If you’re anything like me, you find joining a gym one of the most daunting experiences in life. After all, it’s one of the biggest monthly financial commitments that you are likely to make, outside of a mortgage or a loan for a car. In addition, gyms are hell bent on making you sign minimum term contracts, in my experience for a minimum of 12 months. And if the initial enthusiasm wears off, or you move out of the area, then you’re stuck paying a rather hefty monthly fee for the privilege of owning a shiny plastic membership card and maybe a few worthless freebies that they threw your way.
As a gym member myself, I’m certainly not anti-joining gyms. The decision of whether or not to join one, however, should not be taken lightly. Over the last decade or more, I have tried out more gyms than I can remember and my top draw is literally stuffed with paperwork and old membership cards to prove it. I’ve joined hi-tech gyms, fancy health clubs, body building gyms and everything in between.
For the last few years, however, I have finally settled on a local body building gym. It may be rough and ready, filled with huge body builders, but that’s what suits me. You see, I like to run outside, it makes more sense to me, and is more interesting to me, than running on a treadmill, so I don’t need cardio equipment. All I require is a good range of free weights and an environment where people come to work, not lean against the nearest hi-tech machine that nobody uses, primarily because nobody is quite sure exactly what it does. A back to basics style environment, filled with surprisingly friendly weight lifting types is exactly what I need, plus the membership packages are flexible and I’m only required to give one month’s notice before leaving. Perfect.
If I have learned one thing from my experience of exercise over the last decade, it’s this: Before joining a gym, be absolutely certain that you want to and are not doing it merely on a whim.
Do you really need to join a gym?
Before wading through the plethora of options out there for gym membership, ask yourself this, do I really need to join a gym? For me, for example, there is no point joining a gym with vast quantities of cardio machines, I just wouldn’t use them. And considering you usually pay a premium for access to these, I save myself a fortune each year because I go to a very basic gym. If, like me, you love the outdoors, then a gym may just not be the right decision for you.
If you prefer the thought of working out indoors, however, then you need to move onto the second stage of the decision making process. You must question your own commitment. Are you ready to commit to signing up for a year? That can often be the minimum term. We are talking about a commitment of hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars each year, whether you go or not. While this may put some people off, it can also be a great motivator to make sure you get your money’s worth. Just take the time to consider the commitment you are making before you proceed. Will you go?
If, on reflection, you decide the gym is for you, then that’s great. Gyms can be a great place to work out, improve your lifestyle and meet new, likeminded, people. If you have made the decision to take the plunge, here are the twelve things that you should consider before signing on the dotted line.
12 things to consider before joining the gym
- List your must-haves. I can’t stress this enough. Your gym should meet your own unique requirements. After all, you’re going to be paying good money for the privilege of accessing the gym, so it must have what you need. Make a list in advance of your first visit and ensure that the prospective gym lives up to your expectations. Your needs will be unique. For me, for example, when I used to play high level rugby, I knew that a gym without a set of heavy dumbbells was an absolute non-starter.
- Check out social media and recommendations from friends. Recommendations from friends used to be the only way to really know what a gym is like. With the advent of social media, however, sites like Twitter are awash with great information about what gyms are actually like. If there are tweets flying around complaining about the service or facilities, then maybe it’s best to think twice before signing on the dotted line.
- Location, location, location. It’s an old adage, but it still very much holds true. The gym that you are joining should be in a convenient place, as this will reduce the number of excuses you can make for not going. If you plan to attend the gym only during the week, before or after work, then perhaps joining a gym closer to work is better than joining one nearer to your home.
- Opening hours. This is a big one for me. While at University, our University gym was under refurbishment, so our whole rugby club joined a local gym, where the intention was to work out together every morning at 6am. The problem was that the gym didn’t ordinarily open until 7am. As there were over one hundred of us joining, they decided to change their opening hours for us. It worked out great in the end, but if we hadn’t asked, then this could have been extremely inconvenient. If you plan to work out early in the morning, or late at night, check the opening times carefully before signing up.
- The atmosphere. One of the most important factors in ensuring that you visit the gym regularly is the ambience of the place. This covers everything from the lighting, to the friendliness of the staff and what music they play. If you’re into working out to dance music, you may be put off by loud thrash metal at 6am, I know I would be!
- Be sure about what is included. Before signing on the dotted line, it’s important to be certain about what is included in the monthly membership fee. I once joined a gym and the membership team were hugely proud of the fact that their gym had an Olympic size pool. That was one of the things that sold me on it in the first place. What they neglected to mention is that there was an additional monthly premium to use it. After a bitter battle with the management, they begrudgingly included it in my package. It just goes to show, however, that you must be certain about what you are agreeing too. And if you have been misinformed, don’t be afraid to speak up.
- Are there any extras that members get a discount on? This is another important question to remember to ask the membership team. Gyms increasingly have health spas or treatment facilities attached to them. Do members get a discount on services such as facials, massages, spray tans or the like? If so, you just may save a little money here.
- How helpful and knowledgeable is the staff? You need to investigate this by asking a few well thought out questions to various members of staff either during your initial visit, on the telephone or at your trial session. This includes receptionists, personal trainers, gym instructors and even the guy handing out towels. Are the towels always fresh? I’m bored of bench pressing, what else can I do to work the same muscle group? I would like to attend a Zumba class; could you please tell me what’s involved? All of the responses should be polite and informative. There is nothing worse than going to a gym with unfriendly staff who always seem reluctant to help.
- Am I getting the best deal? Gyms say that they have a rigid pricing structure. In my experience, however, they are always flexible, if you just ask. After all, it’s usually significantly cheaper to join in January and September, so why can’t they be flexible all year around? If you are genuinely keen on joining a specific gym, demonstrating a little uncertainty to the membership team and then questioning the price is usually enough to get them to discount it slightly, or throw in something for free. If you’re going to select a certain gym anyway, just be sure that you are getting the best deal available.
- Don’t just consider one. Under no circumstances should you only ever check out one gym. Shop around; compare equipment, service, location and pricing. I usually select three gyms in the area that I intend to join a gym in. I then weigh up the overall offering of each before making an informed choice.
- Try before you buy. All the demonstrations and information in the world cannot make up for the experience of trying out a gym. Most gyms will offer at least one to three free passes, as well as the sessions that you can buy through group purchasing websites like Groupon. I always try to visit a gym three times if possible. I visit at three different times of day to assess the feel of the gym and its busyness. If I’m happy with the feel during early mornings, lunchtimes and evenings, then I join.
- Check the cancellation policy. With your excitement at the prospect of joining a new gym, it’s easy to forget to check the cancellation policy. Many gyms will ask you to sign up for 12 months. Although it may be a little more expensive, it may be better to sign up for three to ensure that you are completely happy. If you are then you can change to the 12 month programme. Many gyms also ask for a minimum of one month’s notice for cancellation. On a 12 month contract, however, this notice period could be up to 3 months, or there may be no possibility of cancellation at all. Just take the time to read the fine print and ask a member of staff what the policy is regarding cancellation, it could save you a lot of money in the long term.
Take your time
It may seem that I’m being a little pedantic regarding the decision making process for whether or not to join a gym. From past experience, however, I can honestly tell you that slow and steady is best when making the decision. Being impressed by shiny new equipment and a convincing sales patter can land you in a contract that could cost you thousands of unnecessary dollars each year, especially if you stop going. Take the time to consider your own individual needs, as well as considering some, or all, of the above points. Once you’ve made the decision to join a gym and found the right place, however, you will have a great time, improve your lifestyle and undoubtedly meet some great people.