The Nitty Gritty: A Gym for Beer People

What had I done?  Dammit, Hoewischer—I’m a beer writer not a fitness critic.

And yet, there I was on a muggy Saturday morning, wedging my feet into a pair of running shoes I’d damned near forgotten I owned.

The premise was simple enough: I was here to write an article about a gym that takes a different approach to fitness.

It just so happened I’d met these cool people who owned a gym while hanging out at a local brewrery.

They seemed laidback, and one thing led to another at Sideswipe Brewery, and little did I know, plans were subconsciously made that day.

The shtick was, me and the guys from the brewery going down and taking in a workout with the Grit City crew, then cap things off with a few pints of beer at  Sideswipe, as the gang from Grit is wont to do from time to time. I was down with part of that plan.

You’d never know it by looking at me, but I’m what some (rude) doctors would refer to as “a fat f*ck. My fitness regimen involves moving my kettle bell out of the way so I can sweep the floor behind it. And I don’t sweep the floor often.

This was going to be humiliating. Making matters worse was some nerve damage in my arm that makes it difficult to sustain any kind of resistance training like push-ups, etc.

Excuses, excuses—get that man a binky. Why in the hell did I sign up for this?

The people at Grit are damn friendly. Not in the weird “culty” way some gym people seem to exude. This is a small gym with just a couple dozen close-knit members,  and there’s no pressure to dramatically expand. It was like we were hanging out with regular people who were really proud of their club house.

“We don’t really think of it as a commercial gym,” owner Todd Sexton, explained. “It’s basically our dream gym.”

My group was a good mix of people who share the common interest of being fit without being obnoxious or vain. The vibe isn’t too dramatic; the workouts are approached with some intensity, but everybody works at the pace they feel comfortable with.

It’s not a competition—it’s just a workout.

That said, everybody was in really good shape, which reinforced my dread. We spent about 20 minutes warming up, and received careful instruction on the lifts we were to perform. Travis, the brewer from Sideswipe wasn’t familiar with the technique of deadlifting, so the trainers spent a few minutes helping him develop his form, precisely the sort of approach that would be taken with any member just trying a new lift for the first time.

We were each paired up with Grit team members and we went to work, alternating deadlifts with pushups. Three sets. The first was 21, the second was 15, and we finished with 9. That’s it. Simple, quick, and extremely effective. I was quickly acquainted with just how out of shape I am but the team encouraged me and I got through it. Honestly, the experience motivated me to maintain some momentum going forward … once I recover from the soreness, of course. My workout partner was a team member named Trevor, who had been around the block his share of times as well. Like me, his body was full of its own set of quirks, and he was no stranger to modifying exercises to suit him. “I’m not doing handstand push-ups,” he said as we started.

Thanks, Trev.

Sideswipe owner Craig O’Herron and Travis were also impressed with the approach. As a former martial arts fighter, Craig was worried about his knees, but they kept the weights light enough to avoid putting too much stress on his joints. Our workout partners took a vested interest in making sure we didn’t push ourselves too hard. David Powell, one of the numerous coaches at the facility, seemed to notice right away that I’d done some powerlifting.

“I could tell when we were doing the kettlebell warmups,” he said. “You have that form.”

More than flattering, I found this observation to be a very positive reflection of Grit City. This crew knows their stuff, and that’s important. The training team is diverse. They all have athletic backgrounds, of course, but they played different sports and took different approaches to fitness. Being athletes, they all have a strong sense of team spirit, which feeds into the workouts.

I felt out of shape, but not out of place, and that wasn’t just because I was there to write an article. This was the real deal. When you’re on a team the only expectation is that you give your best effort. It doesn’t matter if you fail, because everybody fails at some point. Just do your best, and you’ve done your job. That’s how this place is wired.

For Cory Eyink, Grit is just an extension of his lifestyle. As a former D-1 basketball player, he packed on pounds after his Bowling Green days, and struggled to find something that could motivate him the way basketball did. His brother turned him on to CrossFit, and that’s where he found balance. All of the coaches at Grit have some connection to the CrossFit world, and they utilize many of its principles, but the approach is more collaborative than competitive. It’s like the co-ed rec league version of Cross Fit, and the gym is truly a club house.

“We have a patio, and a grill, and we’ll just cookout and drink beer after a workout,” he said. “Or we’ll go to Sideswipe.”

It’s not at all unusual for somebody from Grit to finish their workout with a sprint down to the brewery, hoist a few pints, and then trot on back. After our workout, the weather discouraged us from dragging weighted sleds to the brewery, but everybody stopped in and enjoyed several rounds of beer, and a healthy dose of pizza. This isn’t a group of vanity jocks measuring body fat percentages so they can look pretty in front of mirrors. This is a group of fun-loving people who want to embrace a balanced lifestyle that includes a regular schedule of challenging workouts, but fitness isn’t the end all be all of their existence.

The rest of the gang from Grit talked about the things they do for fun, or good places to eat, or bars with good drinks. No talk of protein powders or tanning sprays.

“We have a pretty tight family atmosphere right now,” Todd said. “We’ve talked about it and feel like our maximum membership would be around 65 or so, but we’re going to take it slow, add a few people at a time and evaluate how it’s affecting our chemistry. We aren’t really trying to make money. We just want to have a gym we all love, and if we can share that with a few people, that’s even better. It’s not a great business plan, but it works for us.”

Grit conducts three group workout sessions each week day, and one session each day on the weekends but members have access outside of the session hours to accommodate their schedules. This is a minimalist environment. You won’t find rows and rows of electronic machines. There’s a good chance that this isn’t the place for you, and that’s OK. Grit City Gym isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of place, but if you’re serious about getting or staying in shape, and equally serious about having a good time this might feel like home.

I know I did.