How to Find a Gym

Is that gym or health club really right for you? Here are 5 ways to assess whether a fitness club will work for you.

From the WebMD Archives

Before a guy can do any legwork at a gym, he needs to do a little legwork to finda gym. Finding a fitness or health club that will meet all your personal needs and help you stay motivated means taking notes, asking some key questions, and being realistic and upfront about your goals.

Every New Year, boatloads of guys join gyms, according to personal trainers. Maybe they're hoping -- finally -- to lose those extra 20 pounds or bulk up their pecs, or they're recovering from a knee or back operation and need to help sore or injured muscles get back in form. Sometimes a guy just wants to improve his golf swing. But a lot of times, after a month or three, a good number of them stop going to the gym.

The core problem is that while there are plenty of fitness clubs that can meet their needs, guys often don't do enough research to make sure the club they pick is truly a good fit. So, what steps do you need to take to ensure that your health club membership doesn't become an obligation -- one that you neglect more and more as the months go on? Here are 5 steps to help you find a good gym.

1. Find a Gym Near Your Home or Office

It seems simple enough, but picking a gym that's too far away is a common error guys make when trying to find a gym. And fitness club location is a make-or-break factor, according to Jonathan Ross, personal training director at the Sport Fit Total Fitness Club in Bowie, Maryland.

"People may think that a gym 20 minutes from their house is fine until the realities of a weekly schedule start to hit," Ross says. "And then there's traffic, and they're already pressed for time." Add road time to gym time and that can eat away at incentive. "For many people struggling to find time to exercise, adding 30 minutes of total drive time is too large an obstacle," says Ross.

Exercise pros say that a gym ideally should be no longer than a 10-minute walk or drive from either your office or your home.

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Some say picking a gym near home is more fail-safe. Brian Schiff, who owns The Fitness Edge, a private fitness studio in Columbus, Ohio, says that many times guys will pick a place close to work, assuming they'll work out over lunch or after a day at the desk. But by the end of the day, the prospect of doing a workout and then a 30-minute drive home can seem more like a headache. "I find it works much better for men to find a place close to home, so they can go in the morning and then shower and go to work," he says.

2. Find Out the Gym's Membership Offers and Policies

Checking out a fitness club begins when you walk through the door. "Are you greeted promptly and professionally, without being railroaded into a room to be sold a membership, or immediately told about the special of the month?" asks Gregory Florez, CEO of Fitadvisor.com. "It's important that you feel there's a level of professionalism, that you're not just being greeted by a salesperson." It's always a good sign if the person at the front desk asks about your exercise goals, what types of classes you would like, and times of day that are convenient for you, he says.

Be sure you find out what kinds of membership the gym offers -- and whether they're varied and flexible. Ross says it's a "big red flag if the gym wants to give you a lifetime membership right away, with a large sum required up front, or if they want you to pay for several years in advance in exchange for a discount over the monthly rate. That is usually a sign the club is not doing so great financially, and they need some operating capital."

Watch out for hidden health club membership fees. Make sure you know exactly what comes with each level of membership. Will you have to pay an initiation fee? Which classes are included in which level of membership? If you sign up with a gym mainly to improve your golf game, for example, you don't want to end up being charged extra fees for specialized classes to help you do that.

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But while you don't want to pay unnecessary fees, you shouldn't always go for gym with the bare-bones offer. A really cheap health club is likely to be a very crowded health club, so if privacy and one-on-one time with trainers are your priorities, consider paying a bit more for a more exclusive fitness center, trainers say.

Consider all of the cost factors beyond gym fees when deciding which gym is the right fit for you. If you want to work out on one of the evenings that you're responsible for watching your kids, for example, you might want to pay extra for a gym that offers childcare, Schiff says.

3. Take a Look Around Prospective Gyms

It's crucial to walk through a fitness club before you sign on the dotted line. As you do, keep your eyes open for small details. Check out the weight-lifting equipment. Is it working properly? "Does it appear to be well serviced -- is it clean and does it get wiped down after use?" asks Schiff. If a machine's out of order, ask someone how long it typically takes for repairs. Look to see if the weights are rusted or corroded, and even check out the leather or upholstery of the various machines.

"If there's cracked or broken upholstery, that sometimes gives you an insight into the type of money that the gym's ownership is putting into maintenance," Schiff says. "Little things like that are indications to quality."

Nowhere is quality more important than the locker room. Let's face it: A messy, wet locker room with towels heaped on the floor and a dirty shower with cracked tiles is going to sap your desire to work out at that gym. So make sure the potential locker room is hygienic, has a towel service, and has adequate facilities -- so that you're not stuck waiting for a free shower after you've worked out for an hour. Lockers are crucial too, especially if you go to the gym before or after work, and need a place for your work clothes and valuables. Make sure that lockers are available and secure, and find out if the gym charges a rental fee.

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4. Find Out about the Gym's Service Ethic

Another way to gauge a health club's fitness for you is to do some research into its philosophy. Watch how the staff interacts with customers. "Get a feel for what the staff is like," Florez says. "Look to see if the trainers are engaged with clients, or are they sitting around? Does it look like they're just there for window dressing?"

Make sure the gym has the facilities and the classes that you need, whether that's a specialized weight-training program or a court for basketball or racquetball. The latter has started to go out of fashion, Schiff says, so if playing squash is important to you, be sure to see the condition of the courts. If a fitness club has a bevy of newer, hipper types of classes, such as yoga or Pilates, you might want to see if there are men-only sessions or classes taught by men. "Men sometimes are less flexible and less likely to jump into a yoga class then women," Florez says. If that sounds like you, you might be more comfortable having a guy teach you the basics of Pilates.

Another thing to consider: Are there exclusive sections of the health club? If so, that could affect your workout schedule. For example, if a section of the weight room is for women only, "that's square footage of the club that is off-limits to you," Ross says. "That might be a concern if space is limited to begin with."

Health clubs typically offer services to get you started, such as a complimentary personal training session and trainers available to show you the ins and outs of various machines. Be sure to take advantage of these.

5. Remember: This Club's for You

A guy asks a friend at the office about his gym because he's looking for a workout partner, and he joins the gym solely because his friend works out there. Then his friend quits working out or his schedule changes. Does this scenario sound familiar? Suddenly the guy "is stuck with this membership that he wouldn't have purchased otherwise," says Schiff. "He made his buying decision based on another person."

It's a common but big mistake. Florez recommends using friends and family as referrals to find a gym only if their exercise needs are similar to yours, they're in similar physical condition, or they're pursuing similar fitness goals. "If you get referrals from an 18-year-old bodybuilder and you're a 45-year-old guy who wants to lose weight, that's not going to help you," Florez says. Most importantly, whether you're seeking fitness at 50 or at 25, remember: You're working out for yourself. Make sure your needs and convenience come first.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on December 15, 2009

Sources

SOURCES: Jonathan Ross, personal training director, Sport Fit Total Fitness Club, Bowie, MD. Gregory Florez, personal trainer and CEO, Fitadvisor.com. Brian Schiff, personal trainer and owner, The Fitness Edge, Columbus, OH. MedlinePlus: "Exercise and Physical Fitness."

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