How do I Find the Best Gym for Me?
If your gym isn't convenient or doesn't have the kinds of programs, equipment or clientele that appeal to you, the only thing that will get a workout is your wallet.
More than a million Americans join a gym or exercise facility every January, according to the International Health Racquet & Sportsclub Association. However, within the year, 35 percent of them drop out, and more than half of those are gone by April.
San Diego fitness experts recommend flexing your consumer muscle and using the following checklist to scope out several facilities before joining one.
Location. Your gym shouldn't be more than 15 minutes away from your home or office.
“Convenience is huge,” says Kathie Davis, executive director of the San Diego-based IDEA Health & Fitness Association. “The main reason people drop out (of a gym membership) is because it's not conveniently located.”
Only buy what you need. Don't pay for services, classes or options you'll never use.
“If you've never played racquetball, there's no reason to spend extra money for a gym that offers racquetball courts,” says Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist with the San Diego-based American Council on Exercise.
Is it family-friendly? If you're looking for a facility for the entire family, make sure it offers a variety of activities at all levels with hours to accommodate everyone's schedule.
If you're going to bring your kids to the gym while you work out, look for a facility that offers interactive children's programs, McCall suggests.
Visit during the hours you plan to work out so you know what to expect. The environment of a gym varies depending on the time of day. Is it tough to find a parking spot? Are the classes overcrowded? Do you have to stand in line to use your favorite exercise equipment? If it's too hectic or stressful, it may not be a good fit for you.
How fit is the equipment? Make sure the machines are modern, maintained and plentiful. Steer clear of clubs where there are lots of “out of order” signs on machines.
“I always look closely at the base of the equipment,” McCall says. “If there's a lot of dust there, you know the equipment hasn't been regularly cleaned or maintained.”
Check out the group exercise classes. Make sure the club offers a variety of classes at hours that fit conveniently into your schedule. Check out the classroom to make sure there's adequate space, good ventilation, a decent sound system and a suspended wood floor with foam or core board underneath.
Is it clean? Locker-room sanitation is often a good indication of how the rest of the club is operated. Are the showers clean? Do the lockers lock? Is the gym floor tidy? Are the exercise mats and exercise equipment routinely sanitized? Is this a place you want to be naked in?
Is it staffed by pros? The fitness trainers and group exercise instructors should be certified by one of the following accredited groups: the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise, the National Strength and Conditioning Association or the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
The fitness pros should be taking continuing education courses to maintain their certification and keep current on the constantly changing industry.
Talk to members. Seek out both new members and those who have belonged to the club for a while to find out what they like and dislike most about the place. Ask new members if what they were promised in the sales pitch became a reality. Find out why veteran members continue to come back.
Is the contract fair and explicit? Make sure you understand the terms of the membership agreement, billing procedures and the cancellation policy. Be sure you know what is and is not included in the price. Be cautious of clubs that demand a long-term commitment in advance or use high-pressure sales tactics.
“If a gym tries to tell you a price is only good for today, don't succumb,” Davis says. “Visit other facilities before you make a choice. The price a gym gives you should be honored at a later time.”
Is the gym financially secure? You want to know that the gym is going to be around as long as you are. Try to get a sense of the facility's stability by asking about the length of their lease and their growth or expansion plans, and ask if they plan to open up any new facilities in the near future. If there's any hint that the facility may be in financial trouble, don't make any long-term commitments.