The best gym membership I’ll ever have

It started with a set of sand-filled weights, a small bar and bench bought from Sears in the 1970s. More than 30 years later, it’s the stuff of legend – at least in our family and among our hometown friends. I’m talking about the weight room in my dad’s basement.

Today there are all different kinds of apparatus, ranging from an Olympic weight set and bench, to dumbbells, kettlebells and Indian clubs. There’s a hip sled, squat rack of course, exercise bike – and a collection of weights from dozens of different manufacturers hanging as decorations on the walls. On the other side of the staircase there’s boxing equipment – a heavy bag and speed bag. In a small corner on that side it actually looks like other people’s basements, with boxes for storage of stuff like Christmas decorations or unsued kitchen-ware. He does have a treadmill, but it had to be put upstairs due to a lack of space.

The personality and character of the basement is unmatched for me. It saw a peak for use in the 1980s and early 1990s when my brother and me were in high school and college. We lifted by ourselves, with our dad and each other, and with friends. My mom and sister have worked out down there on occasion, too. My dad told me recently one of his best memories ever is coming home from work in the city at night and hearing the weights clanking away and music blaring in the basement. Neat.

Now that my brother and I live out of town, we still make it a point to get in as many reps as we can down there if we have time on visits home. Sometimes we get sidetracked telling old stories, but no one seems to care.

I made my first contribution to the weight room at about age 10, when my doctor said it would be OK for me to lift light dumbbells, do push-ups and sit-ups – but put off heavier lifting until I started puberty. A pair of eight-pound Wilson dumbbells I eagerly picked out are still down there. They were going to start the path to me getting big.

Through it all, though, it’s been my dad’s sanctuary above all others. He’s been the owner, manager and most consistent user of what he named “Old Iron Gym.”

At 5-foot-11, he didn’t like when his weight climbed to a “soft” 210 pounds way back when and started working out when he bought those Sears weights, which had Ted Williams’ signature stamped on them.

Dad used to squat with some impressive weight and saw his poundage shrink into a solid 180-pound frame. The tattoo on his arm popped out when he did curls, all while teaching his boys and our friends the basics of working out and seeing us grow.

We soon passed him in the poundage we were pressing and lifting as we blossomed into successful varsity athletes, but he kept working hard at his own pace.

Today, approaching 70, our dad still works out regularly in the old basement. He might go weeks or months without using certain equipment, but he’s always consistent in his training. A big lesson he taught me is that changing things up is the key to staying fresh – and avoiding injuries.

I work out in a club gym nowadays and have trained in many other impressive high-tech locations. But there’s absolutely no place in the world I’d rather work out than in the Old Iron Gym and I know my brother feels the same way. Thanks dad, for the best membership I’ll ever had.

At Home Fitness consultant Aaron Dorksen’s blog deals with a variety of fitness topics, ranging from workout tips, motivational ideas and feature stories on how exercise impacts people’s lives. E-mail him with comments, questions or ideas for future blogs at