The benefits (and drawbacks) of nocturnal weight-lifting

What happens at a gym that’s open all night?

I arrived at Workout Anytime, a gym in a Buckhead strip mall, near Frank Ski’s Restaurant and Lounge, at 3:14 this morning. A normal-ish kind of person works out as late as midnight and as early as 5:30 a.m., I figured, having done so a few times myself. But who works out in the vampirish hours between? People who have third shift jobs, according to the general manager of Workout Anytime, who briefed me yesterday afternoon. Lots of Delta employees and restaurant people, he said, “and, you know, folks who can’t sleep.” The gym, which also has a location in Decatur, has been open now for four years, and has 2,500 members—a dozen or more of whom, he claimed, you’ll find working on their biceps and six-packs in the wee hours most weekday mornings. But not the manager himself, or the gym’s personal trainers; they leave at eight every day. You have to use a key card to access the place in the middle of the night.

I found two people: one vacuuming, the other dusting. The Caribbean-born duster, owner of a gym-cleaning company, was on his sixth gym of the morning. This one, it seemed, was his favorite: Lots of women start showing up at four in the morning, he said, smiling: “Young, wealthy—we’re in Buckhead! They don’t mind the vacuum.” He said there are others, too, including doctors, lawyers, and celebrities, who prefer nocturnal workouts. He’s even seen Atlanta Hawks players here. I had, apparently, come at the darkest hour of the night. In his experience, Anytime remained fairly active from midnight to two, and then again from four onwards. Except on Friday mornings, which are more consistently busy.

Workout Anytime looks like a normal gym: ten treadmills, half a dozen elliptical machines, standard free weight selection (all the way up to absurdly heavy ones) and a variety of slightly aging Matrix machines. It costs just fifteen dollars a month to join, and you can quit whenever you want. The cheapness of the cost is reflected somewhat in the design and offerings: florescent lights, worn carpeting, old magazines, and a strange room upstairs with a punching bag, a scattering of discarded infomercial-type workout equipment, and a ceiling with exposed insulation. Also: a lonely wooden platform, big enough for a small and unambitious dance troupe, next to a dirty mirror. I looked at my reflection in this mirror and wondered what I was doing.

If you go to the gym for people watching, this is not the time to go. Ditto if you need a spotter. It’s kind of awkward when it’s just the two of you in the middle of the night listening to one another grunting. After nearly fifty minutes with only the cleaning men—I did some curls, some pectoral flys, and a lot of magazine-reading and Sportscenter-watching—another person finally showed up: a serious young woman driving a BMW, with a manila folder in hand. Before we could bond, she inserted her ear buds and commenced a lathering session on an elliptical near the door, reading from her folder.

A young man arrived moments later, around 4:15, in a shiny Honda. He walked past my bleary-eyed perch at a shoulder press machine, without a hello or even a sympathetic glance. I didn’t want to seem weird—like I was waiting for him—so I didn’t approach instantly. On the other hand, I wanted to go home and go back to sleep. So I waited about thirty seconds before initiating this exchange, which was my final nocturnal act at Workout Anytime.

Me: Hey, um, can I got a spot?

Guy: A spot?

I was standing beside the free weights. It wasn’t clear to him—or me, I realized—what he would be spotting.

Me: Oh, yeah, over here on the bench.

I slid under a bench press, which had a fairly heavy load. For the first time, looking up at him, I got a good look at the guy: he was a college kid, wearing a Tech shirt. He looked away. I looked away.

Guy: How many you going for?

Me: Me? Um, eight.

Guy: Ok.

My short quick breaths sounded savage in the otherwise quiet room (the vacuum was off for a moment). But I did eight reps, groaning loudly on the last one.

Me, panting: Thanks.

Nodding quickly, he walked away, to the mirror upstairs. I walked outside, past the cleaners and the televisions—which never turn off—where birds were chirping. When I woke up four hours later, my arms felt a little firmer. But my eyes were red.

Workout Anytime
2140 Peachtree Road, Suite 100