• Photo for Match Made In Heaven: Six Tips For Finding Your Perfect New Gym
    Photo Credit: Nicolas Smith

Match Made In Heaven: Six Tips For Finding Your Perfect New Gym

By Devin Wicks

You've made the resolution, and you mean it—this is the year you are really going to be serious about getting in shape. Congratulations! And, once you have the motivation, all you need is the right infrastructure. That means it's time to pick a gym. But, what gym you choose really matters to your chances of success. So, I've got six things to look for in a gym, guaranteed to help you find your perfect match.

  1. Location, Location, Location: The single most important thing is to find a gym you're actually going to use—a gym is no good to you if you never go. Start by thinking about when you're going to workout: will you be going to the gym from work or from home? How convenient is each potential gym to that plan? You also want to find out what your gym is like at the time of day you would actually go. So, ask to try out the facilities—they should be willing to give you some free passes if they want your business—and then work going there into your regular schedule. How do the logistics play out? Is the place too crowded? Can you get on the machines? Is there space in the locker room? How is the commute? Is there parking? These things will make a huge difference to whether you actually go to the gym, so you seriously want to check them out.
  2. Get What You Pay For: Depending on a gym's location, the price may go up—but you want to keep this in perspective. In a metropolitan area, for example, gyms will cost more, so if you want a gym near work and you work in a city, you may pay extra. In that case, cheap isn't better if the gym is far away and you won't use it. Being aware of when and how you'll use the gym will tell you if the price is worth it. A good average monthly cost for a gym is 30 to 40 dollars. But that's for a basic gym, meaning free weights, resistance machines, cardio machines, a few standard classes, and a locker room. You will find gyms that offer much more and therefore cost much more. Ask for a price list and find out what the gym offers for a basic membership, and what's included in that, and learn what they charge for the services within the club. For instance, weights may be free, but classes may cost, or towel service, or tanning beds. So, you need to ask yourself if you need or will use those extras, and what you're willing to pay for them. Finally, don't be afraid to comparison shop—you can line up the price lists from different gyms, and take a hard look at what each would cost.
  3. Your Mother Doesn't Work Here: You should take a look around the gym and get a sense of how much effort goes into making it a place where you'd like to spend time. Is it dirty? It should be obviously well-maintained and clean. Signs that it's not include broken equpment, weights that are unstacked or out of order, smudged mirrors, dust on the machines or behind equipment, or towels lying around.
  4. Find The Right Stuff: A gym full of equipment does little good if everything is broken all the time. So, make an inspection of your own. Do the machines have split or fraying cables? Is the upholstery on them cracked? Check for rust and loose parts, and with cardio machines listen for weird noises. All these are signs of a club that doesn't maintain equipment at the highest level, and mean that you as a consumer may come in and find machines down when you want to use them. Also, as you look over a gym's machines, think about what you really need for them to have. Don't just look for the one machine you like—think about what you want to be doing in the gym over the long term, and look for a variety of pieces of equipment that meet your needs. If you're newer to fitness, a big gym with all the fancy equipment may not be necessary. But if you're more advanced, try to find a facility that can accommodate your workouts. Look to see if they have the heavier equipment you need—that also is likely to mean other people lifting heavy as well, who can be your gym buddies, provide encouragement, or just spot you. It's good to have other people at your level at the gym to form a community.
  5. Employee Relations: Are the staff friendly when you walk in? Is there a positive customer service experience overall? Ask for the qualifications of the instructors and personal training staff—are they appropriately certified? Ask the front desk staff a couple of questions to see how well they know the protocol for emergencies. For instance, do they know where to find the AED [Automatic Electronic Defibrillator]? If they don't, odds are you don't want to be there. The staff also should not be trying to sell you supplements to help you get fit; if you feel like you're getting the soft sell, walk away. They're more interested in getting your money than in serving you as a client.
  6. Put On Your Poker Face: Most facilities require you to sign some sort of contract—and a good contract protects both parties. Some things you want to look for in a contract: any club pressuring you to sign up immediately is a club to walk away from—at the very least, take the contract with you and spend some time reading it on your own. Do not get forced into signing in a hurry. Ask about the length of the contract, and have a sense of how much you're willing to commit to. If you think you may not stay long, ask about a month-to-month contract. Find out if the membership automatically rolls over when the contract ends; if you're not careful, the contract may renew without your knowing it. You may have to send a certified letter to end the contract—and you should find that out before you sign. But also be prepared to negotiate. Membership representatives are sales people, under the same pressure to close a deal as every other salesperson. Bargain with your representative, and don't be afraid to try to get a better deal. For instance, initiation fees are usually negotiable, and sometimes even monthly fees can be bargained. Give them an incentive to deal by trying out a few facilities, and let each one know that you're doing that. Many gyms will give you a week's membership for free, and you should take advantage of that. You're taking the time right now and doing the due diligence to find a place that can genuinely get you closer to your fitness goals, so you owe it to yourself to get as much information as you can before you commit.
With these tips, and a checklist in hand, you are all set to go into any gym as a savvy consumer. Remember, the most important thing is to find a gym that you will actually use, so try to look past all the distractions and see the gym for what it really is, and how it will fit into your life. With new motivation and the right gym, all your goals are within your sights, and 2009 will be your best year yet.

About Devin Wicks: Devin Wicks (ACSM-HFI, USAW Club Coach) is creator of the RealJock Strength Foundation 12-Week Workout program and the fitness operations director at the University of California, Berkeley, where he acts as specialty strength coach for some of the university's premier sports teams, and is coordinating a pioneering new campus employee wellness program.