I cleared Canadian customs after the flight from New York, stashed my passport in my backpack and strode down the wide, brightly lighted corridor of Toronto Pearson International Airport’s Terminal 1.

My fellow passengers on the 8:45 Air Canada flight from La Guardia to Toronto were what you’d expect for a Wednesday morning. There were lots of suits and skirts, laptops and briefcases. When we landed, these people appeared poised to rush off to client meetings and appointments.

I had a date with a dumbbell.

Last October, GoodLife Fitness — Canada’s largest chain of health clubs — opened what is believed to be the only in-terminal airport gym in North America, here at Pearson. I was here to see if the very idea of working out at an airport gym really works.

Yoga and meditation rooms, marked walking paths and gyms in nearby hotels have been appearing in airports over the last few years. According to the website airportgyms.com, the number of fitness centers in and around airports has increased from 12 when the site was started in 2002, to about 200 now. But GoodLife’s new 10,000-square-foot complex — near the international baggage claim, in an area that had been largely unused before — may be the boldest assertion yet that a centrally located, in-terminal, full-service fitness operation will get travelers to do more than eat, drink and sit.

But is it viable? Can a member of the flying public get to the gym, work out, shower, go back through security (and in this case, customs), and arrive at the gate for his or her flight in 174 minutes — the average layover time for a passenger here, according to Pearson officials?

We were here to test the proposition. My plan was to go directly from my plane to the gym, where I would perform an approximately 60-minute workout that adhered to nationally recognized exercise guidelines: That is, a warm-up of about five minutes, a resistance training (weight) workout that hits all the major muscle groups, 30 minutes of moderate to high-intensity cardiovascular exercise and, finally, a five-minute cool-down and some stretching.

If all went well, I’d be back at my gate in time for my 3:15 return flight to La Guardia, preferably with time to grab a cold drink and something to eat.

First thing was to find the gym, which wasn’t hard: It covers the entire width of the southwest end of Terminal 1. And it’s well appointed, with 15 treadmills, 20 elliptical machines, about a dozen stair-steppers and stationary bikes. It also has a full circuit of resistance training machines, as well as a free weight area that includes such serious-lifter amenities as a squat rack, benches and a rack of dumbbells weighing up to 100 pounds each. There’s also a large mat area, for stretching out and performing body weight exercises, with stability and medicine balls of various weights and sizes.

That complement of equipment would be good for a gym in any neighborhood, but there are other features that mark this gym as one geared to travelers: For example, a digital “Arrivals/Departures” board is posted conspicuously on the wall near the warm-up area.

After I’d signed my waiver form and checked in, I noticed the lockers. They are taller and wider than the cramped cubbyholes of most gyms, designed to allow you to store a carry-on (for larger suitcases, there is a luggage room behind the front desk).

Perhaps most convenient — or the biggest turnoff, depending on your point of view — is that for an extra 10 Canadian dollars, or about $9, (on top of the 15 Canadian dollar day pass), you can rent a T-shirt, shorts, socks and even footwear. “At the end of the workout, you return the T-shirt, shorts and shoes,” said a GoodLife spokeswoman, Krista Maling. “The socks, you keep.” (I did — like the rest of the rental outfit, they were surprisingly comfortable.)

Even after the relatively short flight from New York, my first instinct was to stretch out, so I headed over to the mats. There I met Mike Lipkin, a motivational speaker and consultant from Toronto who was on his way to Houston, the first leg of a four-day business trip to the United States. The fit-looking 56-year-old explained that he had had a morning meeting in another part of Toronto. Instead of returning home and then dealing with traffic later, he went directly from the meeting to the airport, where he would get his workout in and shower.

“I’ll be getting on the plane in a few hours, feeling refreshed and energized, and much less stressed-out,” said Mr. Lipkin, who estimates that he flies 150,000 miles a year. “That’s really what it’s all about for the business traveler. How do you eliminate any stresses that you can eliminate?”

Studies have shown that physical activity is a stress-reducer. But if all this is true, why is it that Mr. Lipkin and I are among only about 11 people in the gym — only two of whom are female? (I remember my wife’s reaction to the idea of renting the gym clothes. “Yuck,” she said, despite my protestations that they are regularly laundered.)

What’s more, I notice as I jog along on the treadmill positioned by the gym’s entrance, some of those coming in to the gym are uniformed pilots or flight crew, or attired in the coveralls of airport workers.

GoodLife says there are about 3,000 visitations a month to the Pearson location. By comparison, a recently opened GoodLife gym in another part of Toronto, has 22,500 visits a month. That gym, however, has membership-driving services like personal training and group exercise classes, neither of which are offered at the airport gym.

An estimated 70 percent of those using the Pearson gym work at the airport or in the airline industry. The chain’s chief executive, David Patchell-Evans, said he would like to increase the numbers of passengers using the gym. “It’s only been there six months,” he says, “So it takes a little while for travelers to know about it, check it out. They have to come to the airport once to even know it’s there.”

Still, he says he is confident that this gym will be a success. “The business traveler wants this,” says Mr. Patchell-Evans.

Other aren’t so sure. Chris Jones, a spokesman for McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, says that two in-terminal gyms there failed. (The current one is for employees only). This may be because most passengers there are on flights that either originated from or were destined for Las Vegas. These travelers, Mr. Jones wrote in an email, “want to head home or go to their hotel. They’re just not likely to want to stop by an airport gym in Las Vegas.”

In larger hub airports, where there are frequent layovers and more business travelers, gyms like the one at Pearson could make sense, says Christopher Berger, an exercise physiologist at Arizona State University and chairman of a task force on healthy air travel for the American College of Sports Medicine. “I think this is very much a situation of ‘if you build it they will come,’ ” Dr. Berger says.

Provided it’s built correctly. “You can’t have people milling about trying to figure out the layout of the gym,” says Kevin Gillotti, a competitive endurance athlete from San Diego, who was inspired to start theairportgyms.com website after he had trouble finding places to train during his own travels. “You have to be able to move quickly, no salesperson trying to sell you on membership or personal training services, no red tape.”

Thinking of his comments reminded me to check the time: Between talking and training — including a time-consuming effort to sample almost every kind of strength-building equipment the gym offered — I’d lingered here for almost 90 minutes. Now I had to hustle. Into the shower, change and out the door. I breezed through security and waited in a line for United States customs. But my plan worked. Smoothie in hand and protein bar in my backpack, I arrived at my gate a good half-hour before 2:40 boarding.

There was time for one more amenity I so needed after my workout. Alas, the chair masseur at the airport spa was out to lunch. Maybe, I thought, he’s at the gym?

Source: New York Times
May 7, 2014
By John Hanc