The Nike world headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon has legendary employee fitness centers. I got to visit. Here's my photo album and report.
The campus is sprawling, pristine and corporately beautiful, lots of attention to architectural design, sustainability, landscaping, and maintenance. Soccer field, tennis courts, volleyball court, enough buildings you'd want a shuttle to get around much. Huge colorful banners with their sponsored famous athletes. A huge pond in the middle with geese and duckies, a small Chinese garden, bronze statue sculptures of people in slice-of-life poses; a boy and a girl playing with a frog, a young woman resting after a workout, a man fishing, an elderly couple sitting on a bench looking out at the pond.
I visited the Bo Jackson Wellness Center and the Lance Armstrong Fitness Center, both with employee work out facilities. Their namesakes are idolized with a religious lavishness (Personally, I wouldn't want 20' photos of Lance Armstrong surrounding me. And by the by, judging from his cycling shirts in the showcase, Lance is one tiny guy!).
They're both large buildings with facilities split between rooms and floors. The best aspects are architectural. Each space is situated thoughtfully with fantastic aesthetic views outside massive glass windows - facing the soccer field, token old towering trees. Natural light pours in everywhere on a scale that's at once soothing and invigorating. It must be epic for swimmers to use the Olympic-sized pool surrounded by glass, under open sky.
But what I went for was the work out facilities.
I was, at long last, pleasantly disappointed.
There are large, airy, well-windowed rooms filled with pretty much standard-issue, circa 1980 - 2000, chain-franchise gym equipment. There were loads of specific-muscle machines. TechnoGym was one brand - pricey but ugly bulky stuff. There were tons of cardio machines - Precor elliptical and treadmills with full decks. The dumbbell supply was awesome in its vastness - long rows of rubber-coated, straight-handled, chrome-covered dumbbells. (For that kind of money, I'd want tapered ergonomic handles, but they probably weren't out when they made the purchase.)
Smaller rooms were set up for Pilates and stretching. There were huge group fitness studios, once with their signature NikeGrind flooring, made of ground fitness shoe outersoles, the rest with gorgeous, shining hardwood (and those were actually more bouncy than the rubber floors).
But for all of this, I was shocked at what wasn't there. I expected both more true basics and more current innovations. By basics, I mean weightlifting equipment--platforms, bars and bumperplates--and squat equipment--platforms and bars. There was one - ONE squatting platform with a powerrack. There was no weightlifting equipment at all; I couldn't believe it and in fact still think there simply must be some hidden somewhere, but I visited all the employee facilities.
I expected to see more innovation, maybe things I'd never seen before. I expected more of the cutting-edge, retro-strongman tools I'm accustomed to now; I didn't see Kettlebells, Clubbells, ropes - lying or dangling, no tires, sledgehammers, sandbags, logs, nor sleds.
The freshest items I saw were inflated stability balls and rubber bands, and those have become practically standard-issue, too. There was one heavybag and one speed bag.
If I were still into what Chip Conrad calls the modern fitness industrial complex, I'd be impressed. In comparison to employee fitness facilities at large, it is impressive. But this isn't a chain gym nor an average workplace; it's the Nike world headquarters.
So for me, the pilgrimage left me feeling kind of let down, but it also was very valuable for what it helped me realize: the kind of fitness subculture I am a part of is not the norm. I am fortunate to be a part of it. More work needs to be done to enlighten the masses about building strength and fitness. And all to my surprise, I actually have a better gym than Nike. With just a handful of equipment and a coating of chalk and dust, it's a blade of wild grass compared to Nike's groomed field, but at the end of my workday, my garage is where I need to be. It has exactly what I need, the best tools for the job.