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Commercial gyms: The pros and cons

I’ve been asked many times why I train once per week in a commercial gym, when I’ve got everything I need here at my home facility, literally seconds away!

The first gym I ever trained in was on Loughborough University Campus, and I got in free as my Mum worked at the Student’s Union. There were two small rooms, one with a 360º multi-station cable system and a wobbly squat machine in the corner, and the adjacent room had all of the olympic free weights. I only ever poked my head around the door of the free weights room, as it was too scary for a scrawny teenager like me. This gym is long since gone, but I have fond memories of it, as it was my first step to becoming He-Man in my tiny mind.

Since then, workouts at home have progressed from using the classic plastic weights from Argos, to the professional cable pulley system I now use for clients. Along the way, I’ve also trained in all kinds of gyms, ranging from clinically pristine machine-based environments, to medieval dungeons, where you trained at your own risk with equipment battered and rusty from years of sweaty abuse.

In one such case, I saw a guy doing a heavy seated row on an old machine, when the cable snapped and he backflipped off the bench into a twisted heap on the floor. I was shocked as dusted himself off, swore a bit, then got back onto another machine, while the thuggish onlookers laughed and gave him some stick for breaking it. Everyone had a nickname in that gym, I kept myself to myself, so I never knew what mine was, which was probably for the best…

The Hawthorne Effect

I’ve always loved working out, and definitely get an endorphin rush from it, whether it’s from making incremental improvements, to trying something that makes me slightly sore in a new place the next day. I’m only human though, and on busier days the motivation might not be 100%, so I schedule in my own workouts on the calendar the same way I do for clients.

For the most part, I quite happily work out here alone, with some good music and my progress spreadsheet beaming at me from a wall-mounted TV – prompting me what I need to do. However, I definitely perform better when I have someone else either training with me, or I’m aware of someone watching me!

This is known as The Hawthorne Effect, from an experiment that once tried to covertly assess employee performance in a factory, but the results were distorted once the workers realised that they were being monitored, and upped their game.

This is just one of the many benefits of personal training. The natural human inclination is to 'stop' once something gets physically challenging, to save energy and not risk getting hurt. After delivering over 7000 unique one-to-one workouts since my first blog on here, I can tell if someone still has more in the tank when the going gets tough, and can safely coax more out of them than they would have achieved alone, and accelerate results.

I spend a lot of hours in my own gym every week, which is another reason that I like to train elsewhere, not just for the Hawthorne Effect for my own benefit, but also for a change of scenery.

I’m an avid follower of the exercise scene, from subscribing to dozens of YouTube professionals, to reading the latest scientific studies, and taking online courses for personal development. I also think it’s good to be embedded in the latest gym culture and not be isolated, and I like to see for my own eyes what people are doing these days, and witness the latest exercise fads. Sometimes it’s hard to watch, and frustrating when I can’t get on the equipment I’m waiting for, but other times I get some good ideas – it’s a continual learning process!

I’ve been training once per week at Loughborough’s Pure Gym for several months now, after trying out a few gyms in the local area. It strikes a good balance for what I’m after, and I train there with a friend for that extra push. I appreciate that gyms are not for everyone, with typical barriers including the intimidation factor, not knowing what to do, fear of injury and also the time investment required.

January has of course seen a massive uptick in customers for Pure, and I’ve been surprised how busy it’s been on Sunday mornings...but this will no doubt tail off as New Year’s Resolutions usually start to wane. It’s been good to see more people doing resistance training than cardio though...the message is slowly but surely filtering down from scientists demonstrating how critical it is, and how relying solely on cardio exercise for ‘weight loss’ and fitness just doesn’t cut it for the long term. I’ll explain why in the next blog!



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