The gym is always a different experience for everyone, be a it a plush complex, equipped with pools and hot tubs, or your more basic anytime fitness kind of gig.
Welcome to Africa, let’s take a look at a different scene. Nestled between decaying relics of the British Empire, lies a small gym. Set back from the main street next to some hawkers and an open sewer lays “Black Monster”. Referred to as the” peoples gym” by owner Coach Joe.
Through an old crooked wooden door bleached by the hot sun in to a slightly shaded courtyard, brick walls on the right and rusted corrugated iron sheets propped against a wooden structure on the left. The floor was sand and dust, piles of what appeared to be scrap metal lay about the place and several wooden benches.
A clear smell of sweat filled the nostrils occasionally interrupted by the scent of hawkers selling their fried goods on the streets outside.
“Welcome to Black Monster”. Hailed a hulking man dressed in a white vest, aged blue jogging bottoms and sandals as he stood up from the shaded changing area. Coach Joe was his name, a 40 year old Ugandan man who looked like he had been working out since the dawn of time. “Today is chest day, We go!”
Matt and I edged in to the gym area. “Where’s the bench bro” whispered Matt as we glanced about. Coach Joe pointed at a home made wooden incline bench, some of the nails had come lose and were sticking out. After knocking them in with a stone we set about a warmup set. The dumbbells had changeable plates but had to be secured with pieces of bicycle inner tube. Off we went, feet firmly on the floor or the bench would topple over, squeeze your abs to stabilise, breath deep, sweat a bit and squeeze.
After a bit of a warm up we spotted what appeared to be a set of light gauge train wheels on their axle, a bit rusty but appeared to be the next heavy thing to lift. We were getting in to it!
By now a couple of local guys had arrived to work out, all sporting football tops to work out in and flip flops. To be honest not dissimilar to our gym gear. For vanity reasons we had our t-shirts off, plus it was 35 degree equatorial sun.
Chest day turned to arms day and just as quickly turned to shoulders day. Coach Joe was smashing us. If it hadn’t been for the past six weeks of non stop kayaking and general love for weight lifting we would be crying by this point.
Most of the gym equipment was salvaged cogs from trains and heavy duty machinery. To begin with it was hard to get use to the moving parts but eventually you learnt to lift a little lighter and go slow. Testament to our stabilizer muscles and coach joe’s knowledge of stacking weights on a home made Olympic bar.
So is there a message?
You can work out just about anywhere, you don’t need all the latest gear to use a gym, supplements help but these dudes were jacked from hard work and perseverance.
These days I wear Life shorts and a trusty Send vest in the gym, often in flip flops, my sports bag is a Tesco bag for life. People give me the occasional strange look but I don’t care, I can do more chin-ups than them!