There are lots of gyms around the world tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands yet there aren’t many great gyms in the world or places with a great atmosphere. I’ve been in a few gyms in my time and I can probably name on one hand the gyms that had something about them.
It can be hard to pinpoint exactly what makes a gym special to train in at the end of the day they are just indoor spaces with weig
hts and machines. Yet without a doubt there are some gym that just have a personality of an air about them and there are some that have no atmosphere or character.
Here are some of the factors that I think go into making a great place to go to and train
This for me is the number one most important thing when it comes to creating a good environment. The right people will bring the right vibe and intensity to the space the wrong people will get in the way and completely kill any sort of atmosphere that might be possible. In a good gym people know each other and are friendly to each other they don’t all just wonder around with headphones on or awkwardly wait for the rack to clear as the person performs their workout. They say hello and generally have a chit chat with pretty much everyone that uses the space.
In a good gym when someone goes for a big lift someone will offer to spot without having to be asked people will stop to watch and yell encouragement if you need it. In a bad gym people will be pissed off that you have asked them to spot them and they might even make it a dangerous place to be by trying to come to your rack to get something off it walking spine shatteringly close to your barbell.
A lot of the people or culture of the people in the gym is driven from the top down if the owner of the gym or the staff are welcoming, have time to talk to the members it sets a president that this is what happens in this gym and it has a trickle down effect. A lot of the bad culture in gym when it comes to the people can again be top down as in the staff or owner doesn’t give a shit and only interacts with members on a negative or punitive ways to tell them they have done something wrong.
Groups or clichés with in gyms are also a double edged sword you can get a group of lifters who workout together and feed off each other but are chilled and talk to other people these groups are awesome and will really lift up the gym. Then you get groups who are insular and only talk amongst themselves hog equipment and generally have an “air” about them these groups are poisonous to your gym environment and should be actively integrated with your gym culture so they don’t put other people off or give your space a bad reputation.
The level of the people you train with is also massively important you have no doubt heard that training with stronger people is one of the best ways to get better it gets repeated so much that it is in the region of being a cliché. That is because it is hugely true rather than trying to stop strong lifters joining into your groups get as many in as you can if you have the right sort of people in a training group and have good lifters in that mix you will have something really special on your hands.
The correct people can make any training space awesome but if you haven’t got the people yet you can make your space awesome. The more open your space can be the better although small dungeon type gyms can be ideal for small training groups, garage gyms or small clubs for larger training spaces or groups having a big open space is the ideal since it allows for the best flow of people and the safest environment for lifting. If you have the space to have a good amount of space between platforms and racks you should use it as it will stop a lot of problems that can come with a cramped gym space.
Regardless of what a lot of the hard core meatheads might think having it airy, bright neutral colours and ideally some nice big windows or roller doors can also really add to the space. Coming into a grimy dungeon gym is cool 1-2x a year for something different but training in a place like that especially if it’s dark can get really depressing and make you not want to spend time there especially if the weather is shit outside.
Having a definite flow and use for the space really helps as well where the plates have a definite order, the bars have a defined home and the racks are utilised correctly and not for curls.
A lot of things go into creating a good atmosphere if you have the right people than this will most likely take care of itself but other things go into getting the training atmosphere right. Having people all on song when it comes to the session really helps to create a vibe if everyone does squats on the same day and are going heavy regardless of the music the place is going to light up as everyone gets behind each other. This is one of the primary reasons why clubs can generate such a good vibe one training days and other gyms where people just do what they want when they want struggle because no one is on the same wave length.
Getting the music right is also a huge thing for a gym whilst the hard-core death metal or trance might work really well for some lifters they are going to piss off or actively detract from some lifter’s workouts so it is essential to pitch it correctly to the crowd. If the music is too loud it makes communicating very hard and if it is to low then it may as well not be on. Getting the group to come up with a playlist together and playing it at the right level can really bring the session to life.
One of the big things that kills the gym vibe is when people are on their own mission as we have stated above in atmosphere. When you have a group of power lifters getting into a heavy squat workout or a group of weightlifters getting into a max session in the gym it gets really easy to get some competition and support going in the gym. Since most people are working in and there is a context to the training everyone is going for the same intensity sets and reps then you get more eyes on people training and more context which adds to the generation of atmosphere.
When people have the same working space and group they also become at ease much more easily and they get to develop their own training dynamic. You end up getting little islands of atmosphere in the wider gym which can all add into a bigger and more positive buzz since people will be happier and generally will work harder.
Not only does it help to have everyone on the same page when it comes to their training but there will also be much better utilisation of equipment and space which means less waiting for kit and a much safer environment normally so the benefits are multi-factorial.
The who, where, what and how of your training can be much more influential on your progress than your training programme or supplement routine. You will hear it time and time again that training with stronger training partners was the best thing that so and so did for their strength levels. The same carries through for the factors above the better they are the more motivated you will be and the better your training will be. If you are a gym owner or trainer and aren’t looking to maximise the above factors than you are missing a huge trick for the performance levels of your athletes or clients.