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How to Choose a Gym

Updated on October 4, 2009

Choosing a gym can get to be pretty stressful, and there are some important things to consider as you search for a facility that will work for you and continue to meet your needs.  It's important to weigh the pros and cons and find a fitness center which offers enough variety and flexibility to keep you interested, but doesn't have tons of amenities that you'll never need.  The hardest part is always getting started and having good information always makes difficult decisions easier.

Look at the hours.  Will you be able to workout when you want and when your schedule allows?  If you're interested in taking classes, are any interesting ones offered when you'll be at the gym?  What about childcare options are there babysitting hours when you'll be at the gym?  Many health centers have short hours on weekends and many close on holidays.  Some facilities are now open 24 hours.  There are tons of options to find a health center with compatible hours, that will work with the most demanding of schedules, it's just important to get that information before you sign up for a membership.

Ask membership staff what the facility's peak hours are, and then stop in during that time.  Membership services staff are fantastic resources, but keep in mind they are also salespeople.  I was always a little too honest, but I never worked for commission either.  Some facilities will be jam packed after work, and getting on any equipment will be next to impossible and classes offered during that time can get creepy, scary, and competitive to reserve a spot.  Nothing makes motivation fade faster than standing around waiting.  Hiking a mile to the gym because of lack of parking isn't that safe.  See the gym at it's worst and you'll know if it will work out for you.

Find out what the amenities are.  If you're a bare-bones kind of guy or gal facilities with all the bells and whistles may not be a good match.  If you just want a couple of cardio machine options, a weight-lifting circuit, and free weights there are many facilities which will meet your needs for quite a reasonable membership rate.  On the other hand, you'll be paying an inflated membership cost and not taking advantage of any of the extras if you join a gym which has everything, and you don't use any of it.  However, if you want a pool, personal trainers, basketball courts, childcare rooms, classes, and all the variety that those options offer, go big.  It's easier going to one place for everything than trying to throw something together on the fly.

Find out if your membership rates are fixed and locked-in from the day you join until you cancel, or if they will increase each year.  

Make sure you read the fine print associated with membership cancellation procedures.  Some require 30 days notice, others will only let you cancel if you can prove you moved 25 miles away or more.  They're surprisingly restrictive, and make sure you know when you sign up how involved the cancellation process can be.  This will save you tons of frustration and maybe some angry phone calls later.

If your prospective gym offers a trial membership before you sign up, definitely take advantage of this option.  During your trial membership period, go at different times throughout the day, chat with current members, and get a feel for what the facility is like before you sign a contract.  This little step can save you tons of uncertainty, and will ensure that you're making an informed decision.  

Gyms should be able to accomodate people of all fitness levels and you shouldn't feel as if you're an inconvenience if you need help getting started.  Take advantage of any free consultations with personal training staff and any equipment orientations your gym offers.  This takes some of the scariness and intimidation out of hopping on a machine and hoping for the best if you're new to the gym scene.  

Trust your gut.  If the staff seems more concerned with making a sale than answering your questions honestly, you might not feel so great about your decision after the ink has dried on your membership agreement.  Is the staff happy, friendly, and welcoming or do they seem frazzled, curt, and stressed out?  The staff disposition will reveal a lot about the behind the scenes stuff going on at the gym.  Gyms are not just wholly fitness and wellness centered, they can be pretty social as well.  Look for a facility that you'll have fun attending.     

I'm going to tell you a little secret.  Gyms and health clubs don't make much money on the members who attend regularly and those who take advantage of a lot of amenities the facility offers.  They get ahead and make a profit, from those who continue to pay for memberships that they don't use.  Join a gym you'll use.  Do your research beforehand and you'll find a place which works for you.          

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