How to pick the right gym for you (a beginners guide)

When I started joining, and then not going to gyms I thought that every gym was kinda the same.  But over the years I found that there was subtle differences about each gym.

This blog is for those who have never joined a gym, or who may have joined a few but with no joy.

Typically, I find a gym is not a very supportive place.  You will get various supportive people, but overall the entity of the gym is not going to nurture you or make you feel comfortable.  I discovered this in one gym about 10 years ago when I fell off the treadmill.  It didn't hurt, but was embarrassing as you can imagine.  Now, every time I went into that gym one particular trainer would always approach me to hassle me about it.  Was he trying to be funny?  Perhaps he had no social skills?  Who knows, but needless to say I quit that gym a few weeks later.  And this was the same gym that neglected to tell me not to do a workout before my fitness test.

A few years later I found myself at another gym.  In the middle of the kickfit class I stopped to catch my breath, only to be pounced on by the instructor to keep going.  Yeah, ok then - I will keep going and pass out, and you better make sure your super aerobics instructor lightening reflexes catch me before my head hits the ground.  And this gym would give me stupid exercise programs which had no relevance and ended up increasing the back pain I was trying to relieve.  So, goodbye to that gym also.

A gym is a place to exercise.  Just like a restaurant is a place to eat and a library is a place to get books.  The gymin general and general gym services are not there to give you the right nutrition advice for you, the right exercises for your posture or pain or to make you feel comfortable when you walk through those doors for your first independent workout.  It is a place to go and exercise ok, that's all.

Once we accept all of that, then we can start thinking about what gym is best for you or whether you need a different way to achieve your goals.

Work out what you need or you could end up paying for a 3 year membership that you'll never use.  So, let's go through some common needs:

Weight loss:
This involves daily movement and a probable improvement of your diet.  Do not feel you must join a gym to lose weight, as daily movement and dietary changes can be done without a gym.  If are looking for a gym for this reason, then look for a gym who runs a reputable weight loss program (which includes nutrition) and sign up for this with your gym membership.  This is a fairly costly option, and you may be better off looking for an independent person to help you with the principles of weight loss.  This person should know about exercise AND nutrition.

Bodybuilding competition:
Yes.  You will need to join a gym.  To hypertrophy muscles you need to continuously stimulate them using different lifting strategies, and this typically involves heavy weights for all body parts.  You may also want a variety of cardio equipment as cutting for competition may involve quite a few hours of cardio a week.  Depending on your level of experience you may need to hire a Personal Trainer, so it would be best to join a gym where there is a PT with knowledge and experience in bodybuilding and has some client results to prove they know what they're doing without breaking you.

Improve strength for sports:
When you are looking at sports specific strength it's a good idea to hire a trainer who can assess your sport and everything about it's key movement patterns.  Your trainer may or may not recommend a gym at all, after all what's the point in joining a gym to do weighted lunges for squash, when really all you need is strength AND power in doing fast transition bodyweight knee over toe lunges.  (Psst, I just gave you a hint as to what level of knowledge your sports trainer needs to have)

Improve general cardiovascular fitness:
This can be done outdoors.  Anything that increases the output from the heart and lungs will increase your fitness.  Some people like the idea of joining aerobics classes available at gyms.  Keep in mind that there are things like aerobic style boxing classes and zumba that aren't held at gyms which will also increase fitness.

These are just a couple of examples.  But the main things that people look at when deciding on a gym are:

  • Opening and closing hours (for example, shift workers may like the idea of a 24 hour gym better)
  • Facilities (some gyms have women only areas which can help make us feel more comfortable)
  • Quality & range of equipment
  • Parking facilities
  • Childcare facilities
  • Price and terms of contract.
  • Other services available (physio, massage, sauna, pool, beauty etc)
  • Changing room facilities, clean tidy and comfortable.
  • Group fitness classes available
  • The people!  Do the trainers and other members fit your view of what you want in a gym?  Pick the cheapest trainer at your peril.
  • Provisions of your membership - Do you get a program?  Will this program actually help you?  Do you have to pay extra for specific help?
  • Am I more likely to exercise if I'm at a gym or if I'm at home?
  • Location

I don't have a thing against gyms at all, they do what they are supposed to do, which is to provide a place for us to train.  I've been a member of Les Mills now for about 10 years.  In 2003 my criteria for joining a gym was: Can I transfer my membership to another city when I move and does it have a womens' gym?  3 years ago my criteria were opening hours, equipment, knowledgeble trainers in what I need, location and parking facilities.  These days my requirements are simply for my gym to have a large variety of equipment, because I get really bored easily.

Good luck with your decision!