by Hewitt Tomlin, Co-Founder of TeamBuildr - a DC-based software company helping strength and conditioning coaches build workouts, track athletes, and create competition.  

On the surface, big box gym seems like a no-brainer.

  • “It’ll be cheaper because it’s a franchise.”
  • “I get access to all the locations in the city.”
  • “It has amenities.”
  • “They offer discounts on classes.”

Yeah, yeah. We’ve all been there before and this is closest thing to the college rec center, ya know? Besides, it’s just easy getting a “good deal” at the Gold’s Gym down the block. You can even take it up a notch when you get your first raise at work and join Vida or Washington Sports Club. But a little self-reflection will reveal that if you care about your personal fitness then you are actually doing it all wrong!

Being a member at a big box gym has a feel good factor. More than likely, there are plenty of people in it and you probably got some sort of seasonal promotion when you joined. However, when it truly comes to your health and fitness lifestyle, you are probably selling yourself short -- here are some reasons why.

There is zero accountability. According to an IHSRA study, “Gyms typically sell memberships with the expectation that a mere 18% of people will actually use them.” That means there is a 1/5 chance that you will you use your gym pass longer than a month. When juggling a career and social life, “making the gym” becomes something you do when it’s convenient or when you’re stressed. This makes health and fitness less of a lifestyle, and more a convenience.

Your gym will most likely get crowded. And that sucks. The truth is that gym corporations and franchises know this game; a single facility built for 1,000 individuals will sell up to 5,000. If for any reason more people show up than expected (1st week of January, anyone?!), your workout is ruined.

The personal trainer is not so personal. As a way to make the facility more intimate for their members, gyms will sometimes offer personal trainers. If you have the luxury of affording one of these guys or gals, you’re certainly better off using them. There’s only one problem: These people are really expensive! If you think about it, a personal trainer will spend an entire hour on just you, which means they can focus on 12 people a day (if they work themselves into an early grave); and these folks need to make a living. I don’t know about you, but many young professionals can’t afford this.

Here’s some good news, though: I’m not going to leave you hanging without a good solution.

If you want to take your health and fitness seriously. If you want to spend less money than a personal trainer would cost. If you would like to receive the benefits of professional advice, personal accountability, and a social environment. Join a local small business, group training gym.

Besides the fact that you are supporting a local small business owner, becoming a member of a boutique gym will transform your perception of fitness. Imagine small group training of 10-20 people that will turn out to be your tribe. Think about the professional strength and conditioning coach that will hold you accountable to your goals, motivate you during a group circuit, and press you to become the best version of yourself. 

It's about being a part of something bigger than yourself, not just a group, but a community.