Gym Equipment

Commercial Gyms Vs Independent Gyms

commercial gyms vs independent gyms

Commercial gyms seem to be popping up everywhere (a bit like coffee shops!). They’re known as ‘big box gyms’ and whether it’s LA Gym or Planet Fitness, you can pretty much find one on every street corner.

But how do commercial chain gyms compare to independent and private gyms? In this article, I’m going to break down some of the key differences which typically set the two different gym facilities apart, ranging from cost to equipment.

Commercial Gyms Vs Independent Gyms: Membership Costs

modern gym

What you’ll tend to find with chain gyms is that the membership costs are much lower per month. It’s common for them to offer different membership options such as off peak membership (this is usually the lowest cost per month and allows access from Monday to Friday during typical office hours).

Other membership types include peak which means you can access the gym any day and any time during their normal opening hours. Some chain gyms even include add-ons like access to classes such as spin or Pilates which can also impact the monthly cost.

Because of economies of scale this allows chain gyms to keep their costs low to their members, something that is much more difficult for an independent gym.

However, independent gyms can be more competitive with other offerings such as equipment and customer service. Keep reading to find out more.

Commercial Gyms Vs Independent Gyms: Gym Equipment

Gym equipment is where independent gyms can take the edge. I’ve been fortunate enough to train in many gyms over the years and one thing I’ve noticed is that the low cost ‘big box’ gyms tend to offer run of the mill equipment that’s not always the best to train with.

gym equipment

This puts chain gyms at a distinct disadvantage. You’re not likely to find machines like a reverse hyper or vertical leg press in a budget gym. But why is that?

Simple, they tie themselves into a contract with one of the big gym equipment providers where kit is very often mass produced in the Far East. When they open a new facility, they kit it out with the exact same equipment. While this works for many gym-goers, it won’t appeal to everyone.

Let’s say you’re a powerlifter, you’ll likely need to get your hands on kit like a combo rack, calibrated plates and some decent barbells. They may be a tall order for a lot of the budget gyms.

combination racks

But this is where smaller, independent gyms can step up. These types of gyms tend to invest in equipment over time, they listen to their members and invest in certain brands and specific machines, whether that’s a belt squat or a dual leg press.

I’m not bashing chain gyms for filling their gyms with average kit, it clearly works and keeps a lot of members very happy. But as someone that used to powerlift, I know this wouldn’t have suited my needs.

So it’s certainly something to think about. How do you train, what equipment will you need access too to reach your goals. Before signing up to a new gym, always pay them a visit to be sure it has what you need.

Commercial Gyms Vs Independent Gyms: Customer Service

While this may not be true of all chain gyms, my personal experience is that their customer service is pretty much non-existent. Everything is automated and when you visit the gym you scan in to get access and more often than not, there’s no member of staff around (that’s in my personal experience – yours may be quite different).

Again, many people may not care about this. They’re quite happy to get in, train, and get out. But what about those that need a bit help or advice on using a bit of equipment or maybe they have a question about their membership.

There’s often no reception area to speak of nor any personal trainers around. This, again, puts chain gyms in a weaker position when compared to independent gyms.

At an independent gym it’s commonplace to have a reception area with a real-life human manning it! Maybe they even sell protein shakes to their exhausted members post training.

You’re also pretty much guaranteed to be able to chat with a personal trainer if you need too. Whether you’re working around an injury or not sure how to use that new bit of equipment they’ve just taken delivery of – there’s someone there to ask!

Commercial Gyms Vs Independent Gyms: Atmosphere

For the most part human beings are social creatures, this means they may prefer more of a sociable atmosphere where they can feel part of a ‘fitness community’.

When they feel part of this engaging community it’s much easier to stay committed to your fitness goals. In essence, going to the gym becomes a habit – and a great one at that!

Let’s be honest, if a gym lacks atmosphere it won’t be fun to attend.  So, while the initial motivation is there to join a gym and get stronger and fitter, that motivation can quickly deteriorate and attendance drops off.  Take the typical January peak that’s very often associate with big box gyms as an example.

Members who are paying that low $20 per month fee might even continue paying for many months after they’ve stopped going.  They’re thinking, “I won’t cancel as it’s so cheap, but I’ll make sure I start back Monday”.

But that Monday never comes and the large corporate entity continues taking the money with no real interest in whether the member attends or not.

This is where independent gyms are doing it so much better!

Typically, they take real pride in helping their members achieve their goals whether it’s weight loss or getting stronger.  They can share success stories of their members on social media, motivating and inspiring others.  They might offer a creche for parents, somewhere to have a coffee or protein shake once they’ve finished their workout and a PT is always on hand to offer assistance.

You don’t see much, if any, of this from the budget chain gyms but people don’t join a gym just because it’s cheap, they join a gym to improve their fitness, lose weight and feel better about themselves.

Independent gyms can create a community, keeping their members motivated and on target to reach their goals, reminding them why they joined a gym in the first place.

Before You Go…

Maybe you’re considering setting up your fitness game but actually prefer the idea of setting up your very own home gym! In which case, why not have a read of our article how much do home gyms cost.

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