For one, the music must be good. There is nothing worse than walking into a gym and hearing a Yanni album blaring and then trying to take your workout seriously. You could bring a walkman if push comes to shove, but it tends to be a hassle. Just go to a gym that you are interested in and either ask a person working or walk around and take note of what they play. Bottom line, if the music sucks, it could throw you off mentally, which could throw your workout for a loop. Next, free weights are a must. If there are no free weights, move on. This might seem trivial, but the weight plates should all match in brand. You'd be surprised at how many gyms carry different brands of weight plates and even dumbbells. Dumbbells are another issue. I would avoid joining a gym with dumbbells that only go up to 100 lbs., try looking for the 150's or if possible the 200's. If you're wondering, yes, they do make dumbbells this heavy. Personally, I think that rubber dumbbells suck; they're extremely bulky, hard to balance, and tend to get caught on your clothes. Also, if the dumbbells are chipped in many places, it could cause you to think you're doing more weight than you actually are. The barbells should all weigh 45 lbs, unless you are some badass powerlifter who uses special competition barbells, and the width of the bar should not be much thicker than that of the dumbbells. My former gym had thick barbells, and it really made training with them difficult.
Machines are unimportant for bodybuilding purposes. Before I go on, remember that machines are usually computerized and do not include pulley/cable setups with free weights. For pulley systems, you need to look for a lat pulldown, seated row, leg curl (one-legged and two-legged), leg extension, Pec Deck, and a cable station (for cable crossovers, pushdowns, cable curls, etc.). Keep in mind that all of these listed setups should be on a pulley system; no computerized machines are needed. Try out all of the pulley setups that I have referenced and make sure they are smooth and really target in on the working muscle.
Certain benches and equipment are certainly needed. One or more of each is crucial:
- Squat rack
- Leg Press
- Hack Squat
- Standing Calf Raise
- Seated Calf Raise
- Flat bench for flat bench press
- Flat bench for dumbbell work
- Incline bench for incline bench press
- Adjustable Incline bench for dumbbell work
- Smith Machine
- Adjustable Decline bench for abdominal work
- Dip bar for hanging dips
- Pull-up bar
- Preacher Curl
- EZ (curl) Bar
- Shoulder Press bench (looks like a regular upright chair)
As far as cardiovascular equipment goes, look for properly functioning, and smooth operating treadmills and stationary bikes. I'm not big on cardio, and only do it during precontest preparation. I think that the stairmaster and elliptical machines are unnecessary. Running and biking are the best forms of cardio. However, if you prefer the stairmaster and elliptical machines, then by all means, look for them also.
Now that you know what to look for in a gym, I'm going to tell you what type of gyms to avoid. Are televisions in every room and on cardio equipment really necessary? Hell no, if you can't peel yourself away from the tube for an hour, then don't even bother getting off the couch. "Well it keeps my mind off of the pain, and makes time go by faster." Tough shit sissy, go home if it hurts. I think that a gym with lots of televisions has its priorities somewhere other than on its quality of equipment and training. I can understand televisions in the locker rooms, but come on, do we really need people standing in the middle of the gym floor staring at a television? Your goal in joining a gym should not be free cable and TV, it should be whipping your butt into shape.
I can do without the gyms that contain a lot of people who stand around and run their mouths about the days events or whatever people find to talk about in order to avoid working out. These people are a real pain when they lie on the leg curl, or on the leg press, or on the flat bench and talk with their buds between sets. I've said it once, and I'll say it again: I don't go to your pow-wows to workout, so don't come to my gym for a pow-wow. Worst of all, once these people finally do their sets, they'll ask you to spot them.
Finally, avoid dirty gyms. There is a really good reason for this; it's called disease. You wouldn't believe the viruses and bacteria that can be found on an unkept barbell or bench. It's really disgusting when you walk into a gym and see sweat puddles on all the equipment and it reeks of human body odor. It's like a huge germ bath, go in to workout, and come out with herpes!