By Joey Lee
Back in the olden days, when I first moved to Mississippi (during the 90s), there wasn’t a lot of choice in gyms or health clubs, so the decision of which one to join was pretty easy. Today, that’s not the case; in our area there are a number of gyms, health clubs and specialty workout facilities offering a wide array of workouts. You can find everything from big mega clubs with pools, tennis and racquetball courts, along with numerous amenities, to small 24-hour places in strip malls. There are also several facilities that specialize in specific workouts like ballet bar, yoga and Pilates.
While doing my research for this article, I interviewed hundreds of people (well, I asked my Facebook friends to let me know what they look for in deciding which health club to join) and the overwhelming response was convenience and hours of operation. Only a handful of the responses failed to mention convenience among their other requirements. Price came in a distant second. And just behind price was cleanliness. I guess a lot of us have had bad experiences with less than “hygienic” clubs, and nobody likes that.
So, with the wide variety of choices, how do you select the right gym for you? The good news is that it’s not rocket science, just ask yourself a few basic questions and you’ll have your answer!
What do you like to do? I think this is the most important factor. I tell people all the time, “If you don’t like to run, DON’T RUN!” Find something you like, that way you’ll be more apt to do it. You wouldn’t want to join a gym that’s mostly weightlifting if you hate pumping iron; just as you wouldn’t want to join a gym that focuses on fitness classes if you would rather lift weights.
Where is the gym? You don’t want a club that’s 30 minutes out of your way. You’ll never go. You want a gym that’s convenient to your home or office so you don’t have to work too hard to get there.
When is it open? If you can only work out at 5:30 in the morning, you don’t want a gym that opens at 6:00! Make sure the club you’re looking at is open during the hours you’ll be able to go.
What is the gym or workout facility like at the times I can go? Visit the gym during the time when you’ll be working out so you can see what the crowd is like. Are there people waiting on the machines or equipment you want to use? Are the classes overcrowded or is there plenty of room?
What’s the gym’s reputation? Talk to people! If you’re new in town, ask people at work, ask when you’re touring the gym, and gather as much information from the outside as you can. But also be sure to remember that people like to talk and half of what you hear is probably just that, talk.
Can you try it before you buy it? Any gym worth joining will offer you at least a one-day pass. Many will give you a free week to try it out. Take advantage of this opportunity; even ask for it when you visit. There’s no better way to see if you like a place than to go there and try it for a week.
How clean is it? As you tour a facility, really check it out. Take a close look at the machines, see how well maintained they are. Are they rusty and dusty or clean and pristine? If there are facilities such as showers, a sauna or hot tub and other features in the locker rooms, take the time to really check them out. I’ve been in some gym showers that I wouldn’t clean a deer in, let alone try to clean my body!
What amenities does the gym offer? Some gyms have a free towel service. Some have complimentary soap and shampoo. I’ve even seen clubs that offer free pizza on Friday afternoon (seriously, I’m not joking).
Do you want variety or the same thing? A traditional health club will have a lot of variety, weights, machines, various classes, courts and pools. But then there are specialty clubs where you’ll focus on one type of workout, which would you prefer?
What is the cost and how do you pay? Of all the questions, this may be one of the most important, because if you can’t afford it, what’s the point in looking at it? A lot of places have monthly fees and joining fees, but they may offer specials when they waive or greatly reduce joining fees. Some clubs will give a discount even if they’re not having a special if you ask nicely. If you prefer, ask if you can have the fees automatically deducted from your checking account so you don’t have to worry about them each month.
Are there extra costs? If you join a club because you want to play tennis or racquetball, or take their yoga classes but find there is an extra charge for court fees or specialty classes, you may want to find a place where those things are included in your membership fee.
Does the management seem to care and want to keep the club moving forward? This can be a hard one to determine, but you can usually get an idea by checking out things such as cleanliness, age and upkeep of the equipment, “Out of order” signs, etc. You definitely want a club that is willing to reinvest and stay current.
Do they offer childcare? Not everybody needs this, but if you do, you should try to find a gym that offers it; that will give you one less excuse to skip your workout!
In my research, clientele and the type of people who work out at a particular club was also mentioned quite often. You want to look at a club that has people that make you feel comfortable. If you aren’t the big bodybuilder type, you probably don’t want to join a place that has tons of “Conans” walking around. If you’re more comfortable with people of your own gender, find a gym that is women only or predominately women. One of my favorite responses was, “I look for a lack of creepy dudes trying to give me weight lifting advice.”
What it all boils down to is that you should find a place where you are comfortable – a place you like to go. It doesn’t matter if it’s a full-service health club, a specialty boutique gym or a Rocky IV-style barn; what matters is that you go there and work out consistently.