Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How to Pick a Gym

School has started back up, routines are getting set.  The countdown to getting your 'best summer body' has reset again.  Many people pick up where they left off in their training regimen around August or September - or maybe you're deciding it's a good time to just get started at all.  Either way, you've decided to join a gym.

I wrote an article last year about how to pick a personal trainer, but if your first priority is a great facility, starting with this article might be a good idea.  With so many facilities to choose from, and so many different styles, it's hard to know where to start.  Here's how to narrow down your list:

1) Decide what your goals are

If you want to run a marathon, you'd do well to pick a gym that has treadmills available.  If you go to the gym at the popular hours (before 10 AM and after 4-5PM), you'll want to make sure you pick one with a lot of available treadmills, as they are one of the most popular pieces of equipment.

The same applies if you want to get stronger - pick a gym with more than one squat rack, multiple barbells, plenty of plates and dumbbells that go over 45 pounds.  Just looking to improve your health?  A gym with a solid combination of free weights and different forms of available cardio or conditioning equipment (sleds, prowlers, jump ropes, treadmills, bikes, floor space to make your own circuit, etc) would be a good fit.

So. Many. Treadmills.

2) Know what kind of activities you like to do

There are several fitness facilities with specialties, such as LA Boxing, Crossfit affiliates, dojos, yoga studios, etc.  Some will have open hours, others are by class or by appointment only.  Some have a mix of traditional equipment (treadmills, weights) with their speciality equipment while others will only do their specific activity.

If you feel you'd be best motivated by mixing in group classes with your traditional workouts, pick a commercial gym with an expansive group fitness program.  If you want to learn some fighting techniques and feel that would best motivate you to get moving, pick a dojo or boxing gym.

Regardless of what I, or anyone else tell you is "best" to get in good health, the best program is the one you'll do.  If that means sticking with group exercise classes, more power to you for finding something you enjoy!

Did you know: It is near impossible to find a picture of a girl in a sports bra doing any kind of physical activity who doesn't have a 6-pack?

3) What features do you require?

I put this point last for a reason - some features that people think they 'need' can be pretty frivolous.  Depending on how serious you are about changing your body composition or getting stronger, faster, whatever, certain facilities are just plain going to be better at getting the job done that may not mesh well with your job/kids/schedule/etc.  Here are some factors that many take into consideration when picking a facility:

  • Shower Availability - if you work during your lunchbreak or before work, for some this can be necessary.  Most commercial gyms have these and some studios.
  • Childcare - Many big, commercial gyms will have this, but I've never seen it in smaller or private facilities.  
  • Hours - While gyms usually have an array of hours (typically 5:30AM till 8 or 9PM), if you work odd shifts, there are some 24 hour fitness facilities such as Snap Fitness around.  
  • Price - Crossfit is expensive.

Local Area Gyms - The Triangle

If you're a local reader, here are a few of my favorite facilities.  It's a good mixture of commercial, private, and semi-private.  Take a look at these examples to get a feel for the different types of facilities out there, and if you're in the area, consider them for your back-to-school fitness plans!


Empower Personal Training - Private Studio
You know I gotta talk about my own place of work!  Empower is a private personal training studio - one of a few in the area.  If you see a facility with 'studio,' chances are they work by appointment only.  

Empower offers a clean facility with a wide variety of equipment to train populations ranging from 8 to 90+ years of age; ultra-marathon runners, powerlifters, young athletes and everyday people will find the experience and equipment they need.  On top of that, with a small, family-like atmosphere, Empower can help even the most unmotivated of exercisers find the push they need to get to the gym - and find others in the same boat!  Frequent events, promotions and a dedicated staff of personal trainers always available to answer questions or help make Empower a facility to keep coming back to.

RTP Fitness - Commercial
Although recently under new ownership, RTP is a fantastic facility for the amateur or serious weightlifter.  Not only does it provide a wide variety of free weights and strength training equipment, but several serious lifters have been working out here for years.  Never underestimate the power of a good atmosphere on your motivation and progress!  

Reasonable rates with the typical commercial gym accommodations AND one of the best free-weight areas in the city?  Definitely high on my recommendation list for anyone wanting to get in serious shape.

Raleigh Area

Capital Strength & Conditioning - Private and Semi-Private Training focused, select memberships

2422 Atlantic Ave, Raleigh, NC, 27604

Though a relatively new facility in the Raleigh area, Capital Strength & Conditioning already houses quite a bit of square footage filled with all the equipment any serious trainee could want - bands, chains, bumper plates, turf, dynamax balls, kettlebells - the list goes on!  Take 5 minutes to talk to the owner, Matt, and you'll know your body and fitness goals are in good hands.  A great atmosphere with other committed trainees, excellent high-quality equipment, and an owner who is always willing to spot or offer advice, and you've got all you need for success.

Typically the staff works in private one-on-one sessions or small group/semi-private sessions, but they do offer some boot-camp style classes and select memberships.  With extremely reasonable rates for such a high-quality facility, if you live around the capital, it's a good value and definitely worth your time.

Cary / Morrisville

Iron Pit Gym - Group and Semi-Private Training focused, select memberships
Owned and operated by one of the nicest powerlifters I know, Iron Pit Gym is definitely a go-to facility to improve athletic performance, get stronger, and get your head straight.  If I had to make a wish-list of equipment to have in a gym, Iron Pit has every single piece on it, plus a few extras.  The facility boasts an extremely impressive staff - those who have trained under Louie Simmons of powerlifting fame, former strength and conditioning coaches for a variety of professional and college football teams, not to mention they've all walked the walk and can probably out-lift you.  

Iron Pit typically works in group sessions of athletes, though there are some private and semi-private sessions as well.  If you're an experienced lifter, they offer membership rates, though typically they'll test you out first to make sure you know what you're doing!  With great staff, atmosphere and ridiculously reasonable rates, it's definitely worth checking out.

If all else fails, many facilities will offer either free tours or even a couple of free passes for you to get the full effect for yourself!

Have any questions?  Let me know below, and happy gym shopping!


  1. So glad to see Capital Strength listed here. Matt has trained my daughter now for a year to improve her strength and develop her speed for track and field. He now trains my son. They've both emerged as elite athletes at the high school level so you really can't go wrong with Capital Strength.

  2. Thank you for the kind words about my gym! I'm working hard to build a place for strength and power athletes to develop, along with the average jone & jane to learn proper training!