How to Choose a Gym

You've been doing exercises at home with success, and now you're ready to "graduate" to a gym membership. But how do you find a club that's right for you?

You've been doing exercises at home with success, and now you're ready to "graduate" to a gym membership. But how do you find a club that's right for you?

Gym Philosophy

Look for a club with a genuine interest in helping you achieve your health and fitness goals. Beware of the money mill, grind 'em in, grind 'em out facilities. Trust your instincts: If it seems like the salesperson is only interested in getting your signature on a contract, then you may want to look elsewhere. Go to several clubs. Take your time. Ask questions. But don't make a decision until you've looked at all of your options.

Atmosphere

Although you don't need to become best buddies with your fellow exercisers, it's important that you feel comfortable around the gym and its clientele. Perhaps loud Euro-techno music and hordes of aerobics bunnies dressed in Lycra aren't your cup of tea. Find a club that matches your personality and comfort level. Feeling like the odd one out every time you hit the gym won't help you.

Some women feel more comfortable working out at women-only gyms and many large chains offer women’s only facilities that are worth looking into if you feel this would make you more comfortable.

Specialty Gyms

If the treadmill or elliptical bore you, consider getting involved in a group sport or a special activity. There are many intramural team sports such as basketball, badminton, or even tennis that you can join regardless of your level of expertise. There are also many centres that cater to special activities like yoga or Pilates studios.

Trainers

If you decide to hire a trainer, look for these things: a bachelor's degree in exercise science or a related health-science discipline, experience, and a certification from an internationally recognized organization like The Canadian Association of Fitness Professionals, The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiologists or The Canadian Personal Trainers Network.

Busy Quotient

Check out a club during the times you plan to attend. If you're a potential ‘rush hour’ member, pay a visit between 4 and 7 p.m. Check to see if all the machines are occupied and if there are waiting lists for the machines. Waiting around for equipment can interrupt the flow of your routine.

Also, warns Larry Track, a certified personal trainer with TXT Fitness in Toronto, "Location, location, location," Track says. "How convenient is it for you to get to the gym regularly and consistently so it does not create too much travel time so you become upset and stop going?”

If group classes are more your style, check them out to see they're packed to the hilt. Are they so full that they require advance signup? These are important things to look for when shopping for a gym.

Cost

Sticker prices vary from gym to gym and even from city to city. Whatever the price, make sure you get what you are paying for.

Ask yourself these questions when researching a fitness club: Does the club satisfy your needs? Does it offer amenities like child care, lockers, showers and towel service? Also, watch out for extraneous initiation or activation fees, some of which can be negotiated depending on how long you commit to the club. Most fitness club chains also offer packages with access to more than one of the gym's locations.

Local YMCA's are a great alternative to higher-priced gym. They provide many amenities, as well as the opportunity to engage in a wide variety of community activities. In addition to weight rooms and cardio machines, most YMCA's offer everything from fitness classes, to swimming.

Track says find a gym that wants to help you get started. "If you're a beginner," Track says, "Find out what they offer to get you started like a free personal training session. If they don't, I recommend going elsewhere. If you are a beginner, find out if they are going to help you reach your goal, and help you plan a program."

Contracts

As with used car and cellular phone contracts, read the fine print! Many clubs will promise you a lower rate if you lock into a contract, but this also limits your flexibility in switching gyms if the need arises. You may want to pay a bit more for a no-strings-attached, one-month membership; if you like it, then you can sign a contract. Find out if there's a cancellation fee in case you need to break the contract. But make sure you understand the terms of the membership and contract before you sign on the dotted line.

Try Before You Buy

Before you join, find out if you can have a free one-day pass to test out the gym, and see if you like the amenities and whether the club meets your specific needs.

Out of Town

Some clubs will freeze your membership if you have to leave town for an extended period. Some large chains will not do so because they assume you can just go to any of their branches around the country. Maximize your bang for the buck and ask about a club's policy up front.