Choosing a gym that’s right for you can be challenging, so I created a checklist that will make the process much easier. You can trust me because I’ve seen hundreds of gyms over the years, even in different countries. Here’s the inside scoop on how to choose a gym that’s right for you. I listed the criteria in order of importance:
I think the #1 most important criterion by far is where the gym is located. If you’re living in suburbia and there’s a gym right across from your office, or within a couple minutes of your home, you should probably just use that gym. The gym that is most convenient is the one you should use, unless there is something seriously wrong (for example, the gym fails a few of the criteria I’ve listed below miserably). We all know how hard it is to make it to the gym consistently, so you might as well make going to the gym as convenient as possible.
2) Crowd During Peak Hours
One thing that drives me mad about the gym I use right now is that from 5-7pm, it’s a complete zoo. There’s a line to use the cardio machines, people are throwing around weights all over the place, there’s never a bench to use, and the dumbbells I want to use are unavailable. It’s basically impossible to get a great workout. You want to make sure before you sign the contract that the times that you will be going to the gym are not overcrowded.
Many people would put price first, but I don’t think it’s as important as the first two criteria. The dirty little secret of the gym industry is that some gyms want to lock you into a 1-2 year contract and then pray you don’t ever come! In fact, as much as 30% of the client base at some gyms never even workout. I think the more money you pony up for your gym membership, the more skin you put in the game, which will motivate you more to hit the gym more than 0 times a week.
4) Equipment Quality and Variety
Every gym should offer up to date equipment that’s safe. Unfortunately, many gyms don’t spend the money to take care of their facilities and buy new equipment. One gym I use occasionally has dumbbells that are literally about to fall apart and the benches are unstable. Needless to say, faulty equipment is very dangerous.
A gym should also have a variety of equipment, including cardio equipment such as treadmills, ellipticals, and stationary bikes, dumbbells that go heavy enough to match your strength levels, barbells, benches, exercise balls, and a padded area for stretching/core, and finally some machines.
5) Type of Membership Base
I like gyms where members are really serious about working out and training hard. Now you don’t have to have 5% body fat and be able to do 25 pull-ups to be serious, but when I go to the gym, I’m there to workout hard and I find it motivating if other people are working out hard as well. If some have exceptional physiques, that’s even better. Some gyms only cater to women, some to those who are overweight, some are more corporate, and so on. If who you are surrounded by at the gym is important to you, then you should take into consideration the types of people in general who go to a given gym.
6) Gym Layout
This is a pet peeve of mine when I go to a gym. Some gyms will have the squat rack on one side of the room, the dumbbells on the other, and the barbells on a different floor. I guess some people who design these gyms were probably thinking about how big their arms are rather than making a great layout. Ideally, the barbells and dumbbells will be in one general area, the exercise machines/cables in another, separated from the cardio and abs/core area. In addition, my favorite types of gyms, like I had in college, are simply one large open floor, so it’s easy to hop from one exercise to another.
7) Locker Room
I don’t really care for gym locker rooms because I never shower at the gym, but if you do, then the locker room may be an important criteria for you. Some gyms have saunas, steam rooms, most should have showers, and all should have lockers where you can keep your clothes.
8 ) Cleanliness
It doesn’t matter to me if a gym is clean because I’m there to sweat, but I’ve seen some gyms that are just disgusting. They’ve got sweat marks on every bench and machine, there’s dust covering the dumbbells, and if you mistakenly drop your towel on the ground, it looks like it’s covered in tar when you pick it up. Gyms should be cleaned every day.
There are some other criteria such as friendliness and professionalism of staff, hours of operation, and exercise classes that are offered that I didn’t mention. If you take a lot of classes, then that criteria should probably be very high up on this list.
If I left out any qualities of a gym that you think are important, or you have anything to add, leave a comment!
Very good point with #5… I once belonged to a gym that was way too corporate. On paper, it seemed great. It was very clean, etc. But it always seemed like a place that was better for networking and making business contacts rather than getting an intense workout. I ended up never feeling very comfortable there.
Location is obviously of importance ie having a workout area close. To me I wonder if space permits what are your feelings about a home gym and what are the bare essentials for that gym in terms of equipment and space.
Hi Hank, that’s a great question. I will definitely write a separate post about a home gym. I recommend the bare essentials: adjustable dumbbells, adjustable bench, and an exercise mat. Other equipment to consider is an exercise ball, or some type of cable, or universal machine, and a pull-up bar depending on your fitness level.
speaking of cleanliness, tell them your story about the Murray Hill New York Sports Club
Some of the gyms that I visit don’t have any open space for stretching out or doing plyo type exercises. All you see is a rows and rows of machines..