What’s a Glitter Gym?

My previous post was part of the Tales From the Glitter Gym series. That was after a 13-year hiatus. The oldest post I have on the topic was from 2006, however, I recall using the term years before that. When I first used the term, people understood it and thought it was funny.

Fast forward to today and I think the term “Glitter Gym” no longer makes sense. Let me explain. From my 2006 post:

There are two types of gyms. Glitter gyms and Rust gyms. A majority of men and almost all women are only familiar with Glitter gyms. Glitter gyms are workout facilities with bright lights, mirrors, treadmills, and TVs (Ballys, 24 Hour, etc). Rust gyms cater primarily to men and are almost all free weights. The equipment is never new, nor does it need to be. Rust gyms are about function, glitter gyms are primarily about fashion. Rust gyms tend to be named after a rather large guy who will get in your face the first time you forget to rack your weights.

This is no longer true. Although there may be a few old-school rust gyms left, most are gone. Now all we have are Glitter Gyms and specialized gyms (CrossFit, Orange Theory, “something”- Cycle).

What happened to the Rust gyms? My initial thought was that the Glitter Gyms just outcompeted them on price and hours. The rust gym I first joined in St. Pete in 1994 was owned by a guy who looked like Thor. Gold’s Gym sold him a franchise, so he moved across the street to a new facility and shut down his rust gym. No more old weights. Now he had bright lights and brand-new equipment.

Now that I’m older I can see that it wasn’t just business competition that took out the rust gyms. It was survivorship bias as well. Rust gyms are full of guys slamming a lot of weight in their late 20s and early 30s. Then they mostly “disappear” as they approach 40. The Glitter Gyms were far better at recruiting newer and younger members than the Rust Gyms.

When I coined the term “Glitter Gym” it was meant to be a slight insult. A poke at the lack of seriousness those gyms had compared to the Rust Gyms. But I’ve completely changed my mind. Glitter Gyms are far better and safer. I can perform slow reps on new machines and I don’t need to bro-lift to see my name on a chalkboard.

It is time to drop the “Glitter” and call gyms “Gyms”. The term no longer makes sense in 2024—sort of like how smartphones just became phones.



Add yours

  1. Another angle is that the “Glitter vs. Rust” meme went mainstream, maybe with CrossFit. One of the initial CrossFit posts was a firebrand manifesto against “Globo Gyms” that instructs you on how to get kicked out of your Glitter Gym by dropping the weights and shouting while you deadlift, using too much chalk. You would then join a Rust Gym or, better yet, build one in your garage. “We wouldn’t take the machines if you gave them to us.”

    Now, that has become a whole aesthetic, kind of like wearing a hoodie in Tech has become an aesthetic that virtue signals that you’re not one of those stupid suit-wearing business people, you’re one of the cool coder kids who “gets it.”

  2. Chris Highcock

    Mar 16, 2024 — 12:14 am

    I started training in a Rust Gym. It was a damp and smelly hut full of rusty weights and home made machines and a home made power rack. The guys who trained there were all a bit shady but accepted me – a spotty bookish 15/16 year old. There were lots of bouncers so when I started going to pubs/clubs they’d keep an eye on me. Some very shady characters too – some ended up in prison for periods. But generally nice guys.

    There were some steroids too – we are talking mid-late 80s – but it was all a bit amateur, Anavar tablets that someone had “got hold of” from somewhere. Some guys competed but really looking back it was mainly local hard men getting big and strong.

    The training was basic but the guys were strong. I’ve never found anywhere else like that place. It’s the combination of things – memories of a time of life, the camaraderie, the hard training, the cold rough environment. Modern / glitter gyms always strike me as a bit safe, sanitised almost effeminate. Everything is softer.

    Glitter might be safer but the rust has a place in my memory. I wonder what my 15 year old self would make of how I train now?!

  3. @exfatloss – That’s a good point about “building your own” gym. Maybe that explains some of the disappearance.

    @Chris – Similar story here.

    I was a stick boy going to a rust gym in South Tampa. It was a gym that legally sold steroids before they were reclassifed as illegal (around 1990). Those monsters in the gym would say hi to me when I was at the grocery store or out on the town. Some were bouncers. They were very supportive in my early years.

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