Are you looking for a gym? Welcome to the club! According to the smart folks at Statistics Brain, it's estimated that 58 million Americans have an active gym membership at one of over 30 thousand health clubs in America. All wrapped up in a $22 billion dollar industry.
‘MERICA!! We love our fitness!
I bet that many folks could have made smarter choices when they selected a gym. Are you one of those people? Have you ever looked at your keyring only to discover that the id card for your facility hasn’t been used in months? Relax - it’s not just you. Of the 58 million Americans estimated to have gym memberships, only 33% actually use them on a regular basis. Maybe we don’t love our fitness as much as we thought?
Don't be a statistic. Use this article to pick a gym the RIGHT way!
First, a little background on me. Before I became a CrossFit Affiliate gym owner in 2007, I bounced from gym to gym looking for the right fit. I tried several of the major chains (Gold’s gym, twice) and trained at my office gym. I ran and did pushups in the backyard. I even jumped rope in the laundry room of my apartment complex to work my lungs! I’ve seen every kind of gym there is and I’m here to tell you - no gym is perfect. Just like weather forecasting, choosing a gym shouldn’t be about finding the perfect fit. Rather, it’s best to find a facility that meets most of your wants and needs, and then to get started training consistently.
Why should you even bother? Isn’t it easier to just sit on the couch? Hopefully by now you’ve read the thousands of studies and articles linking exercise to health and wellness. It’s no longer debatable - it just IS. You must use your body to keep it healthy and running properly. So whether you train at a chromed-out mega gym or in your backyard, you’re going to need to figure out some kind of fitness solution. Do you need a sea of equipment and tons of space? Maybe not.. But you need to move and finding the right gym can make a huge difference in your results.
Should you start looking right now? It depends. I advise my clients to NOT join my gym until they’re ready to commit to a consistent schedule of training. Intense exercise only delivers results when applied consistently. So you may want to hold off on joining a new spot until you’re really ready. Did you just start a new job? Have a new baby? Are you dealing with an unpredictable schedule at work? You should take these factors into consideration when choosing. Maybe you hold off on choosing a solution until you’re sure you can manage some consistency.
On the previous point: Do you need a lifestyle overhaul before committing to a new regimen? Are you willing to put your training first? Do you have a supportive partner that will help you carve out some time in your schedule? These are personal questions that everyone should ask themselves before they embark on their exercise journey. At the end of the day, nothing will work unless you’re consistent.
So, how does one actually choose a gym? I recommend a priority system that will help make your decision easier. The following order is based upon my experience of working with literally thousands of athletes. Reprioritize at your own risk!
Priority One - Logistics
You need a gym that’s convenient. It doesn’t mean that it needs to fit perfectly, but it can’t be setup in a way that makes it hard for you to train. Example: Don’t choose a gym that’s more than 7-8 miles away from where you live or work. You simply won’t go, because it’s too far away!
Does the gym have hours that are conducive to your training times? Can you make the class times?
Does the gym have other basic services that you need? How about babysitting, or a locker room and shower that you can use before going to work?
These logistics challenges can become a real pain and if you don’t get them right, you’ll quickly violate Rule #1 (that’s ‘Show Up Consistently’ if you weren’t paying attention).
Priority Two - Alignment with Goals
Does the gym offer programs that are aligned with your goals? I like CrossFit, Powerlifting and Olympic Lifting. I’m not going to sign up at Curves because they don’t offer the things that interest me or that will get me closer to my goals.
Upon first glance, a lot of gyms will appear to have the programs and focus that you need. But be careful here. You might say that you ‘want to tone up, maybe lose a few pounds’ and sign up at Planet Fitness because they have a ton of treadmills. If you do a little research first, you’ll find an increasing number of articles that refute the long-held belief that aerobic exercise is best for fat loss. Become an educated consumer and do some homework about exercise programs. The rise of programs like CrossFit will tell you that the old days of segmented training and long, slow distance cardio are over. Make sure you know what you need!
Priority Three - Personalities
Can you work with the folks at your chosen facility? Maybe you’re just training on your own and don’t care to get along with the personal trainers and staff at your gym. More and more, we see a combination of personal and group training as the best solution for most individuals, because training in a group is FUN and pushes you towards consistency and intensity. Most gyms offer a trial class/workout or two before making a decision. Use these offers and try several gyms. Different facilities will have different vibes that don’t necessarily come through when shopping online. You need to ‘shake hands and kiss babies’ (not the other way around!) and the only way to do that is to show up and get your hands dirty.
If you find some folks that you really gel with, great! If not, step back a bit and ask yourself if your pre-conceived notions are getting in the way of establishing a personal connection? Maybe you attended your first class and stayed in the corner the whole time? Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock had it right when they said that ‘It Takes Two’. Participate, or don’t expect to experience the feeling of community that so many gyms offer.
Priority Four - Cost
Sure, you don’t want to spend a ton of money. But would you pay a bit extra if you knew that you'd get priorities 1-3 AND great results? Most people would. Maybe you need to prioritize your financial choices a bit differently in order to make a gym membership happen. That’s ok! Skip some of the unhealthy choices you make each month and put that money into your gym membership. When you turn around in six months and LOVE your new health/body/mind you won’t regret the extra cash you spent.
Although I don’t pay for my membership directly (I own the gym), I’ve always looked at my training as an ‘insurance policy’ against sickness. I look at the guys I went to high school with and I’m proud that I’ve kept myself in shape, as many of my schoolmates have not. The investment in time is relatively small (4-5 hours per week) and the returns are many!
Choosing a gym is an important decision. Prioritize first by logistics, then alignment and finally by personalities and cost. Strive for consistent training first and reap the rewards of your smart choice!
I’m biased, but I think that our gym CrossFit Delaware Valley is pretty darned special. If you’d like to try a class at our gym (we have ~8 sessions per day), click the button below to reserve a spot. We work with athletes of all ages and skill levels and you DON’T need to be ‘in shape’ to work with us.