Lords of the gym

Times Staff Writer

A fact of gym culture is that every club has a hierarchy of members. At the base are the average, unmemorable club-goers. On the next rung are dedicated members, plugging away almost daily, chatting with a small circle of friends and staying in fine condition.

At the tippy-top are the rare few who have achieved the status of top dog. They show up practically every day and engage in consistent, well-conceived workouts. Their form is exemplary. People hold them in high regard and seek them out for advice, which is offered with grace: These top dogs know they have a responsibility to those who revere them.

They often have a nickname: The Mayor. The Queen. The Body. And yes, they usually have awesome bodies.

That doesn't mean a top dog is invariably the 25-year-old buff dude with killer biceps and a ready smile. At one gym in L.A., it's a 77-year-old man who works out two hours every day; at another, a middle-aged woman who sometimes hits the gym twice daily and takes intense classes in which she often outlasts people half her age.

Top dogs may not be instantly recognizable -- but hang around at a gym for long enough and, like sweat on a bodybuilder, they'll materialize.

Make way for 'the Mayor'

At 4:30 p.m., Sid Krofft is exactly where he is pretty much every day at this time -- on the stationary bike at the Easton Gym in Los Angeles, in the early part of his daily, two-hour workout. To say that Krofft is a fixture here is an understatement. He's been a member since 1958, long before many fellow members were born. Some call him Big Poppy, the Godfather, the Mayor of Easton.

Longevity alone hasn't earned Krofft his status. At 77, he's devoted to his workout and deeply respected for that. "I've heard it so many times," Krofft says, walking through the urban-chic gym swathed in long, baggy gym pants, two T-shirts and a baseball cap. " 'You're my idol,' 'I love that you come here every day,' 'Don't you ever get sick of it?' "

Before he even makes it to the stretching area, members are already saying hello, tapping him on the shoulder, nodding, waving. He responds to all, and even if he doesn't recall a name, he knows what they do, or where they're from, or some peculiar detail.

"He's from the Balkans," Krofft says between chest press sets, gesturing toward a tall, young man. That guy over there: He's obsessed with "American Idol." A third: He's an actor on "Desperate Housewives" and the upcoming "Evan Almighty."

Outside the gym, Krofft is famed for other things. He and his brother Marty created popular children's shows that were a staple of 1970s and '80s television. He still has a production office at CBS and is about to open a West Hollywood restaurant and nightclub.

Here he's better known for his steady workouts, which include doing 80 pounds on the chest press machine, and his raw-food diet. (A glass of wheat grass juice always goes down before he exercises.) "Sometimes they'll ask me a nutritional question," he says of his acolytes, "but I'm not going to give them the answer. I'm going to give them just my experience."

In the gym, Krofft chats with other members but not so much that it derails his workout: half an hour of cardio on the bike, stretching, abs and weight work.

"He's always, like, 'Meet this person,' 'How's your set going,' 'You've got to come over and eat some organic food,' " gym member John Melfi says. "This guy is a life force."

Queen of Crunch

It's no small achievement to be considered numero uno at Crunch, the West Hollywood gym famous for its young, hip, entertainment industry crowd that loves thumping music and hot classes like pole dancing.

But Marilyn Calabrese assumes the mantle easily, despite the fact that she's probably a decade or two older than the average member. Trim and petite with neatly styled blond hair and impeccably manicured nails, she glides through the gym, confident and cool, simultaneously scrutinizing the crowd and trying to figure out where the 8-pound dumbbells are. She's snagged by half a dozen people who all stop to chat -- and lingers and talks with all, huddling close for gossip, or animatedly making plans to take a class.

She's here nearly every day, sometimes twice a day -- easy enough because she lives across the street. In the weight room on a recent evening she stands in front of a large mirror and focuses on her workout -- today it's upper-body exercises using cables -- her toned arms showing definition as she works through a set of triceps pull-downs.

Calabrese is an icon here, comments fellow gym member Kat Namey swinging by for a quick hello between sets. "She's into it completely, not slacking off. She's got dedication," Namey says.

Namey is one of the crowd who regularly pepper Calabrese with questions: How do you stay in such great shape? (Commitment.) What do you recommend for abs? (The stability ball.) Which classes do you recommend? (She's done them all.)

"It shocks me when people ask me stuff sometimes," Calabrese says. "I don't think of myself as any kind of role model. I just do what I do."

On this day, after weights, Calabrese takes two back-to-back classes with a new piece of resistance equipment called the Orbital 360. The classes are intense -- and toward the end, a few people half her age are splayed on the floor, spent. She shows no signs of flagging.

She loves the mental and physical rush she gets from working out -- but admits that her status is pleasant, too.

"It certainly enhances the experience to have welcoming smiles when I come in the door," she says. "The only time it's burdensome is if I'm in a hurry. I have a hard time getting out of there -- always."

Body of admirers

When Richard Shallup works out, people notice.

Even on a relatively slow day at Powerhouse Gym in West L.A., people are staring with envy and wonder as he does core work using cables, followed by bench presses. It's partly his rocking body -- those substantial biceps (one highlighted by a tattoo) and that outline of a six-pack showing through his T-shirt.

It's also his dedication. Besides the weight, cardio and core work he does at the gym, his routine also includes running and running stairs -- plus he's a veteran of numerous marathons, half-marathons and triathlons. But Shallup, 39, also is admired for his willingness to readily help others.

On a recent day, he's using a Bosu Balance Trainer, a half-dome shaped ball used for core strengthening and balance. Standing on the flat side of the Bosu, he balances on one leg, dumbbells in each hand, and does squats while rotating the weights. A couple of people who are curious about his unconventional exercise stop by to watch, and he patiently explains how to work up to this complex move -- first on the floor, then moving to the ball in stages.

Once a personal trainer (now a real estate investor), Shallup doesn't mind doling out free advice these days. "It makes me feel good," he says.

Fellow member Julie Darwish says she's a fitter, leaner person because of Shallup's counsel. In addition to teaching her new tricks on the ball, plus some plank positions and yoga moves, he's encouraged her to split up her workouts -- cardio in the morning, weights at night. "It's really made a big difference," she says. "A lot of people want to keep their workout their secret, and he's not like that."

Women, Shallup says, find him accessible and ask a slew of exercise and diet questions. Men usually use sports as an opener, then segue into workout advice. They're frequently lured by Shallup's impressive drop sets, which start with heavy weights that are gradually lightened. "They'll ask what it's for," he says, "because they want to do that right away. They see heavy and they're going to come over."

Lifting big can spawn gym rivalry: Shallup sometimes gets competitive vibes from young alpha males. But he doesn't take the bait: He's secure in his top dog status. "I'm not into that any more," he says.


Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World