How to pick the right gym for crossfit and marathon running
I am training for marathons and crossfit for two years in total now. Based on this you will find some real life tips on how to make a decision on what you need to look out for. I made mistakes and I hope that these tips will help you to avoid the ones that I made, to save you money and progress even faster than I did.
Phase 1 Gather information
As with every good project picking the right gym for you starts with proper information gathering. I could have done a lot better on this part, as I went with the first and most obvious place in my town, which was the cheapest. After half a year of subscription I came to the conclusion, that I would've joined a different workout facility just as far away, If i had done my homework right. I think some people stick to their routine without going astray and discovering something better for themselves.
What do you want to achieve ?
The first step is setting your goals. Most people start to do exercises to achieve something and not just for the sake of working out. Why are you going to the gym ? This is central for knowing which one to pick, which program to do and whether you need a personal trainer.. Here are some examples and ask yourself honestly, what you think describes yourself best:
- I want to lose weight
- I want to get more toned / abs
- I want to get strong
- I want to build muscle
- I want to take care of my heart
- I want to lose body fat
- I want to fit in my dress / wedding dress / old suit
- I want to run a marathon
Depending on what kind of goal you have it will influence everything else what you do thereafter. My personal goal is:
"I want to run a marathon under three hours and clean and jerk 2x my body weight before i turn 35"
I would recommend a goal which is impressive. Something where people say "Wow that is cool that you achieved that". Do not be shy and pick something which now seems out of reach. Think "If you reach for the stars, you might not quite get one, but you won't end up with a handful of mud, either."
For the above mentioned goals I would recommend to revisit them and make them more specific. All of them lack a clear amount and time. Here are examples of better fitness goals:
- I want to lose weight = I want to lose 10% of my body weight in the next 60 days
- I want to get more toned = I want to drop my body fat by 5% over the next 60 days
- I want to get strong = I want to be able to do 10 unbroken push ups within the next 6 months
- I want to build muscle = I want to add 5 kilo of muscle mass within the next 60 days
- I want to take care of my heart = I want to decrease my blood pressure by x% and get my resting hbpm down to y by end of year
- I want to lose body fat = I want to lose 1% of body fat at my belly, arms etc. by end of march
- I want to fit in my dress = I want to fit in my dress by xxx. I will achieve this through dropping x cm on the waist y cm on the hips and z cms on my arms
- I want to run a marathon = I want tor run the Dublin marathon in 2015 in under 5 hours
Once you have your goals set, you can go on to the next step and begin to learn more about yourself.
What is your current status ?
In the next step do a self assessment or get your general practitioner to do one for you. You should know the following things about yourself:
- What is my height ?
- What is my age ?
- What is my weight ?
- How many calories do I roughly burn a day ?
- How many calories do I roughly eat a day ?
- What is my body mass index ?
- What is my body fat percentage ?
- What is my blood pressure ?
- What is my resting heart rate ?
- Which medical conditions do I have ?
- How often do I currently work out a week ?
- What do I like when working out ?
- Can I stick to a program on my own ?
- Do I perform better in a group ?
- Do I want to be in a group while I am training ?
- Do I have a car ?
- How much money can I spent on exercising ?
- Am I allowed to get money from my employer / insurance to cover my gym cost ?
I am sorry to say this but the older and sicker you are the more likely it will be that you have to train under professional supervision and be monitored to minimize risk. Your current health status will also determine which programs will fit your needs best and influence how much time it will take to achieve the goals you have set for yourself.
What is the right program for you ?
If you are more into losing weight you probably want to focus on cardiovascular programs which make you sweat a lot. I recommend running, biking, swimming and walking out of my own experience.
I found this to be a great website with all the right information for all levels of runners. Hal is himself a passionate runner and shows results in the field which he translated to training programs for all kinds of goals around running. If you really want to lose weight fast, I personally think that is the way to go. I worked with his Intermediate 1 program for my first Marathon and finished it in 3:58. Running can also be good for working on your heart, but if you already have problems, please consult a doctor so that you ensure the right intensity in your programming.
If you want to get stronger I personally think that the field of power lifting is the best option for you to gain strength. Two of the programs I know to be successful are
The former program is for beginners and the latter for someone who already has a bit of confidence around working with barbells. Power lifting will make you stringer and more confident, I have done it myself. It is a great feeling once you get that first time 100kg squat or deadlift down. Pretty bad ass and you see the results. However not really the best option if you want to lose weight or boost endurance as you might get even heavier and less enduring if you only do power lifting, due to the nature of the program.
Swimming is a good option for everyone who has to take care of themselves, but their joints are not the best anymore or they are too heavy for other forms of exercise to be performed yet. My mother used to be on the German junior team for a short while when she was a teenager and swimming is not to be underestimated if taken to competitive mode. Swimmers have nice physiques and you can work your way up step by step by swimming faster or longer. Just be aware that swimming often has nasty side effects which are mainly attributed to bad hygiene in pools, I did not have these problems from running or going to the gym. For swimming I refrain from recommending a program as I lack the experience in this area.
If you want to get more toned and lose body fat I personally think that crossfit is the best alternative on the market judging from the physiques of the professionals, but also looking at my results. Crossfit constantly challenges you by exposing your body to transporting load over a certain distance in ways which it is not used to yet. It incorporates running, swimming, power lifting, olympic weightlifting, basically everything you can imagine. Downsides of crossfit are that it is relatively hard to be good at it, as a lot of skills have to be learned, that the potential of hurting yourself can be very high and that it is not the cheapest of the options available.
If you wanted to put on mass and muscle than most likely you should follow a high rep, high load template which bodybuilders do, doing isolated exercises like bicep curls and lat pulls. Upside is that this kind of training has very limited risk of injury if you know how to use the machines and progress with the load as you can not fall off or execute the exercise with bad form. Downsides are, that it can get a bit repetitive and boring if you do not get a kick out of watching your muscles grow. A source to run to would be
Although the site seems to have taken a more mainstream approach to bodybuilding nowadays.
Know your events
I would highly recommend that you book yourself in for some key events where you either compete with others or show off your skills in some kind of way. These are milestones for you to work towards and check if you are progressing towards what you want to achieve. Book that marathon, power lifting event, tough mudder or next swimming competition to keep the juices following and motivation levels up. You will exert a higher level of commitment when competition or an outside factor is involved. If the local gym already provides these kind of milestones events for you than this is good stuff and to be embraced. I got going once I had booked my first marathon.
Know your budget
This is a fairly easy one, but still be aware of this. The more one on one time or face time in a class you will get with an instructor, the more it will cost you. Also the more facilities are provided usually the higher the price. Especially when you are just starting out or have health conditions to be dealt with I would recommend investing in F2F time with your instructors to get off to a good start. Also when you are changing programs it can be good advise to consult a professional even if you already obtained a high level of fitness.
Know the opening times
Check the opening times of the gym and if they fit your daily routine. These can vary widely depending on how the business is run. Usually the leisure clubs / big gyms have better opening times than the crossfit box gyms, as these are run by less people and are only open when a coach is in who is in a lot of cases also the owner. Also it can be frustrating to arrive to a closed door, be it the first inquiry or one of your sessions in your program.
Know the area
Check out how many gyms are in your area. A vital point I personally missed. You might find that hidden gem just by checking Google, as it is not at a main road or where all of your buddies go. Also check out if you can walk or run there easily. This will be handy, when you do not have access to your car. An interesting question is if your gym should be close to work or close to home. Having tried both i would recommend close to home. Usually you do not want to bring your gear to work and also check in at home if everything is going alright, if you have a family, before you head to the gym. I tried to work out near my workplace or go directly after workout and in the lunch break. All of these options i scrapped in the long run.
Know the rules
Each gym has their own rules. Be aware of them before you book so that you are not surprised that some of the exercises you want to do are not allowed. Also their might be hidden charges for extra classes or using specific courses. Be aware of these pitfalls before making your final decision.
Know the types of gyms
In my book there are essentially three types of gym
Leisure clubs usually have a gym floor, a pool, a sauna and are attached to a hotel of some sort. Expect families, good value for money, most likely the lowest prices in the area as they can fill their buckets by accommodating everybody. Downside of these is that if you do crossfit or really heavy free weight lifting you are normally a bit of a freak in that gym. Also the amount of machines being around does not give you the opportunity to do the gymnastics you have to do to perform crossfit. Furthermore personal attention usually costs extra in these gyms as the number of members per instructor is usually higher than in a box gym.
Box gyms give you the opportunity to do all of those freaky moves and find people who are just as crazy as you to hype each other up and reach your full potential. These usually do not have the physiotherapist or doctor on site, so might not be an option for people who have to be supervised due to their health conditions. Also the price per person is usually higher on average than for the leisure club memberships, as they are no family packages and generally less members to draw money from. Always remember in a box gym that the personal attention and niche you are getting here comes at a price. The more you press for discount, the more likely they will go out of business in the long run, as we all know word spreads.
Floor gym / machine gyms are gyms where you find a big space full of machines without a sauna or pool attached. Probably the most common form of gym around globally, although crossfit boxes are catching up. These are ideal for bodybuilders who want to do isolated exercises to pump themselves up and now what they are doing
Know the commute
I have already mentioned this in the "know your area" section of this post still I would like to repeat that your gym should be no further away from your home than a 15 minutes walk if it is possible. Reason for that being is that you want to spend most of your time training, not being stuck in traffic, when you go to do your workout. Driving time to your gym is waste, so minimize it wherever you can.
Phase 2 Test the gyms
If you followed all of the instructions above you will know what you want to achieve, how you want to achieve it, which equipment you will need to achieve it and how much guidance you will need to achieve it. In the case that you do not know this I would recommend to revisit your plan before taking it to Phase 2.
What equipment does the gym have ?
Once you walk into the gym have a look around what kind of equipment they have. Is it old ? Is there enough for the amount of people around ? Which make is it ? I was put off walking into a gym where I could clearly see that the equipment was bought as cheap as possible. I do not mind if it is used a bit, but if it is old and of cheap make i am doubting if the owner has the best of interest of their clients in mind. If you want to entertain a little research project upfront, check out the websites of Eleiko, York fitness, Rogue fitness, gym80 and ebay to to get a feeling which equipment costs how much. The healthier a business is, the more likely it can afford the more expensive equipment. It does not mean that this is necessarily the better gym, but I deem it beneficial to be informed on the matter. The last thing you want is some of the equipment breaking down while you are using it.
How many members has the gym ?
A question you can pop to staff to get a good impression how the business is run. If staff hesitates to answer that question they might be not that invested. This number will also give you an estimate compared to floor space, if you have to expect to wait for machines / classes at peak time because they are oversubscribed. Nothing is more annoying than arriving to the gym to do a particular thing just to find the class booked out or all of the necessary machines occupied by others. In addition you will again know if the business is healthy and you are not investing your money into a black hole which is about to close in a month.
How many instructors has the gym ?
Another question which you easier ask or where you can obtain the information somewhere inside the gym. Look at the ratio of how many members there are per instructor. The less members per instructor usually the better the service and the higher the monthly fee for the gym. Here is usually where crossfit gyms can score as this ratio is lower than in leisure clubs.
How fit are the instructors themselves in relation to their age ?
If you want to reach your goals, look at the instructors of the gym and if they match with the goals you want to obtain. It seems strange to me that someone wants to teach you something who did not do it for themselves. Also look out the for gym members and some before and after stories. Can you see that the team is dedicated to what they are doing and producing the results you seek for themselves and for others. Also check if you like the staff and if they like you. You most likely will be there for a lot of time so make it worth your while.
Do you like the facilities ?
Check the showers, the changing rooms, massaging area, area for floor work and anything else that might be of relevance to you. Do you feel comfortable in there, which does not necessarily mean that everything has to be neat and tidy. My new gym, for example, is a bit of more of a Den than the one i used to go before. Still i like it more.
Accept change and compromise
Whatever you may pick, be aware that your needs might change and the current facilities may not fit your needs anymore. Also changing up the routine can be helpful by switching gyms around. None of the gyms will fit your bill perfectly, because all f them have some drawbacks. Be prepared to make some compromises.
- Should I use machines in the gym
- How much time should I Spent at the gym
- How to get the most out of your gym
- How to get the most out of your gym time