What you want in a gym will largely depend on what you want out of it. That being said, there are many general things that mark “good gyms”. I decided to write the guide because I’m tired of seeing articles like “avoid gyms with loud people, huge people, or equipment that will actually help you build muscle”. This article is dedicated to helping you choose a gym that will motivate you to train hard and avoid all the gimmicks that come with fitness.
- You want to negotiate the lowest price possible. A lot gyms try to get you to pay for an extra registration fee, which is often the same price as a month’s membership.
- Monthly memberships range from $20–75, and sign-up fees can be as much as $250.
- If any of the gyms offer to let you sign-up without paying this fee, you can use it as leverage to get other gyms to let you join without paying for registration.
- Look for special seasonal deals, like summer or New Years, when signing up, to lock in the lowest monthly rate. Gyms are sales-oriented businesses. They want to get you to pay as much as possible. Don’t be suckered in. Talk them down.
- Ask them if they charge a fee to cancel the membership, and how much it is.
- Avoid frills. You’re going to pay more at gyms with racquetball courts, group fitness classes, saunas, swimming pools, climbing walls, and so on. If you’re not using these, you need to look for a weight-lifting gym.
- How far is the gym away from your house, school or place of employment? Calculate your miles per gallon rate, multiply it by the distance, and add it to the monthly fee when comparing gyms.
- Location matters. If you’re lazy one day, you’re going to use a 30 minutes commute as an excuse to skip out on training.
This is the most important aspect. There’s no sense getting a great deal on a gym if it doesn’t even have the equipment you need. Here’s what you need to look for:
- Power cages or squat racks for doing squats, rack pulls, rack lockouts, and more.
- Cardio machines, if you’re interested in doing cardio. Observe how busy they are. Will you be able to get a machine during peak hours?
- Dumbbells up to 100lbs. Eventually you’re going to get strong enough, especially if you are doing dumbbell bench press, where you need dumbbells over 100lbs. In this case, your gym should have at least up to 150lbs.
- Is there a place to do deadlifts? Many gyms have special padded platforms. Avoid gyms with hexagonal plates, these are very hard to do deadlifts with.
- Are there padded plates? If you’re doing Olympic lifts or deadlifts, you don’t want to disturb too many people in your gym by dropping heavy metal weights all over the place.
- Is there a place to do pullups? Dips? Are there belts where you can add weight for pull ups or dips?
- Is the equipment well maintained? Things to check:
- Rust on dumbbells or barbells
- Frayed cables on cable machines
- Benches with holes in the padding
Generally, any gym that offers chalk is a gym you want to lift at.
Employees, Rules and Ambiance
- If you want to use a personal trainer (note: see the page on trainers for why you should never do this), are they going to be knowledgeable? Look around. Are the trainers having their clients do real compound exercises, or gimmicky bosu ball squats holding 3 pound rubber dumbbells? Are they strong? Do they look like they actually lift weights, or is it some college kid that got picked up off the street?
- Are there rules against deadlifting or olympic lifting? Is there a “lunk alarm”, like at many Planet Fitness locations, for making too much noise?
- Is the gym more interested in selling you supplements or protein shakes than being dedicated to weightlifting? If so, avoid it.
- Is there a designated women-only area? Avoid it like the plague. These areas are often stocked with nothing more than light dumbbells and preloaded barbells among mountains of weight machines.
- Are they playing terrible soft rock or the same 5 R&B songs over and over? Generally, any gym that plays metal is a gym you want to train at.
If you’re training for a sport, or if you would like to become more of an all-around athlete, you may want to look into joining a CrossFit gym. CrossFit is hybrid training methodology that aims to build “the quintessential athlete, equal parts gymnast, Olympic weightlifter and sprinter.” These gyms are usually well-stocked with equipment, the clientele always forms a tight, motivating group, and CrossFit trainers are more knowledgeable than almost anyone around. These gyms have quite an enormous downside, however. They are incredibly expensive. It is not uncommon for people to pay $90-$150 a month for a CrossFit gym, although this includes free training. This is because CrossFit works off a different profit plan — they want to have the most people training possible and they care about their progress, so they have a smaller clientele.