“You Can’t Get Strong in a Commercial Gym!”
I’ve been told this countless times over the past ten years. Usually by people who have never tried and those looking to recruit you to their own ‘strength-focused’ gym. I’m walking proof that this is just not 100% correct.
I started training at a Goodlife Health Club in Adelaide. Having never focused on Squat, Bench, or Deadlift, it was quite a learning curve for me at the dawn of social media. There weren’t a lot of people posting content and it was still a time for figuring it out yourself. Regardless, my training partners and I stuck with it. I increased my 3 lifts by following my program and putting everything into each workout until I hit the goals I had set. In that Goodlife, I started benching with 40kg, squatting 60kg, and deadlifting 100kg. A few years later, I left that gym benching 180kg, squatting 250kg, and deadlifting 300kg. The equipment and the environment never limited me and I took great pleasure in surpassing the guys who I looked up to when I joined.
Outlined below is my advice to those people beginning their pursuit of strength in a commercial gym.
The Generic Commercial Gym
I have trained in these gyms for 8 out of the 10 years I’ve been focused on getting as strong as possible. During this time, I only trained the basics and variations of those movements. Squat; Paused, High Bar, Safety Squat Bar. Bench; Paused, Wide Grip, Close Grip, Slingshot, Banded. Deadlift; Deficit, Block, Snatch Grip.
They generally do not have specialized equipment but you’re going to focus on form/technique more than anything initially, rather than if the bar has enough whip to help your deadlift. Despite what you see on Instagram, not all strong people drop weights, grunt, and storm around the gym like a madman/woman. There is no need for that when you’re training next to Ol’ Grandpa Joe from down the street, and it’s not going to help you be a better lifter.
There are now a million programs available for free on the internet and the one that works is the one you follow for more than 2 weeks. Give it time, commit to the program and do the things that you aren’t comfortable doing. That’s where the real growth happens.
Of course, if you’re wanting to get stronger, a program that incorporates progressive overload and allows for enough rest is going to be essential. If you’re unsure which one to choose, go with something that is tried and tested. There is a reason these programs are still being used and haven’t disappeared; they work really well. If you are limited with equipment, do some research and find out what exercises you can substitute and still get the same overall result.
If you’ve made progress at the end of the program, don’t change to another one! Do it again!
Another trap is buying all the personal equipment in the world to start your strength journey. There is no need for that. Sure, it looks good on Instagram and might make you feel like you’re a powerlifter but does it serve a purpose? The last thing you want is the mentality of, “I can’t lift without my wraps or belt or special shoes.” This dependency creates a mental and sometimes, physical weakness. Using equipment can be a band-aid to a bigger issue.
If you do purchase some equipment, allocated some exercises or time where you don’t use them. For example, beltless squats, no wrist wraps for lighter sets, or bare knee squats. This will help you maintain all-round strength.
Invest in a Coach
Find someone who has done, (or is doing) things that you want to do. There are a million people out there who claim the title of “Coach” but do some investigating. Have they competed in your chosen sport? Have they got results with other clients? Are they affordable?
I would recommend contacting them and asking some questions to really find out how they are going to help you and whether they will invest their time into you rather than just take your money. Remember that this is an investment for you. If you’re not learning from your coach, what are they doing for you?
Finally, keep in mind that commercial gyms are for the general population and the environment and people should be treated with respect and your workout shouldn’t stop others from theirs. No one likes a show-off, and it’s not impressive being the big fish in a little pond either. Stay humble and help others out.