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Nerdstrong, part 2

This is one of a series of posts about my health/fitness journey. The first one is here.

Part 4. Nerdstrong (part 2)

Space Invader Wall

The name itself pretty much sold me. These guys are very good at branding. I only had to read a few reviews to understand that I was the target audience.

Nerdstrong is a small gym in one of the unlovelier parts of North Hollywood (most of North Hollywood). It doesn’t have rows of gleaming bikes and treadmills. This was fine with me, since I was already doing a lot of walking and hiking. It was the stuff above the hips that needed the work. The gym has weights, a big complicated rack thing, these things called kettle-bells, maces, MACES!, and a bunch of other things which I later learned are typically used in CrossFit, whatever that is.

There are numerous accounts of how the gym started on the interwebs. Most of them frame the story as Andrew’s story, which makes sense, because Andrew Deutsch is the founder of the gym. But I like to think of it as David’s story, because I identify with his role better – so I’ll frame it that way. This version of the story is totally apocryphal, but here’s how I imagine it:

There was this guy named David Nett, who was a D&D nerd. He ran awesome dungeons and stuff. One of the people he regularly played with, Andrew, was into Crossfit and fitness, and Andrew tried to get David into fitness, just like David got Andrew into nerd things. David clearly needed Andrew’s help, but David was having none of it, because he was a nerd. Then Andrew had an idea, “what if I gamify this fitness thing to fool David into doing it?” So he incorporated elements of D&D into the fitness routines – so instead of just workouts, they became quests. This cheap gimmick was all David needed to reset his beaten-down nerd mindset, and he became a combination nerd/fitness nut, and started wearing a cape and weird leggings. Then he posed for the logo and Andrew drew it. Then other people started joining in, and soon Andrew’s garage became nerd/fitness hangout central. Eventually the two acquired a larger space and Nerdstrong was born.

Something like that.

Oh, it was originally called NRDFIT, but Crossfit and lawyers exist, and also, that’s a shitty name, so they changed it.

I joined Nerdstrong in early April, a month or two before the gym’s second anniversary. I had already dropped 20 pounds at this point and was ready to step up my game. When I first walked in the gym I marveled at all the details: The cool logo, the space invader wall, the wall with the hexagon thingies. The little shelf with the many-sided dice. The power-access panel with the One Ring inscription on it (that one spoke to me deeply). This was clearly a room that was made for me.

I did a 20 minute introductory workout with Christy Black, which seemed nigh impossible, but I survived it. I was crazy sore about 36 hours later, but I went back. I had to go back. I sampled a bunch of the different classes and eventually signed up for the regular membership thing.

Some Nerdstrong regularsI met the other gym members as I continued to take classes (it’s all classes, by the way). Many of the members form a tight knit cluster of friends who have been attending for a year or more, geeks to the core. They are a different kind of geek than me — Gen-X/Y/Z Comicon Pop Culture geeks, whereas I’m more of a late Boomer LOTR music/lit/math hacker-geek, but whatever, I may not be the same species, but definitely the same phylum (and there’s a handful of peers, age-wise and interest-wise as well). The gym members have been, to a one, kind, supportive, up-beat, wacky, endearing. They are my kind of people.

The workouts vary a lot. Sometimes they can be crazy hard, othertimes, just hard — a lot of it has to do with your mindset that day. I suck at them. I will always suck at them. Especially lunges. It doesn’t matter, I’m doing them.


Not every workout is “gamified” or pop-culture-themed. Some of them are – the weekend ones are. And sometimes, honestly, it’s just a gimmick, a title like “Logans Run” to slap on a set of reps. But I don’t care – it was enough of a gimmick to get me started, and that was really all I needed. Sometimes, the themification is really fun and entertaining, like the “Hamilton” workout, in which we dueled as Burr and Hamilton, while music from the soundtrack played, or the July 4 “Independence Day” workout in which Andrew, in mirrored aviators, did a stirring rendition of Bill Pullman’s speech before we tangled with the aliens. We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! That morning, the gym floor was partitioned into chalk outlined areas representing different scenes in the movie. We tangled with alien tentacles (battle ropes) and uploaded a virus to the mothership (this involved uploading an actual virus to the local DMV, I think maybe…).

Some of my favorite workouts involve using the many-sided dice for randomness, which almost always leads to bad things I don’t want, but entropy is fun, right? Right?

Certain exercises have really challenged me, and I have learned, painfully, that I have to be careful how hard I push myself. My body does not always want to cooperate. I pushed myself really hard for a couple months, and then found that I was having pretty bad issues with my knees and feet, and had to lay low for a few weeks. Then I got better and started to push again, then I put the back out at 6am one morning, doing dead lifts. The back got better amazingly fast, much quicker than it would have if I were still 245 lbs.

Lots of progress. When my wife joined, a few months later, she took the same 20 minute introductory workout as I did, and I took it along with her. It still wasn’t a walk in the park, but the amount of improvement was immense. When I started, I could do about 0.7 of a push-up. Now I can do ten times that amount. I can now do about 0.7 of a chin-up, which is about ten times where I started with those. Like everything else, I log my workouts, and I can see that for about the same amount of work, I am now burning fewer calories.

I also worry about Nerdstrong. I’m a careful person, and I’ve been part of these small, idealistic utopian communities before. They never last. They whither and die, or they grow, and the growth kills the essential character of the community. I can see the same faces at every work out, and not a whole lot of newbies. Is that bad? Or if there were suddenly a ton of newbies, that would be scary too. All the coaches have day jobs. How long can they sustain this? What happens post Nerdstrong? Do I need to make contingency plans? I watch the faces of the coaches very carefully. Are they all getting along? What if they break up, like The BeatlesOne Direction?

The other day, I looked at the other gyms on Yelp. They still don’t look that great, but I suppose I could manage, in a pinch. It would be lonelier, and there would be no monthly board-game night, but I could do it I guess. Moreover, I think the Nerdstrong community is strong enough that it would find a way to perpetuate itself, even if the physical gym were to go away for whatever reason. But I worry too much.

Right now, we have something that’s great, that’s working for us, and we should treasure it as best we can!

And treasure it I do, because I have finally, after a very long time, found a relationship with the word fitness that I can live with. This gym has helped me to rewire my brain and make numerous positive associations with fitness. When I walk into the Gym, I’m not revisiting my childhood, I’m inventing a new one.

Next: Diet nonsense

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