How to find a gym you’ll be pumped to use
Follow this pro advice to get the most out of your membership.
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Signing up for a gym can seem confusing—they all have weights, they all have treadmills, so how different can they really be? But finding a health club, CrossFit Box, or fitness studio where you feel comfortable and confident can make all the difference when it comes to enjoying your workout. Not sure where to start? Check out these trainer-approved tips for finding your fitness home away from home.
1. Consider the workouts you enjoy most
The first step to finding the right gym is identifying what kinds of workouts you want to do. If the free weight section intimidates you, look for a gym that has an ample selection of weight machines to keep your workouts diverse but comfortable. If you have specific training goals in mind, such as running a 5K or doing a century bike ride of 100 miles, look for a gym that has treadmills, stationary bikes, or spin classes to help you reach those goals.
Not much of an exercise aficionado (yet)? You may want to experiment with different workouts to find your jam before signing up for any memberships. Many workout apps have free trials you can use to experiment with strength training, interval training, cardio training, and more to find what makes you want to move. Our favorite workout app, Nike Training Club, is free and includes many different types of workouts like HIIT, yoga, and strength training. You can either complete individual workouts that catch your eye or follow a multi-week program for those who want more structure in their training plan.
You may also want to take your experience level into account when searching for a gym. For most fitness newbies, a typical gym with a variety of equipment will be sufficient for your workouts. But ask your prospective gym if it offers new member discounts on personal trainers, group fitness classes, or other programs to help you get you into a fitness groove, suggests the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). That pro guidance will help keep you safe and boost your confidence on the gym floor, even if you don't continue paying for training after using the promotion.
2. Consider how workouts fit in your schedule
No matter what your preferred workout is, your lifestyle will all affect the gym you join. If you work late nights or early mornings, you'll probably prefer a gym with longer hours. If you travel often, you might want to look for a health club that has multiple locations—and get a membership that grants you access elsewhere. If you enjoy squeezing in a quick workout during your lunch break, a location close to where you work will be key. No matter what, you're more likely to go to the gym if it fits into your routine.
3. Ask about the gym's COVID safety protocols
While every gym should provide a clean workout environment, safety precautions to keep patrons safe from COVID are going to vary depending on your location. Some health clubs may require everyone to wear masks indoors or be vaccinated to attend group classes, whereas other studios may have less strict guidelines. Inquire about the rules ahead of time and see if you feel comfortable abiding by them.
Regardless of COVID requirements, make sure to sanitize equipment before and after you use it—check if the gym has cleaning supplies readily available. You may also want to consider avoiding peak times when the gym is most crowded. And if your gym isn’t mandating any safety protocols, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you follow social distancing guidance and wear a mask to protect yourself and those around you, regardless of your vaccination status.
4. Tour the space with a critical eye
When shopping for a gym, take a tour of the facilities and talk to staff and even current members, if you feel comfortable. This is a great time to ask any questions you may have and get a feel for the gym’s atmosphere. If you’re looking for a full-service club where you can take advantage of group classes or personal training sessions, the IHRSA recommends asking if instructors are nationally certified, to ensure you’re getting the best quality guidance.
“Talk to the staff while taking a tour to get an idea of what the environment is like,” says Dean Seda, an NASM-certified trainer and advisor for Gympass, a service that works with companies to provide gym and fitness studio access to their employees. “If it’s a gym where you have lots of bodybuilder, powerlifter types, that could be quite intimidating to somebody who’s looking to exercise for the first time. But if it’s a gym where you have all types of ability levels and interests, that would be better suited for beginners.”
Vice versa, if you are an experienced powerlifter or marathon runner looking to make serious advancements, finding a gym that has more specialized equipment and coaching would be a better use of your time and money.
5. Utilize gym free-trial passes
Once you find a few options that fits with your lifestyle and seem appealing, take advantage of free trial periods before signing any contracts. “Utilizing free passes is a great way to really try a place out and start to picture what it would be like to be a member there,” Seda says. “Get the experience from the check-in, to leaving, being in the locker room, exercising, interacting with staff—that all matters.”
After exercising at a few different clubs, you may find you loved the staff at one location, or another gym had a group class schedule that worked well for you. You may notice one gym doesn’t have certain amenities like built-in locks in the locker room or complimentary toiletries that another contender offered. You'll want to take these things into consideration before you sign any contracts.
6. Try to negotiate your gym membership
Don’t be afraid to negotiate when signing up. If you toured two gyms in the area that offer the same services at different prices, inquire about why that is and see if the more expensive facility is willing to price-match. It may not reduce the monthly rate, but the second gym might be willing to waive the sign-up fee or throw in a free month at the beginning or end of your contract to give you more bang for your buck.
You can also negotiate contract terms to better suit your needs. If the gym you’re interested in joining only offers year-long or month-to-month contracts but you want to commit only for six months, let the membership advisor know. If it’s financially feasible, you can even offer to pay for a longer term up front to get a better price. For example, maybe you only want to use a club’s pool for half a year, but the month-to-month rate is higher than if you agree to a year-long contract—offering to pay six months in full at the annual contract rate could work out in your favor.
Bottom line: If you’re willing to haggle a bit, you may be able to get a better deal.
7. Know the cancellation policy
As with any other contract, make sure to read the fine print before signing. Some gyms roll out the red carpet to new members, but have tricky cancellation policies that could frustrate you down the line. Thoroughly reading your contract and knowing how far in advance you’ll have to notify of your intent to cancel can save you a headache in the future. Check the gym’s online reviews on sites like Yelp, too—lots of complaints about cancellation is a huge red flag. In those cases, paying a higher month-to-month rate might be worth it, if you’re not sure you want to commit to a year or more of membership.
Spending time at the gym should be fun, and if you’re spending money on a membership you want to make sure it’s worth it. Taking the time to think about what you want out of your membership can help you find the perfect gym for you.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.