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    Just west of the airport, amid a maze of squat warehouses, stands the Factory Gym. Tagline: “Hardcore since ’84.” Theme: BIG — 17,500 square feet, Big Ass-brand fans overhead, big-ass dumbbells (up to 170 pounds!) on racks, 200-pound spherical “Atlas stones” in a corner near 500-pound tires for flipping. Add up all the weight plates and free weights in this place and it’s a hefty 20,000 pounds. Many here don’t just tote water bottles to hydrate; they clutch gallon jugs.

    The snug front lobby contains a refrigerator stocked with supplements, across from a small front desk. Behind that desk is a shelf lined with more supplements and a plastic doll that’s a cartoonish hulk of human in the hue of spray tan. He’s goblet-shaped, with a beefed-up torso and arms that miniaturize his lower half.

    Walk toward the gym and pictures of the doll’s real-life counterparts line the walls. The men and women are all gloriously bronzed and chiseled. The arm of one woman in a sparkly blue bikini exhibits an entire mountain range of muscle. These are pictures of Factory Gym members — except for one. “He’s not a member,” says manager Ray Nusseibeh, pointing to a black-and-white image of pre-Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    Every few moments in the gym, a tinny, dramatic CLANG! announces the completion of another set of reps. A strip of artificial turf marks where sleds piled with weights are pulled. Herculean-types stand in the center of a 450-pound iron square, lift and then go for a little walk, maybe adding some weight on the second go. Speedy metal music plays through speakers, and the smell of sweat and musk is no surprise.

    The Factory Gym used to be on Hurstbourne Lane. After a brief closure in fall 2017, it reopened here in a former tire warehouse on Allmond Avenue. Three little promenades of black cushiony floor separate orderly rows of cardio machines, weight machines, seven different bench-press stations and eight squat racks. “A normal gym might have two,” Nusseibeh says of the last.

    “Gimme all the weights!” reads a shirt worn by a brawny, intense man squatting 425 pounds, his cheeks puffed out and lava-red as he dips for squat number four, five, six. He settles the bar back into place and gives it a stern slap. (I later learn he can squat 800 pounds.) A “F*CKING DEDICATED TO THESE GAINZ” shirt belongs to a young, bearded powerlifter cinched in the middle by a weightlifting belt. He recites part of his evening’s “program” to me: “Two hundred and five pounds for three sets of eight rows, because that’s (about) 60 percent of my max — 315.” As he finishes his set, he sings, “Row, row, row your boat.”

    Nusseibeh wants to make one thing clear: Yes, this gym is very popular with bodybuilders and powerlifters and Strongman competitors, but also with senior citizens, boxers, soccer players, scrawny college boys, fit women who like to watch their shows on the elliptical machines. As we talk, a tattooed, middle-aged mailman works on his pecs and deltoids.

    Still, this is a gym with a posing room — a closed-door space with a shallow platform, scale and three mirrored walls for bodybuilders to flex to perfection, veins quivering, vulnerable and exposed, no wobble to hide beneath. Asya Jones, a petite powerlifter with a half-shirt that reads “ANIMAL,” tells me she wouldn’t dare work out anywhere else. “This is like the only real hardcore gym left around here,” she says. “People here are serious about working out instead of, like, talking and taking pictures of themselves. At a commercial gym you get your beginners and people that are doing it for a few weeks at New Year’s or whatever. Here, everyone’s been doing this a really long time.”

    This originally appeared in the February 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline "Where's the Beef?" To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photos by Joon Kim,

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