Where Are All The Hardcore Gyms?


A Trend Shift In Weightlifting

As a weightlifter this is something I miss a lot. Walking into a small, independent hardcore gym. I don’t know what it is, but there is just something about the whole atmosphere of a hardcore gym that makes weightlifting such an awesome and motivating experience. That moment you walk in, you feel like you’re right at home and you can be the weightlifter you always wanted to be. There seems to be no limits on what you can do, or how you can achieve your goals.

When you take those first few steps into a hardcore gym, you hear that wonderful clanking sound of old, rusty gym equipment, barbells hitting the floor, weightlifters growling out their last rep as if their life depended on it and, water leaking from the roof. But, don’t forget about the weightlifters and trainers themselves. Contrary to what most people think, the hardcore gym scene has always fostered and brought together weightlifters and trainers who love what they do. In any hardcore gym, you will always come across a tight-nit community of people, who will push you, motivate you and take pride in helping you to achieve your goals. One thing I love about hardcore gyms is the mindset it fosters, everything from the atmosphere to the people themselves. They all embody the concept of what true weightlifting is all about: it’s rough, it’s hard work and there will be tough times ahead, but there will always be people to help you out and teach you how to succeed. If you are a weightlifter, then the only way to really experience the true nature of weightlifting is to train in a hardcore gym. It really is something else!

A Shift Towards Big Budget Gym Chains

Over the years the presence of hardcore gyms have been getting smaller. In fact, you really have to search out hard to find them. You don’t come across them as often as the big budget gyms. While budget chains are heavily marketed, if you are looking for a hardcore gym it’s usually through word of mouth or chance. If you ask me, I am not a fan of these big budget gyms when it comes to pursuing your weightlifting efforts. Ok I will be honest, they are cheap and they are everywhere. Good if you are trying to get more people into fitness. But when it comes to weightlifting, they pretty much do a good job at destroying the reputation of the sport itself. In my opinion, big budget gyms are all about churning in as much profits as possible. Their primary focus is not on enhancing the sport itself, but rather stripping it down into something that makes it, well, sell worthy. This is what I really dislike about big budget gym chains: destroying the reputation of a sport so that you can make more profits from it. It sounds harsh, but I have been to many big chain gyms where everything is encouraged but weightlifting itself! That can’t be right, can it?

“Over the years the presence of hardcore gyms have been getting smaller”.

Weightlifting is not just about picking up and putting down the iron. It’s about the atmosphere, the people you train with, the advice and encouragement you get, as well as the feeling that you have the freedom and flexibility to try new things. From my time spent training in big budget gyms, I feel they have done very little to accommodate any of this. In fact I feel that most of the time, they actually try to discourage most of these things. But, that really depends on the overall philosophy of the gym you are training at and what they believe in. Most of the time if you’re an avid weightlifter, their aims, goals and ambitions will fail to align with yours. Trust me when I say that will make things a little tricky for you in the long-term.

Let me guess, there have been times when you visit a new gym and think wow, looks great! You then walk in side feeling excited, enthusiastic and ready to take your weightlifting to a whole new level. But all of a sudden you actually instead, say to yourself: where the heck are all the free weights? You see lots of state of the art machines, sauna rooms, a lovely clean gym floor, a nice juice bar and lots of smartly dressed trainers (or should I say salesmen!). The manager will usually tell you with a nice smile: we have everything to meet your needs! Well, where is the weightlifting stuff? You are a gym, right? Absolutely, we have state of the art weightlifting machines. If you are someone who is looking just to keep up a bit of general fitness, this might not seem all too bad for your needs. But, for the more serious weightlifters it has everything except the stuff you need to optimally gain size and strength. You might get lucky and find the odd gym with a large enough free weights area. But most of the time, its usually small, pushed into a lonely corner somewhere and barely used. If there is one, most of the time there is usually insufficient weights, bars, racks and room to perform the exercises you will eventually want to perform. I just hope you recognize this before you seal the deal on your new membership! Another thing that always gets me are some of the obscure rules you might encounter such as: don’t drop the weights, don’t make any noise, don’t use chalk and even, don’t wear a cap! (This one always amazed me). I guess the general rule is, don’t do anything that might attract attention to yourself (including lifting heavy).

“It’s about the atmosphere, the people you train with, the advice and encouragement you get, as well as the feeling that you have the freedom and flexibility to try new things”.

One of the main things big budget gyms do to make profits is to sell what is known as personal training packages (PTP). These are typically offered by personnel on the gym floor and consist of personal training sessions for a set number of weeks. Typically, the more long-duration PTPs sold, the more money the gym can make. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying personal training is a bad idea, because there are some really great serious personal trainers out there who know their stuff. But they are pretty hard to find. More like a rare treasure in the weightlifting world. In my experience, if you go to a small, hardcore gym, you are more likely to find trainers who are really into the sport and are more concerned with helping you achieve your weightlifting goals, than simply making money off of you. I guess that is why they are small after all. However, in large budget gym chains the situation can be completely the opposite. Personal trainers are usually forced to sell as many of these PTPs as possible. It becomes more about meeting sales targets than ensuring training is top quality and well, honest. Remember, easy sells! As a result, personal trainers may feel the need to cut corners and reduce the quality and effectiveness of their programs to their clients in order to sell more PTPs. After all, the client is only really going to notice the true effectiveness of a program after say, 8 weeks. By then the trainer could have sold hundreds more PTPs. This is made even worse if several personal trainers in the same gym are forced to compete with others on the basis of the number of PTPs sold. How do you then increase your chances of getting ahead in this situation? By cutting corners! This is great for your targets, but probably not optimal and sustainable for the client’s long-term goals.

“I am not saying personal training is a bad idea, because there are some really great serious personal trainers out there who know their stuff”.

As you can see, in a big budget gym guided heavily by sales targets rather than on quality, weightlifting as a sport is likely to be dumbed down significantly into something less effective. This is simply because you need to sell it. After all, it doesn’t make for great sales tactics if you tell people: it’s going to be hard, it’s going to require work, you are going to feel discomfort, you are going to get muscle aches etc. Doesn’t really sound appealing, right? Although I understand that a large gym needs to make profits. Unfortunately by doing it this way, you are destroying a sport, dumbing it down into something it’s not, giving people potentially bad suboptimal advice and, imprinting an idea into people’s minds of what they think true weightlifting is. Not to mention in the long-term, you will also probably damage the reputation of these personal trainers as people quickly start to question the quality of the training if they are not getting the results they are after. It’s a shame, because a lot of personal trainers nowadays have the reputation for being nothing more than glorified salesmen rather than people who truly love the sport.

I have heard a few times from other weightlifters that big budget gyms are nothing more than large circuses. In some cases, I have found this to be true. You walk into a large gym chain and you see many different things: boot camps, circuits, fitness classes, heck even so-called fitness discos, fitness in the dark and to synchronized music (That is a new one!). Now, some people will probably be saying: well, what if you are someone who is not interested in gaining size and strength. I just want to improve my general cardiovascular health. That’s absolutely fine. These different activities are really good for getting the blood pumping and increasing stamina. But in terms of building size and strength (which a lot of gym members actually do want), they do very little for reaching those goals. But this is precisely where the problem lies.

“I have heard a few times from other weightlifters that big budget gyms are nothing more than large circuses”. Most of these classes will probably utilize some form of lightweights and high reps in a circuit like fashion and be dubbed a new revolutionary way to weightlift and build size and strength. Completely going against the fundamental principles of what makes weightlifting effective and giving people an untrue, obscured idea of what weightlifting is or how it can be a great tool for size and strength gains. Instead, weightlifting is stripped down into something ineffective, but because it now sounds cool and exciting, it will sell better. Congratulations! Not only have you ruined the reputation of weightlifting, you have also twisted it into something that will lure clients in and prove nothing but ineffective for their goals. Marketing magic 101.

The True Face Of Weightlifting Is Fading

As a true weightlifter, it’s hard to find many positives in big budget gym chains. Over the years they have become so dominant in the industry that finding a place, which embodies the true qualities of weightlifting has become a mountain of a task. With restrictive rules, less need for free weights and glorified sales tactics, it’s not a surprise that the true nature of weightlifting has declined. In fact, if you go to most big budget gym chains most people will not associate weightlifting with hard work, sweat, lifting cold iron and learning even the most basic natural compound movements. But instead, will associate weightlifting with a few fitness classes and some machine work.

“With restrictive rules, less need for free weights and glorified sales tactics, it’s not a surprise that the true nature of weightlifting has declined”.

Big budget gyms have their place in the fitness world. I am not denying that. They are large, they are everywhere, and they foster an environment that is great if you are into general fitness. For people looking to keep the blood pumping, improve stamina and cardiovascular fitness, move about and reduce stress, they are great. But for most of you who are using weightlifting as a tool to really get those strength and size gains, then big budget gym chains might not be the most optimal use of your time, energy and money. Big budget gym chains will market themselves as a great place to satisfy your weightlifting goals. But really, their true aim is general fitness. If you are following my blog, then I assume your primary goal is weighting and not general fitness?

Weightlifting is not only about lifting weights; it’s about the atmosphere, the philosophy, people you meet and train with and, the discipline itself. All these play an equally important role in helping you to achieve your weightlifting goals. As big budget gyms become bigger and more prominent, I feel these unique qualities are becoming less emphasized in order to make way for more attractive marketing tricks and tactics. Weightlifting in its purest form is no longer cool. Which is a shame, because it will always be the most effective way of gaining size and strength. That’s why it’s still around. You see many different fitness trends come and go, but when it comes to pure weightlifting, it always seems to hang in there in the background.

“Weightlifting is not only about lifting weights; it’s about the atmosphere, the philosophy, people you meet and train with and, the discipline itself.” That’s because if you give it a chance and you do it properly, it always works! Not everyone wants to be an avid weightlifter, but there are certainly many people like you out there who want to pursue it to get stronger, bigger and improve body composition. I can honestly say that if this is you, look for smaller independent gyms that have a strong history of weightlifting. The atmosphere, the people and the philosophy will all help to instill a unique source of motivation in you that will help you achieve your goals far and beyond what you might achieve in a big budget gym chain. You just need to search for them.

If you have any questions about the article or would like to discuss further some of the topics mentioned, then please feel free to leave comments down below. Do you train at a big budget gym? Let me know your experience! Have you ever trained in a smaller, independent gym? Let me know! 


1 thought on “Where Are All The Hardcore Gyms?

  1. Hello,
    Pleasure to meet you. I just wanted to say thank you for visiting my blog page and having a follow, I appreciate the support. Btw, you have some good content on your blog as well, good topic pieces.


    Liked by 1 person

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