Choosing a gym can be confusing and angst-producing. Large chains and small hometown locations. Group based or individualized. Aerobic programs, resistance training, Crossfit™, weightlifting, etc. Gender specific, or for everyone. Pay per visit or by the month or spring for a yearly commitment. The choices are seemingly endless when deciding how to choose a gym.
This article is especially for those who want to learn how to choose a gym if you have never done so before and you are not sure what to look out for. There are several basic considerations that determine whether a particular gym is a good fit for you. Let’s look at each of them.
If going to the gym means more than a few minutes extra driving, it’s easy to convince yourself to skip workouts. And every minute that you spend driving is a minute away from the gym.
A thirty-minute round-trip drive to the gym when you only have an hour for working out means that you will be wasting half your time on the road.
A good rule of thumb is to look for something within ten to fifteen minutes of your home, or within five to ten minutes of the route you already take to work.
Anything more than that becomes a significant psychological barrier that can keep you from getting started on a workout.
While not the biggest factor in choosing a gym, make sure you check the pricing structure and know what you are getting before you sign up. The lowest price isn’t always the best deal, if you can only go at certain times or are only allowed to use part of the gym.
Are group classes and individualized instruction included, or is that an extra charge? Is there a limit to how many times you can come in a week or month?
If you are just starting to work out in a gym, you will certainly want to have someone to show you how to use the equipment and to give you tips on how to most effectively accomplish your goals. Basic instruction is usually included, but it’s a good idea to ask.
Are their others of your age and fitness level? A gym that is geared for older women wanting to stay active won’t fit well with a weightlifter preparing for competition, and vice versa.
Ask staff members to describe their clientele to you. They will have a good idea of the type of people who come, and it can help you figure out if you fit with the crowd.
Check with friends to find out which gym they frequent and why. This gives you an inside scoop of the advantages of several gyms. Also, working out with a friend or two is a lot more fun than going it alone, so just knowing that you will have buddies there may be enough to make you consider one gym over another.
However. Gymtimidation is a thing. Just because you see a bunch of ripped bodies doesn’t mean it will be too much for you. If you see even a few activities that look doable and fun, try it out before deciding that you can’t compete with the “real” athletes here (bonus tip: you don’t have to compete—that’s not ultimately what you’re here for!).
Aerobic centers focus on cardiac health, muscle toning, and flexibility, Equipment such as stationary bikes, ellipticals, treadmills, and stair climbers are designed to work multiple regions of your body and get your heart rate up.
Many offer a variety of classes for different fitness levels. Consider if the classes you are interested in are offered at a time that works for your schedule.
Yoga classes are usually intended to improve calmness, mental focus, and flexibility, although some may combine relaxation and breath work with intense physical activity.
Note that yoga has connections to Hinduism and is a religion (although not every yoga workout necessarily taps into the religious connections).
Dance is a wonderful aerobic workout and communal activity. Dance studios aren’t exactly gyms, but the benefits are similar to other aerobic workouts.
Dance improves balance and coordination, flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular (heart) health. In addition to those benefits, which you might get from a variety of other forms of exercise, dancing is a communal activity.
Dancing has additional benefits related to mental and emotional health because of the social connection and safe touch that comes with dance.
Pilates™ combines vigorous physical exercise with some of the mental focuses of yoga, making it a good fit for many people. Varying degrees of intensity are available so it can work for any fitness level.
Weight lifting and strength training are often the focus at an exercise center that is specifically called a “gym”. This is a good fit for someone who is especially interested in gaining muscle and strength.
Members are likely to mostly be male, which means that men are more likely to be comfortable there. Personal trainers are usually available to help, although not every trainer will be as knowledgeable about general fitness.
Fitness centers usually offer a variety of types, including aerobics, swimming, weightlifting, and more. Age, gender, and fitness level is broad, and most people will find that they can be comfortable here.
For families with children, fitness centers can work very well, because children are often able to join in as well.
Tip of the Day 🙂
Athletic clubs have all the amenities of a fitness center, along with opportunities to play a team sport such as basketball, racquetball, squash, or tennis. Athletic clubs are usually more expensive than any of the other options mentioned so far.
Country clubs are the most expensive and most comprehensive options, including all the options of the other types as well as a golf course. Yearly membership fees and activity fees make this an expensive option, but if money is not a problem, the luxury and quality is usually better than almost any other option.
Try Before You Buy. Even if all the logistical stuff above looks perfect, the best way to find out about the culture of a gym is to go there. Most gyms offer a free week. Take advantage of that—visit several times, try the machines, come at different times of day to find out what kind of people visit and what the culture is like.
Maybe hop into a class. Observe the staff in action. Are they friendly, professional, and knowledgeable? Is the equipment clean and in good working order?
If stuff is squeaking where isn’t supposed to, dirt is hiding in the corners, or the showers are grungy, you probably want to reconsider.
Just Do It
Try out several types of exercise facilities. Tag along with a friend to a class. Take advantage of the free week at a few places. Even if you’ve never been to a gym before, you can quickly get used to the way its done.
Start easy, especially if this is your first time or you haven’t been working out for a while. The first time I tried working out at a gym, I made the mistake of doing an intensive workout every day for a week, and then I needed to stop for several days to allow painful muscles to heal. Oops.
Have fun. While exercise isn’t easy, you should be having fun and feeling challenged. If it starts becoming drudgery or is not longer challenging, switch it up! Try a new class, a new machine, a harder workout, or even a different gym.
Bonus: Free (or almost free) Workouts
Aside from taking advantage of the free week-long trial at most gyms, there are several other ways to work out that don’t require anything other than a pair of sturdy sneakers. Running, fitness DVDs at home, hiking, dancing, and free community classes are great ways to get fit on a tight budget.
What have I missed? What do you wish you had known before you signed on the dotted line? What are some of the things you took into consideration when you were deciding how to choose a gym? Share your thoughts below. Be Well!