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

Local Gyms vs Franchise Gyms

Written by Russ Howe PTI, and most recently updated 1 day ago.

5 min read

One of my Instagram followers asked me this question yesterday:

“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: support your local gym!

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 full of flashy machines, big orange motherfuckers, and is purely focused on the bottom line, whereas Average Joe’s (located directly across the street) offers a ridiculously basic customer experience but it does a much better job at embracing its own weirdness, and the oddball members are the foundation of the business.

The vast majority of us would prefer to workout at Average Joe’s, right?

So here’s where things get crazy…

People often choose big franchise gyms because they mistakenly believe that their local gym will be full of unfriendly meatheads (ala Globo Gym), but in reality it’s the other way around – your local gym is Average Joe’s. These places are super-friendly and un-judgmental as fuck (you should see some of the clothes I’ve trained in over the years without comment, or the state I’ve been in after some of my most horrible leg workouts), they’re also pretty cheap, and you get the satisfaction of knowing that your membership fee is supporting a real person/family as opposed to dropping into the offshore account of some faceless suit who couldn’t give a fuck that you go there.

While preparing this article, I asked a few clients to share their own thoughts on this topic. This one from Alethea hit the nail on the head:

“I went to popular 24/7 gym which I refuse to give any free publicity to for two years before switching to my local gym instead. Nobody ever spoke to me or taught me how to use new machines, but this was all I knew so I figured it was normal. When it closed for refurbishment I plucked up the courage to try the bodybuilding gym up the road, and I’ve never looked back! It wasn’t what I was expecting it to be at all. Other members of the gym have become my friends, there’s a nice atmosphere, and the owner of the gym actually knows my name. It’s the best, and I only wish I had tried it earlier!”

I actually know the local gym she’s speaking about here; it’s Powerhouse Gym South Shields. I used to work there as a personal trainer, and I can confirm that it really is as good as she says. Heck, during the 2020 lockdown the gym owner even handed out his training equipment to members to take home while isolating. You don’t get that at franchise gyms.

Better Trainers & Higher Quality Equipment

powerhouse gym south shields

Maybe I’ll upset a few people here, but it’s unintentional.

The reason I believe that you’ll generally find higher quality personal trainers in your local gym is because franchise gyms operate with a revolving door policiy. They are breeding grounds for inexperienced PTs who are straight off their courses, and most of them fail to make the grade. The ones who do build an audience quickly realize that they are being charged extortionate fees to run their business from such facilities, and relocate elsewhere (i.e. your small local gym).

And then there’s the actual training kit.

I love how clean and sleek franchise gyms look, but I can’t deny the fact that you’ll generally find higher quality equipment in small local gyms. There are two reasons for this. The first is because they can’t afford to constantly fix and replace things, so they buy stuff which lasts forever (e.g. my current gym still has most of the equipment it had when I first came here in 2013!), and the second reason is because they need to be more niche in order to survive. By that, I mean you’ll generally find superior strength training equipment in a dedicated strength training gym, and the same goes for CrossFit, bodybuilding, and so on.

This is something which I failed to realize in my early years of training, which I now regret. The equiment which I thought looked “old” was actually top class. There were Nautilus machines from the 1970s (worth a fortune now!) which moved like a dream, but I just didn’t understand. What an utter cock taboggan I was.

To conclude, the reasons above illustrate why I believe that you should always support your local gym over a big franchise gym. The men and women who own these facilities are the mavericks of the fitness industry, and we should protect them at all costs. I mean, I have no doubt that most of the people reading my website absolutely love training, but have you ever loved it so much that you bought a ton of equipment and opened a space to the public? Wowza. Training literally consumes them. It takes insane passion to do that, and I respect it.

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I’m Russ. I’ve been a personal trainer since 2002, and I own

My job is to simplify fitness for my readers.

I send out free fitness tips to over 100,000 men and women every week, all in the same no-nonsense style as the article you’ve just read, so if you enjoyed reading it be sure to jump on my email list below.

2 responses to “Local Gyms vs Franchise Gyms”

  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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