Updated: Oct 28, 2019
Now before I start slinging the big guns, lets’ keep in mind this article is specifically relating to which gym athletes should train at!
As an athlete your job is to perform when you need it most. You will need to balance the demands of your sport (this might include running, jumping, batting, throwing and change of direction loads). On-top of this, you need to manage your resistance training, your aerobic or anaerobic conditioning, tapering, time management of training sessions, recovery, rehab, prehab and diet! There is a lot that goes into athletic performance and if you want that edge over your opponents, sub-par management is going to quite cut it.
Unfortunately, too many athletes are lead onto the wrong path when it comes to picking which training modality is best for them. I have come up with the pros and cons of 3 typical styles of gyms you will come across in Australia and even worldwide. I am going to call them 1. The big Dog Commercial, 2. High Intensity and 3. The little guys. Here is a quick recap on them.
1. Big Dog Commercial
These are your big chains. Think moderate membership prices, shiny machines, plenty of mirrors and many many bicep curls. Often these big gyms are membership driven with many different class options for members. They also employ every John, Dick and Mary that has their cert 3 and 4 in fitness who finished there course in under a year, has had experience training themselves and have over 10,000 Instagram followers (usually because they look alright with their kit off.) They will employ up to or even over 20 trainers, all of which pay $200-$305 a week to use the facility. This creates a competitive field for trainers, meaning any client is a good client, whether that’s an athlete, weight loss or injury client.
Coming from someone who studied to be a PT whilst studying Exercise Science at Uni, I can tell you now, the content in which these trainers learn does not have the depth that a Uni qualified coach has. They learn how to perform an exercise, but not how to correct a bad one. They learn how to piece together a workout, but they don’t learn how to configure there sessions around a training plan and competitive phases. This level of detail is not to the standard that an athlete should receive.
You know what, I’ll make an exception. If you have been in the elite system for 5+ years, you have followed elite strength and conditioning programs for that entirety, and you are now just looking for a place to do your own thing and stay fit and strong. These big chains are suffice for you.
2. High Intensity
These are your high intensity, 8 week challenge gyms that are all about body composition, fast weight loss, plenty of burpees and template diet plans. There marketing will usually consist of highlight reel before and after photos and dramatic drops in bodyfat % as recorded by Inbody composition analysers. How do they get these weight loss results? In most cases they create random workouts with random exercises and they smash people for 30-45 minutes every time they come in. This on-top of uneducated calorie intake advice, clients will put themselves in a large calorie deficit with repetitive high intensity movements. BAM you have unsustainable weight loss results.
Whilst body composition is a big aspect of an athletes performance, it’s the way we achieve this weight loss which is the most important factor for them. It’s pretty hard to lose weight and stay strong if you are injured. Hundreds of jumps a day 3-5x a week on-top of jump loads at training (say Basketball, Netball, AFL, Volleyball) is a stupendous amount of load through the ankles, knees and hips. Keep this load up and watch the rise in tendinopathies, chondromalacia, fat pad inflammation, femoral impingement, labral tears and chronic lower back pain.
As an owner of a sports performance and rehab centre, I would say 25% of our clientele come from injuries from these gyms. We fix these injuries, they see the light and then they stay around because they love the difference between random workouts and specific periodised programs. We get athletes to lose weight by carefully manipulating there diet, there training regime and there total daily movement output.
If you are an athlete, STOP GOING TO THESE HIGH INTENSITY GYMS. I would much prefer train an athlete for performance over an athlete who has hurt themselves doing to many burpees before a competition. Whilst it’s pretty rewarding getting an athlete back out on the park, so is winning and winning is what athletes do.
3. The Little Guys
These are your small boutiques which fight hard against the big gyms chains to show there difference. Whilst yes you will usually pay extra, you are paying for quality. It’s pretty hard for a first year coach to gain a client base at one of these boutiques as usually they won’t have your 4000 members and hundreds of sign ups every month. So lead generation for these coaches is much lower and will rely more on word of mouth, reputation, professional connections and an already established client list. Usually a coach with a solid client base in a boutique gym means two things. They build trustworthy relationships and deliver results which people want to stick around for.
The industry is starting to evolve and as it grows, so is the rate of Uni qualified coaches. These coaches don’t want to work at a Big Dog Commercial or High Intensity Gyms. They want to be recognised for what their degree qualifies them for. More often than not, your boutique gyms will host these type of coaches, which let’s be honest are the future of the fitness industry. Speaking from first-hand experience, at Resistance Sports Science, all of our coaches can program for the body in front of them. Not just there goal or sport! This is the quality difference you will find at a boutique performance gym. Just because you play basketball, it doesn’t mean your program should be based around box jumps. How about lateral change of direction movements, horizontal 5m accelerations, single leg strength, patella tendon health, ankle, knee and hip proprioception, general strength and thoracic + shoulder mobility. If you are an athlete, find a small performance gym that specialises in athletic development and exercise rehab. Why rehab? Because if a coach can fix an injury, they know how to prevent it. What increases chances of winning? Having players available to play.
For those that want a quick recap of this long boring article, have a look below. I have given a pros and cons for these three types of gyms for athletes and a star rating to go with it.
Gym Type 1. Big Dog Commercial
Large floor space
Facility Pool, Sauna.
Standard machine based programs
Reliance on Individual Knowledge
Lack of knowledge around correct technique
Gym type 2 High Intensity Jumpers
No think, just do.
High Risk of Injury
No Periodised Plans
No Progressive overload
Trouble sustain results
Poor Exercise Selection and Pairing
Non Specific to the individual
One size fits all
Platues in Strength
Small Gym Space with crowded rooms
Expensive Weekly Memberships
Gym Type 3 The little guys
Boutique performance/movement based gyms. These are usually the little guys who host the most educated coaches and the best programs. Whilst there gyms are smaller, usually there membership base is as well. You will usually train with like-minded individuals most of which will follow a progressive plan.
Mapped out and organised training plans
Small Group Sessions
Specific programs tailored to the individual or small groups
Family/ Community Based
Ability to deal with and manage injuries
Referral Networks. The coaches usually respect there scope of practise!
Smaller Gym Space
May be more expensive