For years now, public gyms have been becoming more and more difficult to train effectively in. Here are the top 5 problems with public gyms and the reasons why they exist:
The cynical business model behind big public gyms is to achieve an ~85% NON-attendance rate! They want people signing up but not turning up! So they target their product at people who do not want their product.
People who do not want gyms like happy, friendly, colourful places where everybody smiles and nobody sweats. They want Wiggles-land. Take the kids once per year and pat yourself on the back.
So most gyms are now like Wiggles-land. There are primary school jungle gyms (TRX), silliness inspired by carnival rides (Spin classes), wiggles dancing (Zumba) and then a whole bunch of redundant rehabilitation junk stolen from physiotherapists (core stability, treadmills and ‘functional’ training).
The great thing about TRX, Zumba, treadmills, core stability and functional training is its such a useless waste of time that nobody sane can be bothered doing it very long. So they quickly join the 85% non-attendance group.
Wiggles-land is no place for serious people wanting to do serious workouts! It scares the non-attendees away before they’ve had time to pay for the membership they don’t want! So strict policies exist to ensure gyms stay Wiggles-friendly: no grunting, no dropping weights, no deadlifts etc etc.
Bottom line: don’t go to Wiggles-land if you don’t want to jiggle like a Wiggle!
Insufficient & inadequate equipment
Most public gyms operate with 2000 to 5000 members. Even with 85% of members never using the facilities, there are still hundreds of people who do! And it seems there is always a stream of them who want to use the exact piece of equipment you were planning to use on any given day! Its not Murphy’s Law, however. Its good business.
Public gyms make money off memberships (and Personal Trainer rent). Their interests are best served by providing the least equipment necessary to get your membership fee. People who train seriously wear out the equipment and cost more than members who don’t train. They also scare away prospective non-attendee members. So gyms have a vested interest in you being unable to train properly.
Most public gyms have just one or two of everything. It’s enough to fill a space and say “yes, we have that”. But it’s never remotely enough for you to do a planned workout on a weeknight. Personal Trainers are taught NEVER to plan client workouts because planned workouts are expected to be impossible in Public Gyms.
For serious body recomposition workouts where the weights are planned, public gyms become even more inadequate. The weights needed just aren’t available even if you can get the equipment. Especially for leg presses! It’s not about being so strong you need lots of weight. The majority of public gyms literally have fewer pairs of 20kg plates than they have plate-loaded machines!
Ignorant and Inconsiderate members
Gym etiquette of old is dead. Its now a feudal system. There are simply too many people fighting for too few resources.
Indisputably, the biggest problem is the brain-dead Instagram/Tik-Tok culture of proudly conspicuous narcissism… and ass exercises. Public gyms have shifted from places to train or exercise to low-rent film production sets for talentless and uninteresting cretins and whores, tied up in rehabilitation bands, dry-humping their air to flex their asses. If the lack of equipment was not a big enough problem, now every piece of equipment is being used by an ass-clown to do some utterly retarded and completely worthless ass exercise… while filming themselves. Do not dare interrupt these wannabe porn-stars during their ‘James Cameron’ ass-training movie scene or you risk being cast as the villain in full diva temper tantrum; and the other 300 Instawhores in the gym will all treat you as though you are the problem. It is literally like being in a zombie apocalypse; except the zombies are all dressed like whores and are obsessed with asses instead of brains.
Coupled with the obsessive narcissism of banal social media content production is the ignorant attitude toward effective training. New-age gym members have been completely brainwashed by the fitness-mediocrity-machine. They believe heavy deadlifts are dangerous but sloppy Crossfit olympic lifts are brilliant. They think leaning into your dumbbell curls is dangerous, but swinging a kettlebell around is awesome. They think full-depth barbell squats are worthless, but balancing on a swissball is beneficial. The harder and more effectively you train, the more criticism you will get. Especially if you are a woman (unless you are a bloke who lies that he is a woman. Then you are a hero).
If you do a personal best lift in a public gym, do not expect praise or congratulations. Do not even expect to be ignored. Expect abuse! Members will suddenly become pop-chiropractic experts with fierce concern for your safety; including the bodybuilders and powerlifters (though, not the older ones who remember what hard training looks like). It’s like living inside social media: anything you do that’s better than average will get massive jeers and criticism.
Personal Trainer Vultures
This is an extension of Point 3 above. The really ignorant, incompetent Personal Trainers seem compelled to criticise any person training effectively. They don’t realise that they are only qualified to help unfit people return to the sad state of physical mediocrity that is ‘fitness’! They don’t realise their ignorant advice is utterly incorrect for people who have a modicum of athleticism. Training for ‘fitness’ is, at best, be a waste of time. At worst it reduces an athlete back to physical mediocrity! Either way Personal Trainers are not qualified to comment on effective training. Unfortunately it’s the stupid ones who do not know what effective training is who seem most compelled to impose their ignorance on good trainers. And they are doubly attracted to harassing women!
On the rare occasion you will arrive at a public gym when its near empty. It feels like Christmas morning when you discover you have instant access to the equipment you want to use AND you can access the weights you need AND there are no idiot personal trainers to harass you. But just as you get to your work set… Lady Gaga comes on the radio. Or Beyonce. Or some other hideous pop trash, generated by a computer and lip-synced by a satanic whore, that manages to be so aggravatingly bad it can penetrate the deepest focus. Its like being Rick-Rolled except its not funny. Its like your molester Uncle turning up to Christmas just before you open the big present.
You can never find music to please all the people all the time. But the music at public gyms always has a way of being so rotten bad it gets in the way of your training.
A decade ago I created Recomp HQ with the intention of demonstrating a viable solution all these problems. We had 2 separate, fully equipped gyms in the one space. One gym was for our Coaches working with clients. The other gym was exclusively for clients on our programs, who we had already taught how to train properly. So the few other people that might be in the gym at the same time were all serious trainers, training the same way, with the same mindset.
At Recomp HQ there was more of the equipment you need than any big-box gym. There were more plates and dumbbells available than several big-box gyms. And because it was the Recomp Series equipment I designed, it was better, stronger and heavier than anything at any public gym.
We had B&O speaker systems to which you could stream your choice of music… unless you wanted Lady Gaga or Beyonce! It was literally written into the contract that if you played trashy pop-music you lost access to the gym.
The business model was solid too. The business was based on a premium service that was supported by premium facility; not the other way around. Our clients paid much more than a gym membership, but received much, MUCH more in return: properly bespoke diets and training programs to achieve their specific body composition goals. We regularly measured their body composition to make adjustments to their diet and program, to stay on course. If they needed to be taught how to achieve maximal performances, safely and consistently, we offered that service. If they knew how to train, they were given the ultimate environment and encouragement to do it. There were no scams. We were not pushing supplements. We were not even pushing Coaching. If you did not want our services, we told you not to buy them. But if you did, there was nothing that compared.
Unfortunately, I made the mistake of opening the gym in the Communist State of Victoria, Australia. Early on I was told, to my face, explicitly, by a Government officer that “we crush dreams around here”. As the result of government fuckery, Recomp HQ was among my proudest achievements and greatest regrets. The business worked; but in terms of being a proof-of-concept, it mostly succeeded in proving to NEVER open ANY type of small business in Victoria. Then Covid happened to underscore that point, in case anyone was left in any doubt. But that’s another story.