Why is it so hard to find a good gym?
When I move to a new place the number 2 thing on my priority list after accommodation is finding a place to train.
I’ve moved quite a few times in the last few years, and as a result I’ve checked out and trained in a lot of different gyms. But it has always taken me a long time to find somewhere that I think is fit for purpose.
By that, I mean equipped to allow you to do the exercises that will benefit you no matter what your fitness goals.
You could say that I’m not an ordinary customer and that I have some specific requirements, which could be true.
You could say that maybe there are a variety of different gyms that cater for different things: you might not find one that caters to your specific needs.
But what I noticed is that there is pretty much an industry standard, at least in commercial gyms which hold the lions share of the market.
We’ve all seen it: everything is shiny and new, but the floor space is dominated by treadmills and machines. If you’re lucky you can find a corner where there’ll be a few dumbbells and a couple of weight plates, with barely any room to work with.
What is bizarre is that it is usually these free weight areas that get rammed with people in the after work rush hour.
You’d think that it would be in the gym managements interests to dedicate some more room for the proper stuff and get rid of some of those machines that take up all the floor space, even if they do work the muscles in your little finger from 3 different angles.
All I want is some space to move, a squat rack, a few bars and enough weight plates.
Why is it so hard to find a gym that promotes free weight training?
The reason is that the modern generic gym template is drawn up by business people, not anyone who actually cares about you getting fit.
It is truly incredible some of the stuff that has become common sense to the general public due to fitness marketing: you can turn fat to muscle, you can target reduce fat from certain areas, women shouldn’t touch heavy weights otherwise they’ll get bulky.
Deadlifts and squats are dangerous and cause injury, balancing on wobbly balls will give you an intense ab workout etc…
It can be pretty confusing and can start thinking: why is there so much different equipment? What is the reason for it all?
You can’t make a lot of money from just selling barbells and plates. How many different ways can you design a barbell? But machines and equipment, that’s a different story.
How about designing and selling £500 machines for each separate body part that you can re-design and ‘upgrade’ every few years?
Then promote them in gyms as the easy, safe, comfortable way to results. Same goes for treadmills, steppers and all the other expensive ways for you to walk or run on the spot.
It’s not like modern gym owners aren’t aware of the benefits of a barbell and some weights. They just know machines and treadmills sell better.
I get that from a business perspective. Differentation from other gyms comes from being able to show off the ‘latest’ technology or newest ‘revolutionary’ way to train and get results quick.
It’s a hell of lot easier to explain how those three machines work than try and explain the technical aspects of a power clean.
But to me, I think commercial gyms are selling people short.
Who’s to say that if you show people a bar and some plates they won’t be motivated and intrigued to learn how to do it properly?
What about the people who would like to do it the ‘hard’ way but aren’t presented the option the first time they go to a gym?
Most of the time when people join a gym it is their first experience of weights, training and the fitness world.
They are ready to believe what the instructor says, because they are relying on them as being the experts, which is perfectly normal and understandable.
But by pushing this ‘easy’ version of getting fit commercial gyms are doing a disservice to their clients and the image of the fitness industry as a whole.
The myths and misconceptions will continue to orbit. And what’s worse is that people will continue to not get the results they want, whilst wasting ever more money on useless routines and gyms that aren’t providing them the tools with which to achieve them.
I’m not saying that all equipment that isn’t a barbell and weight is useless.
I’m saying that far from being the preserve of ‘hardcore meatheads’ and the male gender, free-weight training (i.e. not weights fixed to machines) can be beneficial for everyone, and are probably the best and quickest way of getting results, be it fat loss or muscle gain.
What’s more regular training with free weights promotes flexibility, core strength and bone health.
And yes, I’m including the older members: if anything weight training is perhaps more important for them in terms of reducing the effects of the aging process on things like bone density, posture and general flexibility.
Weight training does take a bit of time to learn properly. It is not as shiny and ‘revolutionary’ as the new ‘wobble-board ab blaster extreme’ in the corner.
It is potentially a harder sell to new members, because of these reasons.
But if mainstream gyms and health clubs decided to embrace and promote the benefits of free-weight training, they could help to change the mainstream narrative and begin to undo some of the fitness misconceptions out there when it comes to the best way of reaching your goals.
Gym membership costs could come down, because its is less expensive to maintain robust equipment than it is machines.
People could actually start getting the results they want and stop searching for the next new fad or ‘secret’ regime.
In short, a lot of people could end up wasting a lot less money.