As we pull into the parking lot, I see Mike Petrella by the door to STG Strength And Power, which is just as well as the gym is so new to this location there is no external signage. I am excited to catch up with him again after meeting a week previously at the REC conference. We step inside a cavernous space that feels aircraft hangar-like in dimension. This space however is not filled with private jets, instead it acts as a considerable containing space for row upon row of exercise machines. And there are many, no one has done a final tally yet, though Mike knows it is north of 100. This is an impressive, modern, clean and wide-open space filled with strength training devices.
STG Strength and Power isn’t just some big box gym where people can turn up and do whatever they want though, this is a colossal HIT-based space, one-to-one, by appointment only. You could come in here and never perform the same routine twice, in a lifetime of workouts. In short, the first impression one gets is… well, impressive. A gym that feels on the scale of an NFL, or perhaps more appropriately, NHL team’s weight room.
STG Strength and Power was not always so massive in proportions, it has grown over the years. Moving locations as time has passed has seen the gym expand from 1000 square feet, to 1500 square feet and with the most recent move in 2019, up to the 4000 square feet of today’s facility. Despite the over 100 pieces of equipment, the space has room to breathe, you feel far from cluttered or claustrophobic here. You get the sense you are in a professional, thought out area with plenty of room to freely move about between exercises, up and down the aisles of equipment.
If it weren’t for the people using the equipment you might think you have stepped into a museum dedicated to strength training equipment, or perhaps a machine Hall of Fame. The way I feel now is how Charlie must have felt when Willy Wonka opened the doors to his factory.
Nautilus Infimetric Chest
I was more than a little stunned by the sheer choice when Mike asked me what machines I wanted to get on whilst I was with him. Probably picking up on this he suggested that I might want to use machines that I am unlikely to have encountered or even see in most other places. That sounded like a great plan. “Let me show you the Nautilus Infimetric Chest” said Mike, and so it began.
I had never been on an infimetric machine before, although I am not new to infimetric exercise. In essence, infimetric exercise has you pit your own muscles against each other. It is entirely possible to perform infimetric exercise without any equipment at all. Examples of this include versions of torso rotation and neck rotation, where if you engage the muscles properly, the right-side musculature’s eccentric action provides resistance for the left side’s concentric action and vice versa. As you are stronger eccentrically than you are concentrically you can always provide more than enough resistance for an effective concentric action. It is resistance training without an external load.
Side raises can also easily be performed infimetrically too without a specialist machine: by holding an appropriate length rope between each hand, one deltoid contracts as the other moves eccentrically. Charles Spencer and Doug McGuff are two individuals in addition to Arthur Jones, who have explored and written about the application of infimetric exercise.
Jones introduced the original Nautilus Infimetric machines in 1976. It is a brilliant concept, exercise machines that do not require a weight stack yet can still exercise the muscles effectively- saving weight and space. It does however require mental focus and an honest effort on the part of the trainee without the external kinesthetic/visual feedback of a weight stack. This is probably why you don’t see too many Infimetric machines around in gyms, and it is fair to say that infimetrics never took a hold with the general public.
I asked Mike how he likes to use the Infimetric Chest machine and he recommends to most clients that they take it easy for the first 15 seconds, feeling out the movement, warming up the muscles and joints before seamlessly segueing into 45 seconds of all out work. I sat down and gave it a go. The machine felt great, you get a very pure sense of the resistance you are applying and of course you are entirely in control of that resistance throughout every second of every rep- the moment you relax there is no more resistance! It certainly helped having had experience applying infimetric exercise (without equipment) and appreciating what I wanted to get out of the machine, how it needed to be executed. It is chest, triceps and anterior deltoid working against chest, triceps and anterior deltoid, left side vs. right side. You feel the force that your muscles are both capable of generating and resisting- you vs. you all the way. I really enjoyed the purity of it and would have no issue working out in a gym that had only infimetric machines, and any motivated client can learn to use them well, especially with a great trainer taking them through the experience.
The Original Nautilus: Plate Loaded Pullover
The next machine Mike introduced me to, was the ONE that started the whole Nautilus project: Arthur’s first machine, the original Nautilus Plate Loaded pullover. This is a machine that has stood the test of time in Mike’s eyes, it being both his favorite pullover and his favorite upper-back machine, period and I can feel why. Lats get the direct attention on this one for sure, from stretch all the way through to full contraction, continually nudging an awareness in the trainee of their anatomical role, but by the time you step off the machine you certainly note the pecs and triceps synergistic assistance too. It is incredible how smooth the movement is, incredible to think that this was the first production exercise machine Jones designed. Thanks, Arthur.
Two Neck Rotation Devices
Next up was the MedX Medical Neck Rotation. The last time I used a MedX Medical device was the knee extension that James Fisher and James Steele keep at Southampton in the UK. I immediately recall the experience of being completely locked down into a device that creates as much muscle isolation as is likely possible. All neck machines can often feel a little intimidating to sit into for the first time- your head and face squeezed up against a pad, combined with loading up one of the most delicate areas of the body, will do that. The Medical Neck Rotation is no exception. Mike being the professional that he is, is adept at calmly and pre-emptively talking through the concerns he knows a client may have as they sit into the machine for the first time. I don’t think any amount of pre-set up advice can truly prepare you for the feeling of the python-like squeeze on your skull required to set the head pads firmly enough on this device, but at least you know that it is normal and that your head is not going to explode like an extra in an early Peter Jackson movie. Once locked in and rotating the neck, the sensation and degree of muscular work in the sternocleidomastoid and splenius is both obvious and immediately apparent. Literally all you can feel is your neck working against load with nowhere to escape… which is the point of the machine.
For comparison purposes Mike next had me jump onto the Nautilus Infimetric Neck Rotation. This is a little different to the Infimetric Chest that I had experienced earlier as in this one you are not setting neck muscle against neck muscle but rather using your arms to provide the resistance by pulling and pushing on levers that redirect that force to the head pads. Admittedly it took me sometime to settle into the groove of this exercise, coordinating my back and forth arm movements with rotation of the neck in each direction felt initially like trying to rub belly and pat head at the same time. Nothing that 4-5 reps couldn’t smooth out though and the end-result were reps that felt remarkably similar in effect, to the MedX Medical device.
MedX Rotary Torso
The next machine up was the MedX Medical Rotary Torso. This is a huge piece of equipment and as my shoulders and chest were restrained I felt like I was being buckled in to a fighter pilot jet simulator. When fully locked-in all you can do is rotate the torso whilst keeping your head and neck in a neutral position, there is no doubt as to which muscles you are exercising. I really enjoyed this machine: it is one of the more unusual movements to perform initially, probably because as humans we very rarely rotate the torso in near complete isolation. The contraction and stretch felt in the targeted obliques and rotatores is clear and clean. This is an exercise that has been shown to be highly beneficial to individuals with scoliosis and the MedX Medical along with the David Generation device are the pinnacle in machine design for those requiring special attention for this area of the body.
Negative Only: The Omni Shoulder Press
We then stepped away from the medical devices back in time to Nautilus and another piece from that company’s history: the Omni Shoulder machine. Mike tells me his is one of only 6-8 copies of this device that Nautilus ever made, including one that was used by Arthur Jones and Casey Viator in the Colorado Experiment. This is a machine designed to make performing negative-only repetitions convenient… but of course not easy. This is done by way of pushing down on a footplate to help lift the weight-stack then taking full control of the load through your hands, only at the contracted position, after which you lower the load through the full range eccentric. Of course, without being limited by concentric strength you use significantly heavier loads than you could in a normal set. How do you know when to stop the exercise? Well you don’t want to go to complete eccentric failure as that would be both overkill and inherently risky. Mike has his clients terminate the exercise when they can no longer perform the eccentric stroke for a minimum of 4 seconds.
Pendulum and Hammer
After this historic part of the tour we stepped right up to the present day with the plate-loaded Pendulum 3-Way Row. Pendulum appears to be a company as close to Mike’s heart as Nautilus and MedX, he states they are the only current company he will buy machines from at this time. A few reps on the 3-Way Row and I can see why he holds them in such high esteem, it is built as strong as tank, with an ultra-comfortable chest pad, three choices of grips and a sweet delivery of effectively frictionless pure load. It is a row for the 21st century.
Throughout my time at STG I had been eyeing up the Hammer Strength H-Squat, it is a machine that I have seen people use on video, have never been in the same room as one myself, till now. To be frank, it was the sheer novelty and size of it that attracted me, that along with the idea of having to climb steel to even get to exercise, it is like taking a mini-pilgrimage for the right to squat. Once at the top of the steel contraption I settled into a comfortable lying position to experience what Mike describes as a “leg press and hip and back combination.” It was worth the journey up, then you realize you have to get down again too… yup still worth it!
Mike and the Machines
Mike has created an incredible space with this latest iteration of STG and I’m sure he is happy to finally have (nearly!) all his machines out on the shop floor, together, working, doing what they were all designed to do… get people stronger. And this is the thing, Mike is obviously a passionate collector of exceptionally high-quality exercise machines, one willing to share the fruits of his passion. Imagine, for a moment, a classic car collector who has a Ferrari 250 GTO, a Bugatti Type-57 SC Atlantic and an Aston Martin DBR1 among his 100-strong stable. Then this guy says my collection is open house, anyone can come along and use my prized possessions and I will teach you to drive them right and get the most out of them too. Unlikely, right? Well Mike is the exercise machine version of that guy and STG offers this experience right there in Paris, Ontario. And no matter how far you live from Paris, if you are into strength training and exercise machines in particular the STG “Mecca” or “Hall of Fame” is more than worth a visit.
Many thanks to Mike, Katy, Spike and Connor for the tour.
If you can, go and see Mike’s facility. It’s worth it!
STG STRENGTH AND POWER
333 Governors Rd E
Paris, Ontario, N3L 3E1