Do you remember what it was like to first step foot in a gym: That feeling of nervousness and anticipation, “Is my outfit okay? Is everyone looking at me? Where do I start? What does this do? Am I doing this right? Do I look stupid?” Gyms can be very intimidating places-and they can be filled with very intimidating people. It’s important to recognize that not only are gym patrons different, gyms themselves are very different.
One of the most common misconceptions first time gym-goers will have is that every gym is filled with giant, muscle-bound men throwing hundreds of pounds over their head, bending bars of iron in between sets and flexing their muscles for everyone else to admire. While these types of gyms exist, they certainly aren’t common. This type of gym is often referred to as an “old school” gym (you likely won’t see them bend iron bars, however). Old school gyms hearken back to the 1960’s & 70’s when physical fitness was typically the realm of athletes and bodybuilders, not the average consumer.
During the 1980’s & 90’s, the popularity of both at-home gyms and gym facilities skyrocketed, paving the way for the more personable, friendly gym to open.
Nowadays, there’s a gym for everyone-including you. Want a 30 minute, women’s only circuit? There’s a gym for that. Bright, spacious facility with racquetball courts, pool & sauna? Sure. A young, hip place with banging beats & catwalk-ready staff that feels more like a nightclub than a gym? You bet. There are a multitude of gyms that exist; even in smaller cities all of these gyms are available.
So the first question you have to ask yourself is: Do I even like my gym?
If the answer is “No” then you need to find a new gym. Period. Think of your gym membership as a “gym relationship.” Would you want to stay in a relationship with someone that makes you feel bad and always leaves you doubting yourself? Then why stay at a gym where you’re paying money to feel the same way?
If you answered “Yes, I like my gym” then you should explore why you like your gym:
Are the staff friendly? Do they know you by name? If you belong to a gym with dedicated sales staff, does the salesperson that signed you up still say hello to you? What about the management? Has anyone ever asked if you’re meeting your fitness goals or offered you some free training advice?
If you belong to a much smaller or a private one-on-one gym, do the other trainers say hello to you? What about the owner? Chances are, the owners of the smaller gyms are also the trainers. If you feel anxious or even unwelcome in a small atmosphere, how are you expected to enjoy yourself and the time you spend with your own trainer?
What about the equipment, is it in good shape? Is it repaired promptly? Large, multi-facility gyms often have dedicated repair staff as well as multiple sets of the same equipment. Smaller gyms may only have one, multi-purpose machine. If part of that machine breaks, do they mark the entire machine as out of order, or are you still allowed to use it? Not only is the chance of injury higher, their insurance may not cover you if you’re injured!
How are the change rooms and washrooms? If the washrooms and showers aren’t being cleaned regularly, you’re standing a greater chance of catching athlete’s foot, H1N1 or any other communicable disease.
Do they have ample change rooms? Are they separate from the washrooms, or do you change in the washroom? Is there a Men’s and Women’s washroom, or is there only one? Remember some smaller gyms have very limited space, so if the option is between separate washrooms or space for equipment, the equipment will always win.
Is the gym itself clean? Does it smell like a wet towel? Sometimes something as simple as walking into a wall of odor is enough to send you the other way. Understand that there’s a difference between the smell of the guy beside you sweating and mildew forming on the windows.
Perhaps one of the most important details is your contract with the gym. Are the cancellation terms clearly laid out? Is the monthly fee reasonable? How do you know? Did you shop around? While Personal Trainers will vary more largely, most gyms will charge between $35-$50/month. If you’re paying on the higher end of that scale, are amenities like towel service, sauna/steam room, free parking, child minding, guest passes etc. included?
Don’t be afraid to shop around. Getting in shape is one of the biggest commitments you’ll ever make. Every major gym will offer you a free week-long pass to try out their facility-take advantage of it. If you work out 3 days/week, go to 3 gyms in your area and try one out each day. Make notes about your likes & dislikes for each facility; treat it like you’re buying a car or even a home. The next week, try out another 3 gyms. See who calls to follow-up on the sales pitch; how aggressive are they? Are they offering you anything extra? Read back on your notes, don’t be afraid to mention what you didn’t like.
Don’t forget the cancellation policy. Make sure the terms are clear and you understand them. If the gym requires written notice that you are cancelling your membership, be prepared to physically mail them a letter stating your cancellation. Make sure that the letter requires a signature upon delivery, that way you have proof of receipt. Gym membership disputes do go to small claims court and you can lose out quite easily if you’re not prepared. If no cancellation policy exists in the contract, don’t sign it based on the salesperson’s word that “we’ll work something out for you.”
If the length of the contract doesn’t suit you, say so. Why sign a 3 year contract if you only want 6 months? If the gym is unwilling to budge, go elsewhere. If you don’t, then you’ve already compromised and will be kicking yourself as soon as you get home. Remember: There’s a gym out there for everyone.