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Gym vs. Fitness Center: The Down & Dirty

As gym owners, we get a lot of questions from people trying to figure out which mold we fit into within the fitness industry. In this blog, we give you a quick run-down of the differences so you can choose which place is best for you. Keep in mind these may not apply 100% across the board all the time, but they are what we've seen during our travels. Enjoy!


Our goals are not the same

If you come into any strength-centric gym, you'll most likely talk to people who are working towards a goal related to a sport or job. For instance, our gyms have been powerlifting and strongman-oriented, so our members usually fit this mold. However, we also get members who just want to get stronger overall and choose our gym because they know there are people there who can help them reach their goals.


In contrast, many people choose fitness centers because they want to be healthier overall and are not necessarily interested in pursuing a specific sport (though some do, depending on other factors listed below).


The equipment makes the difference

The equipment in a fitness center is pretty standard, no matter where you go. The major difference will be the number of options, which usually depends on the size of the location. For instance, you might notice more cardio equipment at Planet Fitness than at Anytime Fitness. There will usually be a ton of cardio equipment, selectorized machines (the ones with the weights attached to the machine), a small number of dumbbells, and very few free weight areas.


Strength training gyms vary in equipment selection, but you can be sure to find plenty of free-weight space, platforms, and racks. One of the great things about gyms, especially the non-franchise ones, is that you often see very unique pieces of equipment. One of our favorite things to do when we travel is finding a small gym and use these pieces in our training that day. It gives a great change to the daily routine and you might even work muscles that you normally don't! Oh, and don't expect much of the traditional cardio pieces. You might find a treadmill or bike, but these gyms will have pieces that work both strength and cardio together (aka conditioning). For instance, you may see sleds, prowlers, farmer's handles, yokes, Assault Bikes, and rowers. Many strength gyms also include specific equipment for powerlifting and strongman such as specialty bars, bands, chains, atlas stones, and circus dumbbells.



The atmosphere when you walk in

The last time you walked into a fitness center, what did you notice? For me, it was that many people stopped to look and then went on with their business. I didn't actually talk to anyone besides the front desk clerk (who wasn't very friendly), and no one approached me. While there's nothing wrong with this, it just felt...isolated. Most people had their headphones in and the center itself was quiet except for the random clang of the selectorized machines.


Strength training gyms are typically known for loud music, banging weights, and people interacting with each other. That's not to say it's a chaotic mess (though I have seen that at times), but a different kind of rhythm. When you enter a strength training gym, the person in front is usually the owner or a representative (we're small businesses!) and they love to talk about what type of training you do. I know I can be pretty curious about new members or day passers who come through and it's because we are so excited to meet another strength training person! The owners are also very proud of their facilities and want to show you around. This is something they've built and want to share with everyone.


Social Circles - Are we socializing or training?

I had to add this section because I hear a lot of jokes about socializing in the fitness centers and gyms. We've had various experiences in both locations, so it's hard to generalize this. Let me start with this: strength training programs can get pretty lengthy, and sometimes we take longer breaks. That said, you might walk into a strength training facility and see members talking amongst themselves between sets. You might also see someone noticing another member doing something different, and they'll go up to them to ask about it. It's curiosity mostly, and even sometimes they're wanting to help. Rarely will you get someone being a jerk to you, and I don't think I've ever had this experience in a strength gym.


However, my experience in a fitness center is that most people leave you alone unless they want to give you advice. The difference between advice-giving in a strength gym versus a fitness center (in my experience) is the way it's given. Most times I was given advice in a fitness center, it was an older gentleman who thought I shouldn't be lifting heavy because I would be bulky. In strength gyms, strong women are not a new thing and we've had the best experiences with women in our facilities. Women in shorts and sports bras and men with no shirts are often the norm and we don't spend time being distracted by that. We're all there to get stronger and most members of these gyms willingly take the time to show you how to use equipment you're unsure of.



You get what you pay for

Honestly, this is so true and not meant to be condescending. However, the bigger fitness centers are usually cheaper because they are owned by a franchise and can afford the big costs. They also usually put people in contracts to keep the income continuous and will take people to collections if you refuse to pay. I think many have no-contract options, but they're usually more expensive then.


On the other hand, strength training gyms tend to be locally owned and by one or two people (often husband/wife teams like ours). This means they eat most of the startup and maintenance costs personally. Most don't do contracts and the membership fees can be equal to or even a little higher than fitness centers. However, there are so many benefits for people going to a strength gym over a fitness center, which makes the cost worth it.


I hope this blog helped you understand some of the differences between a fitness center and a strength gym, and maybe you'll even venture out and give one a try!


Enjoy the walk-through of Rhino's Gym in Fayetteville, NC!


Stay tuned for the next article in this blog: Strength Gym vs. Crossfit Box


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