If you’ve decided to join a gym, spending time researching and visiting the local facilities in your area is well worth the extra time on your part. Not all gyms are created equal and there are plenty of horror stories out there about ridiculous contracts (read the fine print), unsafe equipment, inexperienced trainers and even outbreaks of nasty fungus infections in the locker rooms.
It is important to take the time to carefully choose a gym for two main reasons: 1) you get what you pay for, and 2) being happy with the facility will help maintain your motivation to go regularly. Here are 7 factors to consider when you are looking to join a new gym.
- Location and Hours
First and foremost, you will be far more likely to visit a gym if it is close by and open when you feel like working out. This is especially important for those starting a new lifestyle since going to a gym that is close to you and with hours that work with your schedule can help eliminate excuses.
If you live in a city with many gyms around, choosing a good one that is closest to your house and in a nice neighborhood would be your best bet. An added bonus of having a gym within 10-20 minutes of you is that you can walk or jog to it easily. Jogging to the gym is a great warm up and when you arrive you can get right down to your workout. If you live outside of a city, it’s important that you consider what gym is convenient for you to drive to, especially if you’ll be going early in the morning before work or after work after fighting through traffic. Many people even opt to go to the gym during their lunch breaks or right after work because they find a great place near their job.
As for hours, more and more gyms are changing to 24 hour gyms. This is a great idea for people who are very busy, like professionals and moms, as well as those who prefer working out at the end of the day or after dinner. Check with your prospective gyms to see what hours they are open throughout the week and how they handle holidays and holiday weekends.
- Cost of Membership
Gym membership fees can vary wildly depending on what the gym offers and even the location, anywhere from $10 a month to a couple hundred. So, what is reasonable? Well, first off you need to take a moment and decide how much you want to set aside in your budget for your gym membership. That is really the main number you need to focus on and not exceed. Also, realistically set a goal for how often you plan to use the gym every week. Paying less than $10 per visit to the gym is a decent figure, though even less than that is often quite doable.
The average chain gyms with numerous locations nationwide (and sometimes worldwide) tend to offer the most competitive prices, around $20 to $85 a month. As an added bonus, your membership isn’t always just for your local gym but any other gyms the franchise owns. If you move every few years or travel often, this is an excellent deal.
While discussing membership costs it is also nice to ask if they offer discounts for new gym members. Also ask if there are any additional fees for access to certain gym features and what is included in the membership fee (i.e. free classes, bringing a friend, massage services, personal training, etc).
- Contract Details
The contract for a gym membership should be taken just as seriously as any other contract. There are plenty of people out there who sign a contract and end up being locked into automatically renewals, hidden fees and expensive cancelation terms when they have to move. Understanding the contract you are signing is, in my opinion, the most important part of signing up for a gym. Bottomline: You need to know what you are paying for and what you will have to do to cancel the contract if you chose to.
First and foremost, get everything in writing. If the gym manager promises certain things, discounts or bonuses if you join up right then, make sure it is written into the contract. It’s not common, but unethical salespeople may use false promises as a tactic to get more people to join their gym, so protect yourself.
Look over the whole contract and ensure these things are explained clearly:
- Exact duration of membership
- Any extra services or perks included with your membership
- Liability and insurance – What happens if you get injured in the gym?
- Date(s) when monthly payments are due
- Any membership fees or join fees that you will pay to start your membership
- Terms of cancelation
- How much an early cancelation fee is
- How many days advance notice you must give if you decide to cancel your membership
- Whether there are automatic payments and your options to opt out of them
Read the fine print and if you are unhappy with something or a stipulation isn’t clearly defined, ask the gym manager about it. If the contract seems to be suspect or the manager tries to sell you hard with verbal promises, it is probably best to go elsewhere. You can always call the corporate office as well about questions. Don’t be forced into signing a contract that you don’t like. You are not obligated and you have the right to say “I need to think about this for a few days.”
- Classes and Trainers
If you plan to use your gym as part of a group or with the aid of a trainer, this fourth item will apply to you. When looking at the list of the classes the gym offers, you’ll want to know;
- How many classes and at what hours
- Duration of classes and average number of participants
- If signing up in advance required
- If classes are broken down by participant experience
- If classes are included in membership or paid for separately
- Experience of the trainers and any certificates/certifications they have
The gym you choose should hire only experienced trainers who are up to date with safe fitness practices. Ideally there will be a trainer at the gym who specializes in your favorite type of activity, such as yoga, zumba cross fit, weight lifting, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask about whether the trainers are certified to teach. If you already have a personal trainer you also should ask the manager if it is ok to train with him or her at the gym. Many gyms are very strict about members only using their hired personal trainers.
- Staff Knowledge and Helpfulness
Trainers aside, the staff at the gym should also be knowledgeable on the basics of exercising safely. This means they should be able to answer most questions, show you how to use the machines properly and overall be pleasant and helpful. Some smaller gym’s staff may actually be trainers themselves.
Going to a gym should be a pleasant experience for you. If you feel like the staff are rude, not interested in helping members, judgmental or oblivious to safety and health standards, look elsewhere.
- Equipment and the Availability of It
Just taking a tour around your prospective gym should give you an idea of what equipment they have on hand. Take note of how many machines they have and whether they look to be in good working order. Also, note whether there is enough space around them to move without interfering with other people. Aside from machines, see if what other equipment they have, like mats for bodyweight exercises and punching bags. Do they have an area for free weights, an indoor or outdoor running track, a quite area for yoga, etc?
It’s a good idea to try and visit the gym during a time when youd be most likely to visit as a member. Seeing how busy the gym is and the availability of the machines will give you an idea of whether you’ll be able to get the workout you want, or if you’ll be competing with other members to get onto the machines. A super busy gym may turn out to be a hassle, especially for those who aren’t interested in the gym being a place to socialize.
- Cleanliness of the Facility
Your prospective gym should absolutely be clean, odor-free and tidy. With many different people sweating and using equipment as busy gym could be a mess, particularly in the locker room. Look out for and ask about these following things:
- Is the gym thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before opening everyday?
- How often are the machines cleaned and disinfected (very important for 24 hour gyms)?
- Is the main gym floor clean and free from trash and water spills
- How often are the mats (whether they’re for yoga or MMA training) cleaned and disinfected?
- Are machine areas free from tripping hazards like loose dumbbells and cords
- Is the locker room and shower clean and odor-free?
- Does the gym require members to also wear shoes, even sandals in the showers?
- Are there hot tubs and/or saunas and how often are those cleaned?
Go by your gut feeling when considering the gym’s cleanliness. It isn’t worth your health or safety to visit a gym where you may become injured or sick. Cleanliness is also a reflection of concern for members.
A good gym can be a real motivation for you to continue your fit lifestyle. Not only will it give you access to equipment and classes you may be unable to use or do on your own, but also gives you a social experience. Take the time to choose your gym carefully and you won’t be disappointed by the experience or blindsided by hidden fine print in your contract.