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Finding a Gym

Written by admin, Tuesday, July 12th, 2011 in Q&As

I’m in a new city and have way too many options for gyms. What should I look for? I weight lift.

Ooh, fun question.

Instead of giving you some sort of definitive checklist, I’m going to provide bullet points on some major things you want to look out for, both good and bad. While all gyms have their ups and downs (and it’s unlikely you’ll find the perfect place for the perfect price), there are some things you should definitely factor in to your choice:

  • The equipment. This is an obvious one, but make damn sure the place is equipped. At minimum, a good gym that you pay for should have (1) a power rack or a squat rack (preferably the former, which means you can usually remove the guards for ATG squats/benching), (2) a few olympic bars, (3) a solid set or two of weights (ideally with at least 5 or more 45lb plates), (3) a pull-up bar of some sort, (4) a series of dumbbells (ideally up to or exceeding 100lbs/ea), and (5) one or two benches with incline/decline capabilities. Nice, but not entirely necessary, equipment includes stuff like dip stations, various machines, a T-bar row machine, and the like. Don’t be distracted by stupid crap like “top of the line” treadmills or elliptical — the fundamental exercises haven’t changed. Do not look this stuff up on their website — actually go inside the place in order to find out how well they keep up their equipment.
  • The setup. If you are especially sharp-eyed, check out the setup — the way a gym is structured says a lot about its quality. Are there mats in the lifting area? Are you on a ground floor or does the floor appear reinforced? Do staffers routinely clean the padded parts of any available machines? Are the racks/benches too close together for actual use? Little things like this can indicate bigger issues with the gym.
  • The price. Avoid places that try to sell you far in advance like the plague. Lots of gyms (including joints like Planet Fitness) attempt to upsell long-term accounts, attempting to con people into paying for more than they actually use. Legit lifter’s gyms tend to advocate subscription services as well, but not in quite the high-pressure manner. The more crappy classes, tanning booth privileges, and “juice bar” privileges they try to sell you, the more questioning you should be. Ideally, try to find a place that’s legitimately affordable.
  • The people. Check out the gym when it’s crowded. See what kind of people are there. While there will always be deluded fratboys and soccer moms, see if any serious-looking lifters are around. If the weight lifting area looks anemic and no-one’s using it, that’s usually a bad sign (unless it’s unusually equipped and you can monopolize it). If you can, listen in on what any personal trainers are advising their clients — if you hear the words “spot reduction”, get out of there.
  • The atmosphere. If the place is anything like Planet Fitness, avoid it like the plague. Gyms that have “pizza days”, “bagel days” and “candy days” aren’t serious and don’t deserve your money. Places with alarms on the wall to shame lifters should be avoided. Any place exclusively staffed by fat people who don’t actually exercise should be avoided. Places that pimp their own brand of protein or supplements should probably be highly questioned, though a place well stocked with supplements can be a good thing. As a general rule, avoid any place that appears to coddle people into walking on a treadmill for 10 minutes.
  • The location. On a more general note, pick somewhere easy to access. Do they have free and easy to access parking, or are they otherwise easily accessible to you from your place? Find a place that you can easily get to in the worst of weather — because trust me, it won’t always be easy to pry yourself from your computer to go hit the gym.

As a final word, let me make something entirely clear: I’m not trying to imply you should find some sort of perfect overly-clean show-offy gym with the latest equipment. Rather, find somewhere you can simply lift unhindered. Sometimes, the tiniest hole-in-the-wall lifts joint (particularly ones that have been around since the 80s) can be the best option, both financially and exercise-wise. If anything, you should prefer a crappy hole in the wall to any sort of chain gym. Good luck!

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