01.17.13: Choosing a Gym, Part One: Should You Join a Gym?

It became very clear to me, very quickly, that I needed to join a gym.  Sure, I could walk/run in my neighborhood (and I still will, if it ever stops raining), do P90X in my rumpus room, do crunches during commercial breaks, whatever … but bottom line, I do better at a health club than I do at home.  That is to say, I do pretty much nothing at home, and when I go to a health club, I work out.  Huh.  Go figure.

Gyms aren’t for everyone, and every gym is different.  One enters into a relationship with a gym with expectations, hopes, and battle scars from previous bad encounters.  It’s important to enter with as much information and self-awareness as you can, and also to be ready to give as much as you get and more – and to adapt.  Told you it was a relationship.

If you are brand-new to exercising, you’ll have different needs from someone who’s coming back after a hiatus, and different needs from someone who’s a regular exerciser and is looking for something new.  Health concerns (arthritis, recovering from surgery, needing surgery and trying to put it off, diabetes, asthma …) bring another set of needs.  A good start can be to take a single class somewhere, like a community center or a church.  Sign up for Zumba twice a week for a couple of months and commit to attending every session.  Feel your confidence and cardiovascular capacity grow.  Enjoy the camaraderie.  And keep going.

You could try this approach with a trainer, too.  Seek out options like small “Boot Camp” classes that meet in local parks – and don’t be scared of the name, they’re rarely material for a reality show on the Military Channel, and a good trainer will help you modify the program to suit your fitness level and goals.  Spend some time in a smaller, more personal setting, and then decide if you want to join a health club and expand your options.

Or, you could just join a gym.  But ugh – where?  How?

Start by looking around and asking around.  What’s close to your home or work, or other places you frequent (other than the ice cream shop (or liquor store))?  If you have friends who belong to clubs, are they happy with them?  Why?  As you’re gathering feedback, think about whether the things that matter to them are the same things that matter to you.  If, for instance, your friend loves a club because it has unlimited tanning but doesn’t like that you have to bring your own towel, think about whether you want unlimited tanning (I hope not) and whether you might bring your own towel anyway.  [Word to the wise: bring your own towel anyway.]  Some people just want access to some well-maintained machines and a water fountain; others want a sauna and TVs on every cardio machine.  Do you need childcare ?  A smoothie bar?  A pool?  Yoga?  Pilates?  Yogilates?  Whatever floats your boat, wherever you’re comfortable, and whatever keeps you coming in the door.

Do some internet research, but please take what you find with a grain of salt.  Are those scathing comments from disgruntled former customers who thought the color scheme was offensive or didn’t lose the weight they wanted to and are blaming the facility (I could tell some stories, hoo boy)?  Or who wanted to get out of their contracts and couldn’t?  PS, I’ll address contracts in another post – it’s a big topic.  Online as with your friends, look for thoughtful comments about the quality of the group fitness instructors, the feel of the place, the state of the equipment, the clientele, and other things that matter to you.

Think about your past experience with gyms, if you have any.  What worked and what didn’t?  If you quit going, why?  Here we need some real honesty.  Separate your reasons for not staying into two categories: the reasons that had to do with the facility, and the reasons that had to do with you.  Maybe on your first pass, every reason is in the first category.  It was too far from home; you always had to wait for a cardio machine; the Kickboxing instructor was mean; the music was annoying; the people looked at you funny.

Now look at those “reasons” and see how they were “excuses.”  Was the gym too far from home, but close to work, and maybe you should have been going straight to the gym from work, or straight from work to the gym?  Maybe you could have adjusted your schedule to come at a less-busy time and not have to wait for a machine.  If you didn’t jibe with an instructor, you could have tried a different class, or hired a personal trainer (trainers will often group-train, so you and a friend or two could split a package of sessions or train together).  Get headphones.  It’s doubtful that people looked at you funny, unless you’re really funny-looking.  It’s a gym.  Everyone is sweaty – or should be.

Don’t get defensive with me, now.  Maybe those gyms weren’t a good fit for you.  Or maybe they were crappy.  Just remember that even though you’re technically the customer, your relationship with your gym is still a two-way street.  The gym will not do the work for you; rather, you need to find a place that’s most conducive to you getting your work done.

No place will be perfect.  The music may bug you, and the color scheme in the locker room may be questionable, and there may be too many spandex-clad hotties, soccer moms, meatheads, scary people who look like they exercise for a living, et cetera.  Decide what is a deal-breaker for you, and then think, “is that really a deal-breaker, or am I just scared?”

More to follow on contracts, getting started, and staying with it.  Today is Square One, friends – take that first step, willya?

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