Picking a gym is a big decision. That might even be an understatement for MPA readers, because not having an adequate place to workout can make or break your results.

For dedicated fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders alike, the gym is like a second home. You’re serious about your diet, your supplementation, and hopefully your training, so skimping on the gym you frequent is not a wise decision. Moreover, when you find the best gym for your goals, it becomes more than just a place to go workout; it’s a place where you bond with like-minded individuals and staff members who genuinely want to see you succeed.

By the same token, if you join a gym that doesn’t have the proper equipment or atmosphere for your goals, then you’re better off flushing the money for monthly fees (and membership ID) down the toilet. There is nothing more demotivating than to walk into a gym only to not be able to do the exercises you planned on (or even worse, be castigated by staff for training ‘too intensely’).

Do note, though, that a gym is not necessarily required to develop your physique and get in better shape. If you have adequate space and funds, a home gym can be a fantastic alternative to a gym membership. Just be prepared to invest in the right equipment, because you don’t want to skimp on quality (especially when it comes to cardio and weight machines).

Furthermore, people who aren’t avid about training with weights can get away with doing bodyweight exercises and outdoor cardio. That’s about as minimalist as it gets in terms of expenses for keeping healthy and fit.

However, for readers who are a little more involved and want to focus on barbell training, a gym membership is generally the best option. If you have the resources for setting up a home weight room/gym, then that’s great, but this article will focus more on those who don’t have that capability.

Read on to learn some actionable tips to help you find the gym best suited towards your goals, as well as how to be as frugal as possible in the process.

Starting the Search for the Right Gym

Before even embarking on your search for a new ‘house of gains’, it’s prudent to sit down and consider what your goals are. Are you looking get as swole as possible? Get a great booty? Be a cardio bunny? Be the next world’s strongest man? Maybe something else?

Whatever your goals are, you’re going to have different needs when it comes to choosing a gym. For example, someone training specifically for powerlifting and strongman type events will want to make sure the gym they go to has equipment like deadlifting platforms, competition-grade benches, and heavy-duty squat racks. These types of individuals generally also want a gym that has a rather “hardcore” environment with loud music, chalk, people grunting, and all the other adrenaline-boosting factors.

Contrarily, a female who just wants to tone and tighten her glutes and stomach might be looking for a more casual, quiet gym atmosphere with a few leg and cardio machines that target those body parts. In fact, a hardcore gym will likely just intimidate a more casual gym goer and might even ruin their motivation to exercise altogether.

Obviously it’s not prudent to assume that someone who is more laid back about their fitness goals isn’t a good fit for a hardcore gym, because there are some soccer moms and former high school football star dads that might actually love that atmosphere. Though, for the most part, a simple commercial gym with adequate cardio and some free weights generally suffices for those individuals.

Bodybuilders generally fare best in environments with like-minded individuals and plenty of equipment (especially full range of free weights). Bodybuilding is very much a sport of camaraderie, so surrounding yourself with others who compete will only help with motivation, focus, and may even lead to friendships that last a lifetime.

Similar to powerlifters/strongmen, bodybuilders will probably do better in more hardcore, gritty gym atmospheres. Planet Fitness is notorious for actually removing people from their gym for grunting and “trying too hard” when training; as such, an intense-training bodybuilder will be inhibited by those circumstances. Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to finish a workout for such a silly reason.

The Best Options

I’ve had the chance to train at pretty much every major commercial gym chain in the United States, along with many local gyms. Below is a summary of the experiences I’ve had at commercial gyms:

LA Fitness

  • Wide range of equipment and usually plenty of free weights (dumbbells up to 150 lbs).
  • Large assortment of cardio equipment, as well as basketball court, swimming pool, and racquetball courts.
  • Tends to have a modern, upscale feel to it.

Gold’s Gym

  • Wide range of equipment and usually plenty of free weights (dumbbells up to 200 lbs depending on location).
  • Large assortment of cardio equipment.
  • Atmosphere varies widely depending upon location and ownership. California, Las Vegas, and Florida Gold’s Gyms tend to have more “old school” feels and longer business hours.

24 Hour Fitness

  • Wide range of equipment and a modest range of free weights (dumbbells up to 120 lbs).
  • Large assortment of cardio equipment, as well as basketball court and swimming pool.
  • Tends to have a laid back, but not inhibiting, atmosphere.
  • Open 24/7 so night owls might enjoy this.

World Gym

  • Wide range of equipment and usually plenty of free weights (dumbbells up to 200 lbs depending on location).
  • Large assortment of cardio equipment.
  • Generally a more hardcore atmosphere, but varies widely depending upon location and ownership. California and Florida World Gyms, similar to Gold’s Gyms, typically have more “old school” feels and longer business hours.

Lifetime Fitness

  • Wide range of equipment and usually plenty of free weights (dumbbells up to 150 lbs).
  • Vast range (perhaps to a fault) of cardio equipment, as well as basketball court, swimming pool, tennis courts, and more for athletes.
  • Spa and cafe usually included.
  • Has a very upscale feel to it.
  • Some are open 24 hours depending upon location.
  • Usually the most expensive option of all commercial gyms.

Planet Fitness

  • Limited range of equipment and free weights (dumbbells up to 70 lbs usually).
  • Limited assortment of cardio equipment.
  • Very casual environment, they will remove you for grunting/dropping weights.
  • Not a good option for intense training.

Anytime Fitness and Snap Fitness

  • Limited range of equipment (no squat racks) and decent amount of free weights (dumbbells up to 80 lbs usually).
  • Limited assortment of cardio equipment.
  • 24/7 access.
  • Probably not a good fit for powerlifters and bodybuilders.

All in all, if you’re a bodybuilder or powerlifter, your best option before choosing any commercial gym is to look at locally-owned gyms around you. In my experience, locally-owned gyms have the best rates and environment for people who train intensely.

If you don’t have those options, or you’re more casual about your fitness, then pretty much any commercial gym will suit you. For the most part, commercial gyms try to appeal to all demographics. If you want all the bells and whistles and don’t mind paying a premium, Lifetime Fitness is your best bet. If you want a simple, quiet atmosphere, you should check out the Anytime Fitness and Snap Fitness locations nearby (they are usually very affordable).