Shopping for the right gym is kind of like shopping for the perfect pair of jeans. Depending on how well it fits, it will influence whether you use it all the time, or once in a blue moon.That’s why if you’re thinking about buying a gym membership, especially if it is your first time, there are actually quite a few factors that you should keep in mind while shopping around.
Here is my complete guide to picking the right gym for you, complete with insider tricks to buying a membership from a former gym employee.
Selecting the Right Gym for You:
What are your needs?
Before you start shopping for a gym, you should take some time to consider your personal fitness needs and preferences. For instance, is your goal to lose weight or build muscle? Do you prefer to stick with one routine, or switch activities all the time? Are you looking for guided instruction and support, or are you the lone-ranger type? Remember that picking the right gym can potentially make a huge difference in your life & health for years to come.
A Few Types of Gyms to Consider:
- Standard commercial gyms: If you don’t have specific fitness needs & preferences, or do not know of your preferences yet, then a standard commercial gym will have the most options for you. These gyms often have all the basic equipment, personal training, fitness classes, sports courts, a swimming pool, and other amenities. Popular options are Golds Gym, 24 Hour Fitness, and LA Fitness.
- Activity-specific gyms: This would be a good choice for people who know exactly what they want to do, and want to excel at it. A studio with professional, highly experienced instructors will keep you accountable and constantly challenged. Possible sport-specific facilities include spinning, yoga, boxing, Barre, martial arts, Zumba, rock climbing, Pilates, and more.
- Group fitness gyms: These are gyms that primarily or exclusively offer group fitness classes. They provide instruction, support, and structure, however requires you to dedicate a routine part of your schedule – you can’t just show up and work out on your own.
- Functional fitness gyms: “Functional fitness” has become the latest fitness craze, and gyms featuring more open space, and functional-fitness specific equipment, are cropping up all over the country.
- Family-Friendly: If you have kids, or are looking for a facility the whole family can stay active at, some gyms are more family friendly than others. Some gyms outright ban children under a certain age, some gyms offer daycare services for while you work out (for an additional fee), while other facilities such as the YMCA encourage all ages to attend.
- Female-only facilities: There are options for women who feel uncomfortable in mixed-gender gyms, or prefer female only facilities for religious reasons. The YWCA, Curves, and other independently owned female-only facilities offer options to women.
Make the most of each gym “shopping trip”:
- Time of day: Visit the gym around the time you think you will usually work out. This will help you gauge how crowded the facility usually is at that time or day.
- Pre-register for a guest pass: Many facilities offer guest pass options you can register for online. If you know you’re going to want to try before you buy, register for a guest pass before your visit.
- Bring your workout clothes with you: Even if the gym doesn’t have guest passes online, bring your workout clothes with you. Some gyms encourage you to try out their equipment while you tour the facility, and most have no problem if you ask to workout after your tour (but might make you sign a release form).
- Time for buying: The 15th and 30th of the month are “closeout” periods (this applies to most businesses) and some establishments offer special, temporarily low pricing options on these days & weekends.
Other gym stuff people don’t usually think about:
- Facility policies and norms: Depending on your personal preferences, you might love or hate some gym policies. Some gyms have time limits on their cardio machines. Some gyms have dress codes that you might dislike. Planet Fitness recently gained a lot of attention for implementing their “lunk alarm”, meant to discourage loud, grunting weightlifters from being so… loud and grunty. Some people love this, because grunting weightlifters can be intimidating, but some people hate this, because it’s impossible to lift heavy without grunting.
- Avoid being hounded by sales people: Ask the front desk folks if the membership sales employees work on commission or not. If they are commission-based employees, leave a fake phone number.
- Cancellation & freeze policies: Make sure before you buy a membership that you fully understand the cancellation policies to avoid any unpleasant surprises. If you’re a frequent traveler, then ask about “freezing” policies, which allow you to temporarily halt membership fees if you know you are not going to be using the facility for an extended period of time.
- Guest policies: Do you know if you’re going to want to bring friends to work out regularly? Ask in advance about their guest policies, because there may be some discounted options available upon signup.
- Friends & adding on to a friend plan: Do you have a friend or family member who currently belongs to the gym? Many gyms have add-on options that allow you to bypass their “initiation fees” or give you a discounted rate.
Happy gym shopping!