Getting Back in Shape in Lima

After much searching around Lima and finding only super expensive white-people gyms, my friend Javo showed me a tiny rundown gym a few blocks from the main town center. As soon as I saw it, I knew immediately I’d found my gym. It’s basically just a small room with a few very old machines, a lot of freeweights, and deserted save for 1 or 2 serious looking strong guys.

When Javo first showed it to me, the woman at the front desk told me the price was 5 soles (around $1.80) per “clase.” After we left, I asked Javo, “Per class?”
“Yeah! Good price, huh?” Javo said.
“But there are classes there?”
“Yeah, you pay for the class.”
“Is it everyone all together?”
“No, no, the teacher helps you while you exercise.”

I was sure I was missing something in the translation. It sounded like the 5 soles buys me a personal trainer, but how could that be? Do they have a huge room full of personal trainers in the back and one comes out whenever a customer arrives?

I headed over the next morning and the woman at the door said, “5 soles por clase.” And so I said, “Clase? Hay un maestro? [Class? Is there a teacher?]” And she nodded and pointed to this extremely muscular short old man sitting in the corner of the weight room. Okay, this makes more sense. I gathered that he’s sort of like an “on call” trainer for everyone. But given that there are only 2-3 people in the gym at any given time and they’re mostly regulars who didn’t need instruction, he’s kind of like a personal trainer. As soon as I enter, the trainer runs up to me and says welcome, welcome and that he’s a teacher and he asks me what I want to do.

At this point, I realized, “Wait, I don’t really want a personal trainer.” I know what exercises I want to do and I kind of want to just listen to my This American Life podcast and do my workout. So I asked him, “¿Puedo trabajar solo? [Can I work alone?]” And he said, “¡Sí! ¡Sí!” But then for the rest of my workout, he’d come over and we’d have these little exchanges that didn’t really go anywhere.

[As I’m between sets for shoulder press]
Trainer: How many sets are you doing?
Me: Five.
Trainer: Ah, good. Good.

[After I finish shoulder press]
Trainer: You’re doing shoulders. You should do this exercise now. [miming a different shoulder exercise]
Me: I’m going to do legs now.
Trainer: Ah, yes. Good.

[As I’m between sets for deadlifts, he runs up to me]
Trainer: This is 70 kilos. The bar is 20 kilos and then 25 kilos for each weight.
Me: Yes… Thanks?

I finished the workout without ever letting him help me with anything, which I felt bad about since he seemed pretty dead set on assisting me in some way. So the next day I went in (sure enough, same trainer) and, after warming up, asked him if he could spot me for bench press. His response was what I would describe as impatiently confused. I thought maybe he didn’t understand what I was asking him (I don’t know the words for “spot” or “bench press” so most of this was being communicated via pantomime).

He followed me over to the bench and started saying stuff to me in Spanish that I didn’t understand, but the tone was, “What do you want me to do?” Hmm, maybe he doesn’t do spotting? I’d never actually seen him spot anyone else in the gym, so maybe what I’m asking of him is beyond his responsibilities or beneath him or something. He continues talking and I continue not understanding, but then a nearby gym patron translated:

Translator: You didn’t say hi to him.
Me: What?
Translator: He’s upset because he said you didn’t say hi to him when you came in.
Me: ???
Trainer: (in Spanish, angrily) In Peru, when you arrive at the gym, you say, ‘Hello, teacher.’ Everyone does this!
Me: (in incorrect and awkward Spanish) Oh! Sorry. I didn’t know that… Hi.
Trainer: (in Spanish, happily) Hi!

After that he was really happy and friendly. He was telling me that he used to be a competitive bodybuilder (he won Mr. Peru in ~1964) and a lot of the posters of freakishly strong guys on the wall are actually of him in his heyday.

As of now, I believe I’m on his good side, but I’m constantly paranoid about minor things I could do that could hurt his feelings. Do I have to say bye, too? Can I listen to my headphones while I’m there? Am I supposed to bring him gifts as a sign of respect?

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4 Responses to Getting Back in Shape in Lima

  1. Carolyn Wakefield Carolyn Wakefield says:

    I want a personal trainer. But I hate going to gyms. In fact, I hate working out. So, what I actually want is this totally toned body without having to do anything to get it. How much does that cost in what ever country you are in today? And just to make certain it works out all fine and dandy, I will be certain to say “Hi” before I get this mythical trainer. But only in Lima.

    Michael, so glad you have this blog going. I love reading it.

  2. Olivia Olivia says:


    It’s so hard to pick up on these things in different cultures!!!! I am glad I can live vicariously through you here. This is hilar.

  3. McKenzie McKenzie says:
    aww poor guy. you should definitely let him help you every once in a while
    1. alexia torres alexia torres says:
      When you visit a country for the first time, it is your job to do, at least, a little research about their culture. Most people in Peru are very friendly to foreigners. And yes, when you get jn a place you say hi, in Peru. If you fail to do so, you are being disrespectful. I felt the same way you did, when I first arrived in the USA and people never said hi to anybody, anywhere! and I did not get upset. When you are visiting a Spanish speaking country, you expect people to speak perfect English? and if they have visitors from france, they will have to speak in French, too?. God!! . You were visiting a poor country, have some mercy!!!. How many items can you buy at the dollar store for $ 1.80? 5,8,15?. Can anybody expect first class Gym, and service for that amount?. THI IS SO SHOCKING!!!!!!!!.

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