So you have decided to invest in your future and start to work out, good for you! You won’t regret it. Improving your fitness means that you are going to be improving your health, and that always means that in the weeks, months and years that follow, you will live with at least a little bit more ease.
And like many people you have decided to avoid the upfront cost of buying all the needed gear to create a home gym and instead join a local gym. Okay, that is probably a good idea, particularly if you have never been a fitness enthusiast before. Improving ones health is not for everyone so unless you commitment devices are an effective way for you to stay on track, buying a bunch of equipment isn’t the best idea because it is expensive, it takes up room, and in the event you choose that fitness isn’t for you, its continued presence in your home serves as a kind of impulsiveness hangover.
Join a gym for a year and be curious about what the membership reveals about your commitment to physical self improvement. Review this decision at the end of the first month, the first quarter, nine months in and midway through the tenth month. If you like it, renew or invest in a home gym, and if you don’t, make sure to cancel your membership so it expires at the end of the year and you don’t end-up paying for time you don’t want or use.
Gyms are like restaurants or candy stores – not all are created equal. And if you have specific needs, you might have to send some time looking at different ones to make sure the fit is right. If you don’t know what you are looking for, and this is probably the case for anyone who is just beginning their journey into the realm of deliberate fitness, how do you go about finding the right gym for you or at least right enough to allow you to get started and objectively make the decision if its a trip worth taking?
There is one major consideration and a few other things to look for that will help you make as good a decision as is possible about something you know practically nothing about.
Will you go there three to five times a week, every week for the next twelve months? If the answer is no, don’t join. Look somewhere else and if the answer is always “no”, save your money or spend it on something else. Of all the considerations, this is really the only one that matters because improving fitness takes consistent effort over time. While one workout will help, the true benefit is cumulative. It will take about six months training three to four workouts per week to get to a decent level fitness. This is between 78 and 104 visits to the gym over that twenty-six week period.
Keep this thought in mind when you are visiting the potential gyms. You will be coming to this place between twelve and sixteen times a month and if you do not see that as a possibility, don’t sign-up. This is actually more important than what you will be doing at the gym because a safely done low quality workout done consistently is more effective than the highest quality workout done infrequently.
This is the major consideration and the only show stopper. You don’t have to like it, although it is better if you do, you just have to do it 78 to 104 times in the next six months. If you are confident that you will and are willing to make that commitment take a look through the tips below on things to look for during your initial gym visits to get an idea of what you will be signing-up for.
When to shop: Make it as close to real life as possible. If you plan on working out right after work, make the visits right after work and drive from work. If you plan on going first thing in the morning, wake-up one day and make a dry run. Road and gym traffic have a pattern that is very stable. It isn’t enough to imagine that it will be rush hour and things will be busy because when we have “go fever” our optimism will colour our imagination in a way that will make us over confident that we won’t be annoyed. When we make the drive under real life conditions we are having an experience that is very close to what we’ll need to do over and over again. If it sucks before we sign-up, what reason do we have to believe that it will stop sucking once we pay?
Time of day plays the biggest role in determining the type of people who go to the gym. There are five distinct types of gym trainees and you will undoubtedly start to become one of them as you spend more and more time training when they train. They are early morning, off-hour, after work, late evening lifters, and the generalists. As rules of thumb, anyone who is willing to get out of bed to go to the gym will likely be highly driven and have less time to waste on things they deem as unimportant. The after work people will have a similar desire to waste as little time as possible. The late evening lifters tend to have a very focused lifting intensity but a more laid back approach to their between sets time. Off-hour people have selected these times because they work for them in terms of traffic flow and life management. The generalists workout whenever they can or feel like it. If you don’t like the mood, tone or energy when you visit, it isn’t going to change. But if you decide to train at that time, you probably will.
Once you get there: what does the parking lot look like? Are there lights, are they on when they shouldn’t be or off when they should be on? Are there garbage cans and are they overflowing or is there garbage all over the place? Is there sufficient parking? Are the specialty parking spots close to the entrance? Is there an employee of the month parking spot? If there is cleared snow, how has it been left? Have walkways been shoveled and salted or sanded? Is there a snow shovel visible? Do they have a flag pole and if they do, what is the condition of the flag? Is it at the right position – half or full mast? How are the cars parked – are they within the lines, are they backed or driven in?
All of these things will give you a good impression of how the staff approach their job and how the landlord approaches their tenants. Parking lots have very few rules or laws that specifically apply to them so most of what you will see will be the reflection of decisions people make to go above and beyond what is required. People who are willing to walk past garbage are making a decision to leave it on the ground, which is a reflection of what they believe they are responsible for.
The way people park is also very revealing. Double, crooked or otherwise selfishly parked cars are an indication of a possible personality flaw in the driver. In every case other than that of someone being a bad driver, there is a near zero percent chance that this flaw will not manifest itself in other ways inside the gym. While the staff is not responsible for how people park, they are responsible for making sure the members act in a socially acceptable way which includes how people park.
The first twenty feet: this is about first impressions and it includes information from all of your senses – feelings, smells, sounds and sights in that order. There shouldn’t be a taste and if there is, you should probably take a few moments to reconcile that fact. Is the floor level, is it bumpy, are there broken or missing tiles, is there a floor mat and is it clean, does the door open and close smoothly, does everything you tough feel clean? If you shake someones hand, what is their hand shake like? Do all of the staff shake hands the same way? Our brain picks up on the feeling of things in a mostly unconscious way, so give it the opportunity to take this information in and generate a perception. Our feet will feel problems very quickly and will make you aware that something isn’t right. Try to notice the information that is coming from the floor because it tells us a lot about the existence of a cleaning schedule or system and the level of care given to maintenance.
People who are moving intensely are burning a lot of energy, generating a lot of heat, sweating a lot and releasing a lot of water and carbon dioxide. For these reasons, gyms need to have very good ventilation. The air should be fresh, dry and odorless along with being at a temperature that matches the time of year.
What do you hear as you walk in? The volume and type of music, the sounds of the equipment, the amount and volume of chatter between members, what do the staff say to you and to the other members? Are there systems in place to control greetings and prospective member intake?
Finally, what are you seeing? Is the gym clean, well organized and tidy? Do the staff have uniforms or a dress code? Is the gym branded and if not, does it look like someone has given its appearance some consideration? Are the signs up to date, mounted in a consistent way, and appealing to look at? Can you tell the staff apart from the members? What are the members wearing? Are their finger prints or dust on things? Are their any burned out lights?
As you tour the gym: is any of the equipment out of order and if so, how long has it been that way? If it isn’t clear, ask someone. Is there a way to clean the equipment after use and do you observe members doing it? Do the members put equipment back after use? Are their weights left on the machines or barbells? Are there enough dumbbells and how high do they go? Is there a functional training area? Do they have squat racks and are there any Smith machines? How many hamstring curl machines and of different types are there? Do they offer group fitness classes, do they have their own studio and does it have an independent ventilation system? Is it clean and tidy?
Make sure you go into the change room and all bathrooms. Are they clean and tidy? What is the condition of the lockers? Is there soap, paper towels and toilet paper available? How is the water pressure and is there hot water? Are there any signs posted and if so, what do they say? For the record, people can be disgusting and most of the problems that management need to deal with concern the change room. The signs here will paint a clear picture of what they are hoping to put an end to or prevent from ever starting.
The staff: how are they acting? Are they busy, friendly and radiating an energy that is positive and free of drama? Do they look like they work out and with those who don’t, are their eyes moist and vibrant? Is this a job for them or a calling? How do they interact with the members? Is there a clear supervisor or manager and if so, are they on the floor or in an office behind a computer? How long have the staff worked at the gym?
The member enrollment conversation: is it a hard sell or an easy conversation? Are they trying to get you to join on the spot and have answers for any of your objections? Do you get a weird feeling in your stomach during their presentation that is a sign that someone is trying to control your thinking or emotional state? Are you being listened to and heard, or is the person just waiting for their turn to talk? When they reveal the price, do they try to reframe it or put it in context that relates to your fitness objectives? Are they honest about what the gym is and what it isn’t? Are they offering an enrollment gift as an incentive to join and if so, is it of high or low quality? Are they clear about the cancellation policy? How do they answer your questions and do they freely release information? In general, do they know what they are talking about or are they just there to process you as a transaction?
Final thought: The thing about gyms is that they are, at their core, big rooms with equipment and people. YOU are the engine that drives the results and that is only going to happen if you go consistently over time. The highest quality equipment and top level staff have no impact on members who do not show up, and they have only limited impact on those who are their regularly. What determines the cost of the membership and the value you get out of it is the number of times you go to the gym and how intensely you train when you are there. A $250 a year membership used once a month is essentially more expensive than a $700 a year membership used five times a week, every week for the entire year. And that $700 a year membership is a much better value when each of those workouts is performed near your max possible effort.
YOU are the difference maker. The gym is a tool that you will use and the staff are a part of the service that makes the process a little more convenient and maybe a little more enjoyable. But the responsibility of making your future better falls completely upon you. A gym membership is not the solution, USING that gym membership is.
If you haven’t read or do not remember, check out Choosing A Fitness Club. There are a few other tips or considerations that you might find helpful.