This article will walk you through the most important things to consider when picking a gym. Some are fairly obvious, but others may only become apparent after you have signed a 6/12 month contract (when, of course, it is far too late to change your mind). So listen up and learn how to pick the best gym for your own unique set of circumstances:
Location, Location, Location!
As in the housing market, location is a very important factor indeed! Enthusiasm and motivation can drive you to distant gyms for many weeks, but when they start to wane it may be extremely difficult to force yourself to make the trip, especially if you don't have a car. For this reason it is vital to choose a gym that is close to where you work and/or live. From personal experience I have always joined gyms which are on my way home - that way i'm forced to walk past them. Never underestimate the power of the guilty conscience when it comes to motivating yourself - if your gym is miles away it is much easier to justify being a slacker than if you don't have that excuse. As a added bonus, you'll also cut out unnecessary journeys and have more time to yourself. Remember that working out should improve your life, not totally take it over!
Nobody wants to feel like they are the odd one out, and gyms are no exception. If you are new to the world of fitness you may find the 'cookie-cutter' garishness and impersonal stance of corporate-chains very appealing. Likewise, seasoned veterans who are used to lifting obscene weights whilst grunting and groaning like a pregnant horse giving birth may find screen after screen of TVs blaring out MTV most distracting. It all depends on what kind of person you are, and in what atmosphere you feel most comfortable. There are no easy answers in this regard - just remember to fully tour prospective gyms and pick what feels right. If you stick out like a sore thumb and feel awkward your motivation will take a nosedive and you'll not stick at your exercise regime long at all!
Another crucial issue to consider is the equipment available to you during the time that you will be exercising. Regardless of your individual aims and objectives you *MUST* have a decent selection of both free weights and machines. As you will have determined from our exercises section machines have their place, but are absolutely no substitute for the traditional barbell/dumbbell approach. If your prospective gym has nothing but machines, simply walk out - it does not deserve your money! That said, be on the look out for the following equipment:
- Dumbells in a wide variety of sizes, varying by 2.5kg/5lb increments. There should be fixed-weight dumbbells up to 150lbs. You may not think you'll be needing weights that heavy soon, but you'll be surprised by how quickly you progress onto weights that large!
- Several barbell bars and the clips (or retaining mechanisms) present for each one. A barbell without them isn't just useless - its downright dangerous!
- At least two adjustable benches suitable for bench presses, with weight plates readily accessible nearby in copious quantities.
- At least one cable cross machine.
- At least one squat rack (preferably more, or at least a decent smith machine!).
- A peck deck machine.
- Some sort of mat to do sit-ups & crunches on (yes, its basic, but it can really hurt on the solid ground!).
- A set of dip bars.
- A leg press machine of some variety.
- A leg extension machine.
- A leg curl machine.
- A pull up bar.
- Plenty of adjustable benches suitable for dumbell presses, situps, crunches, etc.
This is a pretty basic list of essential equipment. Remember that the old axim still holds true - more *IS* better! During busy hours, gyms that are small and poorly equipped can quickly run out of available weights/machines, and this can turn a 1hr workout into a 3hr workout before you realise it. As much as you may love working out, i'm sure that you want a life too!!!
In much the same manner as weightlifting equipment, the abundance of the various types of cardiovascular (CV) machines is important. Thankfully this is usually an area in which most gym's are relatively well stocked, but be sure to keep your eyes peeled for cross-trainers, treadmills and exercise bikes, as these promote the best kinds of cardio. Stair machines and ellipticals are very good too, of course, so remember to consider them if you are aiming to give your prospective gym bonus points.
Quality of Staff
This is a highly emotive issue. If you are one of the types that goes to the gym, speaks to no-one, and walks out again, then you may not give a damn about the quality of staffing. If, however, you need more positive encouragement and/or extra services like personal training, then this may be much more important. At the end of the day I will give everybody the same advice - remember that you are paying them a portion of your hard earned cash. If they can't treat you courteously and with professionalism, then take your money elsewhere!
Cleanliness & Maintenance
As a final point, remember to keep your eyes peeled for signs of bad maintenance and cleanliness. If all the weights are coated in mildew, the machines are falling apart, and the showers are coated in slime, then you'll be putting yourself on a bad footing right away. Gyms are busy communal areas and, therefore, ideal vectors for disease & accidents relating to poor maintenance. You want to go to a gym to force your body to grow more muscle, not challenge it to fight as many bacteria and infections as possible!
Extra Content From: User Ferretsage
Things to also consider in a gym:
- Whether you want to put up with children or not. For me, children and teens allowed in the weight room are a no-go.
- A jet-powered hot tub is a must after a workout.
- Sex-segregated saunas/hot tubs (because you DON'T want funny business)
- AVOID CARPET ON THE LOCKER ROOM FLOOR LIKE THE PLAGUE. Carpet doesn't belong on a locker room floor unless you like buying Athlete's Foot creme for the entirety of your multi-year contract (unless the staff shampoo it NIGHTLY with fungicidal cleanser, which they don't).
- To that end of further avoiding Athlete's Foot, check that the locker room floors are clean enough to believe they are mopped every day. Ask if the gym has a hired janitor and how often he cleans. A few hundred feet touch the locker room floor each day. Insist that perpetual Athlete's Foot isn't a small deal.
- Non-skid surfaces in the shower rooms/sauna/hot tub/locker room areas, at least.
- Drinking fountains in good working order that don't weakly burble out the spigot so everyone shares germs.
- Select a gym away from seedy residential areas. Don't let the neighborhood turn you off entirely if it's close. I once found a classy professional gym a mile from residential between commercial and industrial districts.
- Look for a gym workers attend. A gym with mostly blue-collar patrons who are there to keep fit for the physical demands of their job is far preferable to a gym who's patrons are more interested in comparing themselves to others than working out.
- See if you can land a gym membership that allows a workout regimen on Tues., Thurs., and Sat. Avoid crowded gyms on Mon/Wed./Fri. when everyone goes to the gym.
- Make sure the gym has the hours best for you.
- If the gym has sex-segregated saunas and hot tubs, check the nudity policy anyway. Some demand patrons wear swim shorts in the hot tubs and saunas, regardless. My old gym had three locations. The location closest to my house was the only one that allowed nudity in the hot tubs and saunas.
- Incline and decline bench presses. If your gym doesn't own at least one type of them, walk away. You know you have a cheap-ass gym if they only offer the standard horizontal bench press.
- Equipment arranged by the recommended order of use (large muscle groups to small). Bad sign if the gym owners don't know this nor care.
- Look closely to see what sort of items the gym charges you in addition to your membership fee. If they charge you extra for towels, but don't allow you to bring your own, or the majority of the classes offered carry additional prices, walk away.
- If youthful and enrolled in college, check out student gym membership fees. Such fees may be minuscule compared to regular gym memberships. I got a student gym membership once for 9 months for $115. All days. All locations. All standard classes. Good gym too. Be aware that drastically reduced student membership fees are a calculated business survival strategy not based in charity, and are intended to bring in younger patrons in order to attract higher-paying older patrons. No, I don't approve of the discriminatory nature, but that's life.
- Avoid ridiculously overpopulated gyms. If there's always a queue to use the staircase *no joke, true story* and consistently takes you a few minutes to get though a crowded lobby, go somewhere else. Another thing to consider: a place that consistently doesn't have enough equipment for everyone to fairly share over a long period of time, will, without fail, have a well-established pecking order. Caveat Emptor: those bargain basement gym memberships at the YMCA carry unspoken additional prices.
Edited by Zak