Whether your goal is to lose weight, get toned or maintain a healthier lifestyle in general, joining a gym will be a crucial component of your fitness journey. And with 32,150 health clubs across the United States, you have plenty of options to choose from. Because everyone has different needs and wants when picking a gym, you can narrow down your decision based on your fitness goals.
This guide to how to choose a gym for beginners will walk you through the beginning stages of hunting for a local gym, five key fitness center considerations, how to begin the signup process and five final questions to ask before becoming an official member. If you’re looking for a gym to join, keep reading to learn how to find the right facility for your fitness needs.
Before you even begin the process of looking for a gym, ask yourself whether you need to. Depending on your exercise needs and fitness goals, you may be able to get into working out at home or doing cardio outdoors. However, if you’re looking for specific amenities you can only get at a gym, such as a wide variety of weights, exercise machines and fitness classes, you would most likely benefit from a gym membership.
To start your gym search, think about what you want most out of your gym experience and what amenities you’re unwilling to compromise on. For example, if you love taking yoga classes and trying different yoga styles, you can immediately cross off gyms that don’t have a well-rounded yoga studio. Make a list of your “must-haves” along with some “nice-to-haves,” so you can quickly eliminate gyms that don’t meet the criteria.
Of course, you’ll want to evaluate the main components of a gym, like whether it has state-of-the-art exercise equipment and a variety of fitness classes to choose from, but you should keep an eye out for the finer details. For instance, a gym may describe motivating workout classes in their marketing material, but when you visit in person, you discover the classroom spaces are always too crowded to enjoy. Factors that may seem negligible now, such as bright lighting, loud music and overall gym maintenance, could grow to become major annoyances later on.
In addition to the equipment and machines a facility has, pay attention to whether there’s enough space in the gym for you to move around freely, do bodyweight workouts, stretch, foam roll, etc. You may also need to keep in mind amenities like child care services and shower availability, depending on what time of day you plan on typically working out. Accounting for your pre- and post-workout routine is just as crucial as what happens while you’re getting your sweat on.
While making your list of “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves,” keep these five things in mind.
If you need to eliminate any chances of finding excuses for skipping a workout, convenience is the most crucial factor to consider. When a gym is too far out of your way, you’re far less likely to go. On the other hand, if your gym is close to home or on your way home from work, you’ll have an easier time convincing yourself to show up and put in the effort. Without having to factor in a long commute, you’ll be able to spend more time exercising than driving to the gym.
Look for a gym with a welcoming, friendly atmosphere. When you feel comfortable and relaxed at the gym, you’ll be more likely to enjoy your workout, which will make you want to keep going. To find the gym that will help you along your fitness journey the most, look for a member-focused place that fits your workout vibe.
Ask yourself what the gym’s target demographic is and whether you fit the description. For anyone newer to working out, a gym filled with “bros” and the bodybuilder type can feel intimidating, and they should look for a less intense facility. If the gym has banned grunting in the weight room and you tend to get a bit vocal while lifting, you might want to look for a better fit. 5 Bridges Health & Fitness works hard to promote a culture that can be a fit for anyone from workout beginners to fitness enthusiasts to seniors.
A significant part of your membership experience will depend on what types of group exercise classes your gym offers. Whether you’re into spinning, Zumba, kickboxing, yoga, barre or another form of exercise, you’ll want to make sure your gym offers group classes at times that will suit your schedule. When choosing a gym for a senior, look into whether the gym has a SilverSneakers® program and senior-specific group fitness classes.
In addition to group exercise classes, find a gym that provides certified personal trainers. Because working with a personal trainer is one of the best ways to achieve your fitness goals, make sure your gym has qualified trainers on staff who are willing to help you plan a path to success and walk you through how to maximize your time at the gym. If you can find a personal trainer you connect with, your road to fitness will be much smoother.
As a communal place where everyone sweats, gyms provide the perfect environment for germs to thrive when not cleaned properly. Take note of whether employees periodically wipe down the gym’s equipment throughout the day and if members follow a strict policy of cleaning up after themselves. Take into account whether the gym provides sanitizing wipes or a spray bottle and paper towels to disinfect equipment, and whether people use them.
Along with the gym area, be sure to inspect the bathrooms and locker rooms. If these areas aren’t clean, the facility probably isn’t doing all it could to sanitize and protect guests’ health. In addition to general cleanliness, ensure the gym you choose is completely complying with state and local COVID-19 safety guidelines.
A gym could have every piece of exercise equipment you might ever want, but that’s no use if that equipment is never available. Stop by the gym you’re interested in joining at the times you’re most likely to do your workouts to see how packed the facility is. If there seems to always be a long wait for specific equipment, especially those you’d be using most frequently, you may want to consider visiting another gym where you can spend more time working out and less time waiting in line.
Once you’ve found a gym that seems to align with all the qualities on your list, you’ll be ready to start the process of becoming a member. Before signing on the dotted line, make sure you’ve taken advantage of the free pass and guest visits most gyms offer. Doing a trial run should tell you everything you need to know about what it would be like to join the facility before deciding whether you want to commit to a full membership.
Some gyms go the extra mile and give prospective members a complete guided tour of their facilities before signing them up for membership. At 5 Bridges Health & Fitness, we offer guest visits and a gym tour to any curious people without any pressure to become a member. These perks give visitors a taste of the member experience and what they can expect after signing up.
On your complimentary gym visits, scope out the little extras the gym provides, such as the availability of shampoo and conditioner in the showers and whether they offer a hairdryer and towels in the locker room. Paying attention to detail will give you a better idea of whether you can picture yourself going to this gym each morning or getting ready for work or an evening appointment after your sweat session.
Check into whether the membership fees include all group exercise classes, or if they come at an additional cost. Though the monthly membership price shouldn’t be the only factor determining your gym choice, you need to be aware of what you’re paying for. Once you’ve sorted out all the money matters, you’ll nearly be ready to take the plunge.
At this point, you should be almost ready to join the gym of your dreams, but you should still ask a few more questions before becoming a member. Get answers to these questions before signing up for a membership at your local fitness center.
Before getting swept up in the excitement of your facility tour and great membership deals, look into whether the gym has a favorable reputation among community members and online. If you end up having an off-putting experience with the gym after committing to become a member, you’ll be wasting your money on a membership you don’t use, or stuck going there until your contract expires.
Don’t be afraid to do a little digging on social media about the gyms in your area. You can get a good feel for a gym’s day-to-day activity by checking their posts and reading reviews from current and past members. Do your research and try to get a positive reference from someone who has fitness goals and preferences similar to yours.
Just like many other contractual obligations that consumers are subject to, gym membership contracts are typically non-reciprocal. However, some gyms offer a monthly, non-contractual payment plan option, which might better suit your financial needs. Although non-contractual agreements have some perks, the monthly rate tends to be high enough that it makes more sense to sign a written contract. Regardless, make sure you ask what your options are so you can make a fully informed decision.
In addition to the regular membership fee, some fitness centers charge an annual maintenance fee to members. This extra charge serves to supplement the gym’s revenue and make up for the otherwise low membership cost. If you’ve committed to a yearlong contract, the annual maintenance fee will be unavoidable. While the maintenance fee is usually not exorbitant by any means, it is an added expense you will need to budget for.
As you’re weighing the costs of a gym membership, keep in mind that it tends to pay off in the long run to sign up for a more expensive option. The lower prices at bargain gyms usually keep people hooked. They can rationalize the amount of money they’re paying each month, even if they hardly ever visit the gym because the facilities aren’t up to par. By spending just a little bit more, you can get a membership to a gym you’ll look forward to going to, which means the membership will pay for itself in no time.
There’s always some degree of risk when doing physical activities like cardio and weightlifting. Make sure a fitness center has insurance coverage before joining the gym. Also, ask about the facility’s response plan for when there is an emergency. On the off-chance you experience a gym accident or health scare, you’ll want to be sure your gym’s staff members have CPR certification, an automated external defibrillator on hand and employees trained in how to use it.
Odds are, you’ll love your new gym after doing all this research. But in case you don’t end up enjoying your gym as much as you thought you would, make sure you know its cancellation policy. Some gyms intentionally make the cancellation process a major hassle to deter people from backing out early. Be sure you know what you would have to go through if you ever decide to call it quits on your membership.
If you’re searching for your dream gym, check out 5 Bridges Health & Fitness. Both facilities provide state-of-the-art exercise equipment, group fitness classes and personal training programs led by expert trainers.
At 5 Bridges Health & Fitness, we’ll walk with you through each step of your fitness journey — and that starts with your search for the perfect gym for you. We’d be happy to answer any of your questions about virtual gym memberships, free passes, guest visits or scheduling a facility tour. Contact 5 Bridges Health & Fitness for more information about membership today.