Fitness

Inside Equinox Gym's Perfectly Fit World (and Top-Secret Club)

FacebookTwitterCarrie BattanNovember 2, 2016

What do we expect from a gym in 2016? Scented towels? Fancy grooming products? How about a retina scanner at the door? For the right (high) price, Equinox will give you all of that—but it wants a chunk of your soul, too. Carrie Battan reports on how Equinox turned sweating into a spiritual quest.

In the beginning, there were gymnasiums. Open spaces in ancient Greece where men trained, often nude, to compete in public games. In these gymnasiums were halteres, a form of weights that would evolve into dumbbells. Fast-forward a dozen-plus centuries: These dumbbells found homes in new types of gymnasiums—now they're called gyms, because this isn't ancient Greece anymore—like Gold's Gym, where puffy and steroidal men would train (not quite nude) to compete in the public game of self-worship. Only weight lifters lifted weights then; women did aerobics. People couldn't get enough of these gyms, and they soon began to proliferate under the watchful eye of corporate America, with a distinct flavor for each crowd. In came Curves and Planet Fitness and New York Sports Club and Crunch, where even the logo reassured you that the experience wasn't for wimps. And then, in the waning years of the second millennium, there was Equinox, a gym that brought the men and women of New York's top tax brackets under one roof and stripped the gym experience of the greasiness, the odor, the human stain of the iron-pumping set.

Soon, your choice of gym began to say something about you— your taste, your goals, your bodily ideal. And the more personal it became, the more special it had to be: In 2016, folks will pay almost any amount of money to achieve the level of privacy and luxury and individual attention they feel suits their life, or their “lifestyle.” Nobody has understood this better than Equinox, which has brought the innocent gymnasium—the ancient Greeks are either rolling or fist-pumping in their graves—to its evolutionary peak: the E club.

You probably haven't heard of it, because it's not explicitly advertised anywhere (or because you don't live in New York, the only place special enough for this very special Equinox). A clientele of around 50, 75 members. An unlisted address, because the kind of people who join—successful, powerful, driven—value discretion above all. In fact, in order to even get inside, you first have to find the slick, unmarked glass-paned door. (It's inside the Time Warner Center in Midtown Manhattan. We shall reveal no more.) But even if some non-E clubber—one of the proles who work for you, maybe—were to find this door, he still couldn't get inside, because the door is equipped with a retina scanner, which will process your biometric data to ensure that you are, indeed, a member of this sacred club. Yes, the kind of gadgetry you find in James Bond films—for a gym. Between the $500 monthly membership and the $150-per-hour training sessions—the average E club member trains four times a week—you'll be dropping around 30 grand per year. But what's 30 grand? You work hard, and you've earned it. And you get to feel like a superhero before you've even walked in the door.

And then, once you get inside… An endless river of refrigerated eucalyptus towels. Private cabanas instead of plebeian locker rooms. Each state-of-the-art resistance band has been stowed in its proper place to make sure that your workout is clutter-free. It's fancy here, but in a utilitarian kind of way—nothing that will emasculate you. This isn't a spa. It's crisp, not soft. When you work out, you go hard, and you get sweaty. The E club knows this and keeps the room at a frigid 65 degrees.

And yet if you ask E club members about the place's numerous luxuries, they'll profess an almost Buddhist indifference. The retina scanner, the private cabanas, the pristine environs—they're all nice, but they're not the thing. When I make the mistake of gushing about them in front of one E clubber—a 58-year-old semi-retired executive of a private intelligence firm—he corrects me solemnly, like he's re-orienting a compass: “The journey of Equinox,” he says, “the fitness journey, is a journey into self-discovery.”

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