F The Y

Today, I was discriminated against by the YMCA.  Not the whole organization (yet!), but by a “personal trainer” who works there.  This has nothing to do with race, gender or religious beliefs.  It’s because I have some level of understanding of things that he does not.

How do I know he was a personal trainer?  It was obvious by the way he was standing around with nothing to do (plus it said so on his t-shirt, so it must be true)

As I was walking toward the water fountain between sets, he looked down at my feet and while frantically shaking his head back and forth began whining “no, no, NO!  What the hell are THOSE?”

I explained that “THOSE” are my new VibramFiveFingers shoes.

Obviously in effort to cover his own ass from any perceived liability issues, he suggested I don’t wear them when I work out.  Even though I explained why it can actually be beneficial to allow ones feet to move naturally while exercising (and a growing pile of research supports this), he had no interest in discussing simple biomechanics.  As far as he was concerned, if it’s not in Muscle & Fiction magazine, it can’t possibly be true.

So I then changed tactics and tried speaking in a language he might understand.

Under the rules posted in the fitness center, it states: equipment must be used as intended.

I asked if our feet were intended to be bound by a combination of leather, rubber, stitching and laces?  Does the raised, cushioned heel provide a compensation for some missing appendage we’re all born without?

He then pointed to a sign that said no open toe shoes.

I stared blankly as I struggled to figure out what was going on inside his closed-mind.

Are my VibramFiveFingers open toed?  Not at all.  In fact, they have 5 individual, very comfortable CLOSED toes which allow my feet to move as nature intended.

“Personal Trainer” then explained to me that because the TOP of my foot wasn’t protected, I’d be at greater risk of injury if a weight fell on me than if I wore a more conventional sneaker.

According to my Philadelphia-based friend and colleague Jo-Ellen Marks – a former recreational therapist at Temple University’s Woodhaven Center [she also has 3 years of self-defense training under her belt.  Trust me, she knows how to break you and you certainly don’t want to get on her bad side!], it takes roughly 10lbs of force to the bones on the top of your foot to cause a break.  For all practical purposes, it doesn’t matter what kind of athletic shoe you wear – if a weight lands on your foot, expect it to hurt.

Where’s the phone booth?
If “personal trainer” is so concerned about safety, maybe he should do something about the morons walking around with their cell phones plastered to the side of their heads and not paying attention to their surroundings while some people are there to use the gym as it was intended.  Next time, I might not put my back at risk by avoiding the insertion of a deadlift bar up some idiot’s ass by stopping mid-rep and cutting my own set short.

Now I do agree that feet should be covered to prevent the spread of fungal infections (ie athlete’s foot) in a gym setting.  If you work out at home (as I often do), you can train wearing snowshoes or go completely naked for all I care.

I also agree that it’s important to have enough friction with whatever surface you’re training on as to prevent slippage – unless you’re training on a slideboard, of course.

Wrestling shoes, Nike Free’s (too narrow for my Flintstone-like feet) and FiveFingers all fit the bill.  Even world-class powerlifters will lift hundreds of pounds with only the minimal support and “protection” of ballet-slippers, so don’t tell me you need the support of an overpriced sneaker to lift properly.

To suggest it’s in some way “better” to force gym members to develop a reliance on artificial stabilization, anti-pronation bars and gel-filled shock absorbing heels when our bodies are designed to do just that is as irresponsible as a trainer can get – but that’s what I’ve come to expect from the YMCA.

If you want “safe”, why not distribute wheel chairs and straight jackets to everyone who walks through the door?

I wonder what he’d say if I wore steel toed boots, a tyvek suit and full-face respirator next time I work out.

According to the YMCA of Delaware website…
The YMCA of Delaware is an association of people of all ages, ethnic groups and religious affiliations that strives to cultivate the human potential, self-esteem, and dignity of all people. Our organization exists to develop and practice the Christian principles of love, caring, inclusiveness, justice and peace…and to enrich the emotional, physical and social life of all individuals, families and our community.

Yeah, right.



  1. Hey, Joe –
    You could have pulled out your copy of Pumping Iron (I KNOW you have one) and showed him the picture of Arnold and Franco squatting in their bare feet.

    (Although I’m guessing this “Personal Trainer” is too young to know Arnold actually had a life before Terminator.) – Stephen


  2. Yes, Stephen, you are correct. I do have Pumping Iron on VHS (does anybody remember THAT!?) and there was a time when I knew pretty much every word of the ‘documentary’ by heart.

    Going back even to an even earlier item from my collection of fitness related memorabilia, the original Charles Atlas program recommends training completely nude in front of an open window first thing in the morning. What’cha think the Y would say to THAT!?

    Maybe all my frustration has its roots in the swimming lessons I took as a youngster at the Y (albeit, a different city). From what I remember, I wasn’t too eager to jump off the diving board, so they gave me a not-so-welcomed “assist” into the deep end. As they say in such instances, “sink or swim”.

    I sank.


  3. Joe:
    I found out about this from the Y. I honestly can not believe that you would write something like this about the them. They are an excellent facility and they are committed to the community. They have a job do do and made a decision on what they “believed” was the right thing to do as well as the safest thing to do. Whether or not they “understand biomechanics like you do,” they do not deserve this. As a fitness professional, I would expect that you would respect them if you made the decision to use their facility for your personal use as well as for your personal training. I have been a memeber of the Y for a very long time. They have a great staff, enthusiastic and dedicated to serving the community.

    I feel that I need to say something to stand up for people and friends that are very dear to me. This to me, is a waste of energy. I do hope that next time something like that occurs, that you reconsider writing something like this.
    As fitness professionals, we should be working “together,” not against one another. Studios, gyms, home PT’s should be devoted to promoting health and fitness to the entire community. I think the Y does a damn good job of that, even if “they read Muscle and Fitness.”


  4. Joe-
    you should be kicked out.
    There is no support on those shoes.
    YOu can’t build a mansion on an outhouse foundation

    If nothing else, you should be kicked out for the sheer style of the shoe. you belong on what not to wear…..



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