How to train, capture, and defend gyms in Pokemon Go

You can't be the very best like no one ever was if you don't learn to start taking gyms like a champ.

I'm level 19 in Pokemon Go. At this point in the game, I have a few modestly powerful Pokemon, enough that I can start taking on some of the gyms in my city. As I discovered, though, gyms are a whole other beast from the capturing and egg-hatching parts of this game.

So I did what any Pokemon trainer worth their salt would do: I put the time in and studied. And now, I'm taking over gyms in my area with ease (though whether I can keep them is pretty much out of anyone's hands). Follow the guide below and you too will soon become a gym champion of your Pokemon Go neighborhood.

A Team Mystic-controlled gym. (Yes, this one's mine, yes I had to commemorate my first gym capture with a screenshot.) A Team Mystic-controlled gym. (Yes, this one's mine; yes I had to commemorate my first gym capture with a screenshot.)

What Are Gyms And What Do They Do?

There are presently two types of locations in Pokemon Go: Pokestops, where you can gather items and attach Lure Modules to draw out nearby Pokemon, and gyms, for battling other players' Pokemon.

Gyms are first accessed when you reach Level 5, whereupon you're asked to join one of three teams: Team Valor (red), Team Mystic (blue), or Team Instinct (yellow). Valor and Mystic are presently the two largest teams with roughly equal numbers of players, but ever since Niantic revealed the faces of its fictional team leaders -- Candela, Blanche, and Spark, respectively -- I've noticed a lot of more gyms in my neighborhood under Instinct control. People really love Pokemon trainer Owain.

Note: despite Valor and Mystic having more overall team members than Instinct, all three have very powerful players and are entirely capable of taking over and defending gyms. So don't worry too much about which team you choose and just go with the one you like!

Whichever team you join, the other two teams become your rivals. If you activate a gym of the same color as your team, that's a friendly gym, where you can "train" your Pokemon and boost your team's prestige level. If you activate gyms of one of the other two colors, those are rival gyms, and successfully beating one or more Pokemon there will lower that team's prestige level.

Gym Levels and Placing Pokemon

Gyms level up or down based on their prestige. The higher the gym's level, the more Pokemon can be placed there to defend it. For instance, a level three gym can hold three Pokemon, one apiece from three trainers.

You can only place a Pokemon to defend a gym if two conditions are met: 1) it's a friendly gym, and 2) there's an open slot for another Pokemon. As the gym's prestige level goes up, more slots open up as well. The same is true in reverse: as a Pokemon gym's prestige is reduced, the Pokemon with the lowest combat power (CP) gets dropped.

To determine whether a gym has an open slot, look for a hollow circle just beneath the gym's name when you tap on it. If there's a hollow circle, and the gym has the same color as your team, that means you can place your Pokemon there. To place a Pokemon, tap the icon on the lower left-hand side of the screen. You can then select which Pokemon you want to place at the gym.

A level three, friendly gym with an open slot (hollow circle) and training and placement icons active. A level three, friendly gym with an open slot (hollow circle) and training and placement icons active.

Note: Pokemon placed at gyms are removed from your roster, so they can't be used in battles at other, rival gyms. To get a Pokemon back from a gym, you'll have to wait until the gym is defeated. Pokemon are automatically returned to your roster once they're dropped from the gym.

If your friendly gym doesn't have a hollow circle, that means all the slots have been filled, and the only way to open up another is to raise the gym's prestige level. How do you raise a friendly gym's prestige? Read on!

Training at Friendly Gyms and Increasing Prestige Level

Pokemon Go may call this "training," but you aren't really improving the combat ability of your Pokemon -- just pitting one of your critters against the ones placed there by other trainers to guard the gym. You battle and defeat them just as you would at a rival gym. The difference is, defeating a friendly gym's Pokemon raises that gym's prestige. Repeatedly defeating a friendly gym's Pokemon will eventually level up the entire gym, granting an additional slot for you to place a Pokemon of your own -- and making it that much harder for rival teams to defeat the gym.

The amount of prestige gained depends on how many Pokemon you defeat at a friendly gym. You also net a bit of XP for every Pokemon you defeat. Gym levels -- like player levels -- have higher and higher point targets to meet as they increase. Here's how prestige targets shake out by level:

  • Level 1: 0 Prestige (all unclaimed gyms start out at level 1)
  • Level 2: 2,000 Prestige
  • Level 3: 4,000 Prestige
  • Level 4: 8,000 Prestige
  • Level 5: 12,000 Prestige
  • Level 6: 16,000 Prestige
  • Level 7: 20,000 Prestige
  • Level 8: 30,000 Prestige
  • Level 9: 40,000 Prestige
  • Level 10: 50,000 Prestige

Every action done in support of a friendly gym contributes to its prestige. Here's how those actions shake out:

  • Adding a Pokemon to a gym: +2,000 Prestige
  • Defeating a Pokemon with CP equal to or less than yours: +100 Prestige
  • Defeating a Pokemon with CP higher than yours: +500 Prestige
  • Defeating all the Pokemon at a gym: +50 Prestige on top of the individual bonuses

Note: If you've taken over a gym and placed one of your Pokemon there already, you can train against it with another of your Pokemon to build up the gym's prestige. It's a pretty time-consuming process to do on one's own, though!

For a detailed explanation of Pokemon gym battles, see below.

Battling at Rival Gyms and Lowering Prestige Level

Prestige works in reverse once you're battling rival gyms. In the same way that battling at a friendly gym raises that gym's prestige, defeating Pokemon at a rival gym lowers its prestige. Here's how those actions get valued:

  • Defeating a Pokemon at a rival gym: -500 Prestige
  • Defeating all the Pokemon at a rival gym: -1,500 Prestige on top of the individual bonuses

As with supporting friendly gyms, defeating rival gyms nets you a small amount of XP. If a gym loses enough prestige to drop down a level, the lowest-ranked Pokemon is dropped; if all of a gym's prestige is depleted, the team is kicked out altogether and the gym reverts to a neutral, unclaimed state.

Unlike training at friendly gyms, at rival gyms you have access to a full team, by default the six Pokemon in your roster with the highest CP. If you have Pokemon currently unconscious or guarding other gyms, they won't be available for battling.

Note: there's no cooldown between gym battles. If you run away or your Pokemon is defeated, you can quickly heal up and dive right in again. This means you can continue to chip away at a rival gym's prestige level, even if you can only reliably beat its lowest level Pokemon. Though, you'll have to face those stronger Pokes eventually if you want to take over the gym for your team!

For more details on gym battling, see below.

Win screen upon defeating all three Pokemon of a level three gym. Note how easy it is for just one trainer to drop a rival gym several levels. Win screen upon defeating all three Pokemon of a level three gym. Note how easy it is for just one trainer to drop a rival gym several levels.

Battling in Pokemon Go: The Basics

To enter a battle, you need to be standing close enough to a gym for it to appear inside your avatar's radar. From there, tap on it to view its basic information, and then tap on the battle icon on the lower right-hand side of the screen. For friendly gyms, this icon shows a boxing glove; for rival gyms, this icon is a starburst with two Pokeballs.

On the surface, Pokemon Go's battle system doesn't have a lot in common with the single-player games. Instead of a turn-based system, you'll basically be racing against the opposing Pokemon to issue off attacks as rapidly as possible, meaning an awful lot of tapping your screen. You can't use items, and in single-character training you can't switch out for another Pokemon, so if you're facing down inevitable defeat your two options are to run away or wait until your Pokemon's health is exhausted.

Your Pokemon has two attacks: a basic attack, activated by tapping the screen once, and a powered attack activated by touching and holding on the screen. Your Pokemon's powered attack is charged in a meter just below their health bar on the upper left of the screen. If the bar is segmented, this means the attack has successive levels of power to its attack.

You can also make your Pokemon dodge left or right by swiping horizontally across your screen, but timing this against your opponent's attack can be tricky. Look for the white 'action lines' around the edge of the screen just before you swipe.

Battling: Advanced Tips

Defeating strong Pokemon requires tactics a little more sophisticated than 'tap the screen a bunch.' But with the right strategy, you'll find you're able to take down 'Mons with way higher CP than your own.

First, practice dodging, but don't use it indiscriminately. Try to gauge your dodges in time with your opponent's powered attacks, which can cut through a lot of your Pokemon's health even if it's a type of damage they're resistant to.

Second, familiarize yourself with Pokemon types and which are strong against which. Some of these are pretty straight-forward: electricity is effective against water; water is effective against fire; fire is effective against ice. But why is poison effective against grass, yet ineffective against ground? Many of Pokemon's type interactions don't make any logical sense, so the only thing to do is memorize them. Additionally, many Pokemon have both primary and secondary types, which can double or halve damage the damage dealt.

The current strength/weakness type chart for Pokemon X/Y. The current strength/weakness type chart as of Pokemon X/Y. Please note the values are slightly different in Pokemon Go: 2x damage has been changed to 1.25x damage, and 1/2x and 0x now deal 0.8x damage. (Chart via Bulbapedia.)

Third, turn Pokemon Go's real-time battle system to your advantage and learn how fast or slow a Pokemon is at executing its moves. Bigger, heavier Pokemon may deal a lot of damage, but they can still get overpowered by a fleetfooted Pokemon skilled at dodging and counter-attacking. This doesn't mean fast is always the way to go, of course -- slow-moving damage sponges can be very helpful as well.

Lastly, consider your team builds: though training at friendly gyms pits a single Pokemon from your roster against the gym's entire crew, in rival battles, you can select six Pokemon and alternate among them over the course of a battle. Scope out the gym's defending Pokemon ahead of time to determine which types you need to bring, and try to consider speed versus attack power as well.

There's a lot of discussion out there right now about which Pokemon are best for defeating gyms, and opinions will continue to shift as Niantic buffs and nerfs the more popular monsters. Paste has a nice list of 40 recommended battling Pokemon. It appears that Pokemon Go also has its share of 'hidden' stats known as IVs, which you can learn more about here.

Currently, the three available Eeveelutions -- Flareon, Vaporeon, and Jolteon -- are highly valued because they're fast and their elemental attacks can chew through a huge swath of opponents. Vaporeon in particular is a popular option, despite a recent abilities nerf from the developer.

You should also consider taking over a gym with one team of Pokemon, and then guarding it with a different Pokemon: the three I see most often are Snorlax, Lapras, and Dragonite, three relatively slow but strong Pokemon whose CP can easily exceed 2,000 once they're powered up enough.

Controlling Gyms

An unclaimed gym (gray). An unclaimed gym (gray).

Once a rival gym's prestige is depleted, the gym will revert to a gray, neutral form (left). In that moment, anyone in the area can immediately claim it, so it's a good idea to act fast, or have a buddy on the same team ready to claim it as soon as you're done battling.

Friends are optional when claiming gyms, but pretty much essential when defending them. Because each trainer can only place one Pokemon at a gym, and because successive gym training is the fastest, most reliable way to level it up, having a group together to rapidly raise a gym's prestige can lock it down for an evening or longer.

Which brings us to the next point: unless your gym is located in an out-of-the-way, rarely-visited area, expect to put a lot of time into defending it. With tens of millions of players worldwide and especially concentrated in big cities, control over gyms can shift from one team to the other many times per hour. Some hotly-contested gyms, like the White House, can shift control multiple times per minute. So if you're planning to invest time and energy with friends in truly locking down a specific gym, make sure it's one you visit frequently.

Rewards From Claiming and Holding Gyms

Upon placing a Pokemon at a gym, you can immediately cash out 10 Pokecoins, the in-game currency, and 500 Stardust, an essential all-purpose ingredient in powering up your Pokemon. After the initial payout, 10 Pokecoins and 500 Stardust are disbursed once every 21 hours, and that stacks based on how many gyms you're defending.

To cash out your gym rewards, tap on the Shop menu button and take a look at the shield icon in the upper right. The shield displays the number of gyms you currently control, and if that number is greater than zero, you'll see a "Collect now!" message right beneath it.

The highlighted shield icon indicates when gym rewards can be cashed out. Note in the right two images how the player can't tap to collect rewards again until 21 hours have elapsed, regardless of whether gyms presently are under their control. The highlighted shield icon indicates when gym rewards can be cashed out. Note in the right two images how the player can't tap to collect rewards again until 21 hours have elapsed.

Gym rewards can only be collected once per 21 hours, regardless of when you claim a gym. So if, for instance, you claim a gym on your morning commute and immediately cash out your Pokecoins from the Shop menu, and then claim another gym during your lunch break, you can't claim your rewards from the second gym until the following day. Because a lot of people compete for gyms, this means the odds of you not getting any rewards from the second gym are tremendously high.

The most obvious solution here is to capture several gyms in quick succession and then cash out for all of them, before any of the gyms can be reclaimed by other teams. This is easier with friends, who can defend the gyms by raising their respective prestige levels while you cash out -- but it requires communication and a lot of coordination.

If you're a lone wolf kind of player, your best options are A) find an out-of-the-way gym you can reliably control over time, or B) just snipe the first open gym slot you find and cash out immediately. Both of these methods mean relatively low day-to-day payouts, but considering your only other method is to pay for Pokecoins with real money, it's the best we've got right now.

Gym prestige numbers from Serebii; type resistance/weakness chart from Bulbapedia.