New Year resolutions come and go, but the need to get (or remain) healthy and active will always be with us no matter the date on the calendar. Joining a gym is a great first step in that direction, but it can sometimes be easier said than done. How does one go about choosing a gym, after all?
I have been a member of my fair share of gyms – a state-of-the-art facility on my college campus, a ladies’-only mom ‘n pop storefront, LA Fitness, the Y, and a 24-hour option I found convenient to both my home and school pick-up route. With each membership came different requirements and goals. Perhaps my timeline will help you determine yours.
The Ramsey Center at the University of Georgia: This gym had it all. Three levels of pretty much any type of exercise, class, or organized sport you could ask for. It even had a rock climbing wall, and offered the ability to rent watersports equipment to use in local lakes and rivers. The hours were long so I could get in a workout before an early class or after a late one. Membership was included in the tuition, so there were no contracts to sign or monthly dues to pay – a perfect situation for my undergrad budgeting skills.
Ladies’ Fitness Express: Located in a strip mall near my parents’ house, this small, women-only gym was my safe space after coming home from a six-month stint in England that left me heavier than before I left. It was conveniently located, had pretty typical gym business hours, and was easy on the wallet. Plus, it was just us gals, which made me feel more comfortable than if I’d had to wade through male body builders to get to my free weights. What can I say? I was young, and easily intimidated in new environments. It was the perfect bridge between the Ramsey Center and …
Main Event Fitness: A completely different vibe than my previous gym. Main Event was not short on body builders – male and female – and seemed somewhat dated in its décor and equipment. But, it was located within five minutes of my first office job and, again, offered an affordable payment plan. During the run up to my wedding, I worked out on my lunch hour, after work, and on the weekends. I definitely became a gym rat! I learned to love skull crushers at this gym, and for that I will always remember it fondly.
Local community center: My husband and I bought our first home and, for budgetary reasons, let my gym membership go. I decided to give the workout facilities at my local community center a try and wasn’t disappointed. My city property taxes paid for my membership, after all. The center offered an indoor track, small weightlifting area, a half dozen cardio machines, and a small area for ab exercises. Given that it was conveniently located and free, it suited my purposes while we waited for our budget to settle down.
LA Fitness: By the time I was pregnant with my second daughter, I was ready, financially and mentally, to upgrade to a gym with more amenities. On-site childcare was my highest priority this time around, and LA Fitness fit the bill. Its nursery was huge, had a fun indoor playground, toys galore, and staff that engaged the kids in coloring and other fun activities. The gym was great – it had all the classes and equipment I needed at a rate I could handle, and didn’t make me feel the least bit anxious when it came to familiarizing myself with machines and general layout.
YMCA: A move to the northern suburbs found me in a bit of a gym wasteland. Facilities with childcare were few and far between. Luckily, someone told me of a nearby Y and, once I took the tour, I was hooked. This is the facility of choice for families who love exercising of any kind. Its membership fees are the highest I’ve paid so far, but well worth it. The childcare is great. There are three levels of classrooms, fitness areas and equipment, indoor pool, basketball and volleyball courts … the list could go on and on. Another plus was that our Y was always active in the community. Every Friday evening was family night, so after working out, me and the girls would stop by for the evening activity, which rotated between crafts, bingo, movie night, etc. My girls made friends with fellow members and staff alike, which led to me making friends with their parents. The community vibe was very strong and so it was a perfect place for our family as we settled into our new community.
Anytime Fitness: Another move within the same community put me about 10 minutes further away from the Y, and so I nixed our membership. I went about three months without going anywhere, thinking that I’d take up running now that we lived in a neighborhood with sidewalks. Needless to say, that never happened. I eventually ended up at Anytime Fitness, a 24-hour gym that charges a reasonable monthly fee and has all the basic workout equipment I could ever need or want. I’ve been a member there now for just over three months, and I can already tell I’m not getting the most bang for my buck – only because I’m not going. This gym has no childcare, and so I thought I’d hit it on my way to pick up the girls from school each day. My visits have been very infrequent of late, due to one thing or another, and so I’ve been asking myself if I shouldn’t just cancel the membership. I’ll never be someone who gets up at 5 a.m. to exercise, so cancelling seems like the smart option at this point. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, here is what I would look at when selecting a gym:
1. Location. Do you want your gym close to home, work, school or all three?
2. Childcare. Be sure to ask to see the nursery/childcare area. Is it big enough for your liking? Do they separate by age groups? Do they get outside time? Are the employees engaged, or do they stare at their phones rather than at your child?
3. Price. Does the price reflect the services and amenities offered? My single gym memberships have averaged around $30 a month, while family memberships have gone as high as $70, which was well worth it considering all that I got in return.
4. Equipment/classes. What are your goals? Does the facility seem equipped to help you meet them? Do classes have waiting lists or is it fairly easy to walk into one that you like? Is the gym big enough to handle peak times before and after work so you aren’t waiting in line for a machine? Are staff members on hand to help answer your questions with a smile (rather than an intimidating stare)?
5. Amenities. Is lap swimming, hot tubs, or a steam room on your must list? Are they kept up in terms of sanitization? Then you’ll pay a bit more at facilities like the Y.
6. Parking. Is there ample enough parking, even on high-attendance days? Y staff eventually started bribing members to park across the street to accommodate the heavy guest traffic in January and February. (I’m a sucker for a free T-shirt.) Does the facility offer special spaces for families with small children or expectant moms? These are perks, to be sure, but well worth it if you’re in that stage of life.
As the year rolls on, I hope you find these tips to be of some help as you determine where to land. Good luck in finding the perfect gym!