“It doesn’t matter if you’re going to the gym five times a week if you’re not getting better, so what makes a good gym?“
The other day I was talking to a mate about a gym I had trained at (I manage to turn the majority of my conversations with people into talking about training), and I told him that I thought that it was a really good gym. He asked me what I meant by that; how would I define a good gym. I didn’t have a ready answer. I knew which ones I thought were a good place to train, and which weren’t, but I had to have a think about an actual definition.
After thinking about it, I came up with same definition that I would use to define a good program: it is one that brings you closer to your goals. Now this seems pretty obvious, but I know many people who forget it. Firstly, I mean that you have to be seeing results from your training, or it’s not a good gym. How many people have been going to the same gym for a year, two years, even three years, and look, feel and perform the same as when they started. The thing about fitness is that it’s not about how much work you’re putting in, it’s about the results that you’re getting. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to the gym five times a week if you’re not getting better. Don’t think about your training as a price you have to pay to not feel guilty, think about it the same as taking a class or doing a course. At the end of it, you have to have measurably improved or you’re just wasting your time. If your gym or trainer isn’t getting you better, it’s time to move on.
Secondly, notice that I defined a good gym as bringing you closer to your goals. When I say better, that’s what I mean. Closer to the goals that you have decided on. It doesn’t matter if the spin class that was originally really hard is now easy, if your goal is fat loss. A spin class is just a means to an end for you, and not an end in itself. The same is true if your goals have to do with sports performance. It doesn’t matter if you’re now better at doing Crossfit circuits if they haven’t gotten you any better on the field. Now, if your goals have to do with strength, then getting a bigger squat and deadlift are important measures. So a good gym will not only bring you closer to your goals, they will also ensure that you’re measuring progress in the right things.
But there’s more to being a good gym than effective training. A good gym will educate their members. Remember, it’s your body, your health, and your fitness. You’ve got it for a lifetime – literally. So it’s worthwhile learning a little about it. You know your body better than your coach, and only you know what you’re feeling. The reason I educate people about recovery and nutrition is because I can’t look over their shoulder 24/7. If someone wants to drop some bodyfat, and they’re out there sucking down Big Macs because they don’t know any better, it’s on me to educate them. That way they can make better choices.
Education goes hand-in-hand with my next point: the why. Your coach should be able to justify why you’re doing what you’re doing. If you ask him why you’re going to deadlift, he should be able to come up with a better answer than “Cause they’re, um… good?”
Now, depending on your goals, he might talk about increased athletic performance, he might talk about injury-proofing, he might talk about improving posture, but he should have a good reason why. Be wary of trainers who don’t.
A good gym should have a good culture. Walk into an outstanding gym, and you can feel the vibe as soon as you come throught the door. The people there are motivated, they’re happy because they’re making progress, and they’re enjoying the training. John Welbourn talks about it in his article Mecca of Power. He’s talking about strength and power athletes, but anywhere really good will have a certain feel to it.
Not only will it have a good culture because of this, it will have a good sense of community. I’m friends with people I originally only knew because their lifting sessions overlapped mine when I was training under Coach Pete. We used to watch each other’s sets, offer advice, seek advice, joke around, motivate each other, spot sets, help unload bars, and generally have fun training together. What we didn’t have a bunch of strangers who all had iPods in and ignored each other.
Have a hard think about your current gym or trainer. How do they stack up with progression appropriate to your goals, education, justification, culture, and community? If you’re missing several of these, it might be time to see if there’s somewhere better.
Tune in next week for a special article where I talk about one of the most inspirational men I’ve ever met; a true Australian hero.