I believe you're all pretty bright (you're giving my page thousands of hits every day, so you've GOT to be!), so those should be a given. At least the two first ones. Let's focus on the REAL issue - does the gym measure up to your needs? Can you get a good, brutal workout here?
If you're a hardcore gymrat, and the front desk is pink, the music playing is N'Sync, and the dumbbells are covered with soft, purple neoprene to spare the hands, you'll probably feel a wee bit out of place when doing your 400 lbs squats, if you can find enough plates to come up with 400 lbs. If there's a barbell hidden somewhere among the "Butt-Blaster" machines, that is.
Likewise, if you don't take pride in throwing up after training legs, have a regular 8-set routine for forearms alone, or enjoy 16 raw egg whites for breakfast every morning, you probably won't appreciate the dark dungeon where masochism is the standard and sweating blood is the only true sign of a productive workout.
It all boils down to who you are, and where you feel at home. If you stick out like a sore thumb and feel awkward about it, you're not going to be very motivated to go there at all.
The next big, crucial issue is the equipment. Regardless of which category you belong to in the question above, you want to make sure that you have a nice selection of both free weights and machines:
- Dumbbells from 2 to 160 lbs, in 2-3 lb intervals up until 20 lbs, and then 5 lb intervals after that.
- At least 2 sturdy squat racks with plenty of weight plates easily accessible. You don't want to lug those 100 lb. plates around more than necessary.
- Plenty of adjustable benches.
- Enough barbells and plates to make sure you won't have to wait forever when it's crowded.
- Several cable pulleys (both upper and lower) with a variety of ropes and handles.
- At least one Cable-cross.
- A Scott board (aka. preacher curl board).
- A Pec-deck.
- A set of Dip-bars + weight belt.
- A Leg press.
- A Hack squat that allows you to stand in a natural position (watch for angled neck-pads!).
- A Leg extension machine that both gives you a full range of motion and adjusts to your body type.
- A seated Leg curl machine.
- Both standing and seated calf presses.
- Enough lat machines to survive a Monday night crowd, with plenty of different handles.
- Are the shower walls and ceiling clean or covered with mildew and fungus?
- Are there any signs of lockers having been forced open? If so, you might have a security problem.
- Does it smell like a goat farm?
- Are they being helpful and courteous?
- Do they make an effort to keep the joint clean and safe?
- Do they play good music, or only their own favorite: "German Beer Yodeling Marathon, vol. VII"?
- Are the machines well-maintained? You don't want to tear a shoulder because one side of pec-deck suddenly came loose, putting all the weight onto the other side.
- Are the rules of replacing the plates enforced, or do you have to spend 5 minutes finding the right plates every time you need them?
- If you grunt when lifting heavy, you don't want to get booted out for violating the rules (some gyms actually have this rule!). There is a difference between normal grunting and aspiring to become an opera singer, though. - Are cell phones allowed? And phone paging? These things can be very distracting.
- Are there any set time limits for using the cardio equipment? Or can people use them until they die from exhaustion, regardless of how many others are waiting in line?
- Would a human being put his face near it? Or drink from it?