What is the difference between a commercial or private gym in Sydney
Have you ever wanted to know the difference between commercial and private gyms? I explain what to look for and my experiences using both types

The differences between a commercial and private gym

Private gym in Taren Point

For any industry sector there are different products or services you can buy which have various pros and cons. One of the things that many people (myself included) had to figure out when training is what type of gym to use – commercial or private. There is no definitive black and white answer so I’ll share my experience, what I discovered and explain why I ended up opening my own private gym in Taren Point that is open 24/7

Why I started comparing commercial and private gyms

I was a member of commercial-type gyms since 2004 and started coaching out of them in 2013. My initial training goals were very general, such as wanting to build muscle and get lean enough that I could see my abdominals.

As time progressed, I began training for bodybuilding shows in conjunction with power-lifting. Now, training is focused on maximising strength to be the strongest I can be at power-lifting whilst improving my physique (not letting my body fat get overly high while gaining muscle). 

As a beginner lifter, the commercial gyms did the job for what I needed. I didn’t have a structured training plan, and did random workouts every week and made progress. Being a beginner, you can make easy gains by lifting weights consistently, regardless of how poorly designed the program is.

As you max out your beginner gains, training generally needs to become more structured, so you can continue progressing and move into an intermediate lifter. As such, doing random machines at commercial gyms did the job. Likewise, I wasn’t concerned about the quality of the barbells, squat racks, bench presses, deadlift platforms, etc. 

As my training got more serious, I started to follow a specific plan, e.g. each day, I would have a specific workout planned and make specific weight increases per week. As such, it was important that I’d had access to the particular machines I needed, could use the same barbell, weight plates, not have to wait too long for the machines I wanted, not get distracted from people around me, etc.

I needed to train harder to progress as gains weren’t as easy to make as when I was a beginner.  Over time, commercial gyms were hindering my workouts for these reasons;

  • They were crowded, and I sometimes couldn’t get the machine I needed.
  • The barbells were poor quality with poor grip and were sometimes bent.
  • Some gyms would only have 1 or 2 good barbells, so I would need to wait until someone had finished.
  • My workout length would increase; for example, squats, bench press and dead-lift could take up to 1 hour each per lift. As such, in gyms that were busy or had a limited amount of squat racks, equipment available, etc, I felt pressured in having to do my workout quickly to let other people use the equipment.
 
 

The frustrations of commercial gyms started to peak as the years went on, both with my own training and when I was training clients. The problems I faced included;

  • Overcrowding.
  • Having to wait for equipment.
  • Not having the specific equipment I needed, such as proper barbells with good grip and not bent or too flexible.
  • Flat flooring for deadlifts so the barbell didn’t roll around everywhere and, 
  • Horrible music

What were the biggest turn offs using a commercial gym?

Annoyance peaked at the last commercial gym I trained at before opening SPC. The clientele mainly attracted to the gym were those who liked to flex in the mirror, take selfies, wear pretty clothes and full faces of make-up.

I found people to be rude (some were nice), people wouldn’t put their weights away, there was a lot of performance-enhancing drug usage, and the overall environment felt quite intimidating and toxic.

I’m a pretty confident guy, but even for myself, I found the gym environment was affecting my self-image, although, at this stage of my lifting career, I was pretty strong and had a decent physique. So, I could only imagine how newbies must feel walking into such a superficial gym environment. 

At this point, I realised no gyms around the area would satisfy my needs. I wanted somewhere that;

  • Didn’t have an ego/intimidating environment.
  • Somewhere that had quality equipment for strength training.
  • Wasn’t crowded.
  • Didn’t have shit music.
  • Didn’t have people complaining if I dropped my weights when dead-lifting heavy

 

Essentially, somewhere I could comfortably train stress-free with other like-minded people with similar training goals, people who were more focussed on achieving results than taking selfies. So, I decided to take the risk and open SPC Performance Lab, a strength training and powerlifting gym in Taren Point.

I run the gym how I would want a gym to be run if I was a gym member. It’s designed for people who have gone through similar struggles as I have, for people looking for a non-commercial training facility that isn’t crowded and has a community vibe  with commercial quality training equipment as well as equipment specific to strength and power-lifting training.

I wanted to combine all the things I knew I wanted as a person that was serious about their training regime while reducing or eliminating all the typical problems associated with gyms that are trying to cater to a wide range of uses & demographics.

I had come to realise that a commercial gym was ok to get started, but finding a training facility in the Sutherland Shire that was more specialised helped satisfy my workout requirements a lot more. A bit like asking a handyman to change a hot water system vs a licensed plumber – they may both be able to complete the task but one has specialist skills, training and expertise that will most likely create a better outcome.

How do you know if a gym is commercial?

It is all good and well talking about private or commercial gyms, but how can you tell which is what when you’re browsing websites or if you are standing outside one on the street Here are some of the attributes you can consider to help work it out for yourself

  1. Size – The physical size of the gym will be one of the first indicators. Most commercial gyms in the Sutherland Shire are quite large and look like a retail shop. You will typically see a lot of machines and a huge open floor plan. Gyms which are located near or in a shopping centre are generally commercial It will just look and feel ‘big’, so to speak, like most of the major retailer brands that you would encounter every day.


  2. Brand – Like a lot of household names you will probably recognise the name of a commercial gym quickly because you may have seen advertising or promotions in the local area. Most private gyms can’t afford above-the-line advertising. But large commercial gyms can, due to the size of their member base and budget.


  3. Locations – If you look on their website and can see they have multiple locations, then it it will most likely be a commercial gym. Some of the large gym chains have numerous gyms spread around the country, with some having multiple facilities within the Sutherland Shire alone.


  4. Membership limits – Most commercial gyms will not have a member cap or can cater to over 300 members within a single location. Commercial gyms require a large member base to cover the high running cost plus paying stuff. Smaller private facilities generally have lower running and staff costs and do not require as high of a volume of members as commercial gyms.

 

  1. Types of members – Commercial gyms generally have no consistency in the member type, e.g. there will be school kids, bodybuilders, mums, elderly people, etc. The gym doesn’t focus on targeting a specific niche and tries to cater to everyone (hence their ability to have large numbers of people joining). Anyone can join, and it is open to the public. This does not mean private gyms will discriminate if you do not fall into their demographic.

    Instead, private gyms generally serve people with similar goals, e.g. body-building, cross-fit, power-lifting, weight lifting, small group training, etc, so you’re more likely to become part of a positive training environment with like-minded people.


  2. Equipment types or brands – A lot of commercial gyms will have supplier agreements to use only specific equipment brands. This limits only being able to buy certain brands of equipment as per their franchise contract. So, while there could be a better piece of equipment available on the market, if the franchise agreement doesn’t include it, then the facility can’t put it on its floor. Private gyms will typically choose the best gear for people to use within their special niche.
 

Multiple factors can help you determine if a gym is commercial or private. One is not better than the other. It comes down to personal preferences and needs.

What are some of the commercial gyms in the Sutherland Shire?

Here are some examples of commercial gyms that are located in the Sutherland Shire. Reviewing  the criteria I just wrote about, most of  gyms below will fit into one or more of the mentioned categories. Each of these commercial gyms in the Sutherland Shire have their own unique value propositions and cater to different types of people  along with offering a broad range of training options.

What are the benefits of a commercial gym?

If you still feel like a commercial gym is a good idea for you to try then here are some of the benefits that you may experience;

  • Usually quite big, so there is plenty of space to move around freely
  • Generally they have expensive branded machines which, for the most part, are good quality (but not always the case)
  • Change room facilities are generally nice and may offer extras like hair dryers, irons and multiple showers
  • Some offer recovery-type facilities like saunas and spas
  • May have multiple gym classes running each day, such as Pilates, yoga, body pump, etc
  • Some offer food and drinks and/or have a restaurant and/or café attached
  • They may offer a Creche which is great for parents
  • Some will have membership programs that give you special offers or bonuses for related services or products
  • Some gyms will let you use another location with your existing membership which is great if you travel or work/live in different suburbs.
 

The quality of your experience and the training environment will vary between gyms. This may even differ within the same business but at a different location. The management team across other sites may run the gym differently and cater for a different demographic depending on the type of people accessing the facility. 

You’re best off asking for a trial at gyms you’re interested in to see what’s a good fit for you.

What are the disadvantages of a commercial gym?

Now, let’s talk about some of the disadvantages of using a commercial gym. The issues below are what motivated me to open a private training facility. These are my personal experiences and information I have collected from other people.   

  • Member numbers – Members numbers – The gyms didn’t seem to have a member cap, nor did they seem to care how busy the gym got. During peak hours, the gym would get packed. 
 
  • Equipment availability – During peak hours (generally after work, 3-6 pm), the gyms would get very busy. As a result, sometimes the equipment I wanted to use was unavailable and I had to change my routine or waste time waiting for someone to finish using it. Likewise, I sometimes felt rushed in having to finish using a piece of equipment quickly as one or more people were queuing to use it. 
 
  • Music – The music in the gym can’t be changed as it would have to cater for a diverse range of people. Likewise, contract agreements restrict some commercial gyms in what they can play. The music was a little commercial for my personal taste, so I would have to use my own headphones, which can sometimes be annoying. I rather not wear headphones whilst training due to comfort.
 
  • Equipment quality – Not all equipment is equal For example, the free weights may be sub-par, such as poor-quality barbells, weight plates and dead-lift platforms
 
  • Machine breakages – Due to high-volume usage in commercial gyms, machines are likelier to break. If this happens, it can sometimes take a while to be fixed as they’ll generally have to call in a sub-contractor to repair, likely due to their contract for safety/insurance purposes.  
 
  • New equipment – It can take a long time to purchase new equipment. E.g. if the gym needs bigger dumbbells, this may take months to be purchased (or sometimes never). This is potentially because franchise type gyms are usually restricted to certain brand types due to their franchise contract.
  • Contracts – Some gyms have very cleverly worded, long, lock-in contracts that include either start-up and/or exit fees. These can catch people who don’t read the fine print.
 
  • Community – Generally speaking, people don’t talk to each other/there is a lack of community or ‘cliques’ that form within the gym. This is probably because commercial gyms cater to all people types. Therefore, it’s understanding that not everyone will want to interact with each other. Some people connect, and some people don’t which is normal.
 
  • Chalk usage – Some commercial gyms don’t allow you to use chalk. This can reduce the quality of your workout if the barbell is slipping out of your hands.
 
  • Feel rushed using a piece of equipment – As there are typically many people in commercial gyms, it’s common for someone to wait for the machine you’re using. This can feel uncomfortable having someone standing beside you waiting to finish. As such, you may feel like you need to rush your workout. Likewise, if you’re the one waiting to use equipment that someone else is using, you might feel uncomfortable asking how long they have left. 
 
  • Noise – Some people may get upset if you drop your weights, grunt, or make noise whilst training. Sometimes, stuff is heavy, and you need to make noise or use it to motivate yourself. Someone who does general training might not understand and get annoyed with you.  
 
  • Intimidating environments – As a beginner, you may feel intimidated being in a place where you have little experience and feel like people are watching. You may feel you’re doing something wrong, and people are laughing behind your back. Likewise, it can sometimes feel uncomfortable being in a large space around people you do not know or talk to.
 
  • Mirrors – Too many mirrors for some people can be a turn off if you are focussed on working out rather than admiring yourself. You may be after that which is fine, but for people that are more serious about their training the focus is on making gains vs looking in the mirror. Commercial gyms are generally overpopulated with mirrors. This generally attracts those who want to use them to admire themselves, flex and take selfies. Likewise, relying in mirrors can hinder your ability to learn efficient lifting technique as you rely on visual cues to understand where your body is in space versus feeling where your body is.

What are the benefits of a private gym?

I opened SPC Performance Lab to focus on solving all the typical pain points that people go through when using a commercial gym. These are some of the benefits you’ll experience when training at our (and other) private gyms;

  • Less crowding – Our private gym in Taren Point is less crowded than commercial facilities. Many private gyms set a member cap to avoid crowding. Rather than aiming for high volumes of members, private gyms may limit their member numbers so they maintain a comfortable and non-crowded training environment.
 
  • No wait times – Depending on how well-equipped the gym is, the likelihood of waiting for equipment is significantly less compared to a typical commercial gym
 
  • Like-minded people – A private gym will generally attract similar people-types training for similar goals, e.g. power-lifting, bodybuilding, sports-specific, etc., which forms a gym community. Private gyms typically have people training together who support each other in reaching their training goals and hitting PBs.
 
  • Meeting new people – Some private gyms are physically smaller, so you’re almost forced to say hello to other people around you because it feels weird if you didn’t. The close proximity makes a venue more intimate, and this can be a good way to meet new people
 
  • Specialised equipment – A private gym most likely will have more specific/specialised equipment that suits particular training goal types. For example, SPC Performance Lab is set up for strength training and powerlifting, while other local private gyms might focus on Cross-Fit.
 
  • Music – Some private gyms may allow members to choose music on the gym stereo. Likewise, private gyms are not restricted in what they can and cannot play. At SPC Performance Lab, because everyone has similar personalities and training goals, people’s music tastes seem similar. 
 
  • Coaching – The coaching staff may have better credentials or specialised in a particular area of training rather than being a generalist who knows bits of everything but can’t help someone who wants to powerlift, for example.
 
  • Management – You can sometimes interact directly with the owner. So, if you have a specific request, you can ask the owner directly and feel like you are being cared for rather than being viewed as just another member.
 
  • Community – Most private gyms feel like you are part of a small local community. There are fewer members, so you tend to interact with the same people regularly, more people are doing the same type of training, the environment is more intimate and you tend to get people serious about their training and happy to help one another. 

What are the disadvantages of a private gym?

Not everything in the world is perfect right, so here are some of the potential disadvantages of working out at a private gym.

  • Size – most of them are smaller, so might be less space to work out in
 
  • Range of equipment – they may not offer a large selection of machines relative to a commercial gym that tries to cater to everyone
 
  • Too specific – a private gym might only cater to a specific niche of training style. E.g. CrossFit gyms target people interested in CrossFit. So, the equipment will cater to this style of training and generally won’t have many machines dedicated to other training styles

What type of workouts suit going to different gym types and why?

Technically, you can do any workout type at any gym as long as they have the appropriate equipment. For example, you could still do body-building training at a cross-fit gym only using barbells, dumbbells and body-weight exercises like chin-ups and dips. However, bodybuilding results may be more efficient by accessing machines targeting specific muscle groups. 

Rather than isolate workouts specific to gym types, it’ll probably be more effective to relate workouts to gyms according to the equipment they offer

 

  • A gym with lots of machine types – Can be suited for bodybuilding, general muscle building, and general health. Likewise, it can be suited for individuals who are not confident in using free weights and feel ‘safer’ using machines
 
  • CrossFit-style gyms with lots of squat racks, barbells, kettlebells, etc – This is obviously best suited for CrossFit-related goals
 
  • Power-lifting gyms with competition grade power-lifting equipment – Suited for power-lifting but can also cater to people who want to do general strength training. Most power-lifting gyms have a variety of machines so they can also suit those who body-build and/or want to improve their physique. Likewise, people looking to improve general health can reach their goals in power-lifting gyms.
 
  • Gyms with weightlifting equipment specifically to do snatches and cleans and jerks (barbells which rotate and bumper plates) – Ideal for those who do weight lifting and potentially those interested in CrossFit as these exercises are often used in CrossFit workouts  

How do you choose the right gym that is suitable for your needs?

I have explained a lot about all the types of gyms and the differences, so now you are thinking, how the hell do I choose the right one? Well, see if you can answer some of these questions

  • What are your goals? Do you want to do bodybuilding, power-lifting, cross fit, general fitness, weight loss, etc?
 
  • What equipment do you think you’ll need which will be most efficient in helping you reach your goals?
 
  • Do you care about the other people you’re training around, or do you prefer to keep to yourself? Finding a gym that appears to have people with similar goals to you may increase the likelihood of you meeting people with similar personality types and values. If you prefer to put your headphones on and not talk to anyone, then the people training around you may not matter
 
  • Do you have any specific requirements? E.g. do you need to shower before work? Do you need childminding? You will have to see if the gym meets your requirements
 
  • Do you need a coach? If so, what are your goals? If you have goals that are specific for power-lifting, you’re probably best finding a gym with those experienced in power-lifting. If you want a body-building coach, does the gym appear to have coaches experienced in this? Etc.
 

Your answers to some of these fundamental questions will help make the decision for you. After that, it comes down to location, price & opening hours. I’d recommend trying to get a free gym trial at any location you shortlist to get a feel for the place before committing to a membership.

Which type of gym is best for beginners?

Any gym is best for beginners. A gym should not be selected based on training experience, but based on your individual requirements and training goals. A beginner can do any training and get a result because it’s a new stimulus that the body has not yet adapted to. A beginner can do a poorly designed program and still get some results because their body will respond to any training type. 

However, if you have specific goal types, for example, power-lifting goals, you might be better off joining a power-lifting-specific gym. It may help you reach your goals faster by having equipment specific to your goals, people with similar goals as you whom you can learn from, and coaches with experience helping others with similar goals.

SPC Performance Lab provides a free gym trial so that you can see if we are a good fit for your workout goals. No catches, no gimmicks, no contracts. Just try our gym out

If you have any more questions about powerlifting then you can contact us to organise a free consultation, take out a free gym trial or simply visit our powerlifting gym to see what we can offer & how we can help you reach your goals.

Paul Attard
Paul Attard

Paul is the founder and head coach of SPC Performance Lab. Paul has been coaching since 2014 and has worked with all different types of people. From first timers learning the basics, all the way up to the experienced power-lifting competitors.

He tailors his approach depending on the needs, goals and experience of the individual. Paul has extensive theoretical and practical coaching experience.

- Masters of Sports & Exercise Science (Strength & Conditioning)
- Bachelor’s degree in Exercise & Sports Science with First Class Honours
- Competed and won multiple natural body-building shows & power-lifting competitions.
- Held an Australian power-lifting record.

Free advice

SPC Performance Lab is a gym in Taren Point in the Sutherland Shire, Sydney NSW. It is a private gym that offers strength training, powerlifting and body building training. The gym is open 24 hours, 7 days a week with membership options that include casual or regular visits.

Paul also provides a choice of personal training one on one or the option of online coaching.

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