The turning of the new year can mean many things, and for a lot of people, it marks the beginning of a journey at the gym. This can be a daunting path, and the University of Toronto presents new gym-goers with an added challenge: which of the three gyms available at UTSG should they use? Is one gym better than the others? Does one provide better cardio equipment? Which gym is the quietest?
These questions can usually only be answered by going to the gyms and figuring them out. Luckily, I’ve done that part already and will now do my best to answer all potential questions about the three U of T gyms on the St. George campus, as well as give each gym a ranking out of ten on five important aspects: cardio equipment, strength training equipment, convenience of the facility set up, busyness — with a higher rating corresponding to a less busy gym — and change room and facility condition.
The Athletic Center
The Athletic Center (AC) feels like the ‘base’ gym at U of T. If you tell someone you’re going to one of the other two gyms, the first question you get is usually: why not AC? The latter part of this article may answer that question, but for now, I’m focused on a different question: why AC? The AC provides a large strength training area with numerous squat racks, benches, pullup bars, cardio machines, dumbbells, and a few weight machines in the Strength and Conditioning Center (SCC). The SCC is on the first floor, which is one floor above the locker rooms and one floor below the field house. The field house contains the track, which you can use for running or walking, and some cable machines you’d expect to find in your average gym. If you’re looking to build your workout plan around weightlifting, especially compound lifts such as bench presses, squats, and deadlifts, the AC provides more than enough equipment for you, as well as machines to work periphery muscles.
The AC’s biggest draw in the cardio department is the track, which gives treadmill despisers like me an indoor running option that doesn’t involve pure boredom. This makes up for its lower number of cardio machines compared to the other two gyms. The drawback of the track is its location — it sits two floors above the change room, meaning that most of the weight machines at the AC involve a one to two-minute walk up to the second floor from the SCC, which can be a bother. The condition of both the locker rooms and the gym at the AC are clean. The locker rooms are large, so they never feel too busy.
The same is often not true for the SCC. The bulk of my experience at the AC is from the 2021–2022 academic year when I often found the SCC quite busy, which can be uncomfortable for those who are new to the gym and frustrating for people trying to get through specific programs on time.
Despite some drawbacks, there’s a reason the AC is the most popular gym on campus. It provides enough of everything one might need, allowing for a range of workouts. On top of that, it provides classes for those looking to do cardio, have some fun, or both!
Cardio Equipment: 9
Strength Equipment: 9
Change Rooms/Gym Condition: 8
I’ll admit up front that Hart House is my favourite of the U of T gyms. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best for everyone. To get to the exercise facilities at Hart House, you must head to the basement that houses the locker rooms and a room with cardio machines, as well as rooms for some of Hart House’s fitness programs. After changing, one would head up to the main floor, where there is an empty room useful for stretching and some types of workouts, a basketball court, and a weight room. One floor above that is Hart House’s track and an abundance of cardio and strength machines.
The weight room at Hart House is noticeably smaller than the one at the AC, but its size matches its traffic. Hart House is significantly less busy than the AC, making it ideal for those who want a quieter gym experience. I also find its smaller size creates a more comfortable area to work out in. The downfall is that, at busy times, it can be hard to use all the equipment you want to because the small room can sometimes get packed, but there are quieter times of the day at Hart House when you may only find one or two other people in the weight room. The last point about the Hart House weight room is that all the weights and equipment are older and are more worn and torn compared to that of the AC or Goldring. None of the equipment is broken or otherwise negatively affected by this condition, but if you prefer newer equipment, Hart House may not be for you.
For those looking to do cardio, Hart House and the AC have very similar offerings. Hart House’s advantage is that it has more cardio machines than the AC and, in my opinion, a better area for cardio on the second floor. AC’s advantage is its larger track allowing for non-treadmill running compared to Hart House’s track, which is so small it would be difficult to do a full cardio workout without it feeling extremely repetitive.
Hart House’s setup sounds like the AC, but it’s actually more convenient. The distance between the weight room and the room upstairs with the machines is at most a 20-second walk, significantly less than the minute or two walk in AC. In my experience, Hart House feels like one large gym, whereas the AC setup almost feels like walking from one gym to another to use machines. The locker rooms are in roughly the same condition as the ones in the AC and considering the older equipment I would say that the condition of the gym itself is slightly lower, though it’s an inconsequential difference.
Cardio Equipment: 9
Strength Equipment: 8
Change Rooms/Gym Condition: 8
The Goldring Centre can seem intimidating at first. The building is large and looks very modern, quite unlike U of T’s other gyms. It’s right next to Varsity Stadium, so most of the Varsity athletes train there. All this can make it tough to consider it as the gym for you, but there’s a lot of advantages to the gym as well. After heading up the stairs and changing, you’ll walk out into a beautiful strength and cardio room. Everything you need is in this one room, which is another difference between Goldring and the other two U of T gyms. The room is well-lit and has a better view than the other two gyms. It’s also the best-looking gym on the interior. You’ll see what I mean when you pay it a visit.
The strength training equipment at Goldring is roughly comparable to the AC. Goldring has an abundance of squat racks and benches, allowing for compound lifts. The gym lacks the strength machines of the other locations, which is a downfall; however, it makes up for this through the several adjustable cable machines that allow for exercises for peripheral muscles even without other machines. If you’re looking to do leg extensions, hamstring curls, or ab exercises on machines, this might not be the place for you, but, if your program is built around compound movements along with accessory exercises for other muscles, you may find Goldring provides the perfect strength training equipment.
On the cardio side of things, Goldring has an upside and a downside. The upside is that all the cardio machines face the windows, so you have a great view, and the room is open, which creates a great environment for doing cardio. The downside is that there aren’t that many machines, and it doesn’t have a large track to make up for that like the AC. In my experience, Goldring never gets busy enough that all the machines are taken up, but considering how few there are initially, that’s a possibility to keep in mind.
The upsides of Goldring are its convenience and compound strength training equipment. One thing to consider if you’re new to the gym is the environment there. I don’t find it to be a negative energy at all; in fact, for experienced gym users, it has a great environment that will likely get them motivated. However, for some who are new to the gym, it’s understandable that the presence of Varsity athletes and others who are quite experienced in the gym could create a slightly intimidating environment. If this sounds like something that you may agree with, maybe consider Hart House or the AC, at least for starting out.
Cardio Equipment: 6
Strength Equipment: 8
Change Rooms/Gym Condition: 10
The purpose of this article isn’t to crown a U of T gym champion, so if you were hoping for that, I apologize. In truth, there’s no such thing as the “best” gym. Everybody has different wants and needs when it comes to their exercise experience. I think it’s great that U of T has three gyms with their own differences. Each one may provide something that an individual desires. Depending on your workouts, you could make use of one, two or even all three gyms weekly.
Furthermore, if you’re trying to fit workouts in between classes, one gym may simply have the most convenient location. One final tip is to remember that January is likely the busiest month in gyms. Around March, things slow down. Hopefully, reading this has made your decision on what gym to use at least the tiniest bit easier and less stressful!