Lifting on the Adriatic Sea!

Lifting on the Adriatic Sea!

Aug 23, 2012

Umag, Croatia

Howard W Penrose, Ph.D., CMRP

I did research for a powerlifting gym in the Umag, Croatia area as we were spending a week of our Croatian Vacation in town. I was unable to find anything through my usual channels until Branka’s brother, Dragan, introduced me to the Umag Gym (Umago Gym – email: there is no website). I did a little more research and found it was conveniently located near the beach but I was unable to find too much more than that through the internet and Facebook. The few pictures I found looked like the gym was primarily machines with limited ability for powerlifting and I didn’t see a squat rack.

The pictures were deceiving.

IMG 1730
Umag Gym Owner Zeljko Vorel and Dr. Penrose Outside Gym

The first day I did a light set of squats to approximately 405lbs (all plates were metric) and deadlift at ~405lbs. I mostly treated it as conditioning while getting used to the gym. The deadlift was deficit by default as the 20kg plates are approximately the same diameter as USA 35lb standard plates. The gym is relatively warm this time of year but it is air conditioned to a reasonable level as the humidity was much lower inside than outside where it has been close to 40C (104F) this week.

IMG 1714
Getting Ready for the Next Deadlift – Deep Pull by Default!

The location is outstanding – right near the beach, hotels, and in the same complex as the tennis and handball courts where they hold the annual ATP Studena Croatia Open which is a World tennis tournament held here annually since 1990. This means that there are a combination of local folks getting in shape and athletes training on-site often.

IMG 1722
The Squat Rack Existed After All!

On the second day there we met with Zeljko Vorel, the owner. I went with a light bench and used my Super Ram to assist as my left elbow is recovering from an aircraft incident involving a beverage cart. My elbow won, but it is a little swollen and tight (see my next article on international travel training do’s and don’ts). I was able to get in tricep, shrug and light shoulder work. The equipment is of an Italian design and formed differently than I am used to in the USA, which also had me restrict my weight as I did not have a spotter and it was difficult to get my base due to the narrow support and strange curve. However, this is more related to acclimating to the equipment than any critique as to suitability or condition. The overall equipment condition was outstanding and my next bench session in the Umag Gym will probably be heavier if I can borrow a spotter. Unfortunately, the squat rack is not the type that will let me lift off and set a safety bar to assist in a missed bench attempt.

IMG 1716
Prepping to do one of 5 light sets of 4 reps at ~325lbs (with collars).

The gym passes ranged from a day to a month, or more, and are very reasonable. We purchased two seven day passes for a total of 135kn (~$20USD) each. Along with a monthly pass you receive personal training and an individual program free of charge, and an updated program each successive month.

The gym floors are wood gym-floor grade and do provide some traction in a shoe, but none in socks (if you lift barefoot for deadlifts/squat). There are small, thin, rubber mats that I used to ensure I would not slip when squatting and for foot-grip/landing points for deadlift. I would highly recommend the use of these if you are doing any standing lifts on this type of flooring!

Branka does general conditioning and there is sufficient cardio and basic machine equipment that she was able to use without special instruction. This meant that I could do my training and she could do her conditioning workout at the same time.

IMG 1727
Branka Using the Military Press

Branka is Croatian which is one of the reasons we are on this trip – I was also making my pilgrimage to Nikola Tesla’s birthplace. This has been important as, unlike many places I have visited, even for a tourist town, English is not a common second language here other than for the ‘younger crowd’ (under 30). Umag is also a favorite vacation spot for Italy and Germany, which are more common second languages.

Most of the people who were at the gym the same time we were appeared to be local. On the second day there was a group present who turned out to be Umag’s women’s handball team, one of the ranking teams in Croatia. Handball is a very popular sport in this part of Europe.

Unlike USA commercial gyms the only time my training was interrupted was when someone would show me something. I think I was a little shocked at first as, even though I’m fairly approachable in the gym, there was something a little more friendly about it. By and large the members seemed ready to help each other as well as strangers, like me, and were focused on training versus congregating.

There is definitely one thing in a training gym environment – the iron brotherhood extends beyond any borders and iron is a common tongue!

General comment: if my training suffers from the six days I will be here, it will definitely not be because of this gym! There have not been any powerlifters, so far, but there are training athletes and bodybuilders in there every time. The good news – no Cross Fitters!

Ratings: Hours – 4/5 (8am – 10pm, 8pm on Saturday, 6 days per week); Equipment – 5/5 condition and 3/5 powerlifting friendly; Ability to Train – 4/5; Atmosphere – 5/5; and, Location – not applicable. I mean, how do you score a gym were you can walk 100 meters and fall into the Adriatic Sea and one of the top beaches in Europe?

General Comment – there have been numerous powerlifting contests held in Umag, Croatia, even with the lack of any teams that I could find. It is a popular location, overall, including for European powerlifters.

And yes, I got a t-shirt!


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