Fitness Articles

8 Things to Consider When Choosing a Gym

A Checklist for Fitness Facilities


When you’re eager to try a new restaurant, you might ask your friends for recommendations, read a good review, or check out the menu before you spend your money and time there. If you enjoy your first meal, you’ll return again and again, but if your experience is less than great, that first visit will also be your last.

Finding the right gym is a lot like finding new restaurant. A good gym will fit your own unique personality, and motivate you to come back and exercise on a regular basis. Unlike a restaurant, joining a gym is a large financial commitment, so it’s even more important that you research your options before signing on the dotted line.

When considering a particular gym, set up a tour and bring a list of questions you want answered. Try to set up this tour during the time you usually exercise. More often than not, the staff will give you a free day pass so you can try out the equipment, classes, and other amenities firsthand.

Other than a free workout, there are key criteria to consider before you fork over the dough or sign a long-term contract. Keep these questions in mind as you begin your search.

1. Location, Location, Location
If you choose a gym on the other side of town, will you really make it there consistently to work out? Often, a gym located somewhere between your home and office (or school) is best. On days when you’re crunched for time, having a gym close by will make things easier on your hectic schedule. After all, a good workout is supposed to lower your stress level, not increase it.

2. Hours
Is the gym open when you’ll use it most? While some gyms are open 24 hours a day, others are closed on weekends. Whether you workout early in the morning or late at night, make sure the hours fit your schedule, or you’ll be paying for something you can’t access.

3. Members
Everyone responds differently to those around them, and you should keep this in mind before you choose a gym. You should feel relaxed in your exercise environment, not embarrassed or intimidated. Some gyms are co-ed, while some are same-sex only. Others attract individuals of certain age groups. Will you be comfortable exercising around the current members? On your tour, does the gym seem overly crowded?

4. Staff
The staff members of the gym should be supportive and courteous, ready to answer questions or spot you on a machine if needed. They are there to help you make the most of your workouts. Before selecting a gym, ask about the certifications of the staff members. Are they qualified to guide you through your fitness routine? If you need a trainer, what are their rates?

5. Cleanliness
This may or may not be obvious on your first trip to the gym, so keep your eyes peeled. Make sure that towels are available to wipe off the equipment after each use. Also, look to see if staff members enforce this standard of hygiene. Peek into the locker rooms and showers, especially if you’ll be using these often. Look at the toilets, sinks, and showers themselves to see that they’re properly maintained.

6. Equipment
Take a good look around. Are there enough of the "popular" machines to go around, or do members have to wait in line to use them? Find out if there is a sign-up sheet or a time limit on cardio equipment. If you run on a treadmill for an hour, then a 30-minute time limit won’t really suit you.

Make sure that there are a wide variety of machines, but don’t be intimidated by new ones. Notice whether or not instructions and pictures are posted on the machines, or if staff is available to help you. Be cautious of out-of-order machines; this might be indicative of a poorly maintained gym.

7. Classes
Ask to see the schedule of fitness classes offered at the gym. Make sure that the classes you WANT to take are offered at the times you can attend, and find out if you need to show up early to reserve a spot. High-energy classes like spinning might interest you, or a calming yoga class might be more up your alley. If group classes are the staple of your exercise program, find out if the gym charges extra for classes before you join. Decide whether or not these fees are affordable before you join, or you might be paying for a membership that you don’t really use.

8. Fees
Cost is probably the deciding factor when choosing a gym. Many gyms have a sign-up fee, but these are often waived during certain promotions. Take a look at the payment schedule. Do you pay each month, or do you have to commit yourself to an entire year as a member? Can you cancel without penalty? And ultimately, does a gym fit into your budget?

When it comes down to joining a fitness center, you may feel like you’re signing your life away—if you aren’t informed and prepared. Be picky! Shop around, talk to friends, and take the tours until you find a place that meets all (or most) of your expectations at a reasonable price. After all, finding the right gym can be the key to a healthy lifestyle!

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Member Comments

  • No recent comments here so I'll chime in on NY Eve Day. My local Y is 1/2 a mile from my house - it has a 4 treadmills (which I do use), 6 elipticals which I can't use (balance issues), 2 upright bikes. They were "supposed" to get a recumbent bike - that was in April when I first joined. The weight room is tiny and is oversubscribed and the classes are as well. Those do fill up quickly. The next closest Y is 15 from my house - lots more equipment but little I can use. I can use a treadmill, recumbent bike and a rowing machine. All of these pierces are very old and in need of repair. They have raquetball/squash courts but much as I loved these my body rules them out today. They have a large but chlorinated pool - again a problem with skin. Now they have classes I would be interested in .. but they are always oversubscribed. I guess a good instructor and convenient times. So much for the Y and a place at reasonable cost. Golds, Fitness 24, and a few others are here but are so filled with equipment and people all the time that my comment is - how could anyone like it there. I belonged to a Golds for many years due to a new club deal ... and that facility cared because of the manager ... but the rest, well, it's a business and the admit they are not in the business to make you happy. The places with nicer surroundings are much more expensive. Working out at home takes more discipline, but then again so does working at home which I did for years. I will not be renewing my Y membership as I seldom go and when I do it reminds me why I don't do it more often. I may get streak points here but since moving to So. Ca. I haven't found an answer to what's your gym? Workout buddies and friends non-existent here. I'm willing to commit to a walk every day but so far after the first week all I have left is good intentions that fizzle. I fall ... and if I walk out side I really do need a spoter since I also cannot use a phone. I agree with the gym manager - safety and cleanliness should be top priority. But as far as good information - a ...
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  • The first gym that I joined didn't have a pool, and closed at 10. I really would have liked a pool, and I can be a night owl sometimes. The second time I joined a gym, I joined a 24 hour place with a pool and a hot tub. It was a much better fit.
  • I was going to a gym before work. The gym met all the qualities listed BUT the locker room was SO steamy that I couldn't get out of there without needing another shower. I ended up changing gyms because of that.
  • I would love to join the Y, but the closest one to me is 25 minutes away from where I live, and that one really doesn't have much to offer for the price. There are three gyms within five minutes of my house, two do not have registration fees, all three are more than $30 a month, all have decent offerings. One is 24-hour but no classes, one offers a few classes, and the third has daycare and classes included in the price. Two are over 18 only, the third allows 13-year-olds and up the ability to join with physician permission (and younger on certain circumstances). That particular one has various levels of pricing. $50 a month without contract, $40 a month with one year and $25 a month with two year. Couples are $50 a month with contract. Also, you can take a guest at $5 per day/class. My current gym is my house, and I am looking at the best alternative. I work for a medical office. In our same building, there is a physical therapist who allows employees to use their equipment completely free of charge during regular business hours. I'm thinking lunch break, head over to PT, workout a bit, then go for a quick lunch.
    This is a deal breaker for me: some gyms will let you sign up without a long-term contract but only if you authorize automatic withdrawals from your bank account. These can be a nightmare if the gym turns out to be less than ethical and your bank isn't responsive to your problems. If you go with a monthly payment plan, use a credit card and preferably one, like American Express, you can rely on to back you up if things go wrong.

    In fact, authorizing automatic bank withdrawals is pretty dicey no matter who you're dealing with. It pays to proceed with great care.
  • I am considering joining our local Y as it is close to where we are living(at the moment) and the price is the most reasonable of the three gyms that I checked just not sure how much use I would get from a membership.I could walk to a closer gym but didn't like the lay out and there were just to many machines and not enough help.I have a nice elliptical machine at home and use it every day except sundays and I think I will start working out on Sundays also.Think I need different kinds of exercise as well as cardio that is one reason for joining a gym.My girlfriend seems to think that swimming is a must at the Y but I assured her she was wrong and working out doesn't have to involve swimming.I don't like to use public pools because of health issues.I do look forward to working out with a group of women like myself.
  • Great article! Former hater of gyms. Retired & go faithfully. I love the people, friendliness , etc. my day is now organized around my commitment to classes that I love.
  • I was a member at the Y but it was too much for me. I loved it. But now I go to this school where I pay less and my whole family can go on that price. They just don't have as much as the Y. Great article.
  • I wish I could afford a gym with classes. The Y is so expensive and it looks like it is always busy.
  • I love Curves for Women. It is designed for women and targets their fitness issues. The machines are easy to learn. You can get in and out in 30 minutes and have a complete workout. There is no spandex or people trying to win a fitness appearance contest. The coaches are great consultants but there is no pressure to join or upgrade. Occasionally they have a "free month" promotion. You can start at your own pace and move up when you are ready. I have lost weight with their program and all my other issues are improved as well: went from diabetic to "Pre-diabetic" in my glucose measures, off my cholesterol medication, etc. This is my 6th fitness effort and the only one I've been able to stick with for a year.
  • My advice would be to have a chat with the receptionist. They know EVERYTHING, like when the gym is busiest, quietest, the best trainers to work with. Also, chat with people who work there, like the trainers. They should be friendly, helpful and knowledgeable.
  • As a gym owner it is always nice to get an objective list of what potential gym members consider when choosing a gym. My personal priorities are gym cleanliness and safety. Thank you for your Insights!
    I tried a few of the no-contract gyms, but it just wasn't for me. Then I looked into the YMCA and that was just a little too over the top. I found a good medium that is actually 24hrs so I'm willing to pay the extra because I don't want to work out in an environment that doesn't fit me.

About The Author

Liz Noelcke Liz Noelcke
Liz is a journalist who often writes about health and fitness topics.

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