Over the past few years the fitness industry has made some radical changes and new research into what training methods work is starting to re-shape many of the gyms we use. Some facilities have embraced the changes and some have stuck to their guns, sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly.

Research has shown that many of the so called ‘Functional’ training methods used today are of little value and that a structured Strength and Conditioning program is of much more benefit to help create a strong foundation base. Many of the larger commercial chains have realised this, through either their own research or through the steady decline of people wanting to spend endless hours wasted on the CrossTrainer.

When choosing a gym in Oxford, or anywhere for that matter it’s important that it provides you with certain things that will benefit your training and progress you as an athlete, believe it or not a good coffee shop is not one of the important things to consider when choosing which gym is suitable for you. Swimming pools and Saunas are nice, however these should be considered as bonus facilities once the facility has met all your other needs. Swimming is a great tool, however Oxford has many swimming pools which are open to the public on a drop in basis and generally, unless you are training to be a swimmer, swimming sessions are used more for recovery than training.

I have compiled a list of ten things that I believe you should consider when selecting the most suitable gym in Oxford for you, whether it’s a Bodybuilding gym, a Strength and Conditioning gym or simply a leisure centre that you’re looking for, these ten points are relevant.

No 1 – Opening Hours

Any self-respecting gym will offer an early opening and relatively late close. People’s circumstances change and your training may need to take place before work, so if your gym doesn’t open before 08:00 you can’t train and become another non attending member to add to the list. Equally a relatively late closing is important if you’re training after work.

No 2 – Induction Process

If you are not a regular gym goer and require a little bit of help with your technique and a structured plan from which to work from. Therefore it’s important that you receive a full induction on how to use the equipment safely and are given a full plan for the coming weeks on what you should be doing, how often you should be doing it and a list of mobility and warm up drills suitable for the training you will be undertaking. It annoys the hell out of me when gyms let new members use the training areas without any form of induction, it’s dangerous and unprofessional.

No 3 – Personal Training

If your current gym in Oxford does not offer Personal Training then it’s time to bug out and find a gym with trainers capable of delivering a quality structured 1:1 session. You may think your training is going well, but at some point progress will grind to a halt and unless you are constantly researching you will need the help of a fitness professional. When choosing a Personal Trainer to suit you forget looking for one who has the exact physique that you want, however your trainer should practice what they preach and if they are incapable of looking after their own physique, believe me they won’t be able to help you with yours. Look at the way the PT’s train, if they spend 45 minutes on the CrossTrainer at the end of their relatively useless weights session then walk away immediately and approach the guy/girl who is squatting, deadlifting and performing short bursts of high intensity training at the end of a structured strength programme.

No 4 – Multiple Squat Racks

My personal pet hate is when commercial gyms spend £100,000’s on lines of treadmills, CrossTrainers and upright bikes then almost as an afterthought they put a token squat rack in the corner next to something like a Smith Machine. These racks have far more value to your training than any piece of Cardio equipment which to me says that these facilities don’t actually care if your training is improving, just as long as you spend money in the cafe afterwards. If your Oxford gym has less than 2 squat racks turn around and run for your life. 1 Squat rack means that if even 1 other person has a clue of what they’re doing that day, you won’t be able to train properly.

No 5 – Chalk

If you can’t use chalk in the gym you can’t progress, if you can’t grip the heavy bar you are about to deadlift then you can’t lift it. Any gym that tells you that chalk is banned has no clue about training and once again you need to be looking for the door. Don’t get me wrong, I own a gym and people throwing chalk on the floor needlessly does create more cleaning for me, however I will never begrudge clearing up chalk after people have been working hard in the gym.

No 6 – Bars bars bars

Very few things are as important or useful as Bars in the gym. If the gym you choose has only a couple of bars then you will be lucky to get regular use of them during busy periods. Every self-respecting gym should have at least 10 bars, 2 on each of their 2 squat racks (if they have them) and a few for general use.

No 7 – Can I drop the weights?

I recently heard a story about a gym that had a lifting platform and told someone they could not drop weights on it as it was on the first floor, when the guy explained that it was a platform and that they should put it on the ground floor the instructor replied ‘that’s not what it’s for’……………WHAT??? Then what is it for? Classic ‘all the gear no idea’. Gyms need to employ managers and instructors who have a clue about training. I have worked in a few commercial gyms and I have never seen the General Managers or even Fitness Managers training, or if they have they have slowly plodded along on the CrossTrainer…..Brilliant!

No 8 – Treatment/Physio support

No matter how well you structure your programming, how good your technique is or how much mobility and soft tissue work you do, you will get niggles, injuries and minor issues that will require treatment of some description. If your gym does not have a support team of therapists you will have to outsource your treatments. Whilst this isn’t the end of the world it would be far more beneficial if your coaches and therapists are under one roof so they can discuss your training and rehab plans to help you get back on your way ASAP.

No 9 – Music

Research has proven that workout intensity increases when music is louder. This is nothing new, think about any group class that takes place in your current gym, they turn the music up right? So why not extend that into the main gym area? I’m not saying have it so loud that you can’t hear yourself think but make music choices that are inspiring and upbeat, not slow moody love songs from the 90’s.

No 10 – Unusual Training Equipment

Possibly the most important item on the list. If the gym has taken care of the multiple squat racks, plenty of bars and allow you to drop weight then they will probably have invested in some unusual training tools. Most of this equipment is not found in many commercial gyms however for a fraction of the cost of the endless banks of cardio equipment and members will get far more benefit and enjoyment out of using it. Turf gives gyms a dedicated space in which to use kit like sleds, prowlers, and tyres and also somewhere to perform warm up and sprinting drills and is a must for any sports performance or Strength and Conditioning facility. Ropes to climb, rings for gymnastic movements, GHD’s and other posterior chain equipment all have a place in modern gyms and all serve to keep training interesting, challenging and progressive.

Now obviously there is a gym in Oxford that has all of the above The Athlete Centre, and would love for you all to join, but in reality not all of you will, so use this list when selecting the gym that’s best suited to you. Remember that the gym you choose does not need all of the 10 items above, but if you notice some are missing and the focus is more on the Coffee shop then ask yourself if this facility really has your health and wellbeing in mind, or if they are purely putting as many money making obstacles in front of you from the second you walk in the door.

Good Luck, lift hard, stay healthy and choose wisely.

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