How Do I Choose a Gym or Fitness Center?

Many people can exercise at or near their homes. They run or jog in their neighborhoods, or purchase simple equipment that allows them to exercise at home. But for the rest of us, we need a little incentive to exercise, and finding the right gym or fitness center can help us to do that. If you are searching for a facility in your area, here are a few tips to help you decide.

• Location, location, location. Although it may seem odd to find this at the top of our list of tips, it’s really not. The gym you choose should above all else be convenient, and fit into your lifestyle and your daily schedule. One of the key points to consider is whether you will be going to the gym from home, or from the office; either way, you’ll be more likely to actually go there and work out if it’s only a short walk or drive away.

• What are its hours of operation? This is an individual concern, and again depends on your lifestyle, and when you actually exercise. If the gym you’re considering is only open 9-5 and you can easily make it there during those hours, no problem. But if you like to exercise early in the mornings before work, or late at night, it just won’t do. Pick a facility that will be open when you want to go there, whenever you want to go there.

• What is its clientele like? You should definitely take a tour of any gym before signing up for it, and you should check out the clientele. Do you feel comfortable around them? If you’re a little overweight and everyone in the gym is fit and looks like a supermodel, are you going to feel comfortable there? If you’re an amateur athlete and everyone around you looks like a pro, again, will you feel comfortable working out side-by-side with them? Do you prefer an all-male environment, or an all-female environment, or a mix of the sexes? All of these considerations are important, with no “right” answers, only the answer that’s right for you.

• What equipment does it have, and how busy it is. Again, take a tour and inspect what types of machines they have, how crowded they are (that is, will you be able to get on the ones you like at the times you like). Any good gym these days should have weight training equipment and cardio machines, but if you like to swim, does it have a pool?

• Amenities. On your tour, ask about things like lockers and whether they are provided free of charge or whether you have to pay for them. Check on cleanliness, especially in the locker rooms and showers. Do they have saunas and hot tubs, or tanning beds?

• Classes. If you are interested in things like yoga, karate, Pilates, Tai Chi, or other class-taught forms of fitness, find out if these classes are offered at the facility, and whether they are included in the base membership fee, or cost extra. Also ask how crowded the classes are, and whether you’ll be able to sign up for them immediately.

• Availability of child care. Again, if this is important to you, inspect the facilities themselves for cleanliness and safety. Ask whether the cost of child care is covered by the monthly fees or costs extra. Talk to the staff of the child care center and find out about their credentials.

• The staff, and their levels of expertise. Ask about the trainers and the people who will be teaching you how to use the equipment, recommending workout programs for you, and measuring your progress. Do they have actual credentials to do this, or are they just talented amateurs? Ask about their training in emergency procedures, in case you or someone else has a health problem while there. Will they know how to handle it?

• Reciprocity agreements with other gyms. If you travel a lot, does this gym have agreements with other gyms in other cities (or other areas of your city) that allow you to work out there for free, or will you have to pay additional fees?

• Price, and the level of commitment required. A lot of finding the right gym is finding the one that offers what you need and will actually take advantage of, at the most reasonable price. Why pay more for equipment or amenities you’ll never use? Also, be sure to ask about the actual details of any contract the gym wants you to sign. Is there an “escape clause” if you suddenly have to move or your schedule changes and you can’t go there, or will you be stuck with it? Be wary of “low introductory prices,” and always ask what the rates will be when the introductory period is over. Don’t sign anything without reading the fine print…all of it.

• Reputation and recommendations. Don’t trust just your intuition and the cheerfulness of the person showing you around. Before signing up, look up the gym on the Internet and see what people have to say about it. Ask your friends and other exercise buffs in the area what they’ve heard about it, both good and bad. If you have doubts about the place, ask the Better Business Bureau or check with consumer protection agencies to see if it’s had any complaints filed against it.

Follow these suggestions, and above all, take your time in finding the right place. If you are ready to make an investment in your own health and fitness, you want to make sure that you are making the best possible investment, and that you’re choosing a place that will make you want to go there to work out. Good luck, and happy exercising!

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Juliette Siegfried, MPH

Juliette Siegfried, MPH, has been involved in health communications since 1991. Shortly after obtaining her Master of Public Health degree, she began her career at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Juliette now lives in Europe, where she launched ServingMed(.)com, a small medical writing and editing business for health professionals all over the world.

Juliette's resume, facebook: juliette.siegfriedmph, linkedin: juliettes, (+31) 683 673 767

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