Here at Philosopher-Warrior, I’m all about mindfulness. Usually, this is about internal development, cultivating the right sort of mindset and approach to make sure that you’re getting the most out of your diet and training. But what if I told you an equally important part is your environment?
I can guarantee you that if you maximize your environment to be as desirable to train in as possible, you’re going to get your best possible results. There are numerous factors that go into your training, and even the ones you think won’t have much of an effect can and will have a huge one.
Many serious lifters buy gym memberships more on equipment than any other factor. Novice exercisers might be drawn by price, convenience, or the feeling of safety they get in a gym, drawing them to places like Planet Fitness. Women might be drawn towards yoga studios and other environments which cater to them. Serious competitors will aim at gyms specifically catering to them.
Even within those spaces, however, you can easily get a gym that you love or hate. There are lots of other factors here to consider, including:
Music: Do they play the kind of music you like, or will you need to bring an mp3 player?
People: Do they have other people like yourself that you can train with? Do you like these people? Do they share similar training philosophies to you? Will they help spot you during a lift?
Staff: Are the staff friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable?
Aesthetics: Do you like the appearance of the gym?
Crowd: Are there lots of people there at the times you like to train, or a few? If a lot, do they tend to use the equipment you would need? Do they share well?
Proximity/Convenience: How close is the gym to your home and/or job?
Hours: Is the gym open when you like to train?
And again: Equipment and cost.
This list is by no means complete, but is intended to be an example of other factors to consider. People who sell gym memberships are used to dealing with things like these all the time. Identifying what a potential member wants out of a gym and then playing up the positive aspects of your own gym in order to seal the deal is a large part of what membership sales involves.
I will say that any gym in which one or more of these factors are seriously off is not right for you. Finding the perfect gym and hacking your environment to give you the best possible results is about making sure that your environment is perfect, which means making sure that all of these factors are perfectly in line.
Don’t be afraid to put your own touch on things! Arrange things the way they best suit you. Play the music you like to hear. If the right people don’t work out at your gym, or if your gym isn't receptive to your ability to modify the environment (within reason, of course), maybe you need to find a new one.
Am I saying that changing these factors is going to directly and suddenly influence your performance? Absolutely not! Putting on the right music isn’t going to give you a 20lb PR on your lifts or cut 30 sec. off of your mile time. However, the number one factor in ensuring that your training works out is consistency, and consistency means making sure that your gym experience is as pleasurable as possible so that you’re much more likely to go. Over a long enough timeline, that means a lot of additional training hours that you’ll get that you wouldn’t have in a poorer gym environment, and that does directly translate into better performance.
There’s a reason that guys will literally move to new states to train at gyms that specialize in their sport: because everyone knows that the right gym can make a huge difference. It’s massively refreshing to train with other people who compete in the same sports as you, even if you wouldn’t be friends with them outside of the gym. The info and support you can get from a good gym are indispensable.
Another important consideration is whether or not to make your own gym. Many people, myself included, prefer a bit of privacy when working out so that they can be as ridiculous as they want without anyone else watching. A squat rack, a bar, some weight plates, a bench, and a treadmill or stationary bike will probably run you about $1500 in total and will enable you to practice a wide variety of exercises in the comfort of your own garage. Over time, this is also a massive investment - if you consider the cost of your average gym membership ($350/year-ish) and the gas and time you use to go to your gym regularly, this investment will essentially pay for itself in just 3-4 years.
Of course, I only recommend this for people with a high intrinsic motivation, since many prefer the social environment found in a regular gym. A common complaint about home gyms is that while they’re super available, that makes it harder to use them because you get distracted by other things around the house. This is a personal thing - I’ve never had any such issues, and I’ve found that my garage gym has actually helped blur the line between working out and relaxing, meaning that I do it a lot more and find it a lot less exhausting - of course everyone is different and others won’t get out of it the same thing that I do.
One last warning - make sure that whatever hacks you impose on your environment aren't obnoxious when working within a community gym. Maybe blaring music out of your phone without headphones will be more comfortable for you than with - but of course that's going to bother other people in your gym, and that's gonna throw their workouts off. As always, the gym is a communal space - treat it like one, and be respectful!
Hacking your environment for maximum gains is as simple as learning to have fun while working out. Personalize your gym experience as much as possible and you’re going to see the best possible benefits.