How to Find the Right Gym for You

There are many factors when selecting a gym.  Large box gyms (range from very pricey to a monthly membership less than you pay for coffee per day), small specialty locations, trainer-only facilities, at-home gyms, etc.  There are the obvious factors like price and location to consider.  However, I have a full list that I ask myself when joining a gym.  Consider using this as a guide for your next gym evaluation.  I doubt a single gym will check all of the boxes.  But you will discover with time and patience what you consider to be very important.  In the past 10 years, I have been a member of 7 gyms.  Some were great at first and then after a few months took a turn for the worse.  I have found that with trial and error, I have discovered what are deal breakers for me vs. ones I am willing to be flexible.  My best advice would be to not sign up to any contract that you cannot get out of for any reason.  I think there are so much competition around with new gyms opening so often that locking in a membership to a single location does not leave you many options later.  Many gyms have one week trials or groupon discounts available so you can try before you buy.

You might think “Wow, this is a long list, is she the goldilocks of gyms?”  My response is “You bet I am!  If I am making a financial and time commitment, I want to make a good decision.”

Step One = Before you consider any gym, be reasonable and write down what you are willing to commit…

  1. Commute = Figuring this out determines your search area.  Then you can Google gyms near me and enter your zip code and note their distances.
    • Walking, biking, driving or public transportation?
    • How far are you willing to commute?  I set a 15 to 20 minute max drive time.  Anything further I know I would not go.  I also check to make sure there is plenty of parking available.
    • Is there a gym in your building or near your office?
    • Would you want something between work and home so you can stop and work out before going home and getting comfortable?
  2. Cost = Having a range of prices with a hard limit is key.  This way you do not waste your time looking at places you cannot afford.
    • Be prepared if you want a specialty type of studio = Unfortunately places like private training Pilates using reformer machines are expensive.  So you might consider a gym that has a mat Pilates class available that is included in the price.
    • Check for discounts = If you work for a company that has healthcare available to you, it is worth checking if they have discounted rates at any local gyms.  Also around New Years, gyms tend to offer discounted rates to new members.
    • Do they offer class cards = Gyms will first try to sell you an unlimited monthly membership but see if there is a punch card type option.  If you do the math, you might be saving a significant chunk of cash.
    • Other advice = More expensive is not always better.  I used to belong to a fancy large box gym with a full pool area and basketball court.  I never used these items but I know that I was paying for them.  I have heard folks say that they want an expensive gym so that the guilt of losing money if they do not go will motivate them.  I have found that this type of motivation only works in the short-term.  If you are not happy there, you will cancel and stop going.  No matter what the cost is per month or per session.
  3. Time = If it is not convenient, you will not go.  The gym has to be available when you are available.
    • Very limited time = If you have only 1 or 2 days per week you can dedicate and the time slots are narrow, my choice would be to do personal training.  That way you have a tailored workout designed for you and you are not wasting any time.  This was very helpful when my husband and I both worked.  We only had the evenings to workout and our trainer was key.  Otherwise we would just walk on the treadmill or only use the weight machines that we knew how to use.  If you find that your time is super limited, I would suggest figuring out an at-home gym.  You do not need that much equipment or space to get started.  (Related blogs = Home workout routine  & Home gym equipment)
    • Only weekends free = I would make sure to check how crowded the gym is during the time you would go.  Weekends tend to get busier for gyms.  If you are uncomfortable with crowds or get frustrated waiting on machines, then checking on this is key.  You might want to consider gyms that you book your time ahead on a cell phone app.  This way you know there is a limit to the amount of folks in attendance.
    • Off-times = I mean not early mornings before work, not evenings and not weekends.  This is the type of person who works out during a lunch break or early afternoon.  Sometimes since this is not a popular time, gyms will not offer classes.
    • Would you need to make any adjustments to your current schedule to make it work? = Would you need to wake up earlier?  Would you need to pack workout clothes to take to the office?  If you work out during the day at your lunch hour, would you still be able to eat at your desk while working?

I feel like these 3 parameters are important to set, it saves you a ton of time later.  Now moving on to step two after you have a list of places to check out.  

Step Two = After you have found your reasonable limits, then check out gyms near you and note the following.  You will find out a lot on a tour but also do a trial week or X number of classes to test drive the facility.  Talk with existing members to get the scoop.  

  • Cleanliness = This is my number one priority.  Do you see folks walking around and wiping equipment?  Are there disinfecting wipes readily available for you to use?  On a tour, ask about how often the gym is professionally cleaned.  
  • Flexibility in membership = Can you upgrade, downgrade or even put your membership on hold if needed.  Family emergencies and illnesses need our full attention.  Knowing that you are wasting some money at a gym you are not temporarily using does not help matters.  If a gym really cares and is not just out to make money, then it will offer easy flexible options.
  • Types of classes available (if you want classes)=
    • Range of times = If you plan on taking classes (or at least have the option available) then the range of times they offer need to match up with your time parameter you set.  You will not take advantage of the classes if they are not offered when you need them to be.  Some gyms charge differently if you want to use the equipment only vs. also take classes so check if there is a price difference.
    • Variety offered = I enjoy gyms that offer a variety of classes.  I find that the more variety I have in my fitness plan, the better I feel and more likely that I will stick to it.  Even my yoga studio has a variety of classes from slow-paced restorative to 105 degree hot yoga.
    • Class tone =  I have found there are 2 types of class tones.  One is an instructor working out with you or guiding you through the workout.  They let you know the next move and might come around to check form.  This type is my favorite since it reminds me of a workout DVD with a plus.  You get the instruction you need but also since it is in person, you get the form check.  The second type is a motivation class.  This is the one I like to avoid.  It is usually a couple of teachers and they walk around and yell at you to do more burpees or not to take a break during your push-ups.  If I am making the effort to be at the gym, then I want to do my best.  The breaks I am taking are those that are needed to catch my breathe or take care of my sore lower back.  Yelling at me only makes me want to avoid your class.  That being said, I know some folks who like the bootcamp style classes.  It helps them.  You just need to check to see what type of classes you are comfortable with since it makes a huge difference in your experience.
  • Range of equipment =  Classes might not be your thing.  The range of cardio and weight machines is good to check out.  Also see if they are quality brands and what type of condition the machines are in.  I personally like a gym that offers both.  That way I can honor my extrovert self by doing a class with others and also honor my introvert side by using my noise-canceling headphones and work out on machines solo.
  • Knowledgeable trainers = I think having instructors/trainers with multiple years of experience and/or certifications is very important.  You do not want someone just reading from a script of moves to do.  You want a person who knows what muscles you are working and can provide you a move modification if needed.  If you find that the gym is just full of college students making summer job money, run away from that gym!
  • “It factor” = Hard to explain but when you walk in the doors, does it make you feel good to be there?  When you leave, are you glad that you made the time to go?  Having a place that makes you feel good means that it will keep you motivated to go back.