Everyone has a different idea of what “getting in shape” means to them.
It might mean doing cardio to improve their conditioning, burning calories to lose weight, or lifting weights to build more muscle.
If you’re in the latter camp, and can’t afford to build your own home gym, joining a commercial gym is a good way to go.
Just be careful: Not all big box gyms are good places to lift weights, whether that’s because of the atmosphere or a lack of certain equipment.
So what are the best gyms for lifting?
There are plenty of great choices depending on where you live, but here are 5 of the best gyms for weightlifting you can find almost anywhere in the country:
- LA Fitness
- Gold’s Gym
- Life Time
- Anytime Fitness
You’ll do best at mid-range to high-end gyms — budget gyms like Planet Fitness just won’t have the right equipment for you to strength train properly.
Let’s examine what you should look before in a gym for lifting before you join and why these are 5 of the best choices.
What lifters should look for in a gym
The biggest thing you want to look for in a gym is its selection of free weights and power racks.
Every gym will have a good number of resistance machines like:
- Bicep curl
- Chest press
- Leg press
- Pec dec
- and more
And while these machines are useful and effective in the right context, they shouldn’t make up the bulk of your strength training.
The best lifters know that the best way to build muscle is through mostly compound exercises like:
- Bench press
- Overhead press
- And more
To perform these movements at the gym, you need to look for:
- Olympic weight plates
- Different types of benches
- and different types of power racks
You’ll also want to take a look at the dumbbell stack and make sure the gym has a good quantity of dumbbells, especially those that go up to or over 100 pounds.
If a gym doesn’t have full power racks, barbells, or heavy dumbbells, it’s not a good place for strength training.
Aside from that, you want to make sure it will be possible for you to feasibly go to this gym often enough to get the body you want.
Building muscle requires dedication, so you want to look into convenience before signing a contract.
Your gym should be located close to your house or place of work so that it’s not a hassle to get there at least 2 times per week.
You also need to consider your budget.
How much can you afford to spend on a gym membership without it inconveniencing other aspects of your life?
Here are a few options that should hopefully work for people from all walks of life.
LA Fitness has a pretty straightforward pricing structure.
Based on location, you should expect to spend between $25 and $35 a month to lift weights here.
The chain really goes the extra mile to give you everything you could possibly need to pump some iron, including:
- balance balls
- free weights
- power racks
- resistance machines
- and so much more.
The thing I like to see at LA Fitness gyms is that there’s plenty of room to move around.
LA Fitness locations tend to have more square feet and a good quantity of equipment.
You’ll usually find at least 2-3 full power racks, plus around 2 Smith Machines, several bench press stations, and more.
If you avoid peak times, you shouldn’t have to wait for the lifting equipment you need.
(Read more: LA Fitness review)
When you think of a bodybuilding gym, you probably think about Gold’s!
It’s one of the main famous gyms for weightlifting in the world, and though you can do all kinds of workouts here, it is and always has been a mecca for lifters.
Each and every Gold’s Gym will be well stocked with:
- Heavy dumbbells
- Power racks
- Different kinds of barbells
- And tons of free weights
As far as cost, Gold’s Gym has different pricing tiers.
For the most part, if you’re solely interested in weights, then you can probably get by spending between $20 and $30 monthly to get access to all of the free weights and machines.
Not only that, but Gold’s Gyms tend to have lifting classes, which is pretty unique.
Bodypump regimens have instructors tell you how to effectively utilize barbells so that you get a full-body workout within an hour.
As a member, you gain access to Gold’s Gym classes without an additional charge, so it’s certainly worth looking into.
(Read more: Gold’s Gym review)
If you’re new to lifting, it might be intimidating to walk into a known bodybuilding gym like Gold’s — or other advanced gyms filled with muscle bros.
That’s why the YMCA is here!
The Y is a lot more low-key than other gyms and still has a great selection of machines and free weights.
(You’ll be pleasantly surprised with the equipment at the Y, I swear.)
Adults hoping to go can expect to spend between $30 and $70 a month depending on location. Fees go down if you fall within a certain demographic, such as teenagers, seniors, or military personnel.
People love that YMCA is laid back.
If you suffer from gym anxiety or are worried about going to the gym alone, you’ll find the environment here welcoming and friendly.
The Y also has great amenities like sporting courts, pools, and excellent childcare.
(Read more: YMCA gym review.)
Life Time is one of the most elite gyms out there.
As such, you should expect to spend $60 to $70 a month for a basic membership. If you really want all the bells and whistles, then you may end up spending closer to $140/month.
However, with that high price tag comes some incredible amenities.
Life Time has state-of-the-art facilities, including:
- Tons of lifting equipment
- Endless cardio machines
- Personal trainers
- Cafes and juice bars
- Outdoor pools
- Top-notch group classes
- Excellent childcare
- And more
You likely won’t have to worry about crowds or waiting for a power rack here.
At Life Time, there’s always an abundance of equipment available and tons of space for members.
Life Time is one of the more expensive gym memberships around, but if you can afford it, it’s a truly top notch fitness experience.
(Read more: Life Time gym review)
Anytime memberships tend to cost between $30 and $40 a month.
In terms of equipment, it’s about on par with what you can expect at LA Fitness and other mid-range gyms, though it’s often a little bit smaller.
There’s generally a solid assortment of power racks, free weights, and heavy dumbbells.
If you’re willing to pay extra, you can work with a coach or trainer at Anytime to get you on the right track or take your performance to the next level.
The big advantage of lifting at Anytime is, well, it’s open any time!
You can lift weights here 24/7 at almost all locations, so if you have an odd schedule or just like to workout late at night, you’ll need to join a 24 hour gym like Anytime.
(Read more: Anytime Fitness review)
If you’re a beginner lifting weights for the first time, don’t fall into the trap of thinking all gyms are the same.
Yes, Planet Fitness and other budget gyms seem like a great deal, but they discourage weightlifting and won’t have the equipment to keep you challenged as you get stronger.
Make sure any gym you join has:
- Full power racks (and other types of racks)
- Heavy dumbbells
- And barbells to go along with free weights or Olympic plates
These are the main foundation of your training and are non-negotiable if you’re serious about building muscle.
Of course, no matter what fitness goal you’re interested in, you should pick a gym that works for your budget and convenience.
It should be as easy as possible so that you don’t have an excuse for skipping a gym day because it’s too far away to drive.
For more gym guides, check out these.
- Gyms that have power racks
- Pros and cons of lifting weights
- Weightlifting results in 30 days and beyond
Hope this helps!