Q: I’ve been working out for about three years, and I want to get bigger. I’ve been training at home, but now I’m thinking about joining a gym to take advantage of the equipment and also the atmosphere. What type of gym do you like training at, and what are the advantages of training in a gym compared to training at home?
A: When I started training, I began at home. My parents had an extra room in the back of our house, and I got a 110-pound weight set and an adjustable incline bench. I had my dad install a big pipe between the doorway frames in the hallway so I could do wide-grip chins for my back.
I made some good progress training at home for two years; however, most of my gains were in my upper body because I didn’t have any leg equipment at my home gym. I tried to do squats, but I didn’t have a traditional squat rack, so it was very difficult to get the bar into place to do the exercise. As a result, I had skinny legs and a big upper body.
When I finally got my driver’s license at 16, I joined my first gym. I immediately made faster gains because of the wide variety of equipment available there. In addition to the barbell and dumbbell exercises I was doing for my upper body, I got to use cable machines—lat pulldowns and seated cable rows—plus leg extensions and leg curls. I was also able to start training my legs for real with squats, leg presses, hack squats and seated and standing calf raises.
Another big factor at the gym that helped me make progress was working out with other people there. My first training partner, in fact, taught me firsthand how to train with high intensity and push myself to the limit. I believe that pushing yourself to train really hard must be coaxed out of you. Most people stop before they reach their pain threshold. My first training partner was a little bit sadistic, and I think he was trying to get me to quit by pushing me beyond failure. We had several workouts—usually leg workouts—that ended with one or both of us vomiting outside the gym because we trained so hard. I could never have pushed myself that hard if I hadn’t had someone screaming at me to keep going.
Of course, you don’t need to join a gym to have a good training partner. You can set up a fully equipped home gym and train with someone at home. In addition to the large range of equipment available in a commercial gym, however, the main benefit of joining a gym is the atmosphere.
I like a gym where the other members are as serious about training as I am. The gym where I currently work out, the Powerhouse Gym in downtown Tampa, Florida, has many members who not only look great but also train with purpose and intensity. The current Figure Olympia champion, Erin Stern, trains there along with many other IFBB pro figure competitors and top national-level bodybuilders.
When I walk into the Powerhouse Gym to work out, I know I have to be both physically and mentally ready to give it 100 percent. There is such a serious, hardcore atmosphere at the gym that if I don’t train hard and really push myself, I almost feel that I don’t belong there.
Some commercial gyms discourage hard training. One actually has an alarm that sounds if someone is making too much noise or grunting too much during a workout. Others have an atmosphere where the members lounge around and talk more than they work out. Those are the types of gyms you want to stay away from because they’ll suck the energy out of you instead of motivating you to train harder.
If you want to take your training to the next level, visit several gyms in your area and choose the one that you feel has the right combination of top-quality equipment and a serious, hardcore attitude. Being surrounded by men and women who train with a goal in mind for improving their physiques will have a tremendous effect on your motivation, attitude and gains.
Editor’s note: John Hansen has won the Mr. Natural Olympia and is a two-time Natural Mr. Universe winner. Check out his Web site at www.NaturalOlympia.com, or send questions or comments to [email protected] or at P.O. Box 3003, Darien, IL 60561. Look for John’s DVD, “Natural Bodybuilding Seminar and Competitions,” along with his book, Natural Bodybuilding, and his training DVD, “Real Muscle,” at his Web site or at Home Gym Warehouse, www.Home-Gym.com. Listen to John’s new radio show, “Natural Bodybuilding Radio,” at www.NaturalBodybuildingRadio.com. IM