Apollo’s “TOUGH Gym”


Original Article Date: 4/1/2008

Updated: 2/4/2024

Have you ever seen Rocky III where Apollo takes Rocky back to the old school gym he used to train at where everyone has the "Eye of the Tiger"?


That gym look liked a dump to others, but when I saw TOUGH GYM, I thought it was perfect and beautiful.

It was exactly what I wanted to build for athletes. 

I took out a notepad, paused the DVD player and started sketching the TOUGH GYM sign.

This was around 2001 or so. I was not yet fully immersed in strength & conditioning as I didn't tear my ACL yet. Tearing my ACL put me over the edge......

Regardless of the equipment, or the fact that this was "Just a movie", I have seen how atmosphere can make all the difference in the world when it comes to results.

TOUGH GYM reminds me of this quote:

I remember training in countless gyms as a kid growing up and if the atmosphere was stale and dead then my training suffered. 

I could walk into a place a literally feel the dead energy.

The music was barely audible.

The temperature was cold as if the lack of work was killing the heat.

No one was training hard. ZERO intensity. Just a bunch of zombies going through the motions.

I had seen the opposite as well, like The Edison High School Football team that trained in our little dungeon under the watch of Coach Wojcik. This team was a Championship team. The intensity and work ethic was through the roof.

There were 2 benches, one squat rack, a military press bench and a bunch of dumbbells. Oh, and how can we forget the old school Universal machine.

Coach Woj was in there with the Football players. Benching with their feet on the bench, hipping the weight up. They were "training wrong" but they trained heavy and intense. Their energy defeated the poor technique.

I don't agree with poor technique today. There is too much competition but being strong and intense has advantages.

The most sought after piece of the puzzle for training is getting results. Winning! Most people struggle with results. Why? They don't train hard. Today, they go to the local gym and check their phone between every damn set. Their entire "work out" is comfortable.

Working out is much different than Training. 

Change your atmosphere and watch your results change for the better. It reminds me of Diamond Gym when I was a teenager competing in bodybuilding. The music was loud. The people were ALL training hard. You were surrounded by bodybuilders and lifters who all wanted to get strong and jacked.

When I first opened The Underground Strength Gym in Edison, NJ in June of 2007, I began getting phone calls from aspiring coaches all around the country. Emails from coaches around the world. They were often former bodybuilders like myself and starting to train outdoors in their garage instead of the local gym.

They were fired up to be lifting stones, sandbags and odd objects. They were excited to build their atmosphere with their own music and NO rules.

When I first began training athletes out of my home, our athletes trained outdoors for much of their workout, soaking up the sun, the fresh air and the energy of the outdoors.

Look around the local gym, who there has the eye of the tiger? I am sure you are saying that no one does. But, get to one of those run down, old school, basic sweat shops that are so rare to find nowadays and you'll see everyone has the eye of the tiger.

Today compared to when I first wrote this article in 2008, old school gyms can not survive. They go out of business. Everything is centered around fancy and pretty.

I believe I will go back to my roots one day.

Training from the garage or eventually making the barn gym happen.

I'll transition most of the business online, giving me the freedom to run TOUGH GYM in a way where only the most dedicated can train.

Rocky was a movie to some, but to me, it was REAL.

Live The Code 365,


2 Responses

  1. Good point about real hardcore gyms struggling financially. My old gym, the Cave, was only for the dedicated,coachable few. After almost 12 years I had to close it down since it was losing money every month. However, the mindset and attitude live on.

    1. In today’s age with how busy everyone is, hardcore gyms still need a business mind behind them.

      Some are best to thrive in a garage gym!

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