I’m the son of a cognitive scientist so here’s a low-grade thought experiment for you: try to think of something that terrifies most people and yet is increasingly popular at the exact same time. If you were thinking bath salts, you’d be correct but irrelevant to my argument. If you were thinking tropical bootcamp in a bombed out building open to the sea, you’d be onto something.
One main reason people come to Casco Viejo is to feel foreign. Unlike downtown Panama City with its aspiring skyscrapers and replica nightclubs, Casco Viejo is one of the only places that truly feels like you’ve arrived somewhere new, somewhere different.
So it’s no surprise that our neighborhood’s first and only gym barely resembles a gym, in the traditional sense, at all.
First off, when comparing Alleycat Fitness to your gym location at home, you should forget about glass-enclosed real estate spaces or grandiose advertising, because Casco Viejo’s gym is hidden secretly in the back corner of a massive warehouse-like building that no non-resident would know to enter. The sounds of whirring fans and punching bag chains are just about the only identifiers.
Second, at Alleycat Fitness, treadmills do not exist. To warm up for your session, you’ll be jogging throughout a century-old school mansion, up and down massive flights of concrete stairs, and among rooftops shackled together with corrugated tin.
Third, at Alleycat Fitness, walls don’t really exist either. The main area of Casco’s first and only gym is segmented by routines: big wooden boxes for jumping, kettlebells for swinging, monkeybars, medicine balls, and a fully-padded cell dedicated to boxing (or going insane).
The longest “wall” of the gym is an open-air panorama – the size of a movie screen – framing the Bay of Panama, whose waves smash about the pilings at high tide.
I go every morning for CROSSFIT, which is an abbreviated way of saying “A Guy From Colorado Kicks My Ass For 20 Minutes Until My Knees Wobble.”
That guy is named John and he’s the owner: he was drawn to the space because it said it reminded him of a Brazilian favela: rustic and open yet straight to business.
My crossfit routines almost never have the same exercise in common, which is insanely addictive to anyone who gets bored. The several other people who train while I’m there, train by their own thresholds, which John (the guy who kicks my ass until my knees wobble) caters to willingly.
The majority of my exercise at Alleycat is high intensity body movements: pushing, pulling, jumping, running, catching, throwing…etc. (nothing for longer than a total period of 20 minutes per day). These are skills that I am supposed to be able to use to solve real-life emergencies like climbing out of burning buildings or saving someone under a bus…
As you might imagine, Alleycat has no mirrors into which you can admire your bicep curls. There’s also very little small talk. You show up, you do your workout, you leave.
But where the gym really excels is in its mixed martial arts trainers and programs: picture yourself learning jujitsu, MMA, boxing, kickboxing, or taekwondo from consummate professionals in a hot, hard, and ferocious environment and you’ll get the idea. The coolest thing is that the trainers — despite amazing in their abilities — are some of the most humble and caring guys on earth. Tell them any of your weaknesses and they’ll work with it.
Apart from a bunch of Tulipanes guests going on day passes ($15), Alleycat is now opening up classes (and day/monthly memberships) to the public and I’ll do you all a favor by explaining who should NOT go:
- Anyone who needs air conditioning to work out
- Anyone who expects a gym to come with televisions
- Anyone who thinks it’s exercise to ride a stationary bike
- Anyone who needs a juice bar at their gym
- Anyone who hates sweat
- Anyone who goes to the gym to pick up chicks
- Anyone who screams/grunts when they lift heavy weights
- Anyone who says they want to get in shape, but really doesn’t
- Anyone who refuses to try new fitness routines because of fear
- Anyone who is a member at Gold’s Gym
If these haven’t weeded you out, contact firstname.lastname@example.org and if you can find the place, you’ll be in on a secret the rest of Casco Viejo’s residents and visitors have yet to discover.