Since seeing Hercules, Burnett has spent most of his life in one gym or another. He came to Tijuana when he was 15 years old. He found work as a personal trainer at Club Atlético Bosco, one of Tijuana's first gyms. He had, he said, three or four clients per day, and at that time, he charged them $1 per hour.
"I was living with my father," Burnett told me, "and I had other work on the side. So it was enough to live on."
At NeoSpa, Burnett said, he generally works with 20 or so clients, the majority of whom are women. But who was more difficult to instruct, I asked, men or women?
"The men. Because of discipline. The men are less disciplined. They like to eat a lot. They like to drink a lot. They like to party. Women are much more given to discipline."
I spent a Saturday morning at NeoSpa. Low gray clouds again filled the sky. Misty rain slicked Tijuana's streets. Inside NeoSpa, the air was warm and humid. In one of the gym's exercise rooms, on a polished maple floor, several dozen little boys and girls practiced judo. In another room, eight young women sweated through a spinning class while a disco remix of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" thumped through stereo speakers. In the hallway between the exercise rooms, a bulletin board announced NeoSpa's schedule of classes. From Monday through Friday, from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., the board listed some 50 hour-long classes, such as yoga, Pilates, Tae-Bo, and spinning.
In the gym's largest room, I watched a woman in black spandex cross-train between strength machines and, in a smaller room off to the side, free weights. She appeared to be in her early 40s. The muscles in her shoulders, back, and thighs were well-defined. At the end of her routine, she told me her name was Silvia Muñoz. She said she was originally from Mexico City but had lived in Tijuana for 30 years. She said she worked in television and that she was a mother of five.
"I've been coming here to this gym for about three years. I've been working out for ten years," she said. "I started in Chula Vista. At 24 Hour Fitness. I had to take my children to school, and at first it was a way for me to kill time while I waited for them. I started to notice the changes in my body. I lost weight, and I had more energy. Three years ago I became very serious about working out. I started coming here, to NeoSpa. For about one year I hired a personal trainer to teach me how to use the weights and other equipment. I'd used them before, but I really didn't know what I was doing. I needed someone to teach me. I usually work out for an hour and a half on Mondays through Fridays. On Saturdays I usually work out for two to three hours."
Muñoz told me that, due to her influence, three of her five children now exercised on a regular basis. One of her daughters was exercising at the gym, she said, while we spoke. I asked Muñoz when Mexican women started to become interested in exercise.
"About eight years ago. It was part of many changes. Women started working outside the home. Men's and women's ways of thinking, their mentality, started to evolve. There was the idea that women could compete with men in, for example, the workplace. And I believe that women are more vain than men. It was a combination of a lot of factors. Wives no longer had to ask their husbands for permission to do things like go to the gym. Husbands have changed too."
And what was the most important thing that Muñoz did at NeoSpa?
"The spinning classes. I like it. It's an opportunity for me to work out all my day-to-day stress."
Ausencia, a woman in her early 30s, told me that she, too, started exercising almost ten years ago. She was fair-skinned and light-haired and quick to laugh when she spoke.
"I first started exercising out of vanity," she said.
She told me that she came from a family of six children, "and we all loved volleyball and we all exercise." She told me she had one sister in particular who was very athletic and who came every day to NeoSpa.
"In the past I exercised every day. Now, I'm busier and come to the gym only three times a week for an hour and a half each time."
Ten years ago, she said, it wasn't very common for women in Tijuana to exercise.
"The change came little by little.
"One thing that had a great deal of influence was fashion. Each year, the clothes kept getting smaller. And in order to look good in those styles, you had to be in shape. The designers were designing clothes for thin women."
Across town on Third Street, a few blocks west of Revolución, Gimnasio D'Luis sits above a small Italian restaurant. If you don't know what you're looking for, you might have a difficult time finding the gym's entrance. It sits at the end of a breezeway to the restaurant's left. A folksy painting of a bodybuilder flexing his biceps decorates the entrance's door. A flight of white tile stairs leads up to a 900-square-foot room where American and Mexican hip-hop blares from unseen stereo speakers. Floor-to-ceiling windows fill the room's northern wall, overlooking Third Street's bustle. On the afternoon I first visited the gym, an older indigenous woman stood directly across the street, stirring something in a large red plastic tub. She wore her hair in two long braids. Her little belly strained against the apron, embroidered with red and yellow birds, she'd tied about her waist. She was selling portions of a very traditional Mexican dish -- a salad made of marinated and coarsely chopped nopales, or cactus paddles. Around the mound of salad in the tub, this woman had arranged piles of garnishes for her customers to choose from -- minced cilantro, diced tomatoes, thinly sliced onion, and whole red chiles fried crisp.