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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.

3. Take a Look Around Prospective Gyms continued...

"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.

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.

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Reviewed on December 15, 2009

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