Tampa has been described by visitors and non-natives at “militantly fit.” Around Hyde Park and Palma Ceia, you’ll see more mothers jogging with souped-up strollers and lean, athletic dogs than entire families stuffed into minivans leaving an all-you-can-eat BBQ lunch at Sonny’s. (And let’s just take a moment to appreciate that fact, shall we?)
As area residents began to demand more from their workout than the humble YMCA could provide, a couple of ‘mecca’ gyms developed – first was Xtreme on Howard Avenue, owned by strip-club owner Joe RednerÂ (now Choice Fitness). Lifestyle Family Fitness was next, starting in a cramped spot on the north side of Swann Avenue in Hyde Park, quickly moving to a renovated space across the street in the former Jacobson’s department store. More recently, Powerhouse Gym opened in Channelside, on the ground floor of the Grand Central condos. It is the first gym around south and central Tampa that truly caters to a range of clients: bodybuilders, local athletes, celebrities (A-Rod!), and regular neighborhood folk.
I joined Powerhouse two years ago, and have never looked back. Before, my workouts were routine, rarely mixed/matched, and seldom updated. I wasn’t motivated, beyond drooling over the nearest jock, whose physique was usually thanks to genetics, not hard work. I frequently felt stuck, impotent (to provoke an effect on my body). And I couldn’t focus with people on top of me at every machine.
Powerhouse, while still including many of the elements of a normal gym, includes some unique elements: the ‘Santa Monica Stairs’, a trademark of all Powerhouse outposts; an outdoor gauntlet area (former loading dock)Â with monkey bars, flipping tires, sledgehammers, and a weighted sled; and two spacious “grassy knoll” areas where patrons are encouraged to experiment with exercises that challenge their notions of traditional movement.
Between trying different classes, meeting fellow gym addicts, and old fashioned watching-and-learning, you begin to see why Powerhouse is different. You’re surrounded by focused, meticulous enthusiasts. You get all kinds, but they share a common passion: it’s about having the aesthetic AND the ability. What is a beautiful body for if you can’t outrun a band of thugs or complete a 12 mile Tough Mudder race?
Another thing that makes Powerhouse unique: the people are nice. Genuinely so. The staff know your name and if you come early or late. If you inadvertently tread onto someone’s workout, they don’t bark at you for it. More often than not, people smile, ask for a spot, or politely let you drink from the water fountain first.
I’m not saying it’s the best gym I can imagine, but it sure comes close. Since joining, I have seen and felt a difference in my body composition, along with my outlook and attitude. I may still be about the same size, but I understand how to exercise efficiently. I make better use of my available gym time, and I’m happier with the results.
If I ever leave Tampa, I will be sure to miss its ample facilities, redundancy of machines and free weights, and friendly atmosphere.