Why Gym Culture Is So Important

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You’ve heard me mention it before, but it bears repeating: what I feel separates a good gym from a great gym is the notion of CULTURE.

There are a thousand and one gyms out there who hire the best trainers/coaches, have access to every piece of training equipment you could ever ask for, offer competitive rates, and spice things up with various amenities such as juice bars, WiFi, cafe, group exercise classes, yoga, pool, massage therapy, and maybe even access to steam rooms.

Although, if I were you, I’d steer clear of them. Trust me.

Yet, many often fail or have a less than stellar retention rate because they lack any semblance or culture or community.

Places like Cressey Sports Performance, Mark Fisher Fitness (in NYC), IFAST (in Indianapolis), Tuff Girl Fitness (in New Haven, CT), Movement Minneapolis (in Minneapolis), Results Fitness (in Newhall, CA), and yes I’ll even toss CrossFit into the mix here, are a speck of dust in comparison to some of the monstrosities that take up a city block.

None offer fancy amenities, may or may not even offer a place to shower, and are often set at a much higher price point compared to their big-box gym counterparts.

Yet, they thrive and have the most loyal members you could ask for. As Simon Sinek noted in his outstanding book Start With Why:

“There’s a big difference between repeat business and loyalty. Repeat business is when people do business with you multiple times. Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you.”

Why the Loyalty?

Because every single gym above, in their own unique way, has placed a premium on building a culture where people want to train, want to spend their time, and more importantly feel empowered and encouraged by the staff and other members.

Training around like-minded people has a palpable effect on not only performance but overall experience too.

Take what happened last Saturday at CSP.

To give a little backstory: I’ve long championed the mentality that women should focus more on performance based goals in the weight room rather than things like scale weight or emulating a celebrity look or listening to anything the mainstream media has to say on the topic of women and fitness.

Most of it is unrealistic, toxic, and sets back women’s fitness 20 years.

I 100% feel strength training is the key to pretty much anything, even for more aesthetic based goals.

What’s more, using the popular analogy, strength training is a glass. Most people’s glass (men included) is far too small and they have little room to “express” any other qualities such as sprinting, jumping, hitting a golf ball 250 yds, deadlifting a tank, farmer carrying bags of groceries from the store to your apartment, fighting crime, or doing anything remotely athletic.

Strength training makes your glass bigger so that you can put more “stuff” into it. It allows you the freedom to not pull a hamstring just thinking about chasing after a taxi.

It allows for stuff like this to happen:


This is a video I took this past Saturday of four random women who train at CSP (admittedly, the first one, Nancy, is a current intern), the youngest of which is 15.

For the hell of it I challenged one of them to see if she could do a one-arm chin-up, and before I knew it several was lining up to try.

How baller is that?

None of them walked in on day one and said, “you know what Tony? I’d like to be able to perform a one-arm chin-up.”

But because we’ve built a culture where people (men AND women) love to lift heavy things and get after it, and because all four embraced the importance of hard work and bought into our way of doing things, it has allowed them to do stuff like this.

Because, why not?

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.
  • I trained at Mark Fisher Fitness last year for about 4 months, and it was the first time I felt the importance of gym culture. Not the kind where girls go to the gym in skimpy clothes, and guys compete to look the strongest, but a healthy environment where people are telling you how strong and beautiful you are and teaching you the right way to do things. I’m really glad I did sign up with MFF, because I wouldn’t be interested in lifting now if not for them!

    Great article!

  • Rachel

    I just went and tried that right now and totally failed. I’m blown away by these girls! I have some serious work to do! What’s the progression for this (other than just getting beastly strong)?

    • Just get beastly strong.

      • TonyGentilcore

        Pretty much what Kyle said. None of the women above could do this right away. All have accumulated a solid base of strength. And NONE of them ever placed an emphasis on their chin-up.

        • Taking it back to the article, culture is really the key thing. A mainstream gym, there’s only so strong you can get squatting next to someone doing tricep kickbacks on a swiss ball. At a gym like Tony’s, there is no-one telling women they can’t get beastly strong.

      • Max

        Are you beastly strong, Kyle?

  • David Bromberg

    This is awesome to see! Thanks for sharing it Tony.

  • To be fair, I belong to a gym that is part of a chain and has all the facilities. I like having those things. There are cheaper gyms nearby but I wouldn’t leave because the place is full of awesome people and I love the culture. The staff are helpful and supportive. It may help that a couple of the staff are competitive powerlifters (and one of them holds a world record for his weight category so really rather good at it), there is a lot of lifting going on and more and more women are strength training – noone bats an eyelid when I’m in the free weights area. But there are people who wouldn’t ever dream of it and want to do other things. And that’s OK. I do a mix of lifting, boxing and kettlebells or HIIT class. I do them because I love them all but I wouldn’t have tried any of them at my previous gym because I wouldn’t have had the confidence to.

    • TonyGentilcore

      It’s all good Kate. My “rant” wasn’t meant to ram against ALL big chain gyms. I think it’s awesome you found a place that provides the culture you need to succeed and stay motivated.

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  • Guzzy

    This describes my gym in Vancouver exactly! I’m encouraging my two amazing trainers Josh H and Russel F who follow you to come to your workshop in Edmonton but you still must come to Vancouver!!!!!

    • TonyGentilcore

      They should totally come to Edmonton! It’s not a bad flight at all. I flew from Edmonton to Vancouver a few years ago and it was easy peasy.

      And yes, I DO need to make a cameo in Vancouver again. I LOVE that city.

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  • Dunja Marcum

    Shout out to PDXFit in southeast Portland, OR. Small community, mostly amazing women, and talented and supporting trainers, Marco Sanchez and Nate McConnell. I would not have started strength training again were it not for the culture there, and it has improved my level of fitness 100%.

  • Anne in WT

    Love this! I’ve never tried this before and knocked out four with my right arm and two with my left. Eeep. What else can I do that I have no knowledge of?!! Thanks for the inspiration!

    • TonyGentilcore

      You’re welcome Anne – glad you found some inspiration by it.

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  • Jessica S

    I attended an Eric Cressey seminar at ETS in Whitby, Ontario a few weeks back and his work led me to finding your webpage. I am currently working on building up to unassisted chinups using some one of your online programs. One day soon I will be able to do this and I will tag you in the video!
    Thanks for the inspiration Tony!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Awesome! I look forward to it Jessica. And thank you for reading.

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