In Part I we discussed what to look for in the gym culture, ownership, and staff.  Now lets look at what equipment is important when picking a gym or deciding to move on.

Dumbbells –

Only the best clubs are going to have thick grip rotating dumbbells like those offered by Watson Gym Equipment or Black Iron.  Since dumbbells are probably the most used thing for most training it’s important to get the best quality and quantity in your area.

  • First off, you want a metal finished dumbbell with a even width handle.  This means you can use Fat Gripz or Tyler Grips on the handle and magnetic plate mates on the side of the dumbbell.  Even if you don’t have these items to use now, it’s important for you to have the option.
  • Next thing to check is do they have the quantity of dumbbells to meet the demand and the weights you require.  If you press 120lbs in each hand and they only go up to 100, this will drastically reduce your training ability.  They also need to have dumbbells in proper increments.  Ideally you want no more than 5 lb jumps between dumbbells because then you can use plate mates for in between weights.  Also do they have multiples of the lower and middle weight dumbbells that will see the most use.  You don’t want to have to workout around some other chap using the one set of dumbbells you need if possible.

Benches –

If you have always worked on quality benches you might not appreciate them as much as they deserve.  Once you get on a unstable or poorly designed bench you will instantly have a high regard for bench quality.

  • Cheap adjustable benches will wobble just slightly, which can seem like an earth quake with 200lbs over your head.  You want quality benches that feel stable.
  • Bench height is key as well.  Some manufacturers make benches that are too tall for most users when doing presses causing an unnatural arch in the lower back and an uncomfortable lifting position.
  • Do they have enough benches to meet the demand of the rest of the equipment?  A gym can almost never have enough adjustable benches, the more the better.  Nothing reddens the face more than when you grab a set of dumbbells of the rack and then watch in the mirror as someone sits on the bench you were about to use.
  • Do they have a short back bench for french presses and overhead exercises?  Overhead triceps exercise are an important part of arm training, and it’s nice to have a bench that allows full range of motion for all users.

Racks –

The next most important thing is the racks.  Squat racks and Power Racks can be hard to come by in some commercial gyms.  Power racks are more important than squat racks because they can be used for both.  If you are in a Golds Gym or similar, you need to allow at least 2 squat racks to be used by Johnny Bravo types doing poor form curls.

  • Do they have enough racks to meet the volume of users.  Keep in mind that power racks and squat racks can often be used for exercises like shrugs, curls, overhead presses, floor presses and other exercises.  You can’t have a lot of leg workouts that don’t require a rack though.
  • Do the racks allow for full range of motion.  Nothing ticks me off like seeing those squat racks that require you to walk 5 miles out of it because they designed the arms to allow for nothing more than a 30 degree bend at the knee for a person under 6 feet tall.

Posterior Chain Equipment

If there is one area of training commercial gyms fail the most, its having good equipment for posterior chain work.

  • The leg curl – it’s better to be lying than seated, having both is even better.  Add a standing or kneeling leg curl, and you’re in heaven.  With any pulley mechanism equipment you want to inspect the cam.  Cheap equipment will have a cam that is just a perfect circle most of the time, or sometimes an oval.  If its just a circle or oval, they didn’t design the machine to match the strength curve.  This means when performing the lift, it will feel like certain portions are very easy while others are very hard.  This decreases the quality of the exercise and the results you will get from it.  It can also results in more unfuctional strength gains.
  • Some places will have a 45 degree or horizontal back extension.  A better gym will also have a glut ham or reverse hyper as well.
  • Do they have bumper plates and an Olympic lifting station?  If not you better make sure you can do deadlifts somewhere without getting a Planet Fitness style talking to.

My personal wish list could go on for pages.  If you can find those few things in a gym, you should still be able do design a respectable workout, even if it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles you wish it had.  There is optimal training and then there is reality.  A little creativity never hurt anyone, so if you can find a good base in a facility, a good program design can make it great.