The Craptastic Gym: A Story In Photos

Three times a week, I go to CrossFit Austin, and I do whatever they tell me to do. As fast as I can.

But twice a week, the barbells are the boss at the South Austin Gym. I pretend to be the boss with my strength training worksheet and my plan for warmup and cash-out, but who am I kidding? The barbells make the rules.

I surprised myself the other when I realized I have a deep affection for the Craptastic, even though – or maybe because – it’s definitely a no-frills experience. The lighting  turns everyone green, and the mirrors distort like a funhouse. There are no rubber bumper plates, and the barbells leave little rust marks on my heads when I get sweaty. But… I like to imagine all the muscle-y lunkheads who’ve tossed around the iron there before me. And there are stacks of plates EVERYWHERE so my strength will run out before the plates ever do.

Most times, I have the whole place to myself, but every once in while, there will be another warrior communing with the barbell. We just nod at each other – there’s no talking at the Craptastic.

Ready for your tour?

This is the outside of the building. It’s sandwiched in strip mall among the Highball – a swanky bowling alley/cocktail lounge/karaoke club where I sometimes perform with Karaoke Apocalypse – a family-owned, old-fashioned drug store; an Alamo Drafthouse movie theater; a yoga studio; and a scooter store.

Inside those big windows is a badass boxing studio: heavy bags, speed bags, mats on the floor, tough looking characters wandering around in hand wraps. I walk past them – again, with a nod – to get to the stairs that lead to the main gym.

Up the stairs, there’s a door…

… that door leads to more stairs with a mirror – and another world – at the top.

Upstairs, it’s usually empty. But I know that others have been there since my last visit because the plates are stacked slightly differently and the bars on the cage are re-set for a tall person. I wonder if they hit a new PR, or if they got past parallel on their back squat.

At the top of the stairs, you can turn left to the stretching/group class area. This is where I do my warmup: rowing, jump rope, some work with the wooden dowel to loosen up my shoulders, stuff like that.

If you look right at the top of the stairs, you see the strength training and cardio equipment. Most of the elliptical trainers have personality quirks and at least one of the treadmills is usually under construction. This affects me not one bit. It’s good to note that a person can do 25 walking lunges from one end of the green strip to the other.

This is my cage in the foreground. OK, it’s not really MY cage, but I think of it that way. The cage to the left is the one where I try and repeatedly fail to complete a deadhang chin-up. The mirror has seen me make a pouty face many times.

I call this thing “The Thing, ” as in, I have to get The Thing to do my deadlifts. I don’t know it’s actual name, so if you do, please post to comments so I can stop sounding like a dumbass. The Thing is used to lift the barbell off the floor for the application of cumbersome metal plates. Seriously, hoisting the 45-lb. plates onto the bar for deadlifts is a workout in itself. I feel both tremendously girly and tremendously tough when I’m loading the bar. (The plates on the bar in the photo are 25# for my warmup lifts.)

When the barbell and I have finished our therapy session, I usually stretch a token amount (Note to self: work on becoming more flexible, both literally and figuratively.), then pay homage to the shrine at the top of the steps leading back downstairs.

And at the bottom of the stairs, I pretend the sign is just for me, and I nod at the sign. (Note how blurry the photo is from my post-workout shaky hands.)

And that is the story of the Craptastic Gym. If you ever come to Austin, I’ll take you there and we’ll throw some heavy stuff around, but we won’t talk, we’ll just nod at each other and commune with the barbells.



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  • Jude says:

    Firstly, “craptastic” is one of my favourite words.

    Secondly, I love “the thing” and would prefer that it kept that name. I’ve never seen one of those before.

    I really like those old gyms, I don’t trust equipment that looks too new and shiny. Seems dishonest somehow.

    Also, the craptastic gym environment really brings out the grit and determination, don’t you think? xo

    • Mel says:

      I agree about the shiny gym thing. I used to go to a gym here in Austin that was super swank — but it felt like I wasn’t supposed to sweat in there.

      Then I switched to a really decrepit boxing gym that I LOVED! There were faded posters on the walls from 30 years ago and no air conditioning. AWESOME!

  • Angela W says:

    Hahaaa! I like The Thing too! I’ve seen them, but have never known the name either. I haven’t belonged to a Craptastic gym for a few years. I was never brave enough to do the weight room before. Love the old guy picture too!

  • L McC says:

    My husband used to workout at that same gym when he lived in Austin about 18 years ago. He said it hasn’t changed a bit.

  • Tami C. says:

    Actually, that looks like a totally awesome gym. It’s got that weathered, well used patina about it. Lovely.

    Also, The Thing is a deadlift jack, aka a bar jack, aka deadlift bar jack. But The Thing is a much, much more interesting name.

  • Matt F says:

    Wish I had a craptastic gym like that! All I have is 24hr and LA Fitness.

  • sara says:

    i’m more than jealous of this gym! the barbells were removed from my gym due to the whimpy girls being made to feel inferior to the “meat heads” (which they kinda should feel that way because they are).

    ps your favorite spice shop is opening right down the street from my house! i cant wait!!!

  • Tess says:

    This is great. I too have a craptastic gym that I’m quite fond of, I call mine “Prison Gym” and always leave there with rust all over my hands and joy in my heart.

  • Lydia says:

    I agree with Tami C. That gym looks effing FANTASTIC.

  • CG Lover says:

    I’m somewhat of a newbie to your blog, but I absolutely love it! I’m a total foodee, aspiring chef, and avid lifter of heavy shit.

    I belong to a craptastic gym a friend and I lovingly call CG… Crazy Gym. Old school powerlifting, loud metal playing, any type of free weight/strongman equipment you can imagine – racks, sleds, tires, stones, sledges, everything. Only a short time after becoming a member there, the owner and most of the staff pretty much consider us (and our tall socks) one of them. Train together, told we can do WHATEVER we want (open access to closed off areas, etc.) It’s pretty awesome.

    So, to all you girls out there who might be afraid to walk into one of these places… the big bald guy covered in tattoos deadlifting a house? Just might be one of the nicest guys you’ve ever met. And I can assure you, thinks you’re a total bad ass for training there, and most importantly training hard and heavy.

    • Mel says:

      Welcome, CG Lover! Glad you’ve joined us!

      Crazy Gym = nice! Also, thanks for dropping the tall socks reference!

      I agree! Pick up the barbells, ladies. You’ll feel like a million bucks and make new friends!

  • I too have a Craptastic gym that I use on occasion. I would assess it at a higher level of craptasity than your gym though…on account of there is one squat rack–yes, only one.

    You have to walk to the very back corner of the basement to find said rack. I’m usually the only female person in this corner…most often the only person in this corner…so I can do whatever my little heart desires.

    • Mel says:

      Can I just say how excited I am that I think you just coined the word “craptasity”?!

      And how great that you have your own private rack!

  • Ivarr says:

    My favorite gym in college was like this. It was a dark hole in the ground full of black metal iron. The only AC was a window unit. There was neither a cardio machine nor a modern strength machine in sight. Just bars, racks, benches and plates. God I mess that place.

    • Mel says:

      That sounds badasss. What do you think it says about all of us that we have so much affection for the broke-down, no-frills, maybe unsanitary gyms? 🙂

  • Liv says:

    Your thoughts on home-gymmin’ it. Any experience with p90x at all?

    BTW, you’re an inspiration. I spend lunch hour reading your posts. Truly awesome writing. Delicious recipes. Trying to come up with a Paleo version of my favorite treat–Cocoa roasted almonds. Any ideas?

    Sorry for this post being all over the place!

    • Mel says:

      I haven’t tried P90X, but the workouts look like they have some really good elements in them. I wasn’t always so sporty, and when I first started working out — 50 lbs. heavier with ZERO athletic or exercise experience — I did workout DVDs every day. Step aerobics, belly dancing, interval aerobics, kick boxing, etc. I think workout DVDs are a great way to train if the idea of a gym is unappealing for some reason.

      If you post or email the original recipe for the almonds, I’ll see what I can do to paleo-ize it!

  • Liv says:

    I’m much more for the Craptastics myself, but they’re few and far between. All the overpriced shiny stuff is taking over!

    AHH! You’re awesome. Thanks =)

    1 lb almonds, raw unsalted
    2 t. corn starch
    1/4 C. cocoa powder
    1/4 t. salt
    8 packets of Splenda
    vegetable oil – to coat

    1. Preheat oven to 250.
    2. In a large bowl, combine almonds with oil – just enough to coat all of the almonds.
    3. In a small bowl, combine the remaining ingredients (corn starch, cocoa powder, salt, Splenda).
    4. Pour dry mixture over the almonds and toss to coat.
    5. Spread almonds on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 25 mins. Stir about halfway through.

    **I’m thinking replace the veggie oil with coconut oil–but I’m not sure about the Splenda (nasty stuff). Maybe replace with cinnamon? Honey? Some recipes say add maple syrup to this but I feel like that would taste like Breakfast in my mouth (syrup, cocoa/coffee taste). You’re the expert though. =)

    • Mel says:

      Your instincts are right on! Here’s what I’d do with it.

      (I added cayenne because the little bit of heat will highlight the sweetness of the cinnamon, and I upped the fat to make the spices stick now that we’ve eliminated the corn starch.)

      1 lb almonds, raw unsalted
      1/4 C. cocoa powder
      1/4 t. salt
      1/2 t cinnamon
      1-2 dashes cayenne
      2 T melted coconut oil

      1. Preheat oven to 250.
      2. In a large bowl, combine almonds with oil
      3. In a small bowl, combine the remaining ingredients (cocoa powder, salt, cinnaon, cayenne).
      4. Pour dry mixture over the almonds and toss to coat.
      5. Spread almonds on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 25 mins. Stir about halfway through.

  • Spence says:

    The South Austin Gym is only blocks from my sister-in-laws house! Too bad she is not one bit interested in spending time there.

  • Kelly says:

    Just wanted to say I wish my gym was as craptastic as yours, because then maybe it would have one of those “Things” and then I wouldn’t feel like an idiot trying to get the 45# plates on and off the barbell! Question though – do you also then do your deadlift right from the Thing (I’m thinking it also sets the bar to the right height from the floor) or do you set the bar on the floor after you’ve loaded it?

    • Mel says:

      I set the bar on the floor, which is kind of a pain when I’m warming up and the plates are small. I’m thinking about buying 10# bumper plates to take to the Craptastic, ’cause they only have iron.

  • Chris B says:

    Coming late to the party here but your gym reminds me so much of an iron gym I used to go to – except that mine was probably only about 750 sq ft(!) total. If you wanted a shower after your workout, you told them on the way in so they could turn on the hot water heater in time to heat up for you. G*d I miss that place!

    • Mel says:

      OMG. That detail about the hot water is priceless.

      Word on the street is that the mall where our craptastic lives is being torn down, which means the craptastic will need to relocate. I’m very worried that they’re going to make it “nice” and ruin it.

  • Laura says:

    I got a nostalgic ‘smell memory’ when I saw these pictures. Not an especially nice smell, but good times.

    • Mel says:

      Aah, yes. That special spell. And lately, our craptastic has been hot, which only adds to the appeal. All of the barbells and plates feel tacky from the humidity. Good times, indeed.

  • Suzanne says:

    Heard they were tearing that whole complex down and putting up condos and “mixed retail” Hope it’s not true…but probably is 🙁

    • Mel says:

      Sadly it *is* true. The craptastic’s days are numbered. The owner said it will probably be a year or so until he moves… looking for a new location.