I’ve exercised in a wide variety of gyms over the last 15 years. Everything from high school weight rooms to terrible hotel gyms to “hardcore” gyms.
When I examine all of the features of each gym, such as:
- The location
- The size of the gym
- The overall cleanliness
- The equipment selection
- The customer service of the staff
- Whether it has a cardio cinema or other fancy amenities
The one thing I find that matters most is the gym environment.
Well… that is assuming you want to make steady progress.
If you just want to break a sweat and stay in decent shape, any gym will do. In fact, any form of exercise will do.
However, if you’re overweight and you’ve struggled to lose weight for years — the gym environment matters.
If you’re a Skinny Benny who can’t seem to put on any muscle — the gym environment matters.
If you want to dramatically transform your body — you’re better off in a gym environment suited for aggressive action.
I’m not saying you can’t get great results in a Planet Fitness. You can get results anywhere.
I’m saying that your gym’s atmosphere makes a significant enough difference that it’s worth heavy consideration when selecting a gym.
Below are my thoughts on why your gym environment matters.
You Naturally Adapt to Your Surroundings
Humans are highly adaptable.
We’ve made it this far throughout history, haven’t we?
Not only do we possess an incredible natural ability to adapt to our environment, we’ve been
trained brainwashed from the time we are little kids to fit into whatever environment we’re in.
That can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the environment.
Imagine you walk into a typical box gym like Gold’s or LA Fitness. What do you see?
A clean gym with every type of machine imaginable. Lots of people. Most of them are pretty average-looking, but they seem to be fit and healthy overall.
There’s never a line for the squat racks. There are some strong people in the room, but no one is pushing weight like the people you watch on YouTube.
If you’re consistent with your diet and training, it won’t take long before you are one of the most fit guys or girls in the gym anytime you go.
You’re definitely one of the strongest.
All of a sudden, it feels like you don’t need to put in as much effort because you’re already ahead of the game. If the average gym-goer is in better shape than the average person, and you’re more in shape than the average gym-goer… well, there’s no need to push it too hard, you’re already winning.
Obviously, you don’t have to have that mindset when going to a box gym, but you can certainly see how easy it is to fall into that line of thinking.
On the other hand, when you walk into a powerlifting gym or any other gym with serious lifters, you get a very different experience.
There’s typically way fewer machines and fewer people, but somehow they manage to have more squat racks.
Not everyone looks jacked and tan, but most people look like they pick heavy things up and set them down often.
And everyone has their training on point.
You will see people lift unimaginable amounts of weight with ease, while you struggle with their warm-up.
On one hand, it’s incredibly humbling, and we could all use a dose of humility. On the other hand, it’s inspiring to see the potential humans have and what we’re capable of.
When everyone around you lifts heavy weight with ease, the weight no longer looks as heavy or intimidating. It becomes normal.
Before long, as you always have before, you slowly adapt to your new environment and get stronger.
Better Barbells = Better Gym Environment
The gyms with the best atmosphere typically don’t have a lot of machines, or the machines are old and rusty, but they usually have great barbells.
I never knew there was much difference between one barbell and another. I figured one 45-pound barbell was the same as any other 45-pound barbell of any other brand.
Then I deadlifted with a Rogue Ohio Deadlift Bar and I realized there is a big difference.
The grip is more aggressive (no slipping), it’s wider which allows for a wide stance (sumo deadlift), it has more give to it which allows you to “pull out the slack”, and it can hold more weight.
Check out their promo video:
The same goes for bench pressing on a competition bench. Normal benches just don’t feel as stable after benching on a competition bench. The pad is wider and thicker, providing more support for your shoulders.
While box gyms tend to invest more in machines, serious gyms invest more in strength equipment.
It’s not that machines aren’t effective, but they aren’t as effective as the basic compound movements. A gym that caters more towards someone who wants to use barbells and dumbbells over machines is a gym that encourages you to get better results.
Box gyms aren’t what you could describe as an “intense environment.”
That’s not to say that you can’t get an intense workout there, but you will definitely stand out from the crowd, and quite frankly a lot of people in those gyms don’t like it when people are intense with their training. Hence the “lunk alarm.”
Intensity is an important element of training, and it’s one of the most difficult to sustain consistently.
There will be days when you feel weaker. There will be days when you feel tired. And there will be days when you just don’t feel like it.
In a laid back gym environment, you’re going to take it easy on all of those days.
But walking into an intense gym immediately hits you like a shot of espresso. You’re here to train.
Sometimes you need to grunt or exhale loudly to push through when you barely have the strength or energy. Sometimes it just feels good to drop those heavy ass weights after a long set instead of setting them down gently.
I personally don’t grunt and yell with every set, and I rarely slam my weights (except on my final rep of deadlifts as a victory cry) — but I prefer working out in an environment where no one cares if I do.
And I like it when other people are struggling and screaming and experiencing the joy of banging the weights around.
It creates an intense vibe that’s contagious. When the “normal” is intensity, we get more intense.
Positive Vibes Lead to More Gains
Last but not least, a great gym culture has positive vibes.
Everyone encourages each other, pushes each other to get stronger, and they don’t give unproductive criticism.
I’ve met plenty of nice people in different gyms all over the country, but only certain types of gyms really have that uplifting culture going for them.
I’ve seen countless gyms full of douchebags and insecure people constantly comparing themselves to everyone else around. It’s terrible.
If you’ve never sought out a gym with more of a community feel, I encourage you to give it a try.
It’s a completely different experience than training at gyms full of frat boys and Zyzz wannabes.
Of course, the best gym environment won’t guarantee your success. You still have to put in the work and train effectively.
That’s why I created a free guide, Zero to Fit, to help you do so. Enter your email address below and I’ll send you a copy.
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What do you think? Do you agree, disagree or have any thoughts to add? Let me know in the comments below.
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