Maybe you just moved to a new city, or are moving to one soon. Or maybe you aren’t going anywhere; you’re just not happy with the gym where you’re training right now and feel it’s time for a change. So where should you go—and how will you find the right gym for you?
Social-media referrals. In the old days you would have picked up the Yellow Pages and looked up “gyms” and “health clubs.” Now you turn to Google or Yahoo to find names and locations, but if you’re reading IRON MAN, chances are you’re a little more discriminating about where you build your physique. Your best bet is to ask around on Facebook and Twitter. If you’re like me, the majority of your friends and followers are fellow fitness enthusiasts. You may also belong to groups on Facebook that are specifically for those who prioritize training in their lives. So ask around. Very often someone can recommend at least one great gym if not several in whatever area you need. Once you have a few possible candidates for your membership, it’s time to narrow down your choices by way of some important criteria.
Location and hours. First, because you probably go to the gym a minimum of four days a week, convenience is key. Is it close to where you live or work? Time is money for most of us these days—which means that if there’s a truly excellent gym but it will take you an hour or more to get there and another hour back, it’s probably not worth it—unless you have that kind of time on your hands and don’t mind all the driving.
The hours a gym is open are an important factor as well. Twenty-four-hour gyms have become more common in recent years, which is obviously the optimal. Some gyms open up at about 6 a.m. and close between 9 and 11 p.m. That’s fine for most people, but your particular schedule and the daily demands on it (work, school, kids) may dictate that you often need to get to the gym a lot earlier or later than most folks do.
Price. Are the membership rates within your budget? The big chain clubs like Planet Fitness are very cheap, but you get what you pay for in terms of equipment, not to mention the fact that hard-training types are not welcome. Better gyms for those of us who take our training seriously will have more and better equipment—much more, much better—and so they’ll charge more. Also remember that it’s always cheaper to pay cash up front for a year than it is to pay monthly.
Equipment. This is my most important factor because I’m an admitted equipment snob. Readers who have been training for many years probably are too, whether you realize it. I like to use certain types of machines that work well for me and give just the right feel, and I look for them everywhere I go.
Of course, all the basics need to be available: flat, incline and seated benches; plenty of barbells and dumbbells (I frown if they don’t go up to at least 150); a power rack; a Smith machine; chinup and dip stations. If you can’t train on the equipment that you like and need, you’re not going to be happy there. Take a very good look at what a gym has to see if it fits your needs.
Cleanliness. I don’t need a gym to be spotless and sterile, and in fact I don’t like them to be so clean that you’re afraid to let a drop of sweat hit the floor. On the other hand, who wants to train in filth and squalor? There should be spray bottles and paper towels available to wipe down machines and benches. The bathrooms should be clean and stocked with toilet paper, with all toilets functioning. Basically, you shouldn’t have to worry about catching a nasty bacterial infection every time you go to the gym, and you should be able to use the bathroom without gagging.
Atmosphere. Finally, visit the gym during peak hours and take a good look around. Are there others who are training hard and with purpose? Or is everyone gossiping, trying to get laid or glued to a smart phone? You want to train somewhere that attracts a fair number of like-minded individuals who are there to work hard and improve. If that quality is going to make you an outcast, it probably isn’t the gym for you. Once you do find a place where others have similar goals and support and motivate each other, you’re golden!
Editor’s note: Ron Harris is the author of Real Bodybuilding—Muscle Truth From 25 Years in the Trenches, available at www.RonHarrisMuscle.com. To reach him via Twitter, Instagram: @RonHarrisMuscle; YouTube: