What is a Powerlifting Gym?
Making the choice to begin strength training is one of the most beneficial choices an individual can make. Strength training allows an individual to improve muscular strength and size, enhance bone and tissue density, and increase injury resistance. Whether you are in your early 20s or late 50s, you can no doubt benefit from strength-focused barbell training.
Aside from the physiological benefits associated with strength training, there are as many psychological benefits as well. Strength training is one of the best ways to instill discipline, improve confidence, and teach the value of delaying gratification. Successful training not only helps to improve physical fitness and capability but also helps to improve the overall quality of life.
For training to succeed, finding the right gym is essential. Fortunately, with the increased popularity of strength training over the past two decades, there are likely many gyms to choose from no matter where you are located. As a beginner, you don't have to worry about being overly selective about the gym you choose. To improve as a beginner, you only need access to a barbell, bench, squat rack, deadlift platform, plate weight, dumbbells, and basic machines.
However, you may want to take your training to the next level as strength improves. Whether you are looking to see how strong you can get, or begin actively competing in strength sports, there will usually come a time when you realize the basic gym you started at is holding you back. Maybe you're unable to use chalk to deadlift, or you've bent some of the barbells and become the enemy of gym management; either way, it's time to find a powerlifting gym.
The Commercial Gym vs. The Powerlifting Gym
Many people just want to go to the gym to maintain a basic level of fitness and improve their health. These folks aren't interested in seeing how much they can squat or bench, their main goal is to enhance physical composition and get a good report from the doctor after the yearly check-up. This is the training population commercial gyms seek to serve.
While the membership may experience turnover, a new customer or two are usually waiting to sign up for every customer who leaves the gym.
As a beginner, the commercial gym won't be the worst thing in the world if it is all you have access to. As we mentioned before, all you need as a beginner to improve is access to a barbell, bench, squat rack, deadlift platform, plate weight, dumbbells, and basic machines. Almost every commercial gym will be able to meet these requirements. However, you will run into issues at a commercial gym as you become stronger.
The crowd that is focused on getting a pat on the back during their next health screening will likely not enjoy the sound of a 600lb deadlift hitting the ground, no matter how slowly you lower the weight. Many public misconceptions about strength training exist, and many individuals perpetuating these misconceptions train at commercial gyms.
So, instead of going to war with the commercial gym because you've been caught sneaking chalk in your gym bag, find a powerlifting gym.
Even if it means driving an hour or two, if you are serious about taking your strength and conditioning to the next level you need a facility that will allow you the freedom to do so. Unlike a commercial gym where a strong individual can be limited due to a lack of proper equipment, a powerlifting gym removes these limitations immediately. So, if you have made significant gains in a commercial gym, it is reasonable to suspect you will make even more significant gains at a powerlifting gym.
This is due to the variety of training equipment available at a typical powerlifting gym and the training specificity that can be achieved when an athlete has access to such equipment. A large variety of barbells and machines increases the amount of exercise variation possible and provides an athlete with a multitude of training effects and outcomes that would otherwise be unachievable in a commercial gym setting.
A powerlifting gym also provides an athlete with a higher level of safety when performing heavy lifts. When training in a commercial gym, you are lucky to find one or two people who understand how to and are comfortable with spotting heavy lifts. However, you will likely have access to capable spotters at a powerlifting gym. If you want to push to the next level you need to be around individuals with the knowledge and experience necessary to help you do so as safely as possible.
Make no mistake; you can become a strong lifter by training at a commercial gym. However, if you want to remove all limitations and become as strong as possible, you must train at a powerlifting gym.
Who Should Join a Powerlifting Gym?
One unfortunate misunderstanding many beginners have is that they must reach some benchmark before walking into a powerlifting gym and signing up. Of course, there are private barbell clubs, but there are many public powerlifting gyms all over the world that are open to the public.
Most of these gyms have no prerequisites to enter, meaning a complete beginner can walk in off the street and immediately benefit from having access to high-quality strength and conditioning equipment.
If you are a beginner interested in strength sports, joining a strength-focused gym as soon as possible is the best move you can make. No matter how hard you train, the equipment available at a commercial gym will almost always limit you to some degree. However, at a powerlifting gym, you can train optimally regularly.
By simply choosing to join a powerlifting gym and avoid a commercial gym altogether, you are enhancing your potential rate of improvement.
Aside from the barbell and equipment benefits, a powerlifting gym will also provide access to athletes further down the path you wish to travel. These individuals can help you avoid pitfalls and mistakes, improve your training knowledge, and provide you with spots and feedback during your training. Knowledge is power, or in this case, knowledge is strength.
Who should join a powerlifting gym? Anyone wanting to enhance their strength and conditioning in the most efficient, effective, and safe way possible.
What to Look for in a Powerlifting Gym
As you search for a powerlifting gym, it is important to understand what to look for to ensure you are making the best choice. Just because a gym is the first Google search result, or your buddy told you it was cool, does not mean it is the right fit for you. You want to ensure the gym you choose has the right equipment, environment, and like-minded individuals.
The equipment a gym has should be the number one focus when choosing a gym. Success in strength sports can be achieved in a less-than-optimal environment around people you don't see eye to eye, but it cannot be achieved if you lack the tools necessary to improve at an acceptable rate.
Not only do we need access to equipment that allows for increased levels of exercise variation, but we also need access to competition-relevant equipment to increase exercise specificity and master technique in the competition lifts.
Here are a few pieces of equipment to keep an eye out for when selecting a powerlifting gym:
Competition-Relevant Squat Rack (ER Rack or Monolift)
Competition-Relevant Bench Press w/ Competition-Relevant Padding
Flat Bench w/ Wide Padding
Deadlift Platform w/ Deadlift Bar
Safety Squat Bar
Giant Cambered Bar
If you find a gym with most or all of the above-listed items, you have likely discovered a worthwhile place to train.
The environment of a gym is always important as well. If you pay money to join a gym, you should enjoy going to the gym. However, the right environment will always depend on the individual. Some folks enjoy heavy metal music and a hardcore environment, while others prefer a more relaxed and peaceful setting. Neither is wrong; it's all about what works best for you as an individual.
For training to be successful, it must also be somewhat enjoyable. If you are going into an environment you dislike on a regular basis it is reasonable to assume that you will be less successful than you otherwise would be in an optimal environment. A better mood leads to better performance, and barbell training is no different.
The final key aspect to consider when choosing a powerlifting gym is the training partners available. If you are a beginner, your goal should be to find a gym with a few active crews training regularly. Find a crew to jump in with and start helping load plates, spot lifts, and run the rack. The favor will be returned, and you will benefit from the knowledge and safety an experienced crew of lifters provides.
If you cannot find a gym with active training crews, or the training crews at the gym aren't beginner-friendly, your only option is to start your own crew. If you are at a powerlifting gym there are likely other beginners there as well. Find a few, try and get on a similar training schedule, and seek out as much knowledge as possible via all available barbell training resources.
If you have to teach yourself, so be it. At least you have a few friends to train with and the proper training tools at your disposal.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the difference between weightlifting and powerlifting gyms?
A: Weightlifting gyms are specifically designed for Olympic weightlifters, meaning all barbells and equipment are focused on developing Olympic lifts. Powerlifting gyms feature a wide variety of barbells and equipment, allowing an athlete to train for many different sports depending on the training method utilized.
Q: What are the key benefits of joining a powerlifting gym?
A: The key benefits of joining a powerlifting gym are as follows: access to a wide variety of strength training equipment, an optimal training environment, and access to like-minded individuals to train with and learn from.
Q: What equipment should a powerlifting gym have?
A: A worthwhile powerlifting gym should have specialty barbells, competition-relevant equipment, access to heavy dumbbells, specialty equipment such as a belt squat or Reverse Hyper, and GPP training tools such as sleds, farmer's handles, or a yoke.
Q: How much should I expect to pay for a monthly powerlifting gym membership?
A: This will all depend on the location and the type of powerlifting gym you select. Typically, old-school powerlifting gyms will run between $30-60 dollars per month while modern powerlifting gyms can cost anywhere from $50-150. It's simple - the membership will likely cost more if you want access to the latest and greatest equipment.
Q: Do I have to be a competitive powerlifter to train at a powerlifting gym?
A: This will depend on the gym, but you do not need to be a competitive powerlifter to train at a powerlifting gym. Most gym owners are looking for members who pay their membership each month and respect the gym. Powerlifting gyms are for anyone interested in becoming as strong and well-conditioned as possible.
The Advantages of a Powerlifting Gym
Training in the right environment makes a tremendous difference in an athlete's success. For a serious athlete or strength enthusiast, a commercial gym can only be effective for so long before gains begin to slow. Whether this is caused by a lack of access to optimal equipment or access to the right environment, the overall rate of improvement becomes negatively affected due to training in the wrong environment.
Finding the right powerlifting gym can bring new life to an athlete's training. The access to specialty bars, strength-focused equipment, and like-minded training partners allows an athlete to start on a new path to becoming as strong and well-conditioned as possible. Commercial gyms can help an athlete get started, but a powerlifting gym becomes necessary if an athlete wishes to reach peak performance.
Whether the focus is absolute strength development, explosive power development, or increasing muscle mass, a powerlifting gym allows an athlete to construct many different training programs and exercises without the limitations or rules of a commercial gym. If you are a serious athlete, you need a serious training facility.