By Sheryl Smolkin
Read this article and comments at Moneyville.ca
Over ten years ago my husband and I joined a gym together. We typically go to the gym two nights a week and Sunday mornings. As a result we’ve both lost weight and kept most of it off.
However, at the beginning of every year, a horde of new members ascends on the gym in pursuit of their New Year’s resolution to shed the excess pounds they are carrying around their middle.
It isn’t until most of the “resolutionists” give up after six or eight weeks that things get back to normal and we don’t have to fight the crowds to use the equipment or the locker room.
Based on our own experience, here are some of the things you should consider if you are joining a gym to enhance the experience and improve the odds that this will be the year that you become a regular. And then by next January, you too can feel just a little bit smug when the inevitable “resolutionists” make their annual appearance.
We joined a gym right around the corner from our house that validates three hours of underground parking. It is a chain with locations in Ottawa, Stratford and other parts of Ontario that we have often used when we are in those cities. Other Toronto branches just a few minutes away keep longer hours and one has an elevator and a swimming pool which was very useful when I injured my back several years ago.
Sometimes I think joining a gym is like buying a car. The actual price is never posted, and your offer has to be “confirmed with the manager.” Beware of new member specials where you get a reduced rate for several months but you have to sign up for a year and provide credit card or bank account information to get the deal. See if your company has a corporate rate or if there are enough interested people to negotiate one. Because my husband’s employer has a corporate deal, we each only pay $320/year for our membership and his is partially paid by the company.
3. Business track record
Find out how long the gym you are interested in has been around. Particularly if you choose to pay for a year in advance, you’d like the gym to stay in business for at least that long. Also check out CBC Marketplace’s January 2011 exposé called Big Gym Ripoff which offers tips on how to avoid continuing to be charged after cancellation of membership and how to avoid being charged for services not requested or received.
4. Available equipment
What kind of cardio equipment does the gym have? Do the cardio machines have individual TVs in the dashboard? How difficult is it to get the use of a cardio machine in peak hours like 4-7 PM? Are there sufficient weight machines and free weights? Is there a sizeable stretch area with balls, Bosu balls, free weights and mats? You will have little incentive to return often if the equipment you need is never available.
5. What’s included?
Towel service is really useful, particularly if you work out before work or at lunch time. If you like to take classes, find out which classes are included, when they are offered and which ones are premium offerings requiring an additional fee (i.e., hot yoga or Zumba). See if you can take a sample class. Some gyms (i.e. Goodlife) offer pre-choreographed classes so you can have a similar experience with any instructor at any time. Others give their instructors more leeway to offer a more customized routine.
6. Cleanliness and upkeep
There is nothing more discouraging than broken equipment that is not fixed on a timely basis or grubby locker rooms with piles of damp, smelly towels. When you get “the tour” make sure to take a look at these areas and satisfy yourself as to the club’s cleanliness and upkeep.
7. Personal training
Find out how many personal trainers there are, their qualifications and the cost of personal training. Also ask how many sessions you have to buy at a time. My husband and I used to work out with a trainer, but when the gym began pushing the purchase of 24 sessions at a time and training two or more times per week, we decided to go it alone for a while.
8. Cancellation policy
If you are ill or have an injury, you may want to put your membership on hold for a month or more and stop automatic monthly withdrawals from your account. If you move or simply don’t want to continue your membership, find out how difficult it is to cancel the contract and cease making regular payments. If at all possible, pay annually and do not ever give the gym your credit card or bank account information.
9. Child care facilities
When our gym was being renovated, a nursery was initially not in the plans until I phoned the VP and started a mom’s petition. Whether you are home with young children and want to work out during the day, or you are letting your wife sleep in on a Sunday morning, child care facilities can make it much easier for you to fit in a work out.
10. Atmosphere or culture
Finally, satisfy yourself that the gym you are considering is a good fit. Some women like to exercise in a women’s only facility. Others may prefer locker rooms with a shower stall with a door and the option of separate changing rooms. Heavy metal gyms that cater to body builders may not appeal to less dedicated individuals. Don’t forget community centres and YM/YWCAs that have fitness memberships in addition to a whole roster of other services.