What makes up a great gym? I think it's the people, but I will get back to that.
Atmosphere is key. Gimme a break with these sanitized, cardio machine laden, no chalk allowing, no grunting allowing, judgmental "gyms". They are the ones judging anyone who wants to get bigger and stronger. Hell, they aren't even gyms. They are places with carpet and bright lighting and no squat racks, hell, no barbells, that cater to folks who just want to "do the elliptical" and not get big or strong. Gyms are supposed to be places to get bigger and stronger. That's why you lift weights, that's the object of the whole thing. No barbells? Who is intimidated by barbells? Is that why there are no barbells? What have we become? Give me a break with these wimpy, over sensitive folks. Get in your Prius and do your thing. I'm gonna go where they at least allow freakin' barbells. I passed a guy in a Prius today. He was clenching the wheel with both hands real tight. He had all his "save the horned frog" (something like that) bumper stickers on the back of it or something. I'm sure he's a nice guy. I roared by in my Tundra blasting Cannibal Corpse.
I have trained at some good gyms. Ironworks in Maryland in the early 90's. Owner was a shot-putter at University of Florida. 25 bucks a month. He'd bring his Rottweiler in the gym to hang out. Great guy. Grumpy as hell, but deep down great guy. You know the type. I like that type.
Maryland Athletic Club was a good one, too. Atmosphere made it good. Kirk Karwoski trained there. Some electric shit when he was in there. Lots of competitors in powerlifting. I don't remember many machines, just leg press, hack squat, lateral raise machine. Great powerlifting equipment, with all the York plates that were so cool and spun just right and fit on the bar just perfectly.
I trained at gyms in Florida, lots of good lifters there. Powerhouse in Jacksonville (more than one, I think) was hardcore. Dexter Jackson trained there. I remember squatting at Powerhouse. It was the first time I took my buddy Lance , who was a Sherrif's deputy, into Starbucks. There was a line, and we were standing in it and the he saw that the coffee was like 2 dollars and you had to order in a special language and he was fed up. He said, "Hell, I could go to 7-11 instead of this place." You had to be there and you had to know Lance, who was another guy that was grumpy all the time. I just wanted the buzz from the higher caffeine content. Have you had an Iced Turbo? Damn good. They only serve it in "grande" because of the caffeine content. Of course, that's what I want, so I order 2.
I trained at a Nautilus place in Shelby , North Carolina. That was a shit show. The head instructor was telling everyone they could work out 10 minutes a day and look great. Meanwhile, he looked like chewed up bubble gum.
I had a great gym at Penn that I designed along with my assistant, Brett Crossland. 30 power racks, pendulum squat, dumbbells to 150, all the essential machines, a kickboxing room with 18 heavy bags, a track. I had exactly what I wanted in that place and had great training sessions.
I trained at the Metroflex Gym in Forth Worth, Texas when I went to a coaches conference. Great gym, great atmosphere, boxing ring in the gym, which automatically makes it great.
The gym that I belong to now, Atilis Gym in Bellmawr, New Jersey is the best gym that I have ever belonged to. Spacious. Powerlifting, bodybuilding, just getting in shape, all are welcome. I could see how somebody without lifting experience would be intimidated coming in there the first time. But they shouldn't be. Nicest people around. People will help anyone who needs it. Lots of people know what they are doing in there, lifting wise. I watched a lady today in a back room where there is a tiered squat rack, performing set after set of squats, and doing them well. I admired that; no selfies, nobody around, just pounding the squat, set after set. I wanted to tell her how great her squats were and how cool it was that she was back there, just doing it, but I didn't. She may have thought I was hitting on her or a creep or something. So I just looked at her nice round butt and said nothing. Kidding, it's a play on the stalker thing. But seriously, this gym has everything. Powerlifting area, 2 Monolifts, belt squats, platforms, Hammer, tons of machines, trust me, it has everything. It also has a martial arts area up stairs with mats and bags. The owner is Frank, he of CNN crushing Chris Cuomo fame. Great guy. Gets there at 4:30 every morning, stays late every night. Stayed open during that bullshit in 2020. Best thing is the people in this place. I go in mid morning, and it's usually the same folks in there, so you get familiar with people.
Today, I went in there and did legs , back and biceps, and when I was done, my buddy Troy was like, "You want me to hold pads (boxing mitts) for you?" and he holds pads for me, calls out combinations, teaches me stuff. Just because. I have had some killer sessions in there, and I help some people once in a while, people that are receptive to some help. I don't push it. After training, I have had some deep discussions about life in there. A couple of guys in there have been through a lot, and I hang on every word of advice from them. Old Salts who have seen it all. I cherish those conversations, think about them a lot. So, Atilis is my place. When I feel like knocking someone out, I instead go there. I work and sweat and see my friends and then all is right in the world.