment. All of the persons taking the yoga class were female.

The action

7:30am: I entered the gym with my free weekly pass (which is how I gained access to WOW for my observation). I put on my workout gear in the locker room to 'blend in' during the time I was there. Several people were already putting on their work clothes, having already finished working out. One of them was complaining about a sore hamstring and having to use the bikes vs. The treadmills and elliptical machines. Another was boasting about weight loss and a new diet that was very effective.

7:35am: I wandered through the gym to gain a sense of its layout and the types of participants utilizing it. I observed two very fit guys comparing their ability to lift various weights and the relative merits of using free weights over the weight machines. What struck me was the fact that after doing very heavy sets they seemed to spend a great deal of time talking and standing around. This was in sharp contrast to the other patrons running and exercising on cardio machines, seemingly in their own 'zones.' One woman in baggy sweats was watching a segment on a morning show in which the hosts were preparing some sort of cake as she ran furiously on her treadmill.

7:40am: I passed the fitness rooms where Body Pump and yoga classes were being held. I could hear music blasting from both rooms from the…[continue]

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