How to pick a Gym for 2015
The January gym membership. Never has so much money been exchanged by so many for so little in the way of results.
It is precisely this time of year where gyms around the world will be sharpening their marketing campaigns, revamping their facilities and designing special offers to draw in the ‘resolutions’ crowd.
For them, Christmas is actually the first week of January.
If you have decided to start a fitness journey and are going to join a gym for the first time in January or are looking for a new one then first of all that’s fantastic: you’ve made a great choice in deciding to make health a priority.
Taking a step by using a New Year’s resolution is perfectly fine, as long as you’re not taking the same one this time next year.
From the perspective of a gym, the perfect situation is that they sign you up to a one year deal upfront and your resolve fails by the middle of February and stop going. They get to collect your money for another 10 months while that’s one less person adding to equipment fatigue or using their water in the showers.
And as we are all no doubt aware, is exactly what happens too many times.
But to workout, first and foremost we need a place to train. Where you train can have a huge impact on how motivated you are and how successfully fitness becomes an essential life habit.
As such, your gym selection is one of the most important, if not the most important step.
This applies whether it is the first time you have ever been to a gym, or are looking for a new one because you have moved/are dissatisfied with your old one.
Ignore the shiny brochures and colour of the reception desk. Instead consider these factors:
1. Value in real terms
In my experience, a lot of gyms play on the fact that as a fitness newcomer you don’t know what you want or how things work. Therefore they try to sell you everything by attracting you to the fact that the more options you have, the better.
But as a Training Template reader you know that the gimmicks don’t work; you know that women don’t need to train differently from men; you know that there are core exercises everyone should be doing that are underrated and underperformed.
So when the gym justifies it’s high price with the fact that you can go to up to 30 classes a month for free, ask yourself firstly: how many of those am I going to actually go to?
Is ‘legs, bums and tums’ really an effective class, when I know that you can’t spot reduce fat and that squatting and deadlifting regularly are going to be more than enough to tone that area?
Lastly remember that fitness is a long game. No matter what anyone says you are not going to transform yourself in 6 weeks, maybe not even 6 months. If that monthly gym fee looks expensive now you’re not going to keep wanting to pay for it 6 months down the line.
To be successful in reaching and keeping your goals you need to make going to the gym part of your lifestyle. So you need to be comfortable about spending money each month on it.
Obviously what you deem to be expensive is relative to you and your bank balance. The next points below will help you decide whether it is value for you.
2. Take a tour before signing
This might seem obvious but I don’t mean a general ‘oh and the swimming pool is this way’ or a view of the free weights area from the door.
Actually walk through each part and take a bit of time to review the equipment.
It is important because you also need to try and get a feel for the ambiance of the place and decide whether it suits you. Observe the people who are members there. It might be hard to find these days and in many commercial gyms but you want to find a place where people are there to train, not do their hair and take selfies.
3. Visit at the right time
Don’t visit on a Sunday morning, when you know you will never be there; go directly after work or during you lunch hour when you plan to actually train.
There’s no point in a gym having great equipment if it is so busy at peak time you can’t even move properly.
4. Is there a squat rack?
This is a key thing to pay attention to when taking the tour.
As I keep emphasising the Squat is a key exercise. But it is too often mistakenly associated with hurting your back or a dangerous exercise, leading to many people not going near it.
Knowing this some gyms, especially commercial chains, will not have squat racks at all, or worse, put a Smith machine in its place. (See Free weights vs Machine weights for more).
Therefore a big benchmark for me when taking the tour is looking for the squat rack.
It tells you a lot about the gym, the trainers it employs and generally how seriously it views training.
There’s no way a personal trainer with any credibility or knowledge about training could work without putting squatting in their client’s routines.
If there isn’t one, move on.
5. What is their policy on deadlifting?
In a similar vein, look for a deadlifting area, or platform. If there isn’t one (this is less likely than having a squat rack) then ask what their policy is about it, specifically about noise and using chalk.
I don’t mean you should be dropping the weights, but some gyms I have been to are precious about making any noise when it comes to the weights touching the ground, to the point that they expect you to be able to put heavy deadlifts down without making a sound.
Apparently in some commercial American gym chains there exists such a thing as a ‘clunk alarm’ where setting it off for making excessive noise leads to warnings and eventually expulsion.
This might not be too much of a problem unless you are deadlifting heavy, but again their attitude towards deadlifts is a good barometer for how knowledgable and committed to creating a proper training environment they are.
Deadlifts along with squats are a key part of a proper training program.
If they have just an issue with chalk, then try using liquid chalk which doesn’t leave any mess (just don’t tell them as they might just forbid you on principle).
6. How close is it to you?
You’re obviously more likely to go and keep going if the gym is easy to get to either directly from work or from your house.
If you know you will initially struggle for motivation then I would even suggest picking a gym close to you that is not as good as another further away: doing something regularly and long-term is better than dropping a great program after a few months because it is too much hassle to get there.
Once training is your lifestyle you can always switch.
7. Do the PT’s/staff look like they train?
If you are experienced and know what you’re doing this is not too much of an issue though obviously it is better to have an environment where good training is encouraged by knowledgable and experienced staff.
It is an issue though when you’re not entirely sure on how to perform an exercise and a trainer comes over to tell you you’re doing it wrong, only to give you bad advice.
This actually happened pretty recently at my gym. I’m currently training a friend who is new to the gym, and a time I wasn’t there a trainer came over to tell him to bench press in a manner that specifically puts a lot of pressure on his shoulder and rotator cuff i.e. exactly what you shouldn’t do.
Another friend told me of being given unsolicited advice that in order to build explosive power a ‘minimum of 50 reps should be performed’.
Luckily he knew better so didn’t do it but it goes to show that there are plenty of trainers out there with pieces of paper who don’t really know anything about training because they don’t train themselves or buy into the ‘broscience’.
Of course, looking in shape doesn’t necessarily mean they know what they’re talking about either so ask questions, their opinion of squats, deadlifts and how long they think it takes to get results.
If they start going on about how they have a new machine which more directly isolates the quad muscle or use terminology like ‘packing on muscle’ when referring to their programming then make your excuses or at least a mental note to steer clear of them if you end up joining.
I can’t afford it
If you can’t afford the membership or all else fails then working out a home is a viable and legitimate alternative.
As I keep saying, training is simple. You don’t NEED 20 different machines and exercises to build a solid and healthy body, or get a great strength level.
All you need is a bar and some weights. If you worked on exclusively deadlifting, squatting, weighted press ups and pull ups you could build a very well-rounded and impressive physique, if you were consistent over time.
This applies to women as well. Everyone has a genetic limit and potential, and these all body, natural movements along with healthy eating over time will help you get there.
As a woman, the only way you will get bulky is by being fat. It is hard enough for men to develop a lot of muscle mass with 20 times the testosterone level, so unless you are planning to start injecting hormones into your body weightlifitng will only make you slim, toned and strong.
So when you pick a gym to start your fitness journey next year, consider the 7 points above, make a good choice and choose something that will help you make fitness a part of your lifestyle.
Not just for 2015, but starting in 2015.