6 Things to look for in a Good Gym
What do I mean by that?
Basically, different gyms offer different benefits and disadvantages to different people.
It’s not enough to just join any ol’ gym because depending on your goal, the same gym can help one person and hold another back.
For instance, somebody looking to begin competing in Powerlifting would need – or at least significantly benefit from – a different environment and/or gym to somebody that’s looking to simply run 5km for charity.
For the sake of today’s article I’ll be focusing on what’s ideal for the average gym newbie when chasing the goal of body transformation: Fat Loss and/or Muscle Gain.
I’m doing this for two reasons:
a) Most gym newbies are looking to improve how they look.
b) If I wrote about every gym member subcategory, this article would be around 3 to 4 days long!
Before I fully get into today’s article I just want to mention that fact that I don’t recommend you join a gym just based on the price or just because it’s convenient to get to.
Just as an expensive gym isn’t necessarily good, a cheap gym isn’t necessarily bad.
So rather than choose a gym just because it’s cheap, convenient or offers an imagined status to those around you, I believe it’s far more important in the long run to choose based on the points I’ll be covering below in this article.
One thing I would say to keep an eye out for regarding pricing though, are things like contract length and get out clauses just in case your circumstances change at any point and you have to cancel or suspend your membership.
I’ve also included a downloadable check list of ‘Things to look for in a Good Gym’ at the end of this article which you can print off and take with you so that you can compare the features and benefits of each gym and make the best decision for your needs.
Right, so let’s get into it…
Things to look for in a Good Gym
1. You should feel comfortable but a little bit anxious.
I first heard of this concept whilst studying with one of my mentors and you may think it sounds strange, but it’s true. Going to the gym shouldn’t feel like going home or around to a close friend friend or family members house.
When you enter the gym you should feel an air of positive energy about the place but at the same time you should feel a little bit anxious, like there’s a little bit of competition between the members.
Don’t get me wrong, you don’t want to feel like you literally have to compete but you want to feel a bit like it’s a place where you can’t get away with just “going through the motions”.
It may sound a little intimidating but it’s a great way to help you get your arse into gear once you begin your workout.
2. The Gym Equipment
Second on the list when searching for a good gym is the gym equipment. The main things to keep a look out for are:
a) A good free weights area
Having been a member and also spending many years working in and around both private and commercial gyms, I’m the first to realise that the free-weights area can be an intimidating place for most gym newbies – especially women.
That said, it’s genuinely the most valuable area in the gym almost regardless of your goal.
That doesn’t mean that from day one you have to be in there but I highly recommend you make it a goal of yours to start using it – even once or twice a week – within six months.
This will do wonders for not only your results, but your confidence too.
So what makes a good free weights area?
Firstly (and maybe even most importantly), the freeway to area must have a squat rack with adjustable safety pins and a least a couple of Olympic Barbells.
These are essential for any so-called free-weights area.
It’s also ideal if they have a full set of dumbbells from 2 kg to at least 50 kg.
Of course very few newbies will need the heavy dumbbells straight away but it’s nice to know they’re there for if or when you need them in the future. Plus, they’re also handy for getting used to handling heavier weights before transitioning onto the Olympic Barbell.
Bonus items in the free-weights area include: A lifting platform and Olympic Bumper Plates. The second bonus would be sets of Chains and a full set of Bands for doing what’s known as “Accommodating Resistance Training”. plus somebody experienced to show you how and when to use them in your training.
I’ll be honest, 99.9% of gym newbies don’t need these Bonus Items but like the heavy Dumbbells, it’s nice to know they’re there for variation in your training once you become a little more experienced.
b) Cable Machines
Cable machines are awesome pieces of kit to use in your training program and should be part of the equipment range in any good gym.
Like Dumbbells or Barbells, Cable Machines offer the ability to train just about every muscle in the body.
They also offer the ability to move the handle (or other attachment) in any direction, which means Cable Machines are technically free-weights.
The difference though, is the line of force.
You see with a set of Dumbbells or a Barbell, the line of force is always vertical – towards the floor, due to gravity – unless altered by something or someone else.
Cable machines however, have a variable line of force. The line of force is dependent upon where you had positioned the pulley and where you are moving the handle to.
This is great for both activation of additional muscle groups and also strength and function carry over into your daily life.
In fact when used correctly, Cable Machines also increase the integration and synergy of all the various muscle groups involved in the chosen exercise.
c1) A Functional Training Area
Now the word ‘functional’ is thrown around a lot these days and quite often it’s by people that don’t really understand what “Functional” Training is.
The reason I say to look out for a Functional Training Area (FTA) is because they are brilliant for doing ‘FUNctional’ Exercise.
Ensuring you stay mentally engaged and actually enjoy your time in the gym is essential if you want the most benefit from your membership in the long run.
You see, FTA’s offer so much variety that it’s almost impossible to get bored if you use even a small amount of creativity.
So what exactly is a Functional Training Area?
FTA’s can vary from gym to gym but generally it will be an area with plenty of free space and an assortment of equipment such as Kettlebells, Medicine Balls, Swiss Balls, Battling Ropes, Plyo Boxes, Landmines, etc etc… Some gyms even have Multi-station Training Frames such as one of the Life Fitness Synergy 360 training stations or EXF-Fitness’s XCUBE.
Although these training areas and various pieces of equipment do allow you to train “functionally”, I believe their best function is their ability to offer you both variety and adequate challenge through exercise throughout your training journey.
c2) FTA alternative – A Member Usable Studio
If the gym doesn’t have an FTA, the next best thing is a studio which they allow members to use outside of class times.
Advantages with a member usable studio include:
Circuit Training – although circuits can be done anywhere, often the studio offers the most free space and you’re able to get the kit you need and just “get on with it”. Often when doing circuits on the gym floor you’ll have to keep waiting for equipment to be free which does nothing but hold up your workout and reduce its effectiveness.
Partner Training – although partner training can take place anywhere in the gym, the type I’m referring to is the more dynamic stuff just such as 2 person Medicine Ball training, Boxing/Kickboxing Padwork or …
Dynamic Warm-Up – pretty much all workouts should be preceded by some kind of Dynamic Warm-up. The available space in the studio is great as space on or around the gym floor can often be limited.
Stretching and Remedial Work – a Member Usable Studio is also a great place to do any Stretching or Remedial Work you may have in your programme without getting in the way of other gym members if your gym doesn’t provide a separate area for Stretching.
d) Cardiovascular Machines
Pretty much any commercial gym you walk into will be overflowing with Cardiovascular Training Machines.
Although convenient and simple for a gym newbie to use, they are by no means essential when it comes to the goal of Body Transformation.
That said, they are handy to help begin building your base level cardiovascular fitness until you get a larger exercise arsenal under your belt and become more comfortable in the gym.
Personally, I feel the 2 best CV Machines to use are the Treadmill and the Rowing Machine.
e) Resistance Machines
To be honest I view them very much the same way I do Cardiovascular Machines… They take up way too much space in most gyms.
They do however serve a purpose and some of them – such as the Glute-Ham Raise or the Reverse HyperTM – are actually awesome pieces of kit and should be in pretty much all gyms.
My biggest recommendation is just that you should not become too reliant on them because free-weight alternatives are almost always a better option.
f) Gym Extras
When I say gym extras, I’m referring to the likes of Swimming Pools, Tennis Courts and Racket Sports Facilities, Saunas, Steam Rooms, Restaurants, etc…
Although these things are nice, none of them are going to be the difference between success and failure.
In fact, in my experience from working in gyms that offer these additional services, the only thing they do for most members is increase the cost of their monthly membership fee unnecessarily.
Don’t get me wrong, if you’re somebody that loves to swim or play racket sports and this will help to motivate you to exercise/train, then by all means look for these features but just remember, they’re not actually needed to transform your body so if you won’t really use them just ensure there is an opt-out option in the members pricing packages.
g) THE Bonus Extra: A Sprint Track
Sprint Tracks are one of the hardest things to find in regular gyms so I would say that if you find a reasonably priced gym with a Sprint Track you should seriously consider it.
Simply because Sprints are one of the best forms of exercise to use for getting Fit and Lean.
Not only that, they are also brilliant for improving your Speed, Power, Strength, Core Strength and overall Function.
Quite simply, they are awesome!
Now of course, you don’t have to find a gym with a track in order to do them, you can do them on your local park or pretty much anywhere with a flat surface that’s long enough.
3. Location of the Gym
Location can also play a critical factor in how regularly you use the gym once you’ve signed up.
Although personally, I’d rather drive a little further if I know a gym has everything I need for my training goals than just settle for any ol’ gym just because it’s convenient for me.
If however, you’re the type of person that isn’t likely to use the gym unless it is convenient then I would recommend you take this into account also.
If this applies to you, perhaps choosing a gym that’s on the way to and from work would be a good choice.
4. Cleanliness and Maintenance
When walking around the gym keep and eye out for both how clean the gym is and whether all the equipment is in working order or not.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think a gym needs to be spotless be any means but good general cleanliness without huge dust balls under the equipment should certainly be standard.
Also, if many of the machines are ‘out of order’ it could be a sign that the gym isn’t very well maintained.
If there’s only one machine that’s out of order, maintenance is likely not an issue but you may just want to inquire as to how long it’s been out of action just to get an idea of the gyms sense of urgency with these types of matters.
5. Opening Hours (and Membership Restrictions)
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how good any gym is if you’re unable to make it there during their opening hours so of course it’s a good idea to check that out before signing up.
Another thing that some gyms offer is tiered pricing where certain prices only allow access to the gym within certain hours of the day. This is something else you’ll want to check before signing up as you don’t want to rock up to the gym for your first training session, all motivated and raring to go, only to be told that your chosen membership package doesn’t allow access at this time of the day.
6. Friendly, Polite Staff
In my opinion, the staff at any gym – whether a big commercial gym or back ally spit and sawdust gym – should be polite and helpful.
That doesn’t mean the have to walk around with constant smiles on their faces continually asking the members if they need assistance with anything and trying to be everyone’s best friend but it certainly helps if they make you feel welcome and they’re approachable should you be unsure of anything or want some advice on how best to do an exercise or need to know how to use a piece of equipment.
To be honest most gyms I’ve been to are like this so you shouldn’t have too many worries but just keep an eye out for it.
Now as mentioned above, to make things a little easier and to save you having to write down all the points I’ve mentioned here, I have created a printable ‘Things To Look For In A Good Gym Check List’.
So all you have to do is check off each point as you get taken around the gym.
Don’t forget to download it here.
If you have any questions, or a few tips of your own please feel free to share them below.
Until next time,