It’s important for me to maintain my fitness throughout the work week. Simply getting out on the weekends isn’t enough for me to maintain the level that I want to be at in order to do the things that I do. Therefore, I’ve settled into a weekday routine of a combination of climbing and running. I’ve found that to be a manageable plan to stay in relatively good condition. Climbing helps my core, balance, and overall body strength, while running helps with the endurance and cardio health.

In general, I’m not a fan of indoor exercise. I prefer to be outside, even if that only means squeezing in a jog around the neighborhood in between work phone calls. Living in such a temperate climate, the weather is almost always conducive to outdoor fitness, and I never want to take that for granted. I find treadmills boring. That said, there is definitely a time and place for gyms. In fact, I am a member of three gyms! Whaaat?

I’ve never really gone to a traditional gym. For the past few years, my two gym memberships were:

  • My office gym facility, which costs only a few dollars a week out of my paycheck. Its small with basic equipment, but it’s useful to be a member when I need to squeeze in a quick workout between meetings. I don’t use it often, but I like having the option.
  • My climbing gym, Planet Granite Sunnyvale. I climb there three mornings a week and rarely use the rest of the gym equipment. Sometimes I’ll hop on a treadmill to squeeze in a few miles if I have a busy day ahead.

I was recently contacted by a new gym opening up only two blocks from my house, inviting me to their open house. It’s a Retro Fitness, the first of the franchise in California. I had noticed their bright red and yellow sign and figured it was worth checking out simply due to the proximity to my house. It’s been a dry winter, but it would be nice to have something close by to visit on the cold rainstormy winter days or exceptionally hot summer days (both my office and my climbing gym are long drives from home).


Bright colors at Retro Fitness
Bright colors at Retro Fitness

The first thing I noticed when I walked in the door was the loud color scheme and shiny new equipment. There are far more machine options here than in any gym I’ve been in before (which, to be fair, is not many). All kinds of contraptions and programs to simulate hill climbing and bike races and more. It definitely opened my eyes to the world beyond treadmills and ellipticals. Weight machines that look like medieval torture devices painted by Ronald McDonald. No pins on the machines either, everything is set with a flick of a switch.

Gamification of stationary bike riding
Gamification of stationary bike riding

I got all signed up to try the place out for a while under a blogger offer they had. I thought it would be fun to explore ‘gym life’ and shake up my normal routine for a while. I got some personal training sessions, some free smoothie coupons (the samples at the open house were so yummy that this was all I needed to be all, SOLD!), and a tour of the facilities.

I was excited to try out the gym lifestyle. Then I promptly came down with my first cold of the season which knocked me out for a week.

Last week I finally got around to visiting. I went in the middle of the afternoon and it was empty, so I had my choice of machines. I was a bit overwhelmed by the options so I stepped onto the one thing I knew: a treadmill. After a mile I noticed the Direct TV toggle. My other gyms don’t have that. Fun!

Tread Climber. HOW DO I DO THIS?
Tread Climber. HOW DO I DO THIS?

After Judge Judy (what, afternoon TV sucks), I tried my hand at a Tread Climber. Wow, are those things just difficult or am I really that uncoordinated? After a while on that I went over to the Stair Climber. Ooh, now that’s more my style. I like to climb up things, so this was the best simulation in the gym. I climbed steps until my thighs burned. Felt like a good hike. Now this is a feeling I like and one that I haven’t gotten on gym equipment before.

This is more like it

That was a fun day, exploring all the cardio equipment. One delightful little thing on the equipment were the built in fans. A light breeze blew on my face the whole time. Ahhhh. The equipment was also sparkling clean and shiny new. And bright yellow and red. Did I mention the color scheme? There is nothing subtle about it!

On my second visit I found my true home at Retro Fitness: The Cardio Theater. This is, quite literally, a theater with a big screen and sound, low lights, and a high ceiling. Instead of theater seats and popcorn, there are rows of cardio equipment. It’s dark enough that I have to use my phone flashlight to hit the right buttons on the machine, but once I learn them I’m sure it will be easier. On my first visit, The Dark Knight Rises was playing, and I managed to run an extra two miles just to watch a few more scenes. If you’re into movies this is a really fun way to motivate a longer workout and it makes time fly! It’s much more entertaining than watching something on a tiny phone screen with headphones. You never know what is going to be playing, so I hope they start to update a schedule on their website so I can plan ahead.

It's a movie theater!
It’s a movie theater!

Now that I’m over my cold I’m looking forward to trying out the personal training, as well as look into the class structure. They offer regular classes, but you can also select a class ‘on demand’ using a computer and it will drop a screen and play an instructor video for you to work out with. Sounds very cool.


One thing that really stands out to me is the diversity of the membership base. I’m used to the 6 am Climbing/CrossFit/Yoga Planet Granite crowd. That’s a very fit demographic and despite knowing how friendly everyone is, I can imagine walking into an environment like that would be a bit intimidating to someone who might be looking to start a fitness routine. At Retro, there is no ‘demographic’ that I can pick out. I’ve seen people of all ages, sizes, abilities, and ethnicities there. It has a very welcoming, non-judgey environment.

Will a gym ever replace my preference to be outside? Most definitely not, but at only $20 a month Retro is a clean, fun, and convenient place for me to go when I need that little extra motivation (movies!) or the weather is not cooperating. I’d like to thank them for the opportunity to try out ‘gym life’ and see that it doesn’t always have to be boring (did I say movies?)

How do you maintain your outdoor fitness when you’re not actively hiking or backpacking? Are you a gym rat or do you prefer daily outdoor activities? How do you shake things up and keep it interesting?

  1. $20/month is an incredible deal! (even without the Ronald McDonald colors). I heard their Sirius/XM radio ads a few months ago. Too bad they’re not a bit closer to me.

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