So you've finally decided to start a fitness program and are now on the lookout for the perfect gym to join.
Or maybe you've been working out at home religiously for the last little while and feel that the gym environment would help keep you motivated and offer you the social aspect of working out that you don't receive while exercising alone at home.
Regardless of your circumstance there are some key factors you should take into consideration when looking for a new fitness home.
This is obviously going to be an important factor for most people. Many people out there today cannot afford the high priced memberships and personal training fees that some elite clubs offer. This does not mean you have to shy away altogether however. If you are smart about it, often you can find ways to lower the cost.
The first thing to do is consider the season when buying your membership. Most gyms will offer discounted rates at the peak joining times such as right after the New Year and in September when most students go back to school.
This is when they anticipate a greater enrollment population as people are either trying to keep their New Year's resolutions or are just getting back into the swing of things after taking the summer off.
If you can, try and hold off getting your membership until either of these times and your chance of paying a lower rate is greatly increased.
Secondly, when you have found a gym that you feel comfortable with, don't succumb to some of the pressures that the salespeople are going to try and get you to buy into. They are professionals at what they do and are trained to make you think you need things you don't.
You may find yourself paying for extra privileges that you won't ever use or might use only on a few occasions. It's important when you are sitting down before signing the contract to have someone thoroughly go through the entire membership, explaining all the terms (ex. guest fees, payment methods—some gyms have payment plan options available, membership renewals, etc).
Avoid Long Term Agreements
One thing that gyms are notorious for doing is trapping you into long term agreements where you sign to become a member for 1-3 year blocks. This is generally not the best approach as if you find yourself unhappy with the gym after a short period of time you are basically locked in and will be paying regardless of whether you go or not.
2. Member Profile
More gyms these days are catering to only a specific group of people. There are gyms that are targeting women only, seniors, competitive athletes, or men.
This may be a particular concern if you are a woman. Many women feel slightly intimidated lifting weights among the stronger male population and will end up bypassing this part of their workout, which is something you definitely want to avoid.
They may also feel uncomfortable going to a mixed gender gym as they find that they are constantly being objectified by the male population and would rather spend their time working out rather than worrying about what others are thinking of them.
Another advantage of specialized population gyms is that they often will also offer programs that appeal more to the population they are targeting. For example, gyms targeting seniors may offer more aquasize classes, as this type of exercise is much easier on the joints and will cause a lot less stress for the older exercising crowd.
How Many Members
Finally, the last bit of information you might want to find out about the member profile is how many members there are and how busy it gets during the peak times.
You probably don't want to spend your workout time standing around waiting for equipment so if you plan on working out right after work or in the morning before work (as when the majority of the population does) this would be a good bit of information to obtain.
It may be important to you to find a gym that offers more cardio equipment, as these seem to fill up the fastest during the peak hours, so you will have less worries of showing up only to find that you won't be getting your workout in anytime soon.
When looking for a gym, one thing you should make sure you do is go inside and take a good walk around. There are so many different types of equipment out there today and you will want to be sure that the gym has the ones you most often use.
If you mostly use dumbbells for your workout, you will want to check and see that they have multiple sets so that you can easily continue your workout if someone is utilizing the weight you normally use.
When looking at weight machines, some of the higher end machines have options that you can change so that you are putting the emphasis of your lift on a certain phase of the exercise (for example the concentric (shorting of the muscle) phase). This may help you to vary your workout routine more and bust out of plateaus.
Other factors to look for in free weight machines are that they have been maintained and don't look as though they will fall apart anytime soon. Many of the older gyms you go into have machines that look like they're from the dinosaur era and might not be the safest thing to be using.
Another good factor to look for is the stretching area. Many gyms surprisingly don't even have one, or only allow a small space for stretching.
Stretching is an important part of your workout and should not be left out.
If the area only accommodates one or two people however, you likely won't be spending much time on this aspect of your fitness routine.
If you are heavy into the cardio exercise, check that the machines are in good condition and offer the latest features. The treadmills should have inclines and many also have heart rate readers so you can track how hard you are working.
Ensure that the bikes all have straps on the pedals as this seems to also be a popular problem in some gyms (people taking the straps off and them mysteriously going missing). If you really enjoy mixing up your workouts, you may also want to see if they have alternate cardio machines such as ellipticals, rowers, and recumbent bikes.
Check On The Crowds
Finally, when walking around the gym, be sure that everything is not too crowded. Once it gets busy and people are all off doing their own thing, you don't want to be distracted during your workout and feel like you have a limited space to work in. This may distract you and cause you to be less focused during your workout, thus setting yourself up for reduced progress and possibly even injury.
4. Extra Features
Some gyms will also offer added features to their members such as daycare, massage or physical therapy (usually at a cost), and a juice or snack bar.
If you have a young child that you have a hard time finding a babysitter for, this could be a very strong factor in your decision in choosing a gym.
You will want to inquire about the costs of daycare, whether it is worked into your membership or whether you will be charged extra for it.
The juice or snack bar is also a handy option to have for post-workout meals, but have a look and make sure they are offering a healthy selection and it's not just a form of fast food for those on the go.
Some gyms also have nutritionists working on board so if this is an aspect of your life you wish to get help with, you may want to make use of this as well.
You will want to take into account where the gym is relative to your house. The farther away the gym is, the less likely you will find yourself going.
Another option would be to consider how close the gym is to your work. This may be more convenient for you, so you can stop at the gym in the morning on your way to work or after on your way home.
Since you already have to go out of the house (or are already out from working) at least you won't have this hurdle to overcome.
This may not seem like that much of an important consideration to begin with, but once you are there and working out, if the gym has not been maintained and cleaned on a regular basis, you will find yourself uncomfortable using much of the equipment.
Check for things like fresh towels for people to use while they are working out, numerous spray bottles located around the gym to wipe equipment down after use, as well as ask about how often the gym brings in maintenance people.
Nothing is more frustrating than going to the gym, finding a piece of equipment broken, notifying someone about it, and then going back in a few days for your next workout to find it is still broken.
Of course some problems require more time to repair, however little things that can be easily taken care of should be solved in a timely manner.
8. >Hours Of Operation
Everyone has a different preference for when they like to work out. Some people are early morning people where others would rather wait until the gym is empty and go late into the night.
Some gyms are open 24 hours for their members and this may be something you will want to look for.
Inquire about their holiday gym hours. Are they closed on all statutory holidays? What about weekends? Do they have reduced hours on these days?
Depending on your dedication to working out, you may want to look for a place that stays open on most days of the year.
Many people use holidays as a time to workout, seeing how they have the day off of work and finally have a chance to spend a fair amount of time in the gym, so having a gym that remains open is most definitely beneficial.
9. Personal Training Options
Gyms offer many different type of personal training options. Some offer plans that come right with your membership whereas with others you buy separately as a personal training package.
Often there are also deals, where the more sessions you book, the cheaper each session is.
Find out if there are discounts for group rates, and if you have a friend who trains at this gym as well, this might be a way to cut back on some costs and make working out more fun!
Ask about the qualifications of the personal trainers that are hired. Some trainers out there are nothing more than professional rep counters and you want to make sure you are giving your money to someone who is qualified and knows what they're talking about.
Some certifications are relatively easy to obtain so you will want to look for someone who has an advanced degree/certification to ensure you get the help and support you need with your fitness goals.
10. Membership Privileges
The last thing you will want to take into consideration is what privileges come with being a member. Some gyms offer discounts off of services such as tanning or fitness clothing shops (particularly if there is one located right in the gym).
Often too, if this is a chain gym you are joining, you will be allowed to have access to their sister gyms at no additional charge. This might come in very handy if you have a career where you find yourself traveling a lot.
So before you go off and sign a 3 year contract at the first gym you walk into, shop around a bit, ask some questions, and even ask about what kind of trial memberships are available.
Often you can get a one week free pass to try out a gym before making any commitments, which is the perfect chance to see if a particular gym meets your needs.
If it is lacking some things, chances are there is another gym out there that isn't, so keep it in mind, but move on to the next place. After enough looking, you are bound to find one that will match your workout personality perfectly!