You've made the decision to find a gym to help you with your fitness goals. How do you choose a gym that is right for you?
This can be a confusing question when you are just starting out because you don't yet know what you need and you probably feel at least a little uncomfortable if you haven't gone to a gym in a long time, if ever. I'm right there with you, girlfriend! I'm in the process of choosing a gym right now because I have come to the realization that in order to move forward in my fitness journey, I need the accountability, equipment, and personal trainers that a gym provides.
So here are some criteria for choosing a gym that is right for you.
Let's start with location. If you are in an urban area, you probably have several choices close to you. If you are in a rural area or a small town, as I am, your choices will be much more limited. You may have to drive a longer distance, perhaps on your way to work or school, to find a suitable gym. How far are you willing to travel for just the right environment? If you have to drive very far, you may decide the effort is not worth it and give up, so try to find a gym as close to your home or route to work as possible.
You will want to try to find a gym that offers very flexible hours. Many gyms now offer 24/7 hours, but is there a qualified, trained person on site at all times? If you need very early or very late hours, this may be a requirement for you, but if you are more flexible in your time available, you will have more choices. Gyms may only offer certain classes at certain hours as well, so if you really want to do a pilates class, make sure the gym you choose has the classes at a time you can attend.
If it has been a long time since you have been to a gym or used exercise equipment, having a personal trainer to help you out the first few times at the gym will be immensely helpful to you for many reasons. A trainer can help you assess your fitness level, what types of exercise will be most beneficial to you, how to properly use the equipment, how to use good form so that you don't injure yourself, and can provide you with a solid boost of confidence. If you continue to use the services of a personal trainer, you will also have someone to hold you accountable and kick your butt to the next level when you are ready, which is tremendously important in helping to reach your goals.
Trainers should be certified, courteous, and ready to help you learn.
A gym should have a good assortment of cardio and strength training equipment, and should have personnel available who can help you to properly use the equipment and answer your questions.
Are you comfortable training in a co-ed environment, or would you prefer to train in a women's only environment. Some gyms offer times that are female only, so ask if this is important to you.
What kind of vibe do you get from the members? Are the members primarily buff younger people who laugh at anyone who isn't at their level of fitness, or does the gym offer a judgment free zone where all people at all levels of fitness, especially beginners, can feel comfortable?
The environment should be clean and neat, trash should be kept emptied and equipment should be in good working order. Check the bathrooms for cleanliness, especially around toilets and showers. Towels should be fresh, and hand cleanser should be available.
Also be aware of the music and lighting, the space available, and whether the gym is too hot, too cool, or just right.
Are you only interested in using solo equipment, or do you want to participate in classes? Are you classes you want offered at times that are convenient for you? Does the gym offer the types of classes you are interested in, and do the instructors encourage beginners? Are the instructors knowledgeable and enthusiastic? Does the gym charge extra for group classes, and if so, how much?
Most gyms provide showers. Some provide saunas, hot tubs, swimming pools, massage chairs, sports drink bars, masseuses, and spa services. It is up to you how many additional services you are willing to pay for.
Some gyms will require you to sign up for a contract, while others will let you go month to month. Make sure you know what you are signing up for! Read the contract or terms of service carefully so you will fully understand your obligations, particularly if you decide to cancel your membership. Life happens, or you may just decide that another gym would be a better fit for you. Gyms may also require you to pay a one-time or an annual fee, as well as a fee for an access pass. Get a list of all the fees upfront and know what you will be charged monthly. Ask for any discounts that might be available.
Before you join a gym, schedule a tour. Many gyms will allow a free day pass or a low cost month pass to try out the gym. If you sign up for a low-cost month pass, find out if you will be obligated to pay a monthly membership at the end of the month or how to cancel if the gym doesn't suit you. Go prepared with a list of questions, and spend time talking with the staff and other customers. If you don't feel comfortable on your tour, or if you feel pressured by the staff, wait to sign on the dotted line until you've had time to consider your decision. After all, joining a gym can be a large financial commitment.
Check reviews as well. You will want to see what other people have to say about the gym before making your choice.