From Gold’s to Planet Fitness: The Importance of Gym Culture

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GOLDGYMThe equipment in your gym doesn’t matter.

Sorry bro, but your favorite squat rack, sled, barbell, and battling rope are mere accessories to the one thing that every great gym has. 

It’s that secret sauce that turns a gym into the gym. 

I’m talking about gym culture. 

Gym culture is the feel of the room: walk through the door and you’re fired up to train. It motivates you to push that much harder, and it leaves you excited to come back the next day.

It keeps you hungry for progress and inspired to unlock your full potential.

But most gyms don’t have a great culture.

Sure, they’ve got the weights, the plates, the bars, the bells. But there’s no drive, no fire, no eye of the tiger.

Walk into a gym with a great culture, and you’ll progress. Walk into one with poor gym culture and you’ll hit plateaus.

The Gold Standard



Gold’s Gym in Venice, California is “The Mecca of Bodybuilding.” And for good reason. The culture is second to none.

“The atmosphere breeds hard work, determination, and results. If you’re training there, it’s because you crush weight and build a killer physique.

Environments like this don’t let you down. And, they don’t come often. It pushes you to take it to the next level. Gains automatically increase by >20%.”

—Bob Thompson, on training at Gold’s Gym, Venice

The first time I trained at The Mecca was like a dream. It started with an invitation from The Bro King of the Fitness Industry to train chest.

I was stoked, but there was a problem.

I had just finished driving 3,120 miles across the country—from Boston to LA. Combined with car trouble and a few road closures, that’s about 47 hours in the car. By the end of it, my body had forgotten how to do anything besides sit and steer.

But, when John Romaniello invites you to train at The Mecca, you train at The Mecca.

I showed up early so I could get intimate with a foam roller and spend quality time on mobility. The extra time proved to be a game-changer. Not because I got to loosen up—though that felt pretty good – but because I had the chance to soak in the unbelievable culture at Gold’s.

The energy is all-consuming. 

Huge Mr. and Mrs. Olympia portraits line the walls. Legends like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno are regulars (I saw Arnold and tried not to fangirl too hard. I might have failed.) The gym was—and still is—a training ground for champions.

“I was fortunate enough to have spent time training at The Mecca of Powerlifting, but this was my first time at The Mecca of Bodybuilding.

There is a reason this place is known as The Mecca. The atmosphere breeds champions and the energy inside the walls can’t be replicated.”

—Joey Percia, on training at Gold’s Gym, Venice

Everybody means business. People aren’t there to simply get a workout in; they’re there to train. They’re not there to look hawt on the elliptical; they’re there to look stellar on stage and picturesque in magazines.

“I have never been a morning person; I hate waking up early, and my performance in morning workouts has always been awful. However, three consecutive morning sessions at The Mecca ended up being three of the best workouts I’ve ever had in my life.”

—Matt Dustin, on training at Gold’s Gym, Venice

When I got to the gym, I planned on taking it easy. At the time, I didn’t realize that’s impossible at The Mecca. When Apollo Creed is watching you lift, you can’t help but to channel your inner Italian Stallion (which totally happened, by the way).

“I grew up admiring the heroes displayed in comic books and on screen. 

At Gold’s, two of those Heroes were feet from me. Arnold and his glorious biceps glistened as sun beams trickled through the windows. The original Hulk made eye contact with me as I was squatting. 

These guys for decades have lived by working hard, every day. At Gold’s, this mindset permeates the air.”

—Robbie Farlow, on training at Gold’s Gym, Venice

The gym culture did its job. It pushed me to go harder than I thought I could. In the words of my friend Sheamus Trott, “Gold’s Gym is like beta-alanine: it makes my skin tingle and my workouts better.”

Gold’s Gym, Venice, sets the standard for great gym culture.

But it isn’t the only place you can find it.

What Planet Fitness and The Mecca Have in Common

Planet Fitness nails it when it comes to gym culture.

According to their marketing, it’s not even a gym. It’s Planet Fitness.

They’ve created a safe haven for anyone that feels uncomfortable in a stereotypical gym. And it’s exactly what some people are looking for. They’d feel awkward at Gold’s, but they feel at home in a Planet Fitness.

Despite the obvious differences, each gym has its own clear culture. Every time you go, you become more like that predominant culture, and at a place like The Mecca, you become more like the bodybuilding legends whose pictures cover the walls.

“Since I first became heavily enamored with bodybuilding, The Mecca became a personal holy grail. Finally getting the chance to train there last year was a dream come true. Spending more time in Venice a few weeks ago poured gasoline on the fire that is my desire to step on stage.”

—Alex Mullan, on training at Gold’s Gym, Venice

At gyms like Planet Fitness, you’ll become more like the cardio kings and queens you see on the treadmills and ellipticals, but there isn’t anything wrong with this option. You simply want to find what works best for you.

Your goal is to simply find out what works best for you. 

“I had a little different experience and viewpoint than most of the other guys. As a 41 year dude, I’m not looking to crush a 500-pound deadlift for reps or PR my front squat. I’m just trying to not hurt myself so I can live to train another day. Even with that said, I love the energy and atmosphere that Gold’s Gym Venice creates.”

—Jay Nixon, on training at Gold’s Gym, Venice

DIY: Create Your Own Gym Culture

Great gyms are like brick ovens—there’s an accumulation of awesome.

Every time a brick oven cooks a pizza, it enhances the flavor of the oven. Every time a gym sees a great workout, it enhances the culture of the gym.

There was a time when the Gold’s Gym in Venice was just a gym. Then the legends from the golden age of bodybuilding turned it into The Mecca.

“From the moment you step into Gold’s Gym it becomes apparent that you’re about to experience the best workout of your life. It’s as if Arnold, Franco, and all of the other greats are right there with you, helping you finish each rep. The feeling is surreal.”

—Julio Canario, on training at Gold’s Gym, Venice

It’s a reciprocal relationship. People influence the culture. And in turn, the culture influences the people. At Gold’s, the culture is one of hard work and relentless dedication, and the results people get reflect that.

What kind of culture are you creating?

Regardless of where you are—a big box gym, small studio, a park, or your own backyard, you’re building a culture. The energy and effort you bring to your workout seep into the atmosphere, and that atmosphere affects everybody in it.

Becoming the kind of personal that helps, lifts, and inspires others is remarkably easy. 

And for you, you’ll get better results—duh. 

On top of sweet abz, you’ll also help inspire the people around you.

An atmosphere where you build each other up will create a killer culture. With culture comes community. And with community comes connection. It’s the sort of stuff that has the power to transform a whole lot more than your body—it’ll transform your life.

About the Author

Ben Johnson is an author, coach, the founder of BENTRAINED, and a slave to delicious flavor. If he's not helping people unlock their full potential, he's probably in the kitchen putting principles from his cookbook to use. To Ben, enjoying the food you love and having the body of your dreams isn't just possible, it's the goal.

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