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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.
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.
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.
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!