In the midst of falling off the wagon, bailing on my original competition plans, and trying to get my shit together again, I've also switched gyms. There's so much to love about my new "home" and I can't wait to shoot some sweet-ass videos there! Here are a few things to look for in a gym if you're in the market.
Ideally, you want to find a facility that has enough equipment to properly train every body part in a variety of ways. You don't want to get stuck at a gym where a lack of equipment necessarily limits your exercise choices. Look for squat racks, Olympic bars and adjustable benches, barbells--fixed or otherwise, a wide range of dumbbells, high and low cable pulleys, and of course, a good selection of machines. Now, with the proper "base" equipment--barbells, dumbbells, and free weights--machines (and cables) become less and less important. But there are a few movements that are not easily replicated with pig iron, for example leg extensions and leg curls, so make sure your gym has these as well. If you swim, make sure you've got a pool; if you run, make sure there are treadmills. You get the idea.
Baby doesn't like being put in a corner, and neither do I, which is why fewer fellow gym-goers was a huge selling point for me. I LOVE being a diva at the gym, and I especially love being able to do it uninterrupted and unobserved. Huge selling point. A smaller membership base can sometimes translate into higher costs, a smaller facility, or both, but more often than not, a workable balance can be struck between all three. In my opinion, it is incumbent upon gym management to ensure that extreme crowding does not occur and to pass along savings or incentives to its members if membership does increase. This can be done via cheaper dues, extended hours, improved staffing, or capital outlays such as new equipment purchases. A poorly managed gym will do none of these things *cough*High Altitude*cough* Try visiting your prospective choice at your usual training time to get a feel for how busy things get.
Remember the good ole days when gyms cost like, 30 bucks a month? I remember thinking that a dollar a day was about right for a gym; these days it seems like you can't get away with anything less than $40 or $50--maybe that's just me living in a small town. Find a gym that is within your long-term price range for the best results.
Studies have shown that people are willing drive up to 30 minutes for a good gym, but I find this to be an unrealistic expectation. We all know that convenience can be the deciding factor from time to time--I'm sure if I had a cardio machine in my living room I'd be much leaner. And sure, you could drive across town to the shiny new Planet Fitness, but isn't that tiny place around the corner even better? The food schedule and training schedule of a bodybuilder are closely intertwined, so getting to the gym (or home from the gym) in a shorter amount of time can be very desirable. Make it easier for yourself by picking the gym (of the gyms that meet your criteria) that is closest to your home.
In my opinion, "extras" shouldn't greatly factor into your selection of a fitness facility--this isn't a couple's massage at a day spa, this is bodybuilding. Fitness facilities that specialize, in well, fitness tend to create an atmosphere that is more conducive to--wait for it--fitness.
In the end, it all boils down to finding a place you like. Your gym should feel like just that--"your" gym. It's a home away from home--a place you probably frequent more often than any other, except for work--so you might as well enjoy being there. And you might as well wear lipstick.