How to Find the Right Gym for You

Before you sign, make sure you've done the research about your potential gym. Here's what you need to know.

March 17, 2017
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Adapted from The Men's Health Gym Bible

Joining a health club may be one of the best ways to get the results you're looking for, but joining the wrong one still remains one of the best ways to waste your hard-earned dough. With more and more clubs springing up with dollar-saving offers that seem a little too good to be true, it makes it hard to know which one's up your alley. Or which one is perfectly matched to meet your personal exercise and fitness goals.

More: The Best Beginner Workout Gym Machines

With all of the clubs to choose from, it can be hard to evaluate whether you're joining the right one. These tips can save you from choosing the wrong gym instead of the right one for you.

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Time your drive to the gym

Run a search for health clubs and the town you live and write down only those within a 15-minute radius from where you live. The rule of thumb is to invest in a gym or health club that's no more than 15 minutes from where you live. Why? Most experts agree that picking a gym that's any farther than that reduces your chances of staying committed to exercise considerably (here's what else you can do to skyrocket your gym motivation). If you typically spend more time at work than at home and figure you'll be leaving for the gym from work, then choose a gym that's 15 minutes away from your workplace instead.

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Go on tour

Some clubs will list dozens of features that they offer to make them seem like the best choice. But just because the club's ads or literature says it's fully loaded with the best equipment doesn't mean all those things actually exist. Do yourself a favor and make sure to get a list of everything the club claims it has to offer, then demand to check out each area personally.

During your tour, ask yourself these three important questions:

1. Do I really need this area?
Just because you have no interest in using their fancy Olympic-size pool or free childcare service doesn't mean you're not indirectly paying for them in the total cost of your yearly membership fee. If more than half of the services they offer aren't really what you need, there may be a different club that offers more of what youneedandlessofwhatyoudon't...atamuch cheaper membership price.

2. Is this area really as impressive as their literature or salesperson claims?
You're told they have a juice bar and a special area for stretching. But all you see is a vending machine and some mats thrown down in the darkest corner of the gym. The point: If they aren't being honest about things you can easily recognize, keep in mind that some of the features you may not see or quite understand (such as their claim that they have state-of- the-art equipment and hundreds of exercise classes) may also be exaggerations of the truth.

3. Will I be charged separately to use this area or is this service free?
Some gyms show you everything they provide, but forget to tell you that many of the services may be à la carte or part of a more expensive "gold," "platinum," "enhanced," or "upgraded" membership plan. If you see any class, service, etc., that you're interested in, ask if it's included in the membership, and if not, find out what it will cost. Then, estimate how many times you'll need to pay extra for that in a given year. Finally, remember to add that price to the total membership cost before comparing the fees with other local clubs.

More: Your Favorite Gym Equipment Is Dirtier Than a Toilet Seat

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Take a test drive

Insist on getting a free one-day pass to check out the facilities for yourself. Some gyms will even offer you up to three days--or even a full week—to try them on for size. But if they don't let you experience their facility for free, then don't bother and walk out—that alone should clue you in on their poor business practices right from the start.

Once you get a pass, you may think the smartest plan would be to check out the gym during its busiest hours (5 to 7 p.m.) to see how crowded it gets. That's fine, if that's the time you would normally go, but not if you plan on exercising at a different time during the day. Instead, go at the time you would normally work out each day.

Don't just keep track of how crowded it gets, but also pay attention to the atmosphere. It's the atmosphere that can make or break your future workouts down the road, since the mood of a gym can be the deciding factor in how often you use the facilities and how motivated you are to exercise when you're there. Because the atmosphere of any club changes every hour, depending on the classes, the clientele, and so on, just be sure that you feel the environment is as motivating during that time as you need it to be.

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Hunt around for someone who looks like you

If you don't see anyone around that's your age or body type, there may be a reason for that. Certain gyms cater to specific communities, such as hardcore bodybuilders, serious aerobic junkies, or the over-50 crowd. If you do manage to find someone like you, ask them—when you're trying out the gym for free—a few questions like, "Does this place always look this good?" "Is the staff always this friendly?" or "Does the equipment break down a lot?" Members have a great sense of history and can clue you into the weaknesses of the club before you encounter them yourself—after the ink is already dry on the contract.

More: You'll Never Believe How Many People Are Having Sex At Your Gym

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Watch how the staff treats the paying customers

Don't be fooled by all the extraordinary attention you might get when checking out a new gym. If you're walking around with the gym manager, the rest of the trainers and staff know you're most likely a potential client, so trust us, they are on their best behavior. Instead of being fooled by having the staff shower you with niceties, look around to see how they treat the rest of the people exercising around you. Watching if the staff is just as attentive to the regular gym members can tell you what to really expect from them down the road.

More: 11 Awkward Gym Moments Every Girl Has Endured

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Check the legroom

In an effort to pack the gym with as much equipment as possible, some gyms leave out one important thing: room to breathe. Look at how close machines and benches are to one another. Extra equipment is useless if you have to wait constantly for someone to finish on the machine next to you. Also, look for cleanliness. You may feel awkward taking a tour of the locker room, but it can be the best place to visit if you're curious about cleanliness. This area isn't usually in a high-visibility area, which is why it's typically a great barometer of how clean the rest of the gym may be on a regular basis.

More: 10 Simple Gym Hacks for a Better Workout

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Do the math

Don't be afraid to ask how many members they currently have and what their capacity is. If it's a new gym—or you're joining a gym in the summertime when more people tend to forsake the gym for the out-of-doors—you may only be looking at half of the members. In 6 months, the gym could be twice as crowded.

More: ‘Gym Wildlife’ Documentary Mocks Every Person You See at the Gym

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Question their longevity

Ask how long they've been in business if you don't already know the answer. If it's a gym that's been around for a while, odds are, you won't have any problems with them suddenly shutting their doors down the road. If they're new, ask about their history. Sometimes, a gym or club may have had a change in ownership and are considered "new." The problem: You may be joining a gym that changed hands because it wasn't making any money, which could increase the odds of it closing down sooner or later. If that's the case, try to get a sense of how busy it seems to be—if it's new and always empty, you may be investing money in a membership that could turn south.

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Check out their top trainers' credentials

Any gym can buy the right equipment if they have enough cash, but a health club is only as good as its instructors. The problem is, anyone can also hang out a shingle and claim to be a personal trainer, massage therapist, or aerobics instructor. If you want to truly gauge how good the classes or personal instruction may be, ask about the background of their staff.

Seeing any of the following acronyms either on their certification certificate or after their name—ACE, ACSM, AFAA, AFB, CIAR, CSCS, IFPA, NASM, NFPT, NSCA, NSCA- CPT, NIRSA—means they're certified with some of the more reputable exercise and fitness organizations, instead of some fly-by-night company.

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Invest in yourself

After you've picked your gym, try having a physical profile done either at the club—if they offer that service—or through your family doctor. Then, have another profile done after 3 months and compare the results. This way, you can see if your investment is truly paying off. If you don't, it's like throwing money into a stock portfolio and never getting a statement to tell you how you're doing.

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