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  • Writer's pictureMuscle Nation

What Makes A Gym Great?

Updated: May 18, 2020

There are tons of different types of gyms. There are high-end full-service gyms with salons and boutiques built in (like Equinox and LifeTime Fitness), there are do-it yourself franchise gyms (like 24/7 Fitness). Some people feel more comfortable in gyms with a social feeling (like a Crossfit franchise or a community group-oriented gym like Gage Strength Training in West Chester PA). There are people who want to go to multiple locations for as little money as possible and join LA Fitness, NYSC or the likes.

Personally, I like gyms that have excellent equipment and a friendly, welcoming atmosphere that fosters inclusiveness and hard work. You can find gyms like these that are locally-owned. My favorite gym is King Gym in Bridgeport, PA, and a close second is Iron Culture in Cedar Knolls, NJ. Bret Cenicola, the owner of King Gym, toured gyms throughout the north-east of the US to try specific equipment that can’t be found at larger, brand-name gyms.

To evaluate a gym that’s right for you, let’s break the evaluation criteria into two categories:

  • Atmosphere

  • Equipment


Don’t be worried if you’ve never been to a gym before or if you have but may feel a little out of your element. When you head in, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did someone who works there say hello when I came in?

  • Did someone there offer me a tour? Did the person seem sincere? Did they start into a sales-pitch immediately?

    • Keep in mind, the big-box gyms pay sales people specifically to get you in. Much like at a car dealership, if they can get you to sit down you are 80%+ more likely to sign up. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you want to join but if you’re not interested then don’t feel bad by telling them that you want to think it over and walk out the door.

  • When you walk around, do people say hello or make eye contact? Do they talk to each other between sets? Do you see people smiling?

  • Do you see people who are working out hard? Do you see people who look like they’re in great shape?

Don’t go to a gym where people aren’t putting effort into their workouts. Go to a gym where there are people who you want to emulate. Ideally, you’ll find a gym that has a wide range of body-types, where members sweat and respect each other for the effort they put in to their workouts. If you try hard, no one will make fun of you; instead, you’ll find other members chatting with you, saying hello when you come through the door and offering to spot you on heavier sets.


Dumbbells should be racked neatly and range from 5lbs up to at least 100lbs. If the dumbbells only go up to 60lbs then you’re in the wrong place. Hotel gyms aside, if a gym expects that their members should be limited to 60lbs then they are hoping the members will NOT surpass a certain level of fitness. Despite their claims, this isn’t about keeping gym-rats and “bros” out of the gym. At a certain point you will need more than 60lbs dumbbells. And when you think back to the Atmosphere section, remember: you want a place that encourages working out hard and encourages members of all levels.

Equipment and machines should be functioning, in good condition, dust-free and not dripping with sweat. No need to go into details on this. It’s all logical.

There should be machines and equipment for every body part. Look for equipment specifically for legs. A good gym will have a squat rack but also have two or three other pieces of equipment for legs, as well.

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