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Ask Dr. Dan: Gym Dandy

Home gym equipment, meal replacements and sinful bodybuilding.

Q: I’d like a review of gym equipment. I own a small gym and can’t afford to buy benches or machines that are going to fall apart or don’t work well.

A: I don’t know if I’m really the right person to provide that information, but I can tell you one mistake I see made time and time again. Remember that any piece of equipment you buy is going to be used. It’s not a decorative item. Many gyms seem to buy products based on two criteria: First and foremost is (get ready for a big surprise) money. People don’t want to shell out money. They forget that buying equipment is an investment’at least a five-year investment. They look at the catalogs and try to purchase as many pieces of equipment as they can afford. Once they’ve filled the gym with bargain-basement equipment, they end up spending employee time and more money upgrading or fixing the cheap stuff.

You don’t always have to buy the most expensive equipment. In fact, many times the most expensive is not the best; however, if you choose to buy the least expensive, don’t be surprised when you get what you paid for. Evaluate the stuff you buy. Actually get on it and use it for a few workouts. You should be able to find another gym that has the pieces you want or attend a convention or trade show for gym owners where the vendors showcase equipment. When you try it out, don’t do the mattress check. You know what I mean. If you’re in the middle of a furniture store buying a mattress, you sit on it and maybe lie down flat on your back with no pillow for about 30 seconds. You have no idea how the mattress is going to work for a full night’s sleep.

The best course is to find a gym that has the equipment you’re going to buy. If you’re going to shell out $3,000 or $4,000 for a piece of equipment, spend 50 bucks to drive to a neighboring gym and work out on the equipment. If you really don’t work out, take along an employee or member to check it out. Establish a relationship with your fellow gym owners to buy equipment together if it saves you money or share information about which company has good equipment or service. They will appreciate your input as much as you’ll appreciate theirs.

The second mistake gyms make is buying all their equipment from one company. Usually it occurs because of a great salesman. Most times salesmen are successful because their products are successful; however, you could end up with one or two pieces that aren’t so great just because the rest of the line is really good. Some salespeople are so charismatic or forceful that you might be misled and buy something you didn’t want or need in the first place.

Almost every company makes at least one good piece of equipment, but no company makes the best of every product. The same goes for clothing, supplements or anything else you might sell through your business.

There are industry magazines that review products, but take what they have to say with a grain of salt. Magazines succeed by selling ad space. It’s not evil; it’s the nature of the business. So, what’s the likelihood that you’re going to see an objective, negative review? Many times the reviews are written and submitted by the company manufacturing the equipment. The only time you’ll see negative reviews published is when magazines or Web sites have financial ties to a brand and rip into the others. They create an ‘expert’ to ‘independently’ review the other products. You’ll be better served by talking to your peers. They gamble their money, just as you do, on promotional campaigns or sales promises.

Q: I ordered a box of meal-replacement powder from a company, but the order department sent and charged me for a case, eight boxes. When I called, the representative said they would not honor the return, and now I’m stuck with a big debt. What can I do?

A: That practice doesn’t occur with the larger, established companies. It happens with the little start-ups that depend on outrageous advertising and the naivety of first-time buyers.

First of all, it’s illegal. Call your credit card company about the situation. Customer service should credit your account. Next, you should tell everyone you know about it. Companies like this rob the unknowing for about a year or two, and then, when the authorities shut them down, they disband and reappear under another corporate name.

Next, contact the Better Business Bureau in your state and the state in which the business is located. They will contact the company and register a complaint. Finally, you may wish to write a letter to the Department of Commerce of the state in which the company operates. You may have to write to the state attorney general’s office. Such complaints are usually investigated. Provide details and try to log any communication between yourself and the company. Don’t forget to contact the agencies in writing. We are so used to phone calls and e-mails that we forget that letters provide a paper trail.

Finally, you may want to write to any magazine that accepts advertising from such a company. Many times a magazine will pull ads. If a company is harming others (by stealing, let’s be honest about what is happening), then it should be stopped.

Check with your local newspaper and see if there’s a consumer advocate writer who may investigate this for you. There are ways to correct it, but they all depend on you. You should never tolerate illegal, unethical practices.

Q: Don’t you think that bodybuilding is sinful? Look at the people who are involved in it.

A: Well, if you judge any activity by the people involved, it’s hard to think of anything that’s not sinful. That includes the Catholic Church, any presidential administration and the Olympics.

Yes, there are people in bodybuilding whose behavior would shock the populations of Sodom and Gomorrah. Should all bodybuilders be judged by their actions? No. While it’s true that there is wickedness among the denizens of bodybuilding, there’s also goodness. If you want to know the truth, the most honorable people I’ve met, I’ve met through the sport and lifestyle of bodybuilding. If I mentioned Bill Owens, Todd Mills or Chris Kelly, would you recognize their names? No, but you’re willing to judge them because they share an activity with some who participate in drug use, adultery and larcenous dealings.

You call the sport sinful, and I assume it’s because of the publicized actions of certain individuals. Yes, drug use is rampant among many bodybuilders, but not all. Yes, sexuality is flaunted and marketed. Yes, some of the people affiliated with the sport engage in criminal or immoral activity. I dare say that any example you present can be found in any sport or lifestyle.

What you fail to recognize is the people who have developed themselves spiritually as well as physically.

Take, for example, Bob Lefavi. He is a professor at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Georgia. He was a national-level bodybuilding competitor before earning his Ph.D. In addition to raising a family, Bob has heard a calling to serve God and is attending a seminary. If you’re interested in his views on spirituality, you can read his book Reasons to Believe. It should be available through any bookseller.

Editor’s note: Daniel Gwartney, M.D., is a clinical pathologist and a graduate of the University of Nebraska College of Medicine. He’s been bodybuilding for more than 18 years. The material presented in this column is for general-information purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice or an individual recommendation. Consult with your physician or health care provider before embarking on any fitness, training, diet or supplementation program. The author and IRONMAN assume no liability for the information contained in this column. IM

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