Get Fit!

Sometimes it’s the most innocuous comments, comments made with the best will in the world that can rile you the most.

“Maybe you should join a gym?”

I had been getting ready for bed, frowning at my reflection in the mirror, sucking in my beer belly and letting it drop, when my girlfriend made her helpful comment.

“Well, maybe you should join a gym!” I spat back with unnecessary testiness. “I cycle 40 kilometres each day. When was the last time you did exercise?”

“I’m not the one complaining in the mirror,” she replied with more patience than I deserved. “Besides, by the time I’m finished at the office most gyms are closed, and my shoulders are aching from being at my desk all day. I’m just thinking that maybe you could do a bit of toning so you can be happy on the beach this summer, that’s all.”

“Yeah?” I replied, still slightly huffy. “Well how about we make a deal? If you join a gym, I’ll join a gym?”

“Sure, whatever.” She flicked off the lights, and rolled her eyes so loudly I could hear it in the dark.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, that it was a real dick move from me, responding arsily to what was a pretty fair suggestion; and you would be right. But the thing is, I hate gyms. And not because of the whole getting sweaty and exercising thing, but because I hate the über-masculine element of most gyms, packed to the rafters with proverbial shithouses chugging protein shakes, necks wider than their shoulders. While it may be down to a lack of confidence in my own masculinity, I can never shake the feeling that if I’m not grunting ostentatiously as I bench-press a baby elephant, I am in someway less than a man. Needless to say, in their company getting on an ellipsis machine to create the ‘bit of toning’ my girlfriend suggested is a non-starter, and it is thus easier to snap back at her than admit that there is a deficiency in my manliness.

So, you can imagine just how thrilled I was when NAGMAG asked me to swing by Fitness STG 24 in Shinsakae to check it out. Fun, fun, fun.

On the day I was met by Robert Willetts, the man given the task of making Fitness STG 24 more English friendly for the recent influx of gaijin customers. He greeted me warmly and pointed me in the direction of a changing room of a plushness seemingly plucked straight out of a five star hotel. This place seemed fancy.

Having picked up a bottle of ultra high-density hydrogen water, I met Robert again in the workout room and found that my impression was not wrong: this was fancy, with the machines state of the art. The Precor treadmills, bikes and cross trainers were cutting edge, and each were fitted with individual television screens. I commented that though the free weights area seemed brand new, it was relatively small, with not much room for guys to bulk up in front of the mirror. Robert concurred. Fitness STG 24 is not a place for testosterone fuelled one-upmanship but instead focuses on the female-friendly Japanese concept of longevity, muscle tone and flexibility.

To emphasise his point he showed me their own custom built stretching machines, Shodo Power. While looking familiar, these were machines like no other I had ever tried. STG’s trainers have designed and built them themselves, and they are intended to stretch and tone the muscles rather than build them up. They took a little getting used to at first as they are so different to anything I have tried before, but once Robert showed me how it was done properly I could feel the immediate benefit.

The first machine I tried was the Dipps machine that works on the neck and shoulders and rather than ‘feeling the burn’ I was feeling more relaxed, like I was getting an invisible massage. I moved on to the Chest Press, and that too felt like it was ironing out the kinks in my upper body, but it was the Pull Over and High Pulley machines that really impressed me, as they focus the most on posture, and after just one set of repetitions I felt like I was standing taller, spine straight, shoulders back, hours of sitting hunched over my desk having melted away.

I moved on to the lower body machines, which I found more difficult than those for the upper body as I am quite inflexible, but as I finished the circuit, something strange happened: I found myself eagerly beginning again. And then again. You see, the machines were rather moreish, and after an hour, at the time when other workouts have me begging to finish, willpower worn away to a nub, on these machines I was happily doing circuit after circuit as I felt my muscles both strengthen and stretch. It was a truly surreal experience.

Eventually I did call it a day, and I headed to the protein shake and juice bar and flopped down into the common area, a place where the patrons hangout between sessions. Now this is the sort of thing I would have ordinarily hated as gym conversation tends to centre around the macho ‘do you even lift, brah?’ topics of protein, muscle mass and the faint whiff of misogyny. But this was not the case at Fitness STG 24 where I got chatting to a couple of office ladies working out between meetings to blow away the stresses of the day. My thoughts flickered to my girlfriend’s words “my shoulders are aching from being at my desk all day…”

The OLs left to see the masseuse Fitness STG 24 shares with the Hilton, and Robert again joined me to talk numbers. After everything I had seen – the plush changing rooms, the top of the line equipment, their in-house designed machines – I was expecting something astronomical. I was wrong.

For a start, right now Fitness STG 24 is beginning a three-month promotion where they are waiving the sign-up fee, so you can join for absolutely nothing. There are four tiers of membership, and I was pretty interested in two of them. For me, like many gaijin who teach English as a day job, my work sometimes doesn’t start until two or three o’clock which means that the daytime membership is ideal. I can come to the gym any weekday before 3pm and use all the facilities – including classes in their two state of the art studios – for just ¥5,000 a month, which in my opinion is an absolute steal.

Whilst all the other packages allow for 24 hour access, it was the Premium package that also intrigued me, not for myself but for my girlfriend. For ¥15,000 a month she could have 24 hour access (using a fingerprint scanner security door), meaning she could come no matter what time she finished work. The cost also includes free training wear, towels, sneakers and footlocker so she can arrive with nothing more than her briefcase and she is good to go. She could also have great discounts on 1-to-1 personal training sessions, which is a good thing for someone who hasn’t been gyming for a while.

Another thing I quite liked was the free access to the wide range of classes available (only on the limited package do you have to pay a nominal ¥500 per class). While my girlfriend would no doubt say that I’m perfect for the belly dancing class, I was pretty interested in the various fighting classes such as the kick boxing and boxercise, which are of the highest quality thanks to Fitness STG 24’s close connection with dojos around the city. I also liked the look of the circuit training class and TRX Suspension Trainer, a resistance exercise system developed by a former US Navy Seal that uses your own bodyweight to simultaneously develop strength, balance and flexibility. It sounded exactly what I was looking for and, I could even get fit while gaining brownie points by joining the missus in the Zumba and yoga classes. Win, win!

That night, as I once again looked at my figure in the mirror my girlfriend smiled and said nothing. Of course there was no change in my shape, but there was change in my mentality. On my desk sat two applications for membership to a gym that met our various needs. It was great value for money and we wouldn’t have to run into the beefcake bores that keep most people from working out. Rather than dread there was a feeling of great optimism. See you on the beach!

Fitness S.T.G 24
2F Kamiya Building
2-15-4 Higashi Sakura, Higashi-Ku
Tel: (052) 979-2922
email: (English)

• Four price plans:

1) Premium ¥15,000
2) Regular ¥10,000
3) Limited ¥8,000 and
4) Daytime ¥5,000, the former three having 24 hour access
• Open 24 hours with staff available 10:00 – 22:00 weekdays and 12:00 – 20:00 weekends.
• Tattoo friendly (though please keep covered when training).
• Feel safe with 24 hour CCTV security.
• Easy access, located near Takaoka on the Sakura-dori line and Shinsakae-machi on the Higashiyama
• Free parking with coin parking also nearby

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