I’ve been working out for a long time now, and over the years my gym preferences have evolved and changed. I started with aerobics classes in church basements where we brought our own steps and weights, and moved to full gyms with cardio equipment, classes, and weight rooms.
The first time I ventured into the weight training area at the gym I felt like I was going into the boy’s locker room. Everyone seemed to know what they were doing, and all of the machines and heavy weights seemed so intimidating! However, through trial (many) errors, and some very helpful gym goers I learned how to use the equipment and make the most of my memberships.
It took some time for me to find the right fit (at one time I actually belonged to four different gyms), but if you look beyond the basics most gyms provide their own unique take on your workout.
But before we talk about specific types of gyms, here are a few factors you should consider before joining ANY gym.
- Location and Hours- Ideally you should join a gym near your home or work. If it’s too far away you probably won’t go. Make sure that the gym will be open at the times you’d be most likely to work out.
- Cleanliness- Gyms are a breeding ground for germs so look for clean benches, clean handles on cardio equipment, and wipes or spray bottles on the gym floor. And pay close attention to the condition of the locker room, bathrooms, and showers.
- Equipment- Make sure that the gym has a number of different types of cardio and weight training equipment. Check to see that the equipment is in good condition and that some of it is new.
- Atmosphere- Do you think the staff seems friendly? Do you see people like you in the gym? Is it too crowded? Too empty?
- Classes and Services- Do they offer a variety of class types and times? Do they have services you would use like child care, nutrition, spa services, etc.?
If you absolutely cannot bear the thought of working out in front of other people, but you need assistance in getting started or getting back on track, a smaller, one-on-one personal training facility might work best for you. Many offer personal training packages, and allow you to come in to use the machines on your off days as well. Some of these smaller facilities also offer specialty programs such as outdoor boot camps that meet in local parks, or specialized packages for brides, new moms, and age specific groups. (Google”personal training studio” with the name of your city or look in the Yellow Pages. You can also email me for recommendations locally).
Next, there are chains like Club Fitness, Bally Total Fitness, Gold’s Gym, and 24 Hour Fitness. Although costs vary from state to state, club to club, and even member to member, chain gyms are usually fairly affordable and offer a variety of services for their members. Bally’s and Gold’s have tried to grab markets beyond the traditional weightlifter by adding classes and partnering with groups like AARP and other organizations to offer “reduced” prices. Unfortunately, unless you pay for expensive personal training session, you’re often left on your own to figure out the equipment. 24 Hour Fitness has a variety of machines, and they partnes with companies like Everlast, Nike and even “The Biggest Loser” TV series to offer specialty workout classes. To find out more about each individual chain, take a look on their web sites, or they will usually let you download a free 1 day or 1 week pass to try the club out.
Then, there are the club-like facilities that offer more lifestyle and luxury with your membership while still keeping a strong focus on your workout. All over the country, YMCAs, JCCs, and even local community centers have worked to refurbish, rebuild and expand their fitness facilities to compete with the high end clubs like Lifetime Fitness, Wellbridge, and others in that category. Most have programs for all ages and offer additional classes to accommodate different levels of fitness. Membership fees vary, but often include swimming pool memberships and access to intramural sports for all ages.
Right now, I belong to two facilities; the JCC, and my personal favorite club, Lifetime Fitness. After years of trying different clubs and complaining about broken machines, dirty locker rooms, overcrowded classes, and lack of equipment I’ve finally found the perfect mix for me. Along with the variety of classes and personal training, what I like about them is that these facilities have well appointed locker rooms and spacious, well-equipped workout floors. There are plenty of programs like Team Fitness and Team Weight Loss at Lifetime Fitness that give you the advantage of a personal trainer with a 12 program in a group setting. For members working out on their own, there’s usually no wait for any of the cardio machines and the variety of weight machines, free weights, and functional training pieces help make your workout more diverse. With indoor and outdoor swimming pools, spas and salons, restaurant and full service child care, you could spend your entire day there.
Of course, you have to weigh the pros and cons of price versus amenities and decide what you really will use in a club. But my biggest tip is to be sure to try the club for a day or more before signing up, and then be sure to go online to find out about membership specials or package deals that might be available to you.