Last updated:

25 July 2023

Should you join a big franchise gym in the city or the small independent gym nearby? Here’s your answer!

local gym vs franchise gym

Reading time:

6 min read

One of my Instagram followers asked me this question the other day:

“Hey Russ I’ve just moved to a new area and I’m looking for the best place to train. Should I choose one of the big franchises or try a local gym?”

This is a question I’ve been asked many times over the years, and my answer is always the same: choose a local gym!

Today I’m going to explain why.

Have You Ever Seen ‘Dodgeball’?

Go watch it.

This comedy movie focuses on two rival gyms; Glogo Gym vs Average Joe’s.

Globo Gym is choc-full of big orange motherf**kers, it’s always focused on the bottom line, and it generally treats its members like dirt. On the other side of the road, Average Joe’s gym embraces its own weirdness, and the oddball members are the foundation of the business.

We all prefer Average Joe’s because it’s friendlier and more fun.

And here’s where things get strange…

When we think about joining a small local gym, we link it to Globo Gym and say things like, “I can’t go there, it’ll be full of meatheads!”, and we run to the familiarity of a franchise gym instead.

And that is wrong.

In reality your small local gym is Average Joe’s. It’s a bunch of people who are just like you, who all support eachother, and just enjoy training.

And that’s why I love them!

I love that I can go to my local gym wearing my imperfect clothes, smash my body to pieces, have a bit of a laugh with people, and carry on with my day. There aren’t any out of control ego’s, nor those c**ts who slyly video others just to shame them on social media. It’s a nice place to be.

Anyway, when I was writing this article I asked a few clients for to share their own thoughts on this topic, and this one from Alethea (you might recognize her transformation pic on the homepage) stood out. Check it out:

“I went to (popular 24/7 gym which I refuse to give any free publicity to) and I hated it. Not a single person spoke to me in two years – staff or members – and I felt pretty lost.

On my final day there two women sniggered at me because I didn’t know how to use one of the machines, and I just felt mortified!

So I plucked up the courage to walk into the serious-looking bodybuilding gym located up the road, and it wasn’t what I was expecting at all! I was expecting to find a bunch of pro bodybuilders and ripped models but no, it’s not like that. The other members are my friends, and the gym owner actually knows my name. People come over and encourage me if I’m struggling, it’s just the best!”

The gym she’s referring to here is Powerhouse Gym South Shields, where I used to work as a PT, and it really is like that.

Heck, the owner of that gym even let his members freely take equipment home during the 2020 lockdown to help them stay in shape while isolating. A total legend.

powerhouse gym south shields

Better Equipment & Better Personal Trainers?

The first time I visited a small gym I didn’t appreciate it.

I wish I could go back and give myself a slap for doing that.

The equipment which I thought looked “old” and “weird” was actually top class stuff, but I didn’t know! There were Nautilus machines from the 70s which moved like an absolute dream, yet I was more impressed by the modern equipment up the road so I went there.

What a c**k-toboggan.

All these years later, I can confirm that you’ll find much better (and sturdier) equipment in smaller gyms and there are two reasons for this.

The first is because they cannot afford to constantly replace kit, so they tend to buy things which last forever (e.g. my current gym still has most of the same kit it had when I first arrived here in 2013!), and the second reason is because they need to be more niche in order to survive. By that, I mean even though these places are much smaller businesses you’ll generally find superior strength training equipment in a dedicated strength training facility, and the same goes for bodybuilding equipment, CrossFit, and so on.

Perhaps this also applies to the coaches, too.

I’m not saying you can’t find a great PT in a mainstream gym (because you can, I used to be one!), but corporate gyms have what is essentially a revolving door of personal trainers who are fresh off their courses. The best of these trainers will go on to hone their crafts and build their client bases, and then move to their own facility (small local gyms)!

By the time most people find them, they’ve already collected all of this experience and expertise.

I believe that the men and women who own these smaller gyms are the mavericks of the fitness industry, and we should protect them at all costs. I mean, I have no doubt that most of you reading this absolutely love training, but have you ever loved it so much you bought equipment and opened a workout space to the public? Wowza. Training literally consumes them. It takes insane passion to do that, and I respect it.

Plus, from a personal standpoint, there is something incredibly self-rewarding about paying your membership money and seeing that the person is genuinely happy to have you going there, and knowing that you are supporting a real family, as opposed to dropping another few pounds into the offshore account of some faceless corporation which doesn’t even know your name despite the fact you go there for two hours every day.

Heck, it’s not too far away from the reason why you use my workout programs instead of joining some bland bulls**t like, right?

So go find a local gym and support your community while building your best body!

Who Is Russ Howe PTI?


Russ has been a personal trainer in the UK since 2002, and provided both training advice and full programs on this website since 2011.

His work has been featured in Men’s Fitness magazine, and the content on this website led to him being voted one of the world’s top 50 fat loss coaches by HuffPost.

Russ spends his time coaching men and women inside the legendary Powerhouse Gym, South Shields, and writing training tips for the 114,301 members of his popular free training e-mail (join it below).

Responses to “Should You Join A Franchise Gym Or A Local Gym?”

  1. Polly avatar

    You’re great. Learn from you!

  2. Mark P avatar
    Mark P

    Hey Russ! As the proud owner of a small gym, I want to thank you for doing this post. Everything you say here is similar to what I hear from our members, particularly about the more supportive atmosphere. Great work.

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