There are many different types of gyms and training out there and it is very easy to get lost in all the options. I want to help people find the right gym for them. I have to first say that I am a little biased in that I run a small group personal training gym (also called semi private but we will get into that later), so I tend to push people that way but it is not always the best option for everyone. So let's dive into it; we will go over the type of membership and the type of training that goes on in each of these gyms.
1. The Membership Gym:
This is your typical 24 Hour Fitness, Gold’s Gym, LA fitness, Planet Fitness. At most of these gyms, the whole point is to make sure that you buy a membership for a long term and never really use it. Unless you sign up for personal training the accountability and motivation is on you, and most people just don’t have enough to get to the gym as often as they need to, to actually get results. I am not trying to throw any of these business models under the bus, but the fact of the matter is that a lot of them have hundreds of thousands of dollars in overhead that they have to come up with every month and if all the people that they signed up actually used the gym there would not be enough room for them to even walk around. If you are looking for a membership and you think you will use all the amenities like the pool or basketball court, cardio equipment or showers then this is a great option for you. There are some cheaper options out there but they have less amenities and might not even have showers but if all you are looking for is a place to do cardio and lift weights they are out there, just less common.
The Personal Training:
The training at most of these big box gyms is one-on-one training where you will meet with a member of the sales staff and they will sell you a package of personal training and drop the hourly rate if you buy more sessions in one sitting. A majority of the time this person you meet with initially is not qualified to even talk to you about training. This is just a sales guy trying to make a commission by using hard sales tactics and selling you into a training package that you are not even sure you want in the first place. You will then meet with a trainer that is not actually required by the facility to even have a certification of any kind, and if they are, it is a certification that is the bare minimum in terms of education. These staff members are, in most cases, paid minimum wage or a little bit above that and the turnover rate ends up being really high. I have witnessed (because my first job was at one of these gyms) and heard horror stories from countless numbers of clients that have experienced training at these gyms about trainers yelling at clients, texting during sessions, not paying any attention to their clients, showing up late or not even showing up at all. There are some big boxes that actually hire qualified staff. These gyms normally call themselves “athletic clubs”. I have known most athletic clubs to hire college-educated trainers and pay them well. So, if you are looking for one-on-one personal training then an athletic club is one good option.
The Group Training:
Group training at most of the big boxes is done in large class settings. Classes like spin, boot camps, body pump or yoga. These classes are structured so that the instructor is doing the class in front of the group so you get little to no correction or attention from that instructor. If you want to get a cardio workout in a large group this may be a good option for you, though I do not suggest lifting weights in a large group such as this. Some big boxes offer small group personal training as it is becoming more popular, but I have not seen much and it seems to be relatively unorganized and is dependent on the one trainer that is running it and not the gym.
2. The 24 hour access gym:
Not to be confused with 24 Hour Fitness (gym franchise/chain) which is technically a 24 hour access gym. A 24 hour access gym or a “key card” gym like an Anytime Fitness or Snap Fitness. These gyms are variable depending on what the owner wants to do with their franchise. They vary in size and equipment but the one thing they all have in common is that you can use them at any time of day or night with your key card. Most have any cardio equipment you would need.
The Personal Training:
Like the equipment in a lot of these facilities, the personal training is pretty variable depending on what the owner of that specific franchise location wants to do. They could have group training, private or large group, it just depends. This is an option that is kind of hit and miss when it comes to personal training.
CrossFit gets a bad wrap in our industry and there are reasons for that, as well as a lot of good that CrossFit has done. We are here to talk about the gym and compare it, not to talk down about anyone, though this is my opinion as an accredited fitness professional. CrossFit gyms will have cardio equipment like rowing machines, Airdyne bikes, and sleds. They will also have a lot of barbells, plates, and “rigs” which are basically squat racks with pull up bars attached to them (a very versatile piece of equipment). This kind of gym is a ‘class membership only’ type of gym, meaning there are not access memberships unless it is a special case or the owner decides that is something they want to add. If you are there working out you are getting coaching.
CrossFit is a large group fitness model meaning that you could have up to 40 people in one class for one coach. CrossFit is based around a pre-made workout that everyone will follow. They have some movement modifications, but not a ton. They will have an “on the ramp” program where they will teach new members the fundamentals of the movements with other new members. CrossFit trainers are certified through CrossFit itself with their own qualifications. This means that the staff is certified through their organization for their system but not necessarily qualified in terms of the understanding of biomechanics and physiology. I am not saying here that all CrossFit coaches are uneducated, what I am saying is they are not required to be educated by anyone but their own organization.
There are two main issues I have with the CrossFit model: one is that the programming provided is not necessarily progressed individually. They are fitting the client into the workout not the workout to the client. Two is that the client to coach ratio is off. In my opinion, one coach per 6 people is a the optimal ratio that allows the coach to attend to each client's specific needs in a personalized way. If CrossFit involved exercises that were not as complex, like you see in boot camp classes, then it would not be as much of a problem. The movements are less complex in boot camps making them easier to learn. CrossFit is also inherently competitive, you are either trying to beat your time or someone else's which will mean more errors with technique, which has the potential to lead to injury. If you are between the ages of 20 and 40, are proficient and confident in executing the CrossFit movements properly, and enjoy having that competitive edge in your fitness then this is probably a good option for you. Having a gymnastics or Olympic lifting background wouldn’t hurt either.
4. Boot Camps:
Boot camps are either stand alone businesses conducted outside at a park or in a gym that is rented for colder months. Boot camps can also exist as an additional service that is added into another gym like a big box of a training gym, or be leasing its own location. Boot camps are structured similar to a CrossFit in that you sign up for a coaching membership and are put into a large group with less individual coaching where everyone is doing the same movements. The difference is that boot camps for the most part use exercises that are easier for the client to learn quickly and can be regressed on the fly very easily. Boot camps are still large group, which I think is a downside, but the exercise selection is what makes them a safer large group program. Boot camps uses self-limiting exercises that are hard to perform wrong, and body weight exercises which makes for a safer workout.
The trainers at boot camps for the most part are minimally trained. They may hold a basic certification. If you want a general fitness program that will help you burn some calories in a large group setting with minimal personalization or specific/targeted instruction then boot camps are where you want to go. Boot camps are also normally higher energy than personal training or small group training so if you like that go for it.
5. Training gyms:
So this is where my bias comes in and I will be honest about this. I own a training gym so this is my favorite (which is why I opened one) and I will try to be as unbiased as I can with the description. Training gyms offer large group, small group or semi-private, one-on-one training or any combination of the three, in a smaller space than that of a membership gym. Anywhere from 1000 sqft to over 10,000 sqft. These gyms often do not have access membership nor do they have much in terms of cardio equipment. Training gyms focus on the training, so like most other training based gyms like CrossFit or boot camps, you will not have a membership unless you are getting coached. This is a blanket description and there are many variations within this category. Training gyms typically will offer some form of a trial so you can try out the gym before you commit to a longer term program. This is designed so that you can make the best decision possible when it comes to long term training; training gyms want you to be there. There is less of a hard sell mentality in training gyms because you are making a larger financial commitment and to get the best results you have to want to be there. Training gyms will typically sell 3, 6 and 12 month memberships depending on the structure that is set up, and this will include training X amount of times per month depending on what option you choose.
The training at a training gym is different from a boot camp or CrossFit in that it is more customized to you and what you need. You can pick and choose from the options available to you at that facility. One of the big points is that small group and semi private training is the main option at these training gyms. This is a structure where you share a workout and a coach with up to 3 other people (semi private) or up to 9 other people (small group). These workouts are more customized the smaller you go in group size, which helps you find the level of personal attention and detail that works best for you. Here at Progressive Performance we focus on 6 people per coach per group which I think is the perfect middle ground when it comes to the right level of attention, personalization, and social interaction. Trainers at training gyms take great pride in their education because their main focus is the training so the quality of instruction is higher than most gyms. Trainers at training gyms will continue to educate themselves on a regular basis. This is not all training gyms but of the ones I know that would consider themselves in this category are the best in the industry. So if you are looking for personalized attention, educated trainers, community, and options to create the best program for you, a training gym is what you are looking for.
This is my review of the different types of gyms that are out there to help you reach your fitness goals. Let me know what you think or if you want to know more about what I think,feel free to email me any questions you might have. This is all in an effort to help you find the right gym for you.