Finding a Gym That Fits You

It’s March, a perfect time for re-tuning our 2014 personal wellness plan. Hopefully we’ve done a better job of sticking to a modified diet following holiday excesses, and recognize signs of personal dietary weakness as the cold winter days continue. But as the days get longer, and the promise of milder weather hangs in the air, continuing our commitment to physical fitness and exercise at a gym, fitness center, in our homes or even at our workplaces should be an important part of our wellness plan.

If you don’t already belong to a gym or fitness center, don’t despair – they can be intimidating and expensive, working out isn’t fun for everyone, and finding time to get there is seemingly impossible with our busy schedules and obligations. Oftentimes, it’s simply a matter of feeling like we don’t “fit” properly in a gym that is a barrier to working out. Gyms and fitness centers vary significantly when it comes to demographics such as age, goals, cost, and style. Finding the right match for your needs is a critical component if you’re going to make the leap to — or sustain — regular workouts.

Here are some tips to help you find the right workout facility to match your needs and interests, and to keep you coming back week after week.

Know your personal goals and comfort issues.  Decide what you want from exercise, and what type of exercise you want to do. Do you love to swim, prefer yoga or dance, enjoy lifting weights, running on a treadmill or cycling?  Do you want to improve cardiovascular endurance, build strength, enhance flexibility — or just make it through a workout without getting bored? If variety is your thing, you need a gym with plenty of machines and lots of classes. If you just need to get in and out and sweat for 40 minutes, then paying for access to classes is a waste of money. Consider studios instead of gyms, the size of the facility, the crowd you’re working out with, and if there are personal trainers or coaches available to you if you’re interested.

Convenience is critical. Most people fail to stick with workout regimens because the facility they choose isn’t convenient to where they live or work – or only suits one of those criteria, making it tougher to get there on weekdays or weekends. Decide when you want to work out, as well – before or after work, during lunch, at nights and on weekends, for example – and make sure the center’s hours fit your schedule. Also, if you want classes, find out when the ones you want are offered. If you want to swim or play tennis, find out when the open times are and be sure they fit your schedule.

It’s okay to find a staff and workout crowd you like.  For workouts to become a regular and welcomed part of your life, it’s good if you like the people sweating around you, and the trainers and staff you deal with each visit. It’s a good idea to talk to other members about the quality of the club you’re thinking of joining, and to find out what they like about it.

It’s also okay to ask about staff credentials, certification and experience – it’s important to have qualified staff to answer questions and to guide us on proper machine alignment and techniques, or to demonstrate proper form in a class.  If you decide to hire a trainer, look for these things: a bachelor’s degree in exercise science or a related health-science discipline, experience, and, minimally, a certification from an internationally recognized organization like the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, or the American Council on Exercise.

And don’t feel funny about liking or not liking the “culture” of your workout facility. If you’re not comfortable with the people around you, the music, the size of the crowd and availability of machines when you want them, shop around for a culture that is more comfortable. Always “try before you buy” – most facilities will give you a free guess pass for a visit or a week if you ask. You don’t need extra reasons to not work out!

Cleanliness and maintenance count. When touring local facilities, take a look at the equipment. Don’t just find out if they have elliptical machines; find out how many they have, how busy the machines seem to be, and how often they’re serviced.

You don’t have to be a germaphobe to want clean workout equipment. Does it appear clean? Are there sprays or wipes that you can see throughout the gym for cleaning the equipment? How many pieces of equipment are “out of order?” Of course, make sure and check the locker rooms and showers. If they’re dirty, need maintenance or don’t appear to be well tended, go somewhere else.

Are you looking for full-service or simple workouts?  In addition to access to machines and free weights, most memberships at full-service clubs include group fitness classes, lockers and showers, towels and — depending on the size of the club — racquetball and tennis courts, and a pool. There could also be services you pay extra for, like personal training, massage, a restaurant, and child care facilities. If the club you choose offers many of these options, expect to pay more than you would to join a small fitness center with a few treadmills and free weights.

How much should you have to pay for fitness? Working out at a formal facility often is not cheap. Sticker prices can range anywhere from $10 a month for a recreation center to $150 a month or more for a posh, upper-crust club. Whether you join a studio or a full-service gym with day care, showers and a pool, you’ll be incurring a new expense. Cost is usually tied to what the gym has to offer. Don’t pay for the newest, nicest health club if you’re never going to need the showers, the lockers, child care, or the pool. If all you want is to run on a treadmill, there may be a less expensive option in your area. Instead of $150 a month, you might pay $20 a month or less.

If a spouse and children are in the picture, ask about family memberships, and before you sign a contract or agreement, read the fine print; understand their payment policies and membership cancellation fees. Also, see if there is a “reciprocity agreement” that allows you to use other clubs when you’re traveling for business or on vacation.

Whatever you do, think about how you can free up the required time for regular workouts, book it on your calendar, find a friend to join you, and set reasonable personal goals. Working out is healthy and can be a lot of fun if you do it properly and find a facility that fits you just right!

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!