Picking a Gym: Do They Respect You?

Coach Ninja


United States

Olympic Weightlifting, Strength Training, Strength and Conditioning, Powerlifting


Right now there are millions of people making their ways to their first gym session in over a year. The last time they got this excited about working out was around the same time after the last holiday season. It's cliche but it's true. Equally, at the same time, there are a lot of coaches and trainers who are looking at this influx with some level of anxiety or apathy. They've seen it all before. Memberships go up, people seem motivated, the energy is palpable and then, just as quickly, it all disappears and everyone goes back to their allotted position in life.


It's a sad fact of life that we are all flawed in some way. There are very few people who are so motivated and disciplined that they can rise above everyone else despite every obstacle in their way. That's why there's usually only one spot on the podium for a champion. The reality is that almost everyone else hits bumps in the road and most everyone finds there are some obstacles that they just cannot overcome.



The sad fact is that no one is ever ready for a zombie apocalypse and while it sounds really cool to think that you might be the next winner at the CrossFit Games because you got your first muscle up, the math isn't on your side.


You Are Your Best Athlete

Knowing what your weaknesses, your flaws, your failures are is an important step in accepting that there are things you need to work on if you want to push ahead and succeed in your goals. If you really want to succeed. But, let's say you don't. Let's say you're never going to stand out as a physical specimen. What are your options?


The fact is, it shouldn't matter whether you are a star performer or, the least motivated person on the planet, when you decide to pay your dues and make it to the gym, you're the customer and you should have some expectations. You should expect the service that you paid for.


Your Gym Membership Sets Your Expectation

Let's break that down. I'm only going to focus on strength and conditioning facilities and not studios and boutique gyms but the principles are pretty much the same:


Globo Gyms: You pay to rent time on the equipment. Unless you are paying for personal training, you have very little ownership or expectation of personal service. This is the fast food segment of the fitness industry.


Box Gyms: You pay to be coached and trained as part of a group. It's usually a pretty small group. This is the family owned restaurant of the fitness industry.


Private Personal Training: In theory, you should be getting a highly personalized training program delivered by an expert who will give you one-on-one attention as you workout. This is the equivalent of having your own private chef who is not your mother.



In a globo gym you shouldn't have much expectation of the staff personally. What you should demand above all else is a clean, safe working environment. If all you're really doing is renting time on someone else's equipment then it seems like your best hope is that the equipment works, is not going to give you fatal bacterial infections, and you don't have to fight off a zombie herd to get your time at the rack or bench.


The truth of the matter is that a typical globo gym doesn't care so much about you. At the low end of the market, your payments are probably so low that you may not even notice them on your bank statement. That's what the globo gym hopes. In higher end globo gyms, you don't get much more in terms of service although you might have plenty of clean towels to choose from, and wine and cheese mixtures every Friday night.


In a box gym you should definitely expect the cleanliness and the right equipment. In fact, you're probably going to be paying anywhere from 2x to 6x the price of a globo gym for your membership so, it's got to be globo gym plus service. So, most importantly, you should expect that the coach, or his trainers, gives you some chunk of attention and that your group activity doesn't just herd you through a class and hope your sweat is enough value for your paid up dues.


Personal training is a whole other thing. First of all, it's expensive. If you can afford private training then good luck to you. You really have all the control you need and you can get in and out of those relationships anyway you want. Having said that, there's some universal truths that you need to hear. Globo gyms don't always have the best training staff. That doesn't mean there are no great trainers at globo gyms but you are going to have to do your homework. Frankly, there's no simple way of finding out who is or isn't a great personal trainer other than through observation. So, you need to know what you want and what to expect.



In box gyms you have a distinct advantage in picking a personal trainer. The first thing, the guy who owns the place and runs it is probably the best option in most cases. He may not want to do private training but he'll certainly be a good major domo for whoever he, or she, designates as your personal trainer. Secondly, if you're really looking to build your own expertise, you'd do better to work with someone in a box gym who may be highly specialized.



You get guys like Sean Waxman in Los Angeles who is a weightlifting expert and has highly trained staff. You get people like Mike Tromello who has been training people in CrossFit for a decade. In Fort Worth, you have Chris Lofland who is a gymnastics specialist. In Houston, you have someone like Amanda Thebe who works with menopausal women. Then there are guys like Tom MacCormick in London who work in a personal training facility who specialize in more general fitness and hypertrophy routines. Most of the best independent coaches and trainers are right here on the Breaking Muslce pages.


All these guys exist outside of the globo gym system and are exemplars of the point I am trying to make here but, frankly, I am not sure if they would want to train you. If you find someone who is a good coach and seems like the perfect trainer for you, they are probably good enough to tell you if they can really help you specifically. Some coaches don't feel expert enough to help older populations, some feel the same way about training competitive athletes. Some coaches may require that you have a solid foundation in a particular discipline, and some may feel happier to take you from zero to hero. A good coach will also know his, or her, own limitations and will not take on a trainee that they feel they cannot help. That's a really important point.


Respect - You May Not Deserve It but Your Membership Demands It

Finally, we get to the clincher. Having gone through all the due diligence of finding the right gym and the right coaches, technically assessing everything and making sure all the boxes are ticked off on your wish list, you get to the point where you have to decide whether your relationship with is going to be mutual or a one-way street.


Some people and I am not judging here, have different levels of self-worth or motivation. Some people like to be in a place where they have to earn favor with the coach or trainer. This is particularly true of some competitive CrossFit or weightlifting gyms, for example. It's not that much different than joining a pick up basketball game, you're not going to get much attention unless your game is noticeable. So, decide if you're that type of person and choose your gym accordingly.


Some people like to feel like they need to learn for themselves and then have a sounding board or adviser for a coach. That's fine. Not every coach likes that kind of a trainee unless the trainee is strong enough and disciplined enough in their practice.



Other people just need to be lead. They want to feel like they're there, at the gym and are ready to put through the wringer by a coach or trainer they can trust. They don't need to think about the workout, they need to feel it, and they would really like it if they weren't hurt or killed off in the process.


In all these cases, no matter what, you're right to want what you want because you are, after all is said and done, a paying customer. The clincher for you should be whether your coach or trainer respects your needs.


I can think of a few instances where that respect may not be forthcoming:


You're competitive but not enough to make a difference to a coach who is building a profile with successful athletes. Some coaches have bigger egos than their athletes. Your compromise position can only be, this is a superior coach and I'll take the hits to my self-esteem and ego because I am learning so much.


You're not motivated enough or disciplined enough. You might find some trainers and coaches who just don't want to put any effort into your training if they feel you are not motivated. However, that's not the same as them not caring about you as a client. It also doesn't mean that you can't fault someone for feeling that way but you have to know that you only get as much as you give. What shouldn't happen is a situation where a coach is dismissive of you as a paying customer just because they don't like your effort. They can't get blood out of a stone if you are lazy or not make it to the gym that much but, they can't hold it against you if you are paying them.


The selfish coach. Yes, there are people who run and operate businesses, some are even able to do it successfully for many years, but they shouldn't be allowed paying customers. There as many great coaches who don't want to deal with customer service as there are bad coaches who should never have gone into business for themselves. There are also a group of coaches who are all about their own workouts and their own standing. They have a gym because they like working out, they're good at it, and that attracts a certain type of following. At the end of the day, you're on your own. Again, that may not matter much if you are acquiring the wisdom of a truly great coach by osmosis, but respect has nothing to do with it.


Look, there's no way to get around the fact that there are no real standards in the fitness industry. What you have to decide is what are you willing to trade-off to be at a certain gym or to work with a certain coach or trainer because there are always going to be trade-offs.


Just remember that your environment plays a big part in your success. Given two athletes of equal ability and equal determination and ability, the difference is going to be their training environment and the support around them in their training. You may not be able to control much in your life but you can determine where, when, and who you train with.

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