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Back in the mid-90’s I spent a good amount of time training at a gym in Williamsburg VA where my girlfriend lived at the time. This was one of those gyms that hearkened back to the 60’s era, when gym floors were made out of wood, the stack machines squeaked and the bars had just the right amount of rust on them. The name of the gym was Iron-Bound Gym. I loved this place. I had some of the best workouts of my life there. The last time I trained there was around 1998.
Out with the old - In with the new - but not so fast
Now I must tell you that working out is usually the last thing on a persons mind when they are living out of their car and simply trying to survive, but I was grossly out of shape having just spent the last two months on my ass, healing a separated shoulder and some banged up emotions. So, I was ready to try to get back into the swing of things. I had managed to call Iron-Bound from one of the motels I stayed at. To my pleasant surprise Warren answered the phone and I knew I was in luck.
Warren was the owner of Iron-Bound Gym, or at one point he was. Apparently, he sold it a few years ago for personal reasons and was now an employee. I told him I was back in town and looking for a gym to train at and he told me to come out to the new location. So I drove out to their new digs in New Town, a development in Williamsburg.
Sure enough, Iron-Bound Gym was under new management, but I am pleased to say that they have done a nice job with things. The gym has an updated look, but the new owners have for the most part managed to stay true to the core principles of the original establishment. The end result is really quite nice, with a mix of state-of-the-art strength training tools from Nautilus, Hammer Strength and Strive, as well as some of the original racks and stations from the first location that looks like it was built to withstand a nuclear strike.
One of the first pieces I looked for when I walked into the gym was this incredible Squat-Press that I used at the former location. I was relieved to see it located next to the leg press. I like this machine because it hits the glutes so well, and if you use it right your quads will smoke from it. In fact, next to actual squats, this is my choice for overall bulk and strength. Don’t use it heavy unless you have a spotter though.
The next thing I was relieved to see was the old squat-racks that the former location used. In all my life I cannot recall seeing a heavier, more densely constructed set of racks. With safety bars built for weights no human will ever come close to lifting, anyone would feel safe and secure squatting in these. They just do not make racks like this any more. As soon as my shoulder is 100%, you can bet I am going to be squatting heavy in these. Man, I just love squats. I miss them too.
I can remember the fixed barbells offered by Iron-Bound at the first location. As I recall, they stood on end, with the ends of the bars inserted into these holes. I like this new setup better, but I sure am glad they kept the barbells. Just look at the collars on these things. Old school baby! Even the plates have just the slightest hint of rust on them. If that does not fire you up, nothing will. These are located right in front of the squat-racks, both of which are in the free weight area of the gym.
Iron-Bound decided to keep the old seated row and pulldown. I am so glad they did. These two pieces are solid and will last another 20 years I imagine. They are functional, comfortable and heavy! When you set the pins at 40 lbs, you are pushing or pulling 40 lbs. Again, this is old school and I love it. This was a good choice in terms of deciding what to keep. Nice job Scott!
The rest of the free weight area consists of a nice compliment of dumbbells, flat utility benches and adjustable benches. The benches are by Nautilus and I suppose if I had any suggestions for Iron-Bound (not that they asked, either) this would be one area I might take a look at. The free weight area is superbly equipped to be sure. Of that there can be no doubt. However, the decision to use Nautilus flat benches was a curious one. My reason for saying this is because Nautilus benches are notorious for using poorly designed foam padding for their benches. Either their padding is simply not very dense to begin with, or it breaks down prematurely with even the slightest bit of use.
The problem with this is that padding needs to be firm, providing structural support to the body, yet yielding to the body when necessary without collapsing and compressing in such a way that you end up sitting or lying on metal. Muscles of the upper back and rear shoulders are used extensively when doing heavy bench-press and dumbbell work, and the muscles of the back and shoulder need to be able to shift and roll as a weight is moved throughout it’s arc. Properly designed padding allows for that freedom of movement while at the same time offering firm support so that muscles do not become impinged or pinched on the frame of the bench itself. Moreover, adjustable benches need to be absolutely stable. You can’t have an incline adjustable bench wobbling back and forth if you are doing incline dumbbell bench presses with 80 lb dumbbells. A few of the Nautilus adjustable benches wobbled a bit.
In my view, Nautilus just did not do a very good job of designing their benches. At least, not the ones I saw at Iron-Bound. This is a small gripe, mind you, because Iron-Bound scores huge points in so many areas. But, I just wanted to be honest and give an old school critique.
Modern Technology Meets Up With Old School
I was really thrilled to see that Iron-Bound decided to offer a full line of Nautilus Nitro and Nautilus XPload equipment (the plate loaded version is the Xpload line and the weight-stack version is the Nitro line). I discovered Nautilus Nitro and Nautilus XPload in Charleston SC at a Gold’s Gym when I was staying there back in 2005. The Nitro line is one of my favorite lines within the selectorized-stack realm, and the XPload is simply one of the best plate loaded lines of equipment I have ever used, surpassed only by Pendulum Strength, which is offered by Rogers Athletic. I tend to prefer the XPload to the Hammer Strength line. That said, Hammer has its devotee’s, and for you Hammer Heads out there you will be pleased to know that Iron-Bound offers a nice compliment of your beloved Hammer Strength as well. What I find interesting is that it seems like the Nitro and XPload lines get used more than the Hammer Strength. I suppose it could be my imagination or maybe a mis-perception of mine. The truth is I have only trained at Iron-Bound for a few days this past week on a pass offered to newcomers as a courtesy. Still, while I was there the Nitro and XPload seemed to get used an awful lot. Take that for what it is worth.
The machine-area of the gym consists primarily of Nautilus Nitro, and the individual stations are laid out in logical fashion, permitting some progressive, full-body training. Most of these Nitro machines utilize weight stacks for resistance, with their plate loaded siblings on the other side of the gym near the free weight area, which makes perfect sense.
I think most folks will love the Nitro. I was happy to see that Iron-Bound even offered a few Nitro machines that I had not seen before and have yet to try. I can’t wait!
Interestingly, the way in which the Nautilus Nitro is laid out reminds of me of how Arthur Jones designed his Nautilus fitness centers nearly 30 years ago. Jones was a brilliant man in my view, and he placed emphasis on several key areas: Working muscles to failure, performing one set to reach failure, starting with the larger muscle groups first, working your way down to the smaller muscle groups. This school of thought formed the basis for my strength training for many years, and I made the best gains of my life training this way. It’s good to see that Iron-Bound honored these principles. Way to go guys.
PS: This might be a good time to offer one other suggestion. Iron-Bound might want to look at the Nautilus Nitro Seated Calf-Raise and perhaps a Magnum Standing Calf-Raise. The Nautilus Seated Calf is simply the best Seated Calf Raise I have ever used in my 30+ years of training. There is nothing like it that even comes close.
Currently, Iron-Bound offers no real way to train the calves other than a seated calf machine which I found rather difficult to use. This seems to be a trend in newer gyms as it is getting harder and harder to find gyms that offer superb calf equipment. This is puzzling because the calf is such an important muscle group. My understanding, however, is that Iron-Bound is adding some new machines in an upcoming expansion of sorts. Hopefully, they will examine this area and give some thought to it (I am sure the folks in management will just love the fact that I am telling them how to spend their money. The truth is, I am merely offering my own perspective. Running a quality gym is a phenomenally expensive endeavor, so I hope my suggestions are taken in the spirit in which they are offered.).
What gym would be complete without a cardio area?
Whenever I posit that question I literally have to force my eyeballs from rolling upward in disgust. As you might guess, I hate cardio. I know, shame on me! What can I tell you? I just hate to run and jog. I know it’s suppose to be good for you, but honestly, all you runners out there, tell me the truth - does running feel natural at all unless you are being chased by a Cheetah or a cop? It jars the body, the brain and the bones. It kills your feet and really, come on, how fast can you really run? If you want speed, give me a Volkswagen R32 any day! I hate running as much as I hate meat-loaf. And I HATE meat-loaf.
That said, Iron-Bound has enough treadmills, bike thingy’s and whatchamacallits to satisfy even the most ardent cardio enthusiast.
In the area of nutrition I am really happy to say that Iron-Bound offers a full line of yummy smoothies, pre-made protein drinks and energy supplements, as well as a full line of products from several leading sports supplement companies. Prepare to open your wallet though. Iron-Bound offers high-end products, and they are priced accordingly. Personally, I have no problem with this. In the sports supplement industry you tend to get what you pay for. If a product is dirt cheap there is usually a good reason why.
Wrapping things up, I was not able to get any photos of the Strive Equipment Iron-Bound offers. I am baffled as to why I did not take some shots of it. Iron-Bound has several of their plate loaded machines and I really love Strive. Strive’s concept is very unique. Each machine allows for the exhaustion of several different strength curves based on levels of conditioning, and all within one exercise station. This is a very unique concept. I could kick myself for not taking some snapshots, but the truth is I forgot! Anyway, the best way to familiarize yourself with Strive is to go to their web site. Take look here.
In conclusion, if you are visiting Williamsburg VA and you are looking for a terrific gym to train at, or if you are living there and want a superb facility in which to get the body of your dreams, then I would definitely recommend taking a visit to Iron-Bound Gym. This is one of the best gyms I have found, and I have trained in more gyms than I can count. I give it my highest recommendation.