10 Tips to Finding the Perfect Gym

10 Tips to Finding the Perfect Gym

The consumer’s guide to finding hardcore training facilities


By Strength Sensei CP


I’m frequently asked for gym recommendations in the specific cities I’ve visited, and Brooks Kubik of Dinosaur Training suggested I write the Black Book of Best Gyms. I’ve written about my favorite gyms around the world in past articles, but let’s start with a list of what I look for in a gym.

Of course, at one time I could have avoided making up this list as there were many great, hardcore gyms available to serious trainees. Among the franchises that often had great facilities and training environments were the Gold’s and Powerhouse Gyms, and of course the YMCAs. Those that don’t come to mind are those that replaced all their free weights with machines.

With that background, here are 10 of my guidelines for finding a good gym that has stood the test of time:

  1. The dumbbells go up to at least 200 pounds. Heavy dumbbells are something you rarely see anymore because the number of people who can use those dumbbells is extremely low. However, back when people trained more intelligently, there would have been at least three guys per gym who could use them, even on incline dumbbells presses.
  2. It offers several brands of exercise machines. When I’m asked who makes the best resistance training machines, the best answer is “everyone!” What I mean is that whereas one company may make a great neck machine, their prone leg curl machine may suck. One of the best places I trained during the 80s was Buzek’s gym in Münich. It had two rooms: one for the general population with pretty much every brand of machine, and then the “Hochleistung Zentrum” for the freaks where the stuff was so solid that it would survive a nuclear apocalypse!
Good gyms start with the basics, such as versatile chin-up stations. Miloš Šarčev photo.


  1. It has a variety of calf machines. Seriously. If a gym invests a large amount of money in a muscle group so relatively small, you know it’s hardcore.
  2. They have long hours and are open seven days a week. Commercial gyms that advertise 7-to-7 hours on Saturday and are closed on Sundays are telling us that their membership isn’t serious about training.
  3. It has a protein shake bar. Hardcore trainees know the value of a post-workout protein shake. A cooler with 10 varieties of Gatorade is not a shake bar.
  4. It has heavy duty power racks. If you’re going to lift heavy and lift safely, you need a power rack. These racks should have holes for the safety bars spaced one inch apart to perform partial work. And if you don’t know what to do with a power rack, check out the books by one of my favorite authors, Anthony Ditillo.
  5. It has wood lifting platforms and quality barbells. Great gyms have heavy-duty wood lifting platforms and quality barbells such as Eleiko. One great resource to find a place to lift heavy are the throwers in track and field. One such gym in the 70s and 80s was the YMCA in San Jose, California. It’s where many of the top throwers trained, including former world record holder in the shot putter Al Feuerbach. Another thrower’s gym in San Jose was the Ironworks gym, where you would see track and field legends such as Brian Oldfield, Art Burns, and Mac Wilkins. If weightlifting is your thing, ask a good thrower where they train (likewise, if powerlifting is your focus, ask a strong powerlifter).
  6. They don’t have silly rules. I’ve heard of gyms that have ridiculous rules such as you can’t use chalk. These rules are a tip-off that these gyms are for the weak and weak-minded. What you want is a gym that has people who are as serious as you. As a reference to what I’m talking about, check out any video clips of the lifter’s training at the Westside Barbell – that’s a hardcore training atmosphere!
Where’s the beef? In hardcore gyms! Miloš Šarčev photo.


  1. Their front desk staff are not wimps. If the staff you see at the front desk look like poster boys for a JC Penny catalog, chances are their gym is not the best place for you to train.
  2. Cops know about it. When you travel, you don’t want to settle for a hotel gym with a multi-purpose station and a few treadmills. When I travel to a foreign country and don’t know where to train, I ask a local cop where the bad boys train. In 100 percent of cases, it is the best gym in that city. Fail-safe rule.

If you’re willing to invest the time and energy into fulfilling your physical potential, you need to find gyms that take training seriously. Print out this list of guidelines and happy gym hunting! (SS)

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