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It’s about that time of year where you may be thinking: I need to get healthy and start working out. You’ve already decided that joining a gym, whether it was the constant voice of your nagging best friend (who had the best of intentions of course) or your inner critic, is your next step. Whether you live inside the city limits or not, you’ve got more than just ‘I need a place to get healthy at’ to consider when it comes to signing up for a gym membership. Do they provide child care, lockers, or even decent equipment? Whether or not you are a beginner gym hunter (or huntress), here are ten tips to help you make that leap into fitness before signing on the dotted line and beginning your venture to a healthier lifestyle with a gym membership.
It’s not just about how far away the gym is, but distance matters if you are going to the gym from home, work, or school. First determine your most opportune time you want to go to the gym. More often than not, you’ll try to convince yourself that “I should go…” in the mornings, but let’s face it… you, my dear, are not a morning person. There’s no use fighting what doesn’t work naturally for you. Instead, go with your instincts, your most energetic self of the day, whether it is in the morning, afternoon, evening, or even the 3rd shift of the night. Choose the gym that is most convenient for you distance-wise based upon where you are coming from and how you will utilize the gym during that time. If the distance is a deterrent, then you won’t go and you’re just wasting your money.
Did you know you could actually cram a full gym facility into a heavily populated city within the shops, businesses, and apartment buildings? What seems like a row of shops actually just may have a big box gym name crammed all up in there (but surprisingly spacious) once you are inside. Is that going to work for you if you are driving a minivan and the parking (consider if you have to pay) is more apt for a smart car? Nice gym, but if you can’t park and it’s just a bit too far for walking – that’s a major deterrent to really enjoying your newfound active lifestyle. You’re there to lower your stress levels by working out, releasing toxins, and just gaining your natural energy back; so if you start out with a short-fused temper because some jerk took two spots for their hot little Mercedes, it’s kinda defeating the purpose – and it’s only Monday.
You may want to also consider your limitations. Are you wheelchair bound? Using a walker? Are the stairs safe with railings? And is the gym accessible during the hours you are most likely to workout? Meaning, would a 24-hour facility be more convenient than a 6-10 pm hour gym? Maybe you’re a night owl and you prefer the peace and quiet of the nocturnal world. If so, it certainly doesn’t make sense to join a gym you won’t use when the doors lock down when you just got your second wind and then say to yourself, “I’ll go tomorrow.”
Hey, a smile can either make or break your day. There will be days you are pushing your way through, dragging yourself there first thing in the morning – and heaven forbid… before coffee. The first thing that may make it all worth while, is someone actually smiling directly at you with the most kindest and encouraging words. They took the time to welcome you! Even before you sign up – look for these characteristics in the staff. Do they genuinely care? Are they assessing your needs or pocketbook? Yes, they of course want your business, however, don’t forget it’s truly a win-win situation. You really do want to exercise, feel energized, get healthier, and the like and they really do want to help you get there – and sometimes that means with a gym membership and possibly personal training so you get the most out of your experience and what you want.
4. Big Box Gym Or Locally Owned
Name three nationally recognized gyms. Those are considered big-box gyms. They’re big and they have lots of options, including possibly a pool area, child care, and usually a shop. They have their quiet moments, but it’s usually pretty busy-busy in there. You’ll have a wide range of fitness classes because they are bigger; they may have more than 2-3 studio rooms which provide a variety of classes and options. This is good for you if you don’t mind the non-busy times still feeling populated, but not overwhelming. If you are a people-person, this is probably going to be your comfort zone. You also like the idea of a pool for lap swimming and possible aqua-aerobics classes. They’ll have more to offer, competitive pricing, and more than likely options for supplemental fitness gear and products.
However, on the flip side, perhaps you like something more that resembles your neighborhood. It’s familiar, with the same people, and there aren’t rigorous corporate standards. You feel as though you can speak to the owner personally and you know exactly when the high and low times are. They may not be open 24/7 or have a diverse range of classes, but if you don’t need that or what they do have is sufficient – consider a smaller gym that makes you want to be part of the family. You may even find that the pricing is just as competitive as the big-box, perhaps even more budget-friendly.
5. Membership Fees
Go ahead and decide now what you are willing to put down and pay each month. That way, you’re more prepared if the figure is lower (fingers crossed), and not so bad if it’s right around what you were thinking anyway. A majority of gyms have a “down payment” with a monthly option contract. If you don’t want to be stuck in a monthly contract, you’ll probably pay a little bit more to have the freedom to quit when you want to. The reason why they want you to sign the contract is not only to ensure your business, but it’s truly a commitment to yourself. You’re not going to get in the best shape of your life within a month or two – let’s be real here. You’re going to have to want to kick some butt and make that commitment to do something at the gym long term. That’s why you are paying them and sticking with a year agreement.
6. Parent-Friendly Childcare
Do you need someone to look after your children while you exercise? It’s all honky-dory awesome that you want to get in the gym, but the membership will be rendered useless if you find that your optimal times for working out are during babysitter-less hours. Once you’ve decided on possible locations and have an idea of your gym budget – now see if they provide childcare and if it’s during the hours that you are most likely to wind up in the gym. Don’t forget to consider the extra costs for drop-ins versus monthly or punch card options.
Even though they have childcare – be sure to get in there and see what your child’s entertainment will be. Consider what the policies are regarding staff, the play area, and cleanliness of the facility. Do they separate the older children from the toddlers and babies and so on. It’s great you can take your child with you, but you also want to make sure the designated area(s) are age-appropriate.
7. Personal Training / Group Classes
Accountability, a plan, a system, a routine, familiarity of the gym floor, and workout – these are just a few of the perks of having a personal trainer. When considering if you want a personal trainer or not, consider what you really know about exercising. Do you know what exercises to avoid if you have shoulder, knee, back, or hip issues? How would you know which exercises best strengthen your back without the added exasperation to the pain you already have? This is where a personal trainer comes in handy.
Not only do most trainers know specific, personalized workouts they can design for you, but they’re human too. You have someone by your side, in your corner right there beside you – not allowing you to quit when you feel like giving up. That’s what keeps you motivated and coming back again and again; then next thing you know – you’re twenty pounds lighter and feeling more energized than ever before.
It’s time to be real with yourself and consider adding to your proposed budget if you truly see the value in hiring a personal trainer.
You’re more likely to get more bang for your buck by purchasing session packages rather than individual sessions. Consider your options and your initial reasons for seeking out a gym membership, and then see if it all ties into the end result you ultimately want – your newfound healthy lifestyle.
Grab a friend, take a friend, your favorite fitness group class is about to start! Group classes are so popular, it’s rare to find a gym facility that doesn’t offer some type of fitness class. Do you know if you want fitness classes? Have you already been approached by your friends asking you to go already? The accountability factor becomes much easier when you know you’ve got 30-45 minutes of fitness fun with your best bud by your side. Fitness classes can be engaging, effective, and predictable.
When the routine is what keeps you accountable, consider what classes the facility offers then decide to commit to that schedule and predictability. Classes occur up to three times per week and at the least, weekly. Knowing when group classes are each week makes it easier to not have to convince yourself to go to the gym. Be sure to ask for the group schedule if you’re pretty sure having classes or not is a make it or break it deal for you.
Sure, those infomercials can be pretty sly at convincing you to buy the latest state of the art complete home gym, but let’s face it – you want the results without the expensive clothes hanger. The equipment in a gym typically has a lot more variety and options, and someone is there to show you how to use it. What to look for: functionality and cleanliness. While the staff is giving you a friendly tour of the place, take note of the conditions of the equipment and the facility as a whole.
Is it clean? Do the machines seem to be in working order? Do you notice any “Out of Service” posters? Are the lavatories exceptionally fresh? You’ll want to feel comfortable and safe using the machines and being in the facility while you are there. Check it out and be sure to note and voice any concerns about questionable areas and/or equipment. Some gyms have a small annual fee to ensure upkeep of the equipment.
If in doubt, simply ask. Ask how often routine cleaning occurs, what happens in cases of accidents, and how old the equipment is and if it’s also routinely maintained to be in good working order.
9. Locker Rooms / Showers
Whether you’re rolling right out of bed and into the gym or hitting it before home, you may need an area to freshen up in. Do you prefer privacy or an open area? This seemingly minor consideration may just be the deciding factor for you. If you have access to lockers and showers at the facility – does it warrant you the privacy you seek? Of course, the cleanliness factor should be weighed in as well. Do you need to bring your own lock for the lockers if you need to bring in your valuables? Take note of where best to keep your keys, purse, phone, and anything else you’d prefer stay in your possession.
The least amount of impact on your joints is no doubt going to happen in the water. Do you need that? Are you comfortable in a bathing suit? It may seem like a silly question, but you’d be surprised at how many people absolutely love the idea of getting in the water year round, but when push comes to shove, you come up with this “excuse” of not wearing a bathing suit until those stubborn 10 pounds are lost. Next thing you know, seven months have passed and you are still telling yourself – “I’ll do some laps next week. I feel bloated today and don’t want to wear my suit in front of people.”
Self-consciousness happens to us all, especially around bathing suit season. If you aren’t comfortable wearing a suit normally, it’s not going to change overnight just because you got a gym membership to a facility that has a pool. Just be honest and nice to yourself. If you have a weight loss goal before you want to confidently wear a suit, do you really want to spend the extra dollars on a facility that provides one versus one that doesn’t when you know you’re not quite ready yet?
However, if you are a natural fish… by all means, search out a gym with a pool!
Whatever your desires for joining a gym, remember, it really is about you. Your health, your fitness, and your lifestyle change. The gym is a tool to use to get what you desire – a healthy body. It’s a commitment to yourself – have fun, consider your options, and keep in mind, you can always choose a month to month option if you’re still on the fence about subjugating yourself and finances for a year or more… to the gym!
Photo credits: AndiL