9 Reasons to Abandon the Corporate Gym for a Family Gym

Is this a workout or a slow dance?

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in March of 2013. It is being reprinted as part of a new weekend series at PJ Lifestyle collecting and organizing the top 50 best lists. Where will this great piece end up on the list? Reader feedback will be factored in when the PJ Lifestyle Top 50 List Collection is completed in a few months…


The joy of children also comes with the horrors of what motherhood does to the body. Trying to recapture some semblance of my former self, I joined a few fancy corporate gyms with salons and spas and pretty associates selling banana-choco-gluten-free $12 shakes, but I never achieved the results I wanted. It turns out that quitting was the answer. I finally discovered how to get fit and have a great time doing it. I joined a family-owned, martial arts gym. The following truths will convince you to ditch your corporate gym membership in favor of a much better option that actually produces results while improving every area of your life.

9. “Do you believe in love at first sight or do I have to walk by you again?”

A simple Google search on “picking up girls” will lead to hundreds of smarmy articles advising men on how to hook up at the gym. This particular sentiment — from someone claiming to be a gentleman — sums it up about perfectly:

Utilized properly, the gym is one of the finest hunting grounds for the well prepared cocksman.

Wow. Where to begin? If you’re 20 and this is the kind of thing you’re into, I’d say that guy is right. Big corporate gyms with lots of young, dumb girls would be a good place for a sexual predator to stalk his kill. However, when you’re a married mom or dad, this is not the kind of environment that will encourage your marriage. Further, it’s uncomfortable to feel as if you are being sized up by people who refer to themselves as “cocksmen.” It’s also disconcerting trying to avoid that one guy who stalks you with his eyes when you’re trying to use that embarrassing machine where you pretend to strangle someone with your thighs. Awkward.

A small, family-owned gym that caters to both children and adults has a totally different vibe for more mature members with the goal of family fitness. Many people don’t know that most martial arts programs have cardio classes and training for adults. My family belongs to Randori Jiu-Jitsu, where we can take a variety of classes like jiu-jitsu, kickboxing, boxing, judo, karate, mixed martial arts, and conditioning and strength training all without a nightclub atmosphere or threat of venereal disease.


8. Navy Seals don’t need treadmills and stair climbers

No one would deny that members our armed forces are some of the most fit people on the planet, yet they don’t have shiny gym equipment at their disposal all the time. Most of the exercises they do to stay fit use their own body weight to burn calories. You don’t need stair climbers and rowing machines. All you need is you. Supporting your own body weight makes all the muscles in the body engage to keep your balance. Machines can balance for you and cheat you out of the benefits of an entire body workout. As my favorite gym teacher used to bark, “you grew it, you lift it!”

My children practicing their moves on each other

7. Families who fight together stay together

Our daughters are precious to us and, since Mars is still uninhabitable, we must live here on this twisted planet where predators hunt young women and leave them strangled in alleyways. We decided that a priority for our family is teaching our girls to be dangerous. Jiu-jitsu was the obvious choice for us. All fights go to the ground and if you find yourself there, you’d better know how to get up and leave your attacker with a broken bone or worse.

We started the girls at Randori because they offered beginner jiu-jitsu classes. They both started at the ages of four and three, and by the time they are sixteen they will be able to tie any would-be rapist into a whimpering pretzel. It’s important to have goals. After three years of watching my little girls do amazing things, and their instructors encouraging me to join, I decided it was time to try kickboxing. You know it’s a tough work-out when you feel like you might throw up several times before it’s over. The girls are very entertained by my pain during class. They like to come up with funny things to tell their dad like, “Bobby tried to kill Mom today,” and “Mommy’s not as tough as me.” We spend almost every day (sometimes twice a day) at our gym and we are forming healthy habits and creating memories that will last a lifetime.

Being a part of the Randori family has given us many opportunities to teach our girls about respecting authority, trying their hardest, losing gracefully, and, most importantly, how to have fun as a family. We’ve also learned that push-ups and squats make excellent punishments for sassy mouths.


Leandro and Angela Valdes, Randori Jiu-Jitsu

6. Supporting an American family business

What a blessing it is to see a monthly bill of mine going to people I know and love. Leandro and Angela Valdes, who own Randori Jiu-Jitsu, have a beautiful family, a passion for their school, and a love for their students. It might be the only check of the month I am happy to write. They have loved my children from the first day I brought them in, treated them like their own, and taught them incredible things from technique to street smarts. They and their talented instructors go out of their way to train them to recognize danger, and have tough conversations with them about dangerous predators that parents sometimes neglect.

Leandro began training in judo when he was five years old. He earned his black belt at the age of seventeen. Over the years, Leandro trained with world-class instructors. His plan was to work in the medical field. With a degree in psychology and biology he worked as an EMT while he attended school. With a young family to support, it wasn’t enough. He started teaching judo while also working at UIC. Eighteen hour workdays left little time for his wife and children. Angela remembers vividly the toll it put on their family.

When you’re working three jobs, you might as well try anything else. We were both at our breaking point so [we knew] it would either make us or break us. It was time to leap without thinking.

When the opportunity arose, they bet on themselves and opened their gym in 2010.

Starting in a small storefront, Randori Jiu-Jitsu only had 10-15 adult students. Within three years, the business has grown into a larger space and now trains 64 children and 94 adults. Says Leandro,

I love jiu jitsu and this is where I have the most natural success and get to spend time with my family.

At any time, you can walk through the doors of their gym and find their children happily playing on the mats and swinging from gymnastic bars that were installed just for them while Mom and Dad teach classes nearby.

When I pay my monthly dues, I know I am a part of their American dream becoming reality.


5. Strength doesn’t guarantee safety

When you work out on weight machines, you may build muscle. But if you don’t have the proper defense training, Leandro says it’s like having a Ferrari and not knowing how to drive it. Women need to do more than be concerned about violent crime; they need to get actively involved in knowing how to fight back. A family martial arts school can equip you for self-defense. Valdes specializes in training those who are most at risk and is interested in helping women and children overcome their fears.

My goal is to teach the people who are the most vulnerable to be the most protected. I’m not so interested in training the big tough guy who can already handle himself. I’m more interested in that person who doesn’t have the strength to stop an attacker. I would trade all the team competitions that we win for one person to be able to defend their life.

With that goal in mind, Leandro hires the most experienced trainers.

The [kickboxing] class is taught by an undefeated mixed martial arts fighter, Bobby Moffett; Angela, who has been training for many years and has a good perspective on what women want out of the class; and me. We have taught police, FBI, DEA agents and you are learning the same things that people who use these techniques for a living learn.

While we get stronger, we also learn self-defense which will probably be more useful than learning a Zumba routine* (unless you plan to stun your attacker with your wicked dance moves).

*Nothing against Zumba; I love the Wii version.

4. Staying healthier

Besides the obvious health benefits of regular exercise, my children have been generally much healthier than they were when I belonged to the conglomerate gym. I have no doubt they keep the day-care facilities sanitized and clean, but it’s not the cleanliness that is the problem but the selfish idiots that bring sick kids to the gym! Every time the girls would spend an hour in the day care, they would get sick two days later and I would be off my workouts for an entire week. Then we would go back and — sure enough — two days later…sick again! It wasn’t worth the money.


Since training at Randori, they have been much healthier. Also, parents don’t bring sick kids to the gym. And because I can always see my children, should someone cough or sneeze on them I can quickly hose them down with Purell and get back to my workout. Side note to the parents out there at big gyms: STOP BRINGING SICK KIDS TO DAY CARE!! Everyone hates you.

3. Relationship-building for the whole family

At a corporate gym, kids don’t really enter the equation. They are sequestered in a day care facility and they only get to work out in summer camp programs. You don’t really know any of the kids socializing with yours or their parents. For all you know they could be the spawn of Charles Manson or paste eaters.  At a small gym, you’re going to get to know people on a one-on-one basis and have a great time getting to know them.

Making friends as an adult is hard to do. I don’t know why, it just is. We still feel like awkward 12 year olds trying to talk to the cool kids. But when you belong to a family gym, there is so much opportunity and shared interests to chat about when your kids are training that it’s inevitable you will meet like-minded people who are a great addition to your circle of friends. When the kids are wrestling with each other, we find ourselves rooting for whoever is on the bottom, whether it’s our kid or not. It’s terrific because we all want to see each child succeed, and when they do we all get excited for them. And when they lose, we get to comfort and encourage them too. Martial arts tend to attract similar people together. People interested in discipline, honor, and competition. These are some of the best people you’ll ever meet and they raise good kids.

Angela Valdes appreciates the family atmosphere at Randori:

I can bring all three of my kids to the gym while I work out and that’s huge. When the parents and the kids are in it together, our families become close. Our children can go to any parent for help. We are all helping each other.

2. Where everybody knows your name

When you belong to a small family gym, the same people are taking the classes all the time. That means your instructor knows you very well and has your cell phone number. Angela texts us before every class to find out if we are coming. It’s easier to say yes than make excuses. Not only is it great motivation, but our group of girls is tight. It’s always more fun to work out with friends. Because of the constant motivation to show up, my body has changed more drastically in four weeks of training than it did with six months of regular gym attendance. My clothes are looser, my energy is higher, and I feel great!


Corporate giants are interested in one thing: memberships. They will overfill capacity because they count on you not to be there so when you go it’s too crowded anyway. A small family business will be more interested in seeing you show up. They want you there and will make you feel like a part of their community instead of a nameless face.

The Valdeses will call missing students to find out why they aren’t in class.

We are a family. We support each other; we push each other. Like a machine with lots of different parts we work together to move forward. At the very big corporate style gyms everyone is on their own and is very competitive. Once we are all in here training, it becomes a lifestyle of health, determination, and focus. There is a goal that is higher than just exercise. It’s a discipline, perseverance and a self-confidence that ripples out to the other people in your life.

Krista Danielewicz

 1. Surprise yourself and do the impossible

If you told me six weeks ago that I would be strapping on boxing gloves every day and punching muay thai bags until my knuckles were red, I would have snorted and said, “Are you high?” But here I am. And I feel amazing. If you want to go from ok to incredible, try something that seems impossible.

My neighbor, Krista Danielewicz, is a 42-year-old mother of two with a black belt in Taekwondo and HapKiDo. She began training four years ago at a small gym called Family Martial Arts after her sons began taking classes there. Danielewicz used to belong to one of the commercial gyms.

I have taken group classes (step, yoga, etc) and done circuit training on machines. … I would find I would fall into the same routine, using the same muscle groups over and over. I felt on my own.

But that all changed when she joined Family Martial Arts.

From the day I first started class, I felt welcome, a part of something bigger than me. My classmates, instructors and Master are helpful and encouraging, taking time with me as an individual, not just another person of a larger group. They are the force behind me, pushing me toward each of my goals. The classes I participate in at the dojang are much better — cardio, strength, and mental training all in one session. We focus more on overall fitness, long lean muscles instead of large bulky muscles, focus, and control over our movements. No class is ever the same.


Danielewicz has lost 40 pounds since she started training at FMA and is in the best physical condition of her life. She also had the opportunity to travel to South Korea for her black belt testing and will be going again this coming fall. Forty really can be better than twenty. In order to reach big goals, it takes a smaller gym.

Also read: Government ‘Probably’ Shouldn’t Force People to Exercise: Bloomberg


image courtesy shutterstock / wacpan

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