Fitness & Exercise

Should You Join a Gym or Fitness Studio?

If you’ve decided to step up your routine, here’s what to look for in a place to exercise.
Published January 10, 2018

Do you feel like you’re ready to take the next step in your fitness journey and join a gym? It’s probably taken some serious consideration to get to this point, and even if it hasn’t, there’s plenty to think about before dedicating your time and resources to this commitment. Here’s what you need to know.


Ten is the magic number.

“Location is extremely important, and 10 minutes from home is the magic number,” says Sue Marasco, senior vice president of branch operations at the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles. “Plenty of people join facilities farther away, but typically only a small percentage will use their gyms regularly or continue their memberships.” Jim Thomas, president of Fitness Management & Consulting in Dallas, agrees: “The gym location should be convenient, not something you have to go out of you way to get to.” He recommends a gym be within a mile of your home, but no more than three. 


Make sure it’s fiscally responsible.

Perhaps you have a place in mind that’s close to home. Next, ask yourself if it fits your budget. What are you willing to spend, and does the membership fee come close to that? Does the gym provide what you’re looking for, such as a great weight room, a variety of group fitness classes, or personal training? “Go in knowing what you want,” advises Thomas. “Talk to the staff and instructors. Do you feel like they’ll keep you motivated and focused on your goals?” Whatever your reason for wanting to join, ask if your potential club offers a free trial and go at a time you would normally work out. This way, you’ll know how busy it is, what parking is like, and the type of members who exercise at the time you’d be there. 


You jibe with the vibe.

When you walk in, you should expect a friendly greeting, and all staff with whom you come in contact should be helpful, able, and willing to answer any questions you have about the facility and its services. Marasco says the gym vibe should be one that not only keeps members coming back, but also encourages new membership. “The entire staff should be friendly and welcoming, the facility should be clean, the equipment in good condition, and as much as possible be up to date on current trends in equipment and classes.” 


Gym Versus Studio

Years ago, gyms and personal training studios were the only choices for places to go to work out, but now fitness boutiques that specialize in specific exercise formats have taken a stronghold in the market. Think SoulCycle, Orangetheory Fitness, and TITLE Boxing. These places cater to those who know what they want and are willing to pay to get it. “Fitness boutiques can be good, but it’s really the class environment, no matter where it is, that helps get results and provides accountability,” confirms Thomas. The same criteria used to select a gym should be used when choosing a fitness studio as well.  

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If you happen to be all about classes and want variety without paying full-service gym prices, you may want to consider another option: ClassPass. Entering the scene in 2013, this membership-based subscription service grants users access to thousands of different classes ranging from yoga to barre to cycling to martial arts. Public Relationship Manager Lauren Craft calls ClassPass the most flexible gym membership available. With a smartphone app, users can gain access to classes in various locations, which means you have the flexibility to work out near home, work or school. “[ClassPass will] recommend studios we think they’ll like based on previous classes, but they can also filter by location, class time, type of class, studio amenities, and skill level.” ClassPass boasts a network of thousands of studios, which means you’re likely to find a class that fits your needs. And if you don’t want the commitment of sticking to one gym or studio – or enjoy changing it up and trying new classes all the time – this may be a great option for you.


Before Paying or Signing a Contract

When it’s time to join, Thomas says that these days, most so-called contracts are basically discount programs for committing to a longer term, which is good for the customer and the business. However, he offers one important caveat: “Any gym trying to get you to prepay for an extended term could be a potential red flag. And be sure your membership rep is focused on helping you get results, not just getting the sale or offering the deal,” he adds. You should feel comfortable with what you’re signing, make sure you read the contract thoroughly and ask questions, says Marasco. “Your contract should allow you to cancel at any time as well as put your membership on hold for illness, injury and even travel.” The same is true when buying a series of classes at fitness studios.


Whichever option you choose, the most important thing to keep in mind is that you should enjoy your time there. Moving and getting healthy is an added benefit.


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