What should you look for in a gym?
During a recent session at my local Fitness First, I got thinking about this question and what I look for in a gym. I’ve been using them for 15+ years now and over that time I’ve come to expect a few things and I’ve come to want a few more. So here are my questions to ask yourself when choosing a gym:
How much does it cost?
It seems harsh to bring things down to cost quite so quickly, but the fact is it’s often a determining factor. It’s often less about the specific number too, but about the value we perceive. So what do you get for your money? And how much of that do you really need? Nice showers and a towel service are all very well, but only really if you actually use them! Some people (including me if I’m being honest) tend to prefer the cheap and cheerful style gyms.
Where is it?
Location, location, location. The idea of driving to a gym has always seemed very odd to me, but for some it is unavoidable. In my view, your gym should be a nice warm-up jog or ride away and makes for a bit of extra work to get home too. I also tend to prefer gyms near my home too, as I can train on weekends, but most chains now allow you to train at multiple locations these days too. Ultimately, it should fit into your routine as that’s how you keep it part of your routine too!
Do they have enough of your equipment?
It’s all very well having the latest machines and shiny new gear, but does the gym have the equipment you want or need? From my own experience playing American football all I increasingly avoided the machines and opted instead for free weights and various forms of squat/lunge. This meant that the addition of a squat bar at my gym was a very happy day for me! So don’t be dazzled by the flashing lights, think about your training needs and make sure the gym has them (and preferably aren’t catching dust in a corner too).
Does it have enough space? Is it the right kind of space?
Nobody likes the feeling of training on top of each other and the amount of space in urban gyms in particular can be a real issue. All gyms look relatively spacious in the brochure because they’re normally empty, but what does it actually look like at just half capacity? That’s when you’ll know if there’s enough space. It’s also important to note if it’s the right kind of space (as with the earlier equipment point). If all you want to do is ride an exercise machine for 45 minutes and there’s only one or if all you want to do is squat and there’s only one barbell and no real space to use it…it’s probably not the gym for you.
When is it open?
Similar to location, it’s worth knowing how early and late the gym is open. Not just to make sure it fits within your routine for training, but also to see if it could accommodate the odd ‘weird’ day when you go at a different time. For example, I would often arrive at one gym at the same time as the owner to open up and he’d do the hoovering while I did my warm-up. It works for me to train before work most days, but it was handy to have the option to drop in after work too – which that gym in particular had as it was open until about 8.
Who is normally in the gym? What’s the atmosphere like?
See if you can have a couple of tester sessions, rather than just the one, to see how busy it gets and what the general vibe of the gym is like. I’d also recommend doing these at the time you plan to actually train there. If you’re anything like me, you’ll soon have nicknames in your head for some of the regular characters you see around the gym.
How are the changing facilities?
Obviously, this depends on how and if you’re going to use them, but put simply are they clean and do they work? The full range of facilities are out there, but if all you need is a locker then who cares if the showers are amazing. And if you’re going to be getting ready for work there then it’s probably important you have a nicer space to do that in. There’s not really a simple answer here, but as with earlier points it comes down to you and your preference.
Can I train outside?
This might be just me, but I love training outdoors. Not just running or aerobics, but actually doing my lifting or strength work out there too. Fresh air is a fantastic motivator for me, so the ability to go out on a nice (or even average) day and do my workout was wonderful. This might not be the same for everyone, but it’s worth considering if you prefer the wonderful outdoors!
In sum, I’m afraid there’s not a simple answer to question of which gym to select, but I hope these questions offer some idea as to the questions to ask yourself. I found that a (frankly) cheap and cheerful gym, really near my house, with people that turned up to train (but generally with a smile on their face) and run by a guy that was always happy to offer a little advice. That meant I was a regular there for years until I switched my focus to my road bike.
The key in finding a gym, to me, is knowing what you want to get out of it and where you’re willing to compromise. Hopefully these questions offer an outline to help you figure those out and how to find the best gym for you.