When shopping for a gym, look for these 5 things

by Ryan Wagner

Odds are, there are a lot of gyms in the city you live in. Probably the big chains. Maybe a few local franchises. Undoubtedly, some Crossfit affiliates. Needless to say, when shopping for a gym you have your pick of the litter. But few today are designed with your health goals in mind. Instead, most gyms are stuck in the mentality of years past. And this is important to realize because much of what may have worked in the 1990s is not necessarily applicable today. We simply know more now than we did back then about how our bodies react to different training stimuli. Training methodology has changed accordingly.

Fact is, most big box gyms out there today are a far cry from what the average gym goer really needs in order to achieve their health and fitness goals. Do you really need to go to the gym to watch the news? No. How about walking on a treadmill for 30 min while you read a book? Do you choose a gym based on how many flat panel televisions are present? Absolutely not. Here is what you need to know when gym shopping.

1. When shopping for a gym, look for Space!

Believe it or not, gyms back in the day used to have lots of room to move around. Weight machines weren’t all that common and if you go back far enough there were not any machines at all. Although some of the cable machines can be very useful for a range of fitness goals, all you really need are the free weights and some open space. Yet so many of the big box gyms today don’t seem to realize this truth. They pack their floorplan with all the latest and greatest machines and trendiest toys (i.e. vibration plate). So what happens is that the casual weightlifter will hide in the circuit training forest and watch TV while many of the more advanced lifters fight over the few available benches and squat racks. Who do you think has a better chance of reaching their goals?

Look for open isles. Is there a ‘functional’ training area? Can you bring med balls and sandbags to an area outside? You’ll need room to do lunges, farmer carries, dynamic stretching, the list goes on and on.

Many of us spend our days chained to a desk, but the gym should be an opportunity to move. And jump. And climb. And… see a pattern here..?

2. Group training

Training in a group is the future of personal training at gyms. Pure and simple. If you are looking to get in shape, lose fat, build muscle, whatever your goals may be – group training is the way to do it if you are relatively new to lifting. There is lots to love about training in a group of 4-8 people. There is the group dynamic, an opportunity to share the cost of a personal trainer, focused coaching, and fun, ever changing workouts to name a few attributes.

3. A power rack

For the uninitiated, a power rack is much like a squat rack, but more of a ‘cage-like’ architecture. You have probably seen these before and may have even been a little intimidated. Don’t be. The ways in which you can utilize a power rack are near endless. In its simplest form, it’s a squat rack. Or a pull-up bar. But the advanced lifter can squeeze out a lot more utility. Band assisted bench press, overhead press isometric holds, TRX anchor, to name just a few. The versatility lies in the fact that you can adjust the stops to accomodate your range of motion. Basically, the stops are stand-ins for a spotter. Or, they can aid in adjusting your range of motion. Say, for instance, you didn’t want to perform a deadlift from the ground. No problem at all with the power rack. Bring the stops up to the appropriate height such that you aren’t hip hinging all the way to the ground.

Any serious strength gym will have at least one power rack. If you are looking to build muscle, a power rack can help point you in the right direction.

4. Kettlebells

In my opinion, no other training implement in the gym is nearly as similar to everyday day life as the beloved kettlebell. Unlike a dumbbell, where the center of gravity points right through the handle, the kettlebell is offset. Rarely in life will you move an object where the mass is so neatly packaged like a dumbbell. It is for this reason that the kettlebell has such a strong correlation to practical life.

Primarily, it is a strength endurance tool. You’ll perform a lot of reps and potentially under a long duration. Alternatively, an exercise like the Turkish get-up is an excellent match with a kettlebell for mobility and sensory motor control.

A discussion on kettlebells can (and will) be a future blog topic, but suffice it to say, the berth of exercises you can do with the venerable kettlebell make it a prerequisite for any gym willing to call itself a training facility.

kettlebell training and what to look for when shopping for a gym

5. Smiling faces

And lastly, when shopping for a gym, look for smiling faces.

This one is obvious, right? For those that consider motivation to be their greatest hurdle when beginning a new fitness regime, coming face to face with an unhappy staffer at the front counter may be reason enough to stay home and stay sedentary.

Remember Howard Shultz, founder of Starbucks advocating the need of a “third place”? Well, the gym is a similar idea. And how can that place be somewhere you would enjoy going to time and time again if the people working there don’t feel the same way?

If the guy or gal working the front counter doesn’t greet you pleasantly before you inquire for membership services, then politely excuse yourself, spin on your heels and walk right out the door you just came in. There are plenty of other gyms working hard to earn your money.


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