Joining a Gym? How to Choose the Right One for You

joining a gymI have a confession to make that might surprise a few of you: I moved almost a year and a half ago and I still haven’t joined a gym.

Don’t get me wrong — I’ve still been seriously getting my sweat on. Aside from running and biking and all the cool stuff I do on my own at home, I’ve checked out plenty of boutique, fitness class-based gyms. I’ve even purchased packages at several of them.

Even with classes bought in bulk, though, they end up running $10 to $20 per class, and that really adds up. So, I get a little stingy with how often I’ll go. Like, if I hit my strength class at Def Fit this week, I’m probably not also going to hit the mat at Soul Yoga Sanctuary and get down and dirty at Fly Dance Fitness, too.

And that sucks, because I hate turning down an invite or missing an opportunity for a fun workout. But I’ve gotta budget for other things, like races and, you know, food.

I’ve spent a little time researching some of the more all-purpose gyms in the area, and I realized that what I’ve learned about what to look for might be really helpful to other people shopping for a new gym to join. Here’s what I looked for along with the questions I asked myself.

Hours

I was really surprised by some of the hours some major gyms offered. If you like to work out either very early or quite late — or you’re a big weekend warrior — make sure the gym you’re looking into is open at those times. I didn’t think 5 a.m. was an unreasonable time to expect a facility to be open. I was mistaken.

Classes

Are you interested in taking their classes? If not, you can skip this section (and you can probably save some money by going to a more bare-bones facility that doesn’t offer much for group ex). But, if you’d like to take advantage of any group exercises, here’s what to look for:

  • Do they offer the kinds of classes you’re interested in? If you’re big on strength-training classes but the class descriptions mostly look like varieties of Zumba, you might want to keep looking.
  • What’s the schedule for the classes you’d like to take? (I looked at one gym that had some seriously cool classes on the list, but some of those classes were only offered once a week at an inconvenient time, which wouldn’t do me any good at all.)
  • Are all the classes you’re into included in the standard membership fee? Sometimes, classes that require special equipment (like indoor cycling or Pilates on a reformer) cost extra, or the gym might limit the number of classes you can attend each month.

Facilities

Think about what’s important to you, then visit the gym to see if they match up. To some, having the newest equipment and an updated, stylish lobby with a juice bar helps motivate them to get to the gym in the first place. Others are happy as long as there are enough treadmills to accommodate the people trying to get on them. If there are specific pieces of equipment you know you want to use, make sure they have them! And, for many of us, proximity and ease of access is a huge factor. Nothing like driving 30 minutes to do a 45-minute workout before driving half an hour home, right?

And it’s also worth asking about assistance on the floor. Some gyms have employees and trainers out and about at all times, available to answer questions or take you through specific machines — my old gym offered this at no charge. If you’re newer to working out or just know you need a push, that’s a really helpful bonus and worth some extra moolah.

There’s no wrong answer here when it comes to what the facilities need to be like — whatever is going to make you want to go is what the gym you choose should offer!

Extras

Are there other things you’d really like access to? A lap pool and group cycling room are worth a lot to me — partly because those are things I love to do, but also because I’m likely to spend money going elsewhere for them if they aren’t at my regular gym. If you love playing team sports, seeking out a gym with open gym times or leagues might be a smart idea. Hot and cold therapy pools, saunas, steam rooms, massage therapists available — you’ll generally pay more for those kinds of extras, but it could be well worthwhile if you’re into it.

Price

A monthly fee is not necessarily just a monthly fee, I learned pretty quickly. Here are a few things to look for, as well as questions to ask the gym (and yourself).

  • What’s the monthly fee? If it’s a base price with other options, which option best fits your needs?
  • Is there a new member fee?
  • Is there an annual fee?
  • Is there a family price? If you and your partner or kids are all joining, you can save big.
  • Are there taxes or any other added fees to be aware of?
  • Is personal or small group training available? If so, for how much is it?
  • What happens if you cancel?
  • Are you able to freeze the account if you’re unable to come in for a month or more? 
  • Does the gym offer any discounts? (There might be discounts associated with time of year, or, in the case of one here, if you either knew someone who was a member or signed up with a friend, you could get a significant buddy discount. They could also offer discounts if you work at a business they partner with — it’s always worth asking!)
  • Does the gym offer everything you want? Be honest with yourself here. Even if your new gym has a Spin room, does that mean you’re really not going to go to the super fun new indoor cycling class you’ve been attending with your friends? It’s okay if it doesn’t, but if you’re going to keep attending the one-off classes in addition to paying for your new membership, that might mean it makes sense to join a no-frills gym for your basic equipment needs so you can save some money for classes.

Have you joined a new gym recently? If so, what were the biggest factors in your decision? —Kristen

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