Springtime is the best time to lose weight and get healthy. As the temperature warms, you’re typically not as hungry because your appetite naturally decreases as your body works to cool down. Your mood is likely to be brighter when there’s more sunshine, too. That limits cravings for comfort food and helps motivate you to exercise more.
Fortunately, many gyms are opening back up again (after the COVID-19 shutdowns), so it’s a good time to go shopping for your best membership. Here, we give you the top 10 things to look for when choosing a gym, to increase the odds that you’ll stick with your new workout plan.
1. Look for a convenient location.
In real estate, they say location is everything. The same is true for gyms. If you choose one that’s too far away and too difficult to get to, it’s more likely that you’ll skip your workouts. You want to eliminate any obstacles you can between you and your good health.
If you can’t find one you like that’s near your home, consider one that may be on your commute. That way you can stop on your way to or from work, which may be even more convenient.
If you live in a large enough city, the gym you choose may have more than one facility. In that case, ask if you can split your time between the two for the same price. That way, you can choose the location that fits best with your schedule and various times.
2. Check for cleanliness.
After the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re all much more aware of the importance of cleanliness. Most gyms have stepped up their cleaning regimens to better accommodate their members, but it’s always best to look around to be sure.
Gyms can be germ factories. According to a study published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found rhinovirus (cause of the common cold) on 63 percent of the hand-contact surfaces in the gyms tested.
Look around the gym and see what you see. Ideally, employees are regularly wiping down machines throughout the day. There should also be a policy about wiping down equipment after use. In other words, you should see wipes, spray bottles, and towels so you can clean the equipment yourself before using it.
Sign up for a free trial period (if the gym has one) and give yourself a visit or two to ascertain how clean this particular gym is. The best places to look: the bathrooms and the corners. If the bathroom is dingy or you see dirt and dust bunnies in the corners, the gym likely has issues with cleanliness.
Don’t forget to check on ventilation. As we now know (after the pandemic), air circulation can make a big difference in reducing the transmission of germs. Look for air conditioning, fans, open windows, and other signs that the facility is careful of ventilation. If the place smells stuffy, it may not be the best choice for you.
No matter which gym you choose, always keep your hands away from your face and take hand sanitizer with you.
3. Find out how long the gym is open.
First, check your schedule to see when you want to exercise. Then find out how long the gym is open. Some are available 24 hours a day, which is convenient, but many are not. What matters is whether the facility will be open when you want to exercise. You don’t want another excuse not to work out!
4. Does the gym offer the type of exercise you want?
A gym can help encourage you to work out if they offer a variety of options. If you want to play racquetball, for instance, you need a gym with racquetball courts. If you prefer swim classes, you need a gym with a pool. A personal trainer could help you reach your health goals a lot faster than you might on your own, whereas classes can help you meet new people who will also encourage you to stay with it.
Look at the machines themselves, too. It’s often best if they are made by multiple vendors, as the company that makes a good treadmill may not make the best stair-stepper. A gym that buys everything from the same vendor is more concerned with its bottom line than its customers' satisfaction. Try each machine you might use to see what you think of it.
Next, find out about the classes offered. Many gyms offer specialized programs that appeal to certain populations. Some may offer low-impact classes, for instance, or those specifically geared toward seniors. Others may have classes targeted to weight loss for your age group. Compare those offered between various gyms before making your final choice.
The more features a gym offers the better, usually, but you’ll have to balance that with the next consideration: cost.
5. How much will membership cost you?
First, remember that your health is worth an investment. It can be difficult sometimes to budget for a gym, but it could save you from having to budget for medical expenses down the road.
Next, be sure to check at least two gyms—more if you can—so you can compare the features and costs. Gyms may collect payment in different ways, but in most cases, you will sign a contract and pay a certain amount each month. The nicer the gym—typically, the more facilities and offerings—the more you’ll be likely to pay.
To get your best deal, follow these tips:
- Ask about a trial period: Most gyms will allow you to use their facility for free or at a reduced cost for a limited amount of time. This gives you a chance to try everything out and be sure you're happy with it.
- Look for specials: Many gyms will offer specials at different times of the year to attract new members. Look for monthly specials, no-initiation fee periods, or the option to have a free personal trainer for a limited time. There may also be a discounted membership if you come only during off-peak hours. Many gyms offer corporate memberships for specific workforces. If you haven’t heard of any specials, ask the salesperson if there are any before signing on.
- Negotiate: You may not be able to negotiate a lower fee, but there’s no harm in asking. When you’re thinking of signing up, ask the salesperson if he or she can waive the initiation fee, give you a discount for the first three months, or provide extra features for a limited time.
- Avoid extras: Some salespeople will try to pressure you into buying extras along with your membership. This is common, but you don't have to fall for it unless you want to. Ask the person to explain each extra and avoid most if not all.
- Ask about cancellation fees: If you have to sign a contract, read it carefully and ask about cancellation fees. Things happen in life, and it could be that you will suddenly need to get out of your agreement. Will you have to pay extra if so?
6. Do your research.
Your fellow exercisers can tell you a lot about a particular gym. Pull the facility up online and see what people are saying about it in the reviews. Google and Yelp are good sites to start with. Remember that almost every facility will have bad reviews, so don't let that deter you unless you're seeing a lot of negative reviews and you can back up those sentiments with your own experience when you visit the facility.
If the gym you’re considering has a social media presence, check their feed. You can get a sense of their overall attitude toward customers, as well as their day-to-day activities.
It’s also best to go visit more than one facility. Even better—get a trial period for two or more, then go exercise at each one on different days. See how you feel while you’re there. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Did you get a good workout?
- Did you feel comfortable while you were there?
- Did you have fun?
- Did you want to stay around and work out more, or were you eager to get done and out?
- Was the staff friendly and helpful? Did they make you feel welcome?
Take note of your experiences before you make a final choice.
7. Check out the extras.
Various gyms may offer extra features, services, and perks to reward you for being a member. Here are some privileges you may enjoy:
- Child care: If you’re a busy mom or dad, a gym that offers child care may be a godsend. Do check out the area and make sure you’ll feel comfortable leaving your child there while you work out.
- Televisions/entertainment: Many facilities offer televisions, but some set them up better than others, allowing headphones, more TVs so you’re likely to get your own, and even movies to watch.
- Massage therapy: Some gyms have massage therapy services too, and will offer members discounts on those services.
- Shower perks: Find out if the gym offers towels, shampoo, and conditioners, or hairdryers in the locker room.
- Friend passes: Some gyms will provide guest passes so you can take your friend to work out with you, while others allow a friend to come along every time.
- Food: Wouldn’t you love a healthy smoothie after working out? Some gyms will give it to you for free. Others have juice and snack bars that can be helpful if you need to grab breakfast after working out, for instance, before going to work.
- Parking: This isn't really an “extra,” but if you're in a hurry and want to fit your workout into 30 minutes, the last thing you want to do is spent 10 minutes looking for a parking spot. Check out the facility's ease of parking.
Above all, choose a gym where you feel welcome, comfortable, and safe. It doesn’t matter how many classes a facility offers or how shiny and new their equipment may be. If just walking in the door already causes your pulse to race, that might not be the right gym for you. Be picky, do your research, and ask your peers for recommendations. Tour the facilities at the same time you would usually work out to get a good understanding of what you can expect. The gym should not be somewhere you dread visiting.
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Goldhammer, Kirsten A., David P. Dooley, Eleanor Ayala, Wendy Zera, and Bonnie L. Hill. “Prospective Study of Bacterial and Viral Contamination of Exercise Equipment.” Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine 16, no. 1 (2006), 34-38. doi:10.1097/01.jsm.0000181436.41268.1f.