The In’s and Out’s of Choosing a Gym…

As a LONG time gym person, I’ve had the experience of being a member of well over 10+ gyms for extended periods of time. There’s nothing worse than getting out of shape and feeling physically terrible so gyms are sort of a necessity for me. And it’s typically a fairly substantial commitment in terms of time and money. While I don’t have anything against home gyms, apartment gyms or whatever complimentary facilities you have available to you, I still prefer paying the extra money for a dedicated gym with top-notch equipment. And I’ve paid anywhere from $15 to $80 per month over the years. My experience has been you typically get what you pay for! So here are some things to look for before you jump into a gym contract, caveat emptor (buyer beware)!

The first thing to do is understand when you plan on working out. We all have different bodies and routines that work best for us. Unless you’re able to clear out a relatively consistent one hour slot, it’s going to be hard to get to the gym regularly. Are you an early morning workout person? Or maybe a night bird that likes it when things cool down. Timing is important to me because it helps define where you should work out. I typically go at night, after work so I prefer the gym to be close to home. Those who work out in the mornings or lunch time might want it closer to work. Either way it should be as CLOSE as possible to where you’ll make the decision, “Let’s hit the gym right now!” There’s nothing worse than picking a great gym which is just far away enough for you to say no. If you ain’t in the gym, you aren’t working out and you might as well not have even joined my friend. So think carefully about your schedule and home-work locations. I choose a gym that’s typically within 10 – 15 minutes drive time of my primary departure point. Review all your local choices of gyms that have a schedule and look like they may work for you.

Now of course you’ve got to visit the gym and get a feel for things. My recommendation is to check out the gym during the time period you’ll most likely work out. You’ll get a much better feel for the parking situation, how busy the place is and the vibe/culture of the gym. You can probably walk in at any time to get a tour, they’ll typically pair you up with some studly sales guy or very attractive sales gal to show you around. Ask as many questions as you can think of and certainly don’t feel any pressure to join on the spot. My experience has been that gyms RARELY have set pricing that’s visible to prospective clients. They typically will jot some numbers down on a piece of paper and slide it over to you. Gyms are ALWAYS running specials so I wouldn’t feel too bad about missing one. Ideally instead of just visiting the gym, get a trial membership. One week, one month, the longer the better. More time means more opportunities to understand if the place is really for you.

Now that you’ve got a feel for location, schedule and prices, time to get to the meat and potatoes of finding a gym! There are three main areas that I look carefully at for gyms: group classes, free weights/machines and aerobic equipment. Now while I’m not a group class type person, it seems as if most women love em! And they have their fave classes whether its spinning, zumba, pilates or more. So definitely check out their class schedule, check on the equipment and maybe meet up with instructors for your favorite areas. Because let’s face it, the instructor can make or break the experience!

Moving on to aerobic equipment, my biggest concern is how new and well-maintained is the equipment? Over time and wear-tear, older treadmills, ellipticals and bikes can get sort of noodgy. And newer equipment often have nice features as HRM connectivity, fans and TV screens. So check for all those little benefits but most importantly, you need to make sure the equipment is in good operational shape.

The last area but the one I find most important is the free weight and weight machines area. While I know free weights are an overall better anaerobic workout, I prefer the machines because they’re easier to set up and don’t require a spotter. There are a bunch of different lines and they all fit bodies differently. So try out your favorite machines and see if you can get the adjustments set up properly for an efficient workout. And make sure you get the full range of machines ranging from chest, shoulders, arms, abs, back and legs. If you’re lucky, you’ll have everything you need. For free weights it’s all about having enough benches, dumbbells, plates and what have you. Not much to go wrong with here, equipment-wise, you just need enough of everything so you don’t have to wait!

Now the final things I look for are the little amenities and club culture. Is the locker room clean and is there plenty of space to get changed in? Are there enough water fountains, towels and machine cleaner available? Any saunas, spas or pools? For some people, a pool is absolutely critical, not so much for me. What about the music in the gym? I usually bring in my iPhone but it’s nice if the gym is playing decent workout music. Nothing worse than trying to work out to some melancholy tunes. And what about the staff? Are they friendly and do they greet you? (Note: That hot salesperson that showed you around? Don’t expect them to be around for long, sales peeps always change quickly at gyms) How are prices for personal trainers? Are the people at the gym muscle-heads? Professionals? Families with kids? Or is it a pick-up joint? Each gym attracts its own type of people and you have to enjoy whom you’re working out around. And it never hurts to have some eye-candy on the floor! 🙂

So there you go, some things to look for the next time you’re picking a gym. And trust me, I’ve gone through this process a LOT of times so it’s important you like the place, the people and the equipment, otherwise you’ll find ways to avoid making the trek and working out. And that my friend, is the worse thing you can do! Find a great gym that you never go visit but pay for, months on end. Taking care of your body and health only gets harder and more important as you age. Gyms can help slow that aging process down. So as Nike says, Just Do It!

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