IN 1965, GOLD’S GYM OPENED ITS DOORS AND LAUNCHED THE MODERN FITNESS MOVEMENT THAT BROUGHT EXERCISE AND HEALTHY LIVING INTO THE GLOBAL CONSCIENCE
Fifty years ago, in a single concrete room, 30 feet by 100 feet just of the Venice Beach shoreline, modern fitness was born. It was an unassuming spot, but packed inside were massive men pumping iron and curling, benching, and deadlifting thousands of pounds. This was the frst Gold’s Gym, and it would create a revolution that continues today.
THE DARK AGES
Prior to 1965, American health was in decline. Less than a decade prior, President John F. Kennedy published an article titled “The Soft American” in Sports Illustrated, in which he argued that “such softness on the part of individual citizens can help to strip and destroy the vitality of a nation...the stamina and strength which the defense of liberty requires are not the product of a few weeks’ basic training or a month’s conditioning.” More than one-third of children in the U.S. had failed one of five strength tests administered in school, compared with a 1% failure rate for European students. The government was so concerned that it encouraged comic strips to address fitness. Peanuts creator Charles Schulz produced Snoopy’s Daily Dozen, a booklet featuring Snoopy, Charlie, Linus, and the gang going through a series of exercises. The small percentage of American adults who did exercise favored quick and easy workouts like 5BX, which stood for Five Basic Exercises and didn’t require additional equipment or do much to build strength. Real strength training was all but unknown.
A GYM IS BORN
Enter Joe Gold. The merchant marine with an impressive physique who scored roles as an extra in films including The Ten Commandments and Around the World in 80 Days had an idea. He worked out at Muscle Beach just south of the Santa Monica Pier—where young men like the original “fitness superhero” Jack LaLanne and Steve Reeves, who played Hercules, lifted crude weights, performed feats of strength like handstands and other gymnastic moves, and showed off their hulking physiques to tourists moseying down the boardwalk. But Gold knew they needed an indoor spot so they could work out at all hours and train with better equipment. He purchased an abandoned lot on Pacific Avenue and erected a simple building out of cinder blocks, and thus Gold’s Gym was born.
“Joe was a hardcore trainer, a competitive bodybuilder back in the day,” FLEX Chief Content Director Shawn Perine says. “He was about building hardcore muscle, about giving guys the chance to create the ultimate physique.”
Gold saw an opportunity—at the time there were just three gyms for the 7 million people in the Los Angeles area—but he also understood how much he could improve the bodybuilding community. The weights and benches of the day were poorly made, uneven with faulty cables and uncomfortable grips. Gold knew what the lifters liked because, after all, he was one of them, and so he set about creating equipment to suit their needs. He turned his two-car garage into a machine shop of sorts, developing benches, pulley systems, unique handles, and other homemade
devices that were superior to anything on the market. “When you felt his dumbbells, there was a magic there,” remembers Eddie Giuliani, a bodybuilder from New York who moved to California to train at Gold’s Gym and would win his height class in Mr. America and Mr. World.
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