Going to a gym might be your only option for summer workouts. School is out and your school’s weight room might be closed.
Something to consider: The gym where you train could make or break your results. For example, if a gym has few equipment options or is always packed, it could be hard to get in good, quality workouts.
Here are 10 questions you should ask when choosing a gym. Where you end up ultimately depends on your preferences, but it’s important to think of these things before signing on the dotted line.
1. Does it have plenty of free weights?
Many gyms try to impress clients with a crazy amount of cardio equipment and nifty machines. We’ve even seen a gym that had a movie theater with treadmills in it. Cool, but not much good for athletes.
Often, fewer machines is a sign that a gym is better suited for athletes. You want to see plenty of barbells, plates, dumbbells and kettlebells. These are the tools you will use to get bigger and stronger. Cable machines are also versatile and useful when used correctly; however, we suspect you won’t have a problem finding one of these in a gym.
Other popular equipment: plyo boxes, resistance bands, chains, suspension trainers.
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2. Does it have a squat rack?
This is so important it deserves its own category. Squat racks are used all the time in performance training programs. You can do Squats, Barbell Lunges, Split Squats, Rack Pulls, Push Presses, Overhead Presses and many other exercises in a squat rack (a.k.a. a power rack). Ideally, your gym should have more than one so you can do your exercises even on a busy day. And no, a Smith machine doesn’t count.
3. Is it set up for Olympic lifts?
If your program calls for Olympic lifts, you should go to a gym that has the appropriate equipment. Some facilities don’t even allow these lifts. The most important things: you need space to do these explosive movements and you need bumper plates that are designed to be dropped. A lifting platform is ideal, but not 100cpercent necessary.
4. Can you do speed workouts?
If your program calls for speed work, you need enough space to do your drills. Many facilities have turf or an open area or a parking lot where you can move around freely. If you don’t have access to something like this, you may need to find a separate field or track where you can do your speed workouts outdoors. Without adequate space, dynamic warm-ups can be problematic, because they often call for exercises performed over the course of 10 to 20 yards.
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5. Is there room for core exercises?
Most gyms have an area where you can do core exercises and maybe stretch. This isn’t absolutely critical, because you can do these exercises in any open space, but it makes life easier.
6. Are you able to train like an athlete?
An athlete training program is not a silent endeavor. We don’t advise screaming unnecessarily like a meathead, but from time to time the weights may clang off the floor or you may grunt during a heavy Squat. Beware of gyms that frown upon or ban any noise above normal chatter.
7. What is the staff’s specialty?
This one is for athletes who are planning to work with a trainer or coach. Look for a strength coach who specializes in working with athletes. A fitness-oriented trainer may be able to help, but you should work with someone who is an expert in performance training. Also, many such experts can offer initial assessments, such as the Functional Movement Screen, which identifies mobility limitations and muscle imbalances to help prevent long-term injuries.
8. How crowded is it?
A crowded gym is miserable. You walk in and you’re greeted by a sea of people swarming around the equipment you want to use. You either need to alter your training program entirely or leave the premises. Admittedly, good gyms are often crowded, especially at peak hours. That’s just the nature of the beast. But hopefully yours is designed in such a way that you can still get your work done. If worse comes to worst, find a time during the day when you can train during off-peak hours.
9. What types of memberships are available?
With most gym memberships, you can show up any time you want. Some gyms are even open 24 hours a day. This type of membership is perfect if you want to do your own thing and have your own program. Smaller gyms or performance training facilities usually have specific time slots when you need to go, because you get extra attention from a trainer and because of space limitations.
10. What type of person trains there?
This one is a personal preference, but it’s something to think about. Do you want to go to a gym where folks are just looking to get fit? Or where meatheads are trying to get huge? Or where other athletes are trying to get better? Ideally, that last one is your choice. It’s important to surround yourself with other people who are working toward similar goals and have winning mindsets. That might help you push when you need it the most.
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