First off, my thoughts and prayers are with all who were affected by Hurricane Sandy yesterday as it churned up the entire Eastern seaboard. I have many friends in New York, New Jersey, and Long Island who are now dealing with power outages and massive flooding. My own daughter attends college in New York City and went to stay with her roommate's family in Long Island - which was not much better off.
We dodged a bullet in most of Massachusetts, with the exception of many parts of Cape Cod. Events like this just serve to remind us that as evolved and in control as we human beings think we are, we are still really at mercy to the awesome power of natural disasters. Again, I hope the best for all of you who were hit by Sandy.
I also want to congratulate my training partner Rick Bencomo on a job well done. On October 20th, he won the Open Men's Middleweight as well as the Masters Lightweight and Overall titles at the NPC Eastern Cup in New Haven, CT. One week later at the NPC New England Championships, Rick once again triumphed as the Overall Masters Champion at 44 years young, and took second in the Open Middleweights. Next up for him - same as me, the NPC Masters Nationals next July in Pittsburgh!
Now, on to today's topic. Often I get emails from people either visiting a new city or moving there, wanting to know if I can point them toward the best gym in the area. Sometimes I do have an answer, but not always. There aren't a ton of well-known 'bodybuilding gyms' around anymore. The gym business has definitely gone more mainstream and corporate over the last 10-15 years.
If you can find a Powerhouse Gym, any of those are going to be good. Many Gold's Gyms are also still well-equipped and haven't yet turned into 'family fitness' type places. There aren't a lot of Metroflex Gyms yet, but those are all excellent. Beyond that there are a lot of smaller independently owned gyms scattered around the USA that are perfect for a bodybuilder to train at. If you know of any competitive bodybuilders who live in the area, your best bet is to ask where they train. Chances are that they all have gravitated toward the two or three best gyms around.
Whatever you do, forget about training at a Planet Fitness. You would actually be better off in your garage or basement with a bench and some free weights than you would be there. It's not that the equipment is complete crap, but the corporate policy actually discriminates against bodybuilders, or anyone who actually wants to train hard and improve. I've ranted before about their insulting TV commercials and their stupid 'lunk alarm' that goes off if any member makes 'too much noise' while training. Essentially, PF is a chain that markets itself as a very inexpensive place where you can go just to say you 'go to the gym,' and can feel good about not exerting any real effort or making any attempt to improve your body. You know what? F**k Planet Fitness.
So, here are some things you should look for in a prospective gym if you are a bodybuilder or aspire to be one.
1. Good equipment
Sure, all you need is weight, but at the same time you should have some good options. First up, look for dumbbells that go at least to pairs of 120 if not 150. 200's would be wonderful, but the reality is that very few gyms have dumbbells that heavy, mainly because very few people really need them. Look for a few flat bench presses, an incline and a decline press, and a bench for seated barbell presses. Also look for at least one power rack. After you check out the free weights, see if there's a Smith machine and at least a few Hammer Strength machines as well as a variety of machines with selector stacks, such as a leg extension, lying and seated leg curls. There should also be a good leg press, hack squat, standing or donkey calf raise, and a seated calf raise. Look for a cable station where you can do crossovers, seated rows, and lat pulldowns. Good chin-up and dip bars are also on my 'must have' list. As for the cardio machines, that depends on what you like and need. Many of us find the StepMill so effective that we won't join a gym that doesn't have one.
2. Price and convenience
A great gym is worth paying for, but if you're on a tight budget you will have to shop around. Convenience is also an issue. How far is the place from where you live or work? How late are they open? Many gyms now are open 24 hours. If you don't get out of work until 6 and have a 90-minute commute home, a gym that closes at 9 PM might be a bad idea.
I know it's considered 'hardcore' by some to have a filthy gym, but personally I don't want to catch hepatitis or strep when I'm working out. The first thing I look at is the bathroom, because that should be the one area that's kept clean and stocked with toilet paper, paper towels, etc. When I see a filthy bathroom with toilets that haven't been cleaned, say, ever; there is no way I am joining that gym. It shows you the owner or owners simply don't care about the members. The same can be said about equipment being maintained properly and repaired. Unfortunately, those are often things you won't know until you've already joined. But suffice to say, if the gym is a pigsty; it's highly doubtful the equipment is being taken care of as it should.
This is a bit harder to define, but nonetheless you should look for it. Good gyms have a certain energy at peak hours. You sense a common purpose among the members. Look to see how hard the members train, and how the others regard them. Is it with respect and admiration, or jealousy and disdain? Are there at least a few very well-built men and women there? If it's a pretty good gym, there should be.
Those are the main things to look for in a good gym. Have a fun and safe Halloween tomorrow!