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The Hallmarks of a Truly Great Gym

Some gyms just make you want to train.

I wish that I could put my finger on exactly what it is but the truth is, even after opening a dozen successful gyms of my own, there is no hard science to it.

The accompanying photograph is from our new Amsterdam gym. I love the natural light, the sense of space, and of course think the red track with the UP logo emblazoned across it adds a sense of drama that would otherwise be lacking.

However, that doesn’t mean that all gyms with natural light have an energy or ambience that makes you want to workout.

Quite often I’ve seen cathedral-like gyms with an abundance of natural light and space that are entirely devoid of training atmosphere. They make me want to sit down and read a book in one of the shafts of sunlight, not get dark and dirty with a set of dumbbells.

I’m an old bodybuilder. I’ve trained in some absolute sh*t pits.

“No p***ing on the rocks” sign in the sauna.

Dirty underwear left to dry in said sauna.

“No spitting” signs.

Blood (literally) on the floor.

The best gym that I ever trained at was Dorian Yates’ old Temple Gym in Birmingham. Zero sunlight and a cramped cellar-like feel to it, but boy, oh boy, did I have some great workouts.

On the flip side, my absolute favourite gym in the entire world is UP Marbella. We have non-stop sunlight, a breeze blowing through the gym most of the time, and spectacular mountain backdrops. They don’t make you work harder, but they lift the spirit and give you that extra little bit of dopamine.

What makes a great gym isn’t sunlight or ventilation. Those of you who have worked out at UP City will know that for sure!

It’s not great equipment, although one of the joys of a place like Gold’s Gym in Venice, California, is the vast array of “real” kit that it boasts.

“Real kit”, by the way, not sh*tty overpriced Italian designer gym equipment that you feel guilty about sweating on; overly stylised designer gyms are not for me.

What makes a great gym isn’t the people in it, although they can make or break a space. A wonderfully equipped gym full of lazy w*nkers who sniff at real training and you’re screwed.

A gym with minimal kit that’s full of supportive people and you can kill it, no matter what. I’m no CrossFit fan, but the best boxes epitomise this level of support.

The truth of what makes a great gym is that YOU FEEL FREE to do exactly what you want. You should be able to walk in and feel completely unfettered in your personal pursuit of training excellence.

All the best gyms that I’ve had the pleasure to train in have given me this feeling. From spit-and-sawdust gyms like Phoenix Gym in Bradford (anyone remember that?) to Temple Gym and my alma mater Muscleworks Gym in Bethnal Green, through to “posh gyms” like a UP facility.

That’s the secret – you come into the gym and you have the shackles off and feel encouraged to work to your maximum potential. Everything else that is positive flows from that and becomes a virtuous cycle of success.

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