Fitness Friday – Choosing The Right Gym

It’s October. The leaves are changing. You’ve started wearing gloves on your runs and bike rides. Unless you live in Arizona, then you may just need an air-conditioned break.

Regardless of why or when, choosing the right gym for you is serious business! Pricey payments aside, the gym you choose has a direct affect on your fitness success. Choose the wrong one and you’ll never go.

Seeing as I spend ALL day in a gym, (work in one, exercise in one, eat in one, and sometimes even nap in one) I wanted to offer my readers things to look for when picking a gym that’s juuuuust right ;)


1. Location.


Clearly, you want a gym close to where you either live or work. Think about when you are most likely to work out. Are you committed to going before or after work every day? Are you more likely to go when you’ve got downtime on the weekends? What is the surrounding area like? Can you run or bike there? Having the option to do part of your cardio component outside is a luxury you don’t know you’re missing until you have it.

Additionally, what kind of businesses are in the area? I went to a gym once that was in a grocery store and made running errands a cinch. I also went to a gym that was next door to a place that served the best pizza in town :\


2. Change rooms


Being comfortable enough to shower at your gym is a huge convenience. Especially when you’re dropping in between priorities. Besides being clean, are there soaps and shampoos in the showers? Extra things like lotion or hair product? Are there enough lockers? It can be pretty darn frustrating when there isn’t. Also, it’s worth taking note of how many people in the change room are comfortable enough to parade around in their birthday suits. Seriously! In my experience, women don’t feel the need to hide behind curtains in gyms with a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere.


3. Weight area.


The weight room should have at least two of all the essentials: flat benches, incline benches, bench press racks, squat racks, dumbbells, barbells, and cable machines. These are such commonly used pieces of equipment that it can quickly grow frustrating when you always have to wait for the only incline bench in the whole place. I also tend to judge a gym by how many fun toys they have kicking around – swiss balls, bosu balls, jump ropes, balance plates, kettlebells, etc.

Keep in mind, strength training equipment doesn’t have to be brand spanking new to be effective. But everything should operate smoothly. No squeaky cable machines!


4. Cardio machines.


While I may be lenient about the condition of the strength training equipment, the newest cardio machines make a world of difference. Newer treadmills are more sturdy and quiet. Newer elliptical are better designed to move with your body. When you’re on a piece of cardio equipment for 40 minutes straight, you want it to be the least painful possible.

Some people may have differing opinions on this, but I’m a strong supporter of no sign-ups or time limits on cardio machines. Especially if you’re looking to play around on a bunch or hop on for quick sprints during a routine. Plus, having to change treadmills 20 minutes into a long-run because of a time limit is a pain in the butt.


5. Entertainment.


Tying in with the cardio discussion, there should be lots of big TVs visible from at least the cardio area. Many gyms now have earphone plug-ins to listen to the TVs. If they don’t, make sure they at least put on the closed captioning, otherwise it’s really boring (trust me). Even better is if the cardio machines have individualized screens on each piece! Also note the music that’s playing in the gym. My current gym plays good music most of the time which is a really nice bonus. My old one played nothing but Beyonce.


6. Space.


A gym doesn’t necessarily have to be 2-3 levels to qualify as “spacious.” I’m talking about blank floor space. An area where, if you wanted to, you could jump rope, swing around kettlebells, jump over benches, etc. Even more important is a big matted area for stretching. Or at least an area that you can bring a mat to. This is probably the most overlooked design component of most gyms.


7. Sanitary.


Look for sanitizing spray bottles and hand sanitizer. There should be one only a few steps away no matter where you are in the gym. The hippie in me gets irritated by gyms that provide paper towel instead of cloth towel for wiping off equipment.


8. Parking.


Parking should be free! If it isn’t, the gym should validate it for you. Also, make sure there is ample parking. It is SO frustrating when you finally drag your butt to the gym, only to find there’s no place to park!


9. Fitness classes.


First, there should be fitness classes you would actually go to. Second, they should be at times you can attend. Third, they should mostly be included in your membership (sometimes things like bootcamps aren’t). Fourth, the instructors should be good! Make sure to take a good look at the fitness schedule and ask to try out at least one class first. Even if you don’t picture yourself going to them, it’s really nice to have the option when you find yourself suddenly lacking motivation.


10. Hours.

If you plan on working out before your 8am job, and the gym only opens at 7am, that could be a problem. Also, be sure to check out the weekend hours. A lot of gyms close around 5-6pm on weekends, which may not be conducive to sleeping in and getting a late brunch ;)


 11. Lighting


Try to find a gym that is bright and open with natural light pouring in. Avoid gyms that are dark and windowless. The sunlight really will have an effect on your mood, energy and stamina during your workout! Danky basement gyms are just depressing.


12. Staff.


Obviously, you want them to be welcoming and friendly! Be wary of anyone who seems too pushy right off the bat. At some gyms, they are constantly trying to sell you something, be it training sessions or an upgraded package. Watch how the staff interacts with other clients and with each other. Do they know everyone’s name? Can they recognize people on the floor? Gyms are a business, but you shouldn’t feel like you’re in one when you’re there.


Question of the Day: Chime in! What are things you look for in a gym? Anything that turns you off a gym?

Posted on October 8, 2010, in Fitness Friday and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. For me a pool is a great addition because it is my go to workout if I’m injured. I also agree with the hours bit. I hate the hours at the two gyms in town but they are the only options. I miss being able to go at midnight if I wanted.

  2. Music playing really turns me off. My gym plays music and it is okay most times, but one staff person plays heavy metal. I have to ask him to turn it off because I can’t tune it out with my own head phones.

  3. Music is important. My last gym played booty dancing rap so loudly I couldn’t hear my headphones! So many things listed here were wrong with that gym!!!

    I’d say your list is really comprehensive and I agree with all of it!

  4. This is a great list! The only thing I’d add is to go to a gym at different times of the day to see how crowded it is. At my gym, there is no way I’d ever go from 4-7, there are just TOO many people there!

  5. You missed the NUMBER ONE THING for me: CHILDCARE!!!!!!!!!!!

    If the gym is lovely, amazing, etc etc but they 1. offer NO childcare which is VERY common…I cant join
    2. they offer childcare but the hours of said childcare are so limiting, i.e. 9-11am or 4-6pm, that I cant effectively workout there

    Trust me, the buck stops here, so to speak, with childcare. If no one can watch the child, you cant work out and all the other things are just fluff. When I was your age this was NOT on my radar screen at all but ask any mother, that’s the #1 thing…or else nothing else matters.

    But my god, LOVE your list! You nailed it!!!

  6. I mainly look at the location (I don’t have time to drive more than 10 mins each way), quality child care (duh for me), a weight area with a variety of equipment and large enough to not get too crowded, and fitness classes like spin and kickboxing.

  7. There is one thing that turns me off and thats if the gym is filled with meat head men luckily the gym I’m working in is unbelievably friendly and so not like that thank god! x x

  8. Kind of interesting this post came up on the same night I was researching gyms in my area to replace my (free) at-work gym once I start working at home (kind of pointless to work at home…only to drive the 30 min back to the office for the gym!).

    I’m not gonna lie, the pickings are slim in my town, and I may just save the $$ (you didn’t mention price and buck up enough willpower to stay active at home! I know you didn’t put it on your list but the price is a big thing to consider for me!

    • I didn’t mention price for a reason ;) I don’t put a price tag on exercise. I’ve belonged to cheap gyms I hated and never went to and expensive gyms I LOVED and took full advantage of. Even though the first option was cheaper, it was a waste of money.

  9. Great list, Susan!
    I love #7,8 and 12! Cleanliness, friendliness and PARKING.
    After that, me and most of my friends consider price and childcare.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  10. Great list – especially for a newbie!

    I go to the nicest gym in my city – but considering the other two are terrible, that’s not saying much.

    For the most part it’s function enough but there are some things that are severely lacking:

    1) No windows – frankly staring at a wall on a cardio machine isn’t fun. Plus it would just be nice to be able to see the outdoors. I love doing runs on a treadmill while being able to see people outside. It lets me pretend it’s an outdoor run! lol

    2) No open space – there are decent machines but they’re really crammed in there. If you want to swing a kettlebell around or do walking lunges, good luck!

    3) Class schedule – I tend to have really busy Mon-Thur in court but Fri-Sun are a breeze. That’s when I would love to take classes. But I can’t. There aren’t any. And even the ones that exist during the week are usually during working hours or at 4:30. It’s probably great if you have a flexible schedule but not so for me.

    But still, I’m grateful to have a gym here at all. It can feel like a much needed getaway! :)

  11. christina guthrie

    I think this is a very important topic. And you did a great job of listing the things we all should want/have in our gym. But my most bestest favorite gym was one that did not have a good space ( a YMCA that closed to build a new one). What it did have was a wonderful group of people that inspired me to work out regularly. It is the most important thing.

  12. I’ve recently joined my first gym, and I have to say that I love it. It’s spacious, has great equipment, a wonderful view, clean locker room, and really nice staff. I just wish that the time for students ( students pay a lower price, which is great for me :D ) weren’t so stupid, but I can manage :)

  13. I was looking for gym this spring but they were all so expensive that I after trying out all of the appealing ones I decided not to buy a membership. Sadly it’s a trend here that you have to commit for a year and it’s not something I can do. But I’ve grown to love working out at home :)

  14. Wow, this is such a great guide! I wish I wasn’t in a 3 year contract with my gym. I loved the old location but after getting married and moving, the new location sucks :(

  15. Great post!! Good info. I hate how non-sanitary my gym is. I spray and wipe down all the machines before I use them. Yuck.

  1. Pingback: My Favourite Fitness Posts | The Great Balancing Act

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