Growth is never by mere chance; it's the result of forces working together.
- James Cash Penney
1. Look for strength-friendly gyms
This may mean driving an extra 30 minutes. But the odds of finding great training partners in a strength-oriented gym increase substantially. The size of the gym means nothing. If you train in a gym where there are only 10-12 people in there at a time but they are serious about what they are doing, this outweighs the gym with 50-70 people in there for social hour.
If you don't know where to begin, search your area for gyms and then visit their social media pages. Find what hashtags they use and then search the hashtag. Many of the members of the gym will use the hashtag or tag the gym when they post allowing you to see who trains there. This will give you an idea about the culture of the gym.
There are also several gym directory sites but I would suggest only using these as a launch point to find their social media pages. Don't discount visiting the gym's own website. You can often find great information on them but do not hold it against them if the site sucks. They are not in the eCommerce business and many times the marketing dollars are better invested elsewhere. Or, they care less about their internet appearance and more about their gym and lifters. Ultimately, the best gyms to train at are built from referrals. If you are out of their referral network (other members) then the closer you get to it, the more you will discover about it.
2. Don't be closed minded
You may know more than other people in the gym. You may be more educated and have more experience. This could be in formal education and real under the bar work or could also be from Google University and the Social Media school of hard knocks. Either way, be open minded when you begin training with others. For this to work for everyone, the answer will always be in the middle.
Now, if the people are dumb as fuck then find somewhere/someone else but the odds are you would have discovered this before ever training with them. Trust me, I have on both sides of this for a very long time. There are those who have decades of valuable experience and others who have insane book smarts. You can see the infighting online but what you do not see is that many times, these two far ends DO train with each other and do learn from each other. Don't be blinded by the vocal minority.
3. Be humble
Put your shit away, pick up at the gym even if you didn't mess it up. We all have time between sets that can be used to clean some things up. You don't have to be an asshole in the gym. Yes, I get that there are times when you need to be but those times are not every set of every session, every week of the year. Help when you can. Be polite, introduce yourself, make others (new lifters) feel welcome.
You never know, a year from now that new lifter may be the best training partner you ever had.
One of the biggest changes that has happened within the gym culture over the past ten years is that people do not seek out the experienced lifters like they used to. People do not relocate to a new city to train with the best like they used to. People may not even drive an extra ten minutes for a good gym. Part of the reason for this is they feel they can learn all they need online or via text, messenger, or email. This will not change anytime soon. Where the best lifters and coaches used to have people wanting to train with them all the time, they are now wondering why their powerlifting group is so small and why all their training partners suck (or why they don't have any at all).
In this new culture, the rules have changed. If you are that coach or lifter, you need to humble yourself and offer advice and support to those in the gym, to the new lifters. You will be seeking them out instead of them seeking you out.
The days of the "gym pecking order" are gone.
Help others, make a connection. When they get better, you get better.
4. Don't pretend to be something you are not.
The quickest way to be ignored or tuned out is by pretending to be something you are not. The key here is to find someone to train with who can teach you, push you, and mentor you. These people are looking for training partners as much as you are but they want someone who will be serious, on time, and train hard when needed. If this is not what you are looking for, then look for others for whom training is the same priority. Not everyone goes to the gym wanting to train to be the best, but most do go to get better. If you love to train but don't want to train to be the best you can then don't seek out the lifter training to be great at a national level. This won't work for you or them. Now, if you are looking to get to the national level, find others who are already there or working towards it. It's that simple. But it all begins with knowing who you are and why you train. Not trying to be something you are not or lying to yourself about what you want.