What makes a good gym?

Dumbells in a gymHave you decided to join a gym? Many will do so after the Christmas and New Year excesses. But do you know what gym to join? Do you know what to look for when choosing a gym? Read on to find out what makes a good gym and share your own thoughts below.

Geographical proximity

You first need to find a gym that is close to where you live or work. You don’t want to have to travel for 1 hour each way just to reach the gym. That will be enough for you to lack motivation. (Read this piece on Arnie and motivation by the way if you lack motivation.) On the other hand, if you live next door to your gym, you might find that you keep popping there every time you have a free half hour!

Don’t pay for freebies

Having shortlisted all the gyms within a certain radius of your home or workplace, you should now see what they each have to offer and how much they charge. If you are not into aerobic classes, swimming pools, spinning classes, MMA (mixed martial arts) and all this fancy stuff, watch out. If your gym membership includes many of those for free, then the price is certainly included in your membership and you are in reality paying for these while not using them. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

The same applies for gyms that offer free coffee, free sunbeds, saunas, steam rooms and so on. If you use them, you might be getting value for money but otherwise you are paying for something that you are not using. The problem is that many gyms nowadays offer all of these so you will be hard-pressed to find a basic one without ‘freebies’.

The right equipment for you

We are now getting closer to the heart of the matter. What are you joining the gym for? To use the treadmill mostly? For the latest cardio machine? Are you going to spend 1 hour on the stationary bike followed by 10 minutes at the cable station? If so, then you need to make sure that the gym has the right equipment for your needs, in this case, an adequate collection of cardio machines.

Free weights

If on the other hand, you are serious about building muscles, then you will need a fully equipped free weights area. Beware of gyms that try to be women-friendly. These will have mostly machines, cable stations and just a few bars, benches and weight plates. Few women like to lift free weight so these gyms don’t concentrate on that, much to women’s own losses as they don’t get encouraged to use free weights as a result.

What sort of free weight equipment do you need? First of all, a full set of compact, non-interchangeable dumbbells in increments of 2 kg. You should also see a few adjustable benches from incline to flat to decline positions. A squat rack or powercage is also important for squats. You also want to see a Smith machine and finally plenty of bars and plates. Fortunately, many gyms have all of these albeit benches and bars can be limited.


Something that is hard to find these days is a gym where the free weights area is very close to the machines. Many city centre gyms, due to limited floor space, have the machines area and the free weights area on separate floors. This is very inconvenient for those doing circuit training, supersets or giant sets.  These all involve doing one or more exercises back to back. So you might want to do the barbell row followed by the pulldown immediately but if the pulldown machine is on the other floor, you waste valuable time going up and down stairs and might even find the machine taken by someone else. If you are doing circuit training, it could be worse. Barbell row, followed by pulldown, followed by bench press and pec deck. You’ll be going up and down stairs alternating between machines and free weights. No, not really; what happens in this case is that you end up adapting your workout to what’s there. So your circuit training or superset will contain just machines or free weight exercises.

Peak hour

Peak hours are usually in the afternoon in weekdays. You want to make sure there are enough benches, weights and machines for you if you are going to train during this time. Otherwise you might find that you are paying a membership while you can’t have access to the equipment. Even the best equipped gym will fail you if it takes too many members and you don’t have adequate access to the equipment.

What can happen also is that you end up modifying your workout because a bench or a bar is not available when you need it. This happens all the time and cannot be prevented if you are sharing a gym, i.e. you don’t have your home gym. However, to what extent are you prepared to modify your routine? Did you enter the gym today intent on working your chest, only to end up working your back? Or did you do only machine exercises because all the bars and benches were taken? Find out how far you are prepared to change your workout routines. After all, you will be paying to use the gym. Do you want to pay for a membership only to end up not doing the routine that you wanted?

To summarise,

  • Look for a gym close to your place
  • Make sure you pay for what you want, not for freebies you don’t need
  • The gym should have the equipment to achieve your goal
  • The free weight area should be close to machines
  • There should be enough equipment for all during peak times

You might not be able to get all of these, especially if there are few gyms in your area. But a gym is better than no gym. However, it should not be too much to ask for the above and if a gym is serious about its members building muscles, it should provide all these at a minimum and more. What do you think makes a good gym in your opinion?

1 thought on “What makes a good gym?

  1. I do not agree with your comments about price for membership. Very often big fitness clubs are ofering lower price comparing to a small club with the same equipment or the same price comparing with a small home club with fewer equipments and no facilities like sauna, steam room and free tea and coffee. The other important thing to consider would be also to decide for how long we will be able to commit for using the gym, e.g if we will move out of the city we would still have to pay for the gym without using unless we would choose the gym which we can also find in many other cities.

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