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Things to Consider When Shopping for a Gym

By Khristine Clark Hammond, MS CSCS


Whether you’ve finally decided to take your exercise routine to a higher level or you’re just starting to begin a fitness regimen, selecting the right gym could be the most important thing you do. But, the process of choosing a gym is a whole lot more difficult than what price—or what specials they are offering. In fact, the next step is weighing the pros and cons of each facility, and while your decision may be based on any number of factors such as convenience, type of equipment, amenities, class offerings and atmosphere, you should try to figure it out by looking for the best value.


The various promotions and promises made by the gym staff don’t make it easy. The fact that every gym offers its own unique advantages and disadvantages, makes it kind of like comparing apples and oranges.


But, you should do your best to make the right decision. Because the better your choice, the more likely you are to stick to your exercise routine. The following checklist will help you make the most informed decision.


  1. Location, location, location. The gym you choose must be convenient for you to access. Do your best to find a facility that is no more than 5-15 minutes from your home or work. Let’s face it. Any farther, and the odds of working out will drop off dramatically.
  2. Do a test run. Most gyms allow prospective clients one free session to “try out” the gym. Be sure to use this free pass during the same time of day that you plan to work out in the future. Doing this allows you to judge the gym accurately. This also allows you to sample of the gym’s dynamics. Is the staff friendly? Are the other members friendly? Is there a line of people waiting for the piece of equipment you want to use? Is the gym laid out well? Is the gym clean? Is there space in the class you want to attend? What are the locker rooms like? Taking time to “try out” a gym can be invaluable based on the amount of information you are able to collect. If you are unable to take advantage of a day pass, be sure to set up a time to walk through and tour the prospective gym with one of its staff members. Be sure to come prepared with any questions you may have.
  3. Study the staff. Does the staff seem friendly, approachable, and well informed? Are the fitness instructors well educated and/or certified? Hospital-based fitness facilities tend to have higher standards. It is usually a requirement that fitness staff hold at least an undergraduate degree in exercise science or kinesiology and a reputable certification. Look for ACSM and NSCA as they are “gold standard” certifications in the field. If you have limitations or special considerations physically, these individuals will have a better understanding of contraindications and appropriate modifications for you.
  4. Financial commitment. Financial commitments vary greatly from gym to gym. Some gyms have enrollment fees. There are gyms that require a contract or a bank draft. Others do not. Don’t be afraid to try to negotiate the waiving of those initial fees or a discounted monthly rate. Many times, there are discounted rates that depend on a variety of factors. For example, there may be a corporate rate based on where you work or who you have your insurance with. There may be a discount for students, seniors, or for paying in full. Bottom line, you have to be comfortable with your financial commitment. Take your time, read all paperwork thoroughly, and ask questions before you sign on the dotted line.