Joining a gym

It’s that time of year, when gyms are bombarded with folks who’ve decided that THIS will be the year they lose weight and get in shape. When you’re on the employee side of things, you welcome this crop of new faces, trying to excite and encourage them enough to keep them coming back long past March (when a lot of people seem to drop off). But what if it’s YOU looking for a gym to call home? YOU who has vowed to start a healthier lifestyle? What should you be looking for?

Photo: forevertwentysomething.com

If you’ve even been on a gym tour (torture!), you know the rows of treadmills and free weights start to blur together, and you’re left wondering, “how will I really use this stuff?” Well, having given quite a few tours myself, as well as having been on the receiving end a time or two, I’ve got some tips that should help you out:

  1. do your homework before you actually visit the gym: check out the online class schedule, trainer bios, equipment summary and childcare info, as well as any special membership deals running. Maddeningly, a lot of gyms don’t include pricing online, so you’ll have to get through the membership spiel before you get the most important information; that’s just the way they do it.
  2. once you’re actually at the gym, look around: pay attention to the clientele. Is it a 20-something meat market or a geriatric rehab? Which end of that spectrum do you fall on? Will you feel comfortable enough in the atmosphere to be red-faced and sweaty on a regular basis? Personally, I like a nice mix of super-fit, stylish gym-goers. It’s motivating, plus, I know they are all too busy looking at each other to be looking at me! I DO NOT, however, like a gym that’s all show and no go. Where the folks just wander around looking tough but don’t actually break a sweat. I want my treadmill neighbor to inspire me, not annoy me.
  3. find out what’s included: do new members get an assessment and orientation of some kind? Please remember, though membership people may call it a “personal training session,” it’s likely just an orientation to the equipment. A trainer will take you around and give you a basic overview of some key equipment. They will not write a personal program for you unless you pay for it.
  4. ask questions about the staff: as I mentioned in this post, there’s a vast array of certifications personal trainers may have, and you want to know if the person advising you is qualified. Also, and this may be just me, but I don’t get a great vibe from a place trying to sell members on a vitamin system or weight loss supplements. Most larger gyms have protein shakes and supplements available, but if you see a big display, or get a hard sell as part of your tour, run the other way.
  5. finally, look closely at the facility: if you’re familiar with gym equipment, look for your favorite machines, or a good alternative. If it all looks like torture tools to you, just make note of general cleanliness and maintenance. For example, do a lot of cardio machines have “out of order” signs? Are the rubber weights peeling? Are there fresh towels? Does the floor in the group fitness studio seem clean? Is the locker room well-maintained?

Obviously, there are many other factors to consider: class schedule and variety, cost, location and convenience, childcare and fancy shmancy amenities, to name a few. Most places will give you at least one free trial use, and sometimes they’ll spring for a full week. Get the week if you can. It allows you to visit at different times, and see if it all really fits into your lifestyle the way you hope it will.

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