As a personal trainer in London for the last 13 years, I’m always interested in what defines the best gyms in the world. I think it boils down to these 6 elements, in no particular order:
1. Always improving
The battle between Fitness First and Virgin Active is hotting up, and Fitness First is fighting hard to improve and upgrade its gyms in London. I use Fitness First Liverpool Street, which recently underwent a dramatic refurbishment, with great new features like rope-battling, virtual reality treadmill screens, and overhead monkey-bars.
I’ll never forget the ‘always improving’ ethos of a gym just outside Cairns, Queensland, Australia (ironically I’ve forgotten the name of the gym): They had a staff member whose sole task was to ask members as they left at the end of their workouts: “How can we improve?” What an awesome attitude, and all too rare.
The best gyms make it easy for members to give feedback in multiple ways: on their website, via a freephone number, Facebook page, a suggestion box at reception, and face-to-face with staff who are keen to hear all feedback (very rare).
2. Staffed by enthusiastic experts
I know from personal experience just how professional and enthusiastic the personal trainers at Fitness First Liverpool Street are. Elsewhere in the world I’ve heard great reports about the Equinox Gyms in the States, and the first UK branch in Kensington.
Sadly, many gym-goers report less than helpful staff in their gyms, but as competition hots up these gyms will fall by the wayside. It’s not enough to have great facilities, the people have to be great too.
3. Great spaces
Gold’s Gym in Venice California is perhaps the greatest gym space in the world, with both indoor and outdoor spaces in warehouse-size proportions.
More recently, World Gym in Taiwan has emerged as a leading contender as world’s largest gym, and most plush, a staggering combination. The equipment is well-spaced out over huge floors, with no shortage of free-weights and benches (a rare thing).
Here in the UK, the Riverside Health and Raquets Club in Chiswick, London W4 is an amazing space, both indoor and out. A close rival is The Park Club, in Acton, London W3, with over 27 acres of space.
Equinox Gym in Kensington, London W8 is housed in the Art Deco Derry & Toms building, with a domed skylight, and amazing internal architecture.
The exposed brick arches of Nuffield Health in the city (near Cannon Street station), combined with their chill-out area overlooking the Thames, makes this gym a notworthy space to work out in. Similarly impressive is the swimming pool at Virgin Active Repton Park Chigwell, housed in a former chapel complete with stained-glass windows.
4. The best equipment
Equinox Gyms boast some of the best equipment of any gym chain in the world. They have swimming pools, the latest cardio and resistance machines, and a wide range of free weights.
If you’re into bodybuilding, Gold’s Gym in Venice beach, California is probably number 1 in the world, but closer to home there’s Muscleworks gyms (in Bethnal Green, Stoke Newington, and Enfield) which was voted best gym by Men’s Health.
And if you’re into bodybuilding but not too fussy about plush equipment, check out the Outdoor Gym Hydropark the next time you’re in Kiev, Ukraine. It has 300 tonnes of exercise machines and free-weights made from second-hand industrial equipment, steel girders, tyres, and other heavy-duty materials.
On a smaller scale, there are some very high-end gyms with tightly controlled membership numbers and an emphasis on luxury. SP Health Club at 3 Jubilee Place is one such gym. The creation of Stephen Price, membership is limited to 30, and the quality of the equipment and surroundings are second to none.
In Piccadilly, The Third Space boasts amazing equipment including a full size boxing ring, a high-altitude chamber, and a state-of-the-art climbing wall.
Outside London, the East Sussex National Health Club in Uckfield has a strong reputation for its facilities: a 20m pool, and a large range of Technogym equipment.
5. Clean and spacious changing areas
Recently I tried out Virgin Active’s flagship London gym The Broadgate Club, in Exchange Square, an underground cathedral of fitness. Its changing area was one of the best I’ve ever experienced, with the feel of a high-end country club. Most gyms have cramped (and often dirty) changing areas, but this was spotless, spacious, softly lit, and the showers were gorgeous.
5. Results orientated
A ‘results focused’ ethos overlaps with the need for expert staff. Nick Mitchell’s personal training gym Ultimate Performance falls squarely into this category. The personal training gym studios tend to monitor your progress more thoroughly than the big chains, but this is to be expected as you’re paying a premium for results.
In Cape Town, South Africa, Cape Crossfit has a huge reputation for assessing members’ performance and pushing for personal improvement on a continual basis.
About the author: Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London who trains clients in their own homes, gardens, apartment gyms, and in the park (but not the Royal Parks).