In July, I trained at the Powerhouse Gym in Tampa, Gold’s Gym in Austin, my regular gym in Toronto, the YMCA in my hometown, and the backyard out on the farm. In August, I’ll train in Lithuania, Vienna, and Copenhagen during my Euro 2K11 tour, and then at Fit Gym in San Diego during the weekend of the TT Summit – plus I’ll be leading two bootcamp workouts at the hotel in the morning for TT Trainers.
As you can see, I’m been everywhere man, I train everywhere. The meathead in me always looks to hit Gold’s Gym when I travel. And since I’ve done so many workouts on the road, I wanted to share my top 10 gyms I’ve visited and workouts I’ve had around the world.
Remember, this list is limited to the gym that I’ve been to…no doubt there are many awesome gyms that won’t be on the list, but regardless, the top 3 on this list would be tough to beat by any other gym in the world.
#10 – Best Vegas Gyms (in this order): Palazzo, Luxor, Monte Carlo
I’m going to start the list by covering the top gyms in Vegas. If you think all hotel gyms are dumpy little rooms with some cardio machines and a dumbbell rack that goes to 45 pounds, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the gyms at the Palazzo, Luxor, and Monte Carlo. All three of these locations have barbells and squat racks (not just Smith machines) plus dumbbells that go up to 80-100 pounds. For the best combination of hotel room and gym, I’d pick the Palazzo.
The new Aria Hotel has a really nice, swanky and clean gym, but it only has a smith machine, not a real squat rack. But I like the Aria so much it almost makes me forget its shortcomings. Finally, the most disappointing hotel gym I’ve used in Vegas is at the MGM – plus they still make you pay $20-$30 to use it even if you’re a hotel guest.
#9 – Next Level Fitness in Orange County, California
Back in 2010 I was down at a fitness seminar with my friend Joel Marion. We needed to do an upper body Turbulence Training session, and we knew a guy named Steve Hochman who had a local gym. It’s not the biggest gym in the world, but the atmosphere is really good, and the gym has garage doors that open in a classic-warehouse style. It’s not the biggest gym in the world, and got a little crowded, but the equipment and environment were just right for this meatheads muscle building workouts. Quick update: Steve no longer owns the gym, but I can’t imagine it has changed much.
#8 – Gym 111 in Delray Beach, Florida
I stumbled across this cool little gym back in June while I was investigating a new business (I ended up getting the business, www.EarlyToRise.com). Delray is a nice, quiet little town on the Atlantic Ocean with a lot of great restaurants, but I didn’t expect it to have such a great gym on the main street in town. Squat rack, heavy dumbbells, TRX’s, room for foam rolling, cable machines, everything you need for a meathead workout. If I go back to Delray, I’ll be happy to train there again.
#7 – John Alvino’s gym near Morristown, New Jersey
One of Jay Ferruggia’s oldest friends in the fitness industry, John Alvino has a great gym tucked away in a racquet club in a wealthy part of Jersey. John trains young athletes there, and it’s a great meathead setting. Of course, he has squat racks, plyo boxes for jumping, heavy dumbbells, and all that a meathead needs, but he also has a glute-ham raise and belt squat machine that are missing in many gyms. Classic Jersey meathead workouts can be done here before driving an hour down to the shore or heading into the city for a big night out. Good times.
#6 – Gold’s Gym Orlando
As I mentioned earlier, I hit Gold’s Gym whenever I can. In fact, one of the first things I do when I get into town (or sometimes before I even leave Toronto) is to look up the directions from my hotel to the local Gold’s Gym. Sure, most Gold’s are a little old, and they aren’t the shiniest gyms in town, but that’s where an old meathead like me wants to train.
The best Gold’s I’ve hit is the one in Orlando. It’s about 20 minutes from Disney, and a lot closer to Universal Studios/the Hard Rock Hotel. This Gold’s is also the biggest I’ve ever been in, and has lots of class space for spinning, TRX stuff, etc. So it’s one of the most up to date as well. Great times there. It reminds me a lot of the gym that comes in 3rd on my list.
Other honourable mentions for Gold’s Gym are the ones in Austin and Charleston. Those are both pretty good. There isn’t a Gold’s in Toronto, but the one in nearby Mississauga is good and big (just too far from home). And I have to admit, the most disappointing Gold’s Gym I’ve visited is the one beside Fenway Park in Boston. That one needs some updates.
#5 – LA Fitness in Stamford, CT
This gym is really about the people, not so much the gym. I imagine that if I went at 5pm on a Monday by myself, I wouldn’t like this place, but at this particular gym I’ve trained with not only Vince Del Monte, but also with Jason Ferruggia on separate occasions (I don’t think Vince and Jay have ever been in a 100 mile radius of one another).
My best workout at this gym was with Jay way back in October, 2006 when I was at my strongest. We were attending Ryan Lee’s fitness summit, and that was also back in the day when both of us still were staying out late and having a few drinks. It was a really fun weekend, started off with the big workout at LA Fitness.
So LA Fitness has a special place in my meathead heart because it has allowed me to train with two of the most popular muscle-building coaches in the world.
#4 – Fit Gym in San Diego
This place is massive, has a ton of great workout toys, and is in one of the coolest downtowns of all America. Plenty of pretty girls on the streets and in the gym here, too. Plus, I’ve had some of the best breakfasts ever just around the corner at a little diner (I think it’s called the Broken Yolk).
The only downside is the $30 day pass, but if you make an event out of it, you’ll get your money’s worth. Go in and have a marathon workout, try out a few of the new pieces of equipment, use the TRX and squat rack, lift some heavy dumbbells, and then treat yourself to a massive breakfast just around the corner before enjoying the rest of your day in one of the nicest cities in America. Hard to beat San Diego.
#3 – Powerhouse Gym in Tampa
This place has to be experienced. If you are ever in South Florida on the Gulf coast side, save up a workout for Powerhouse Gym.
Joel Marion and I first discovered this gym a few years ago when Joel moved to Tampa. He had been training in his condo gym, but I needed a full meathead experience, so we found Powerhouse on the web and drove across town to check it out. It’s a massive gym, and the only things bigger there are some of the massive bodybuilders who train there, as well as the massive collection of famous people who have signed photos on the wall.
This place has turf, squat racks, heavy dumbbells, TRX classes, great trainers, a speed area, and a spot for foam rolling. Plus, they’ve just added an outdoor Gauntlet area where you can drag sleds, push a prowler, throw medicine balls, and more – of course, you won’t want to be doing that between June and September in Florida, but it’s great the rest of the year.
If you go, see if you can get a workout from Dan Long – he has to be one of the highest-energy trainers I’ve ever met. It’s insane.
#2 – Alwyn Cosgrove’s “Results Fitness” in Newhall, California
Alwyn started this gym back in 2000 with just 1000 square feet, and he’s since built it up to over 7000 square feet, with every single worthwhile gym toy. It’s a fantastic environment with probably the best trained gym staff in America. Men’s Health always names Results Fitness as one of the top 10 gyms in America. It doesn’t matter if you’re a football player who wants to get strong or a mom who wants to get lean, Alwyn and Rachel Cosgrove – and their highly educated staff – will take care of you.
#1 – Jason Ferruggia’s Renegade Gym
This tiny little gym in a tiny little town (Wachtung, New Jersey) is the home of one of the coolest workout joints in all of America. Am I biased about the gym because it’s owned by one of my best friends, Jay Ferruggia? Absolutely. But the guy has everything you need. There are three squat racks, kettlebells of every imaginable weight, a tire to flip, a prowler to push, TRX’s, pullup bars and rings, heavy dumbbells, a log for pressing, turf to run on, and of course, some Jersey attitude and a powerful training environment.
Plus, it has one thing that no other gym in America – or the world – could ever have: Jay Ferruggia’s Ipod. The man is obsessed with music, and Jay’s gym is the only gym in the world where the walls are adorned with hip-hop LP covers.
Training with Jay and hanging around him, or without him at the gym before and after the workout is an experience that every meathead needs to have.
So until Jay opens a Renegade Gym on the West Coast, I’m crowning his little gym in Jersey as the best place I’ve ever trained.
PS – Here’s my top 11 list of awesome gyms that would surely make the list if I’d been to them…
- Joe DeFranco’s
- Athlete’s Performance
- Westside Barbell
- Southside Barbell
- Cressey Performance
- The gym at Elite Fitness Systems
- Joe Dowdell’s Peak Performance in NYC
- Zach Even-Esh’s Underground Strength Gym
- Travis Stoetzel’s Forged Athlete Gym in Omaha
- Elliot Hulse’s Warehouse Gym in St. Petersburg, Florida
- CJ Murphy’s gym near Boston, MA
This list could go on and on, so don’t be offended if your gym is not on there. Looks like I need to get out the old passport, rent an RV, and go on a strength training tour.
That would be my idea of the best holiday ever. Some folks go to Disneyland for vacation, but I like going to the gym. Maybe I’ll open up an amusement park someday named, “Deadliftland”. Probably won’t need a monorail for that one.
Tell me about YOUR favorite gym. Where is it? What do you like about it?
See you in the squat rack,
Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS
Certified Turbulence Trainer