9 Tips to Picking the Perfect Gym

Are you gym-wise? Learn how to find a fitness club that’s right for you.


Whether you’re just starting out, a Baby Boomer or overweight, joining a gym is an excellent way to get exercise. Use these tips to choose a fitness club that’s right for you.

1. Check out the convenience factor. The most common excuse people give for not working out is they simply don’t have the time, says Michael Mantell, senior consultant for the American Council on Exercise. Eliminate that one from your list by choosing a gym that’s near your home or work. Make sure the gym hours suit your own schedule. Does it have a pre-dawn opening for early birds or an after-hours option for night owls? If it fits in your day, you’re more likely to go.

2. Get a visitor’s pass. Most gyms allow you to work out for free for a day, and sometimes up to a week, so you can experience the facilities firsthand. Take advantage of it. Tour the gym and confirm that you’re comfortable with everything from the locker rooms to the other clientele. If possible, visit at different times of the day to gauge the crowds.

3. Ask about free assessments. Pre-workout screenings tell a great deal about the gym’s sensitivity and knowledge of special needs, says Mantell. Detailed assessments of fitness factors such as agility, coordination, endurance, balance and strength can be tremendously helpful in allowing you to structure a successful workout program. Many gyms include this service for free with membership.

4. Find classes that are gentle on joints. Classes are usually included in the membership fee, so find a gym with classes you can actually take. “Ideally, you’ll find aquatic fitness, stretching programs, tai chi and other exercises that are appropriate for arthritis,” says Mantell. “Look for [classes] that can be taken either standing or sitting, are low-impact and include a full range of motion.” If you’re planning on swimming or taking water-based classes, warmer water is better suited for those with arthritis. Look for temperatures above 83 degrees F.

5. Consider a well-rounded class schedule. For seniors, programs should focus not just on cardio or strength training, but work on flexibility and balance as well. “Balance degrades as we get older, but we can maintain and often improve balance if we work at it,” says Becky Williamson, owner of lifeSport Fitness in San Jose, Calif.

6. Look for members and programs you can relate to. “It’s nice to work out with like-minded people, and to have at least some others who are in a similar age group,” says Mantell. If you’re a Baby Boomer, consider senior-specific programs, which provide mental fitness activities and social programs in addition to physical fitness classes. Overweight? There are certain fitness centers that tailor to a plus-sized clientele.

7. Check for arthritis-friendly amenities. Make sure there’s plenty of open floor space so you can move around in comfort. Resistance machines should be relatively easy to adjust, and cardio equipment should include relatively low levels and safety mechanisms so you can get on and off easily, adds Mantell. Stretching mats, light weights, exercise balls and resistance bands should be available, too.

8. Request the right trainer. Ask to be paired with a trainer who has experience working with people who have arthritis or physical limitations and/or who are overweight or a senior citizen. He or she will better understand your challenges and be able to provide appropriate advice, such as equipment to try or to avoid.

9. Read the fine print. Look closely at any contract before signing and make sure you’re not locked in for any period longer than you want to commit. It’s also helpful to ask if there’s a trial membership period and/or an early cancellation option and/or fee. “If you find that your arthritis is negatively affected for some reason through the exercises, or the facility is not providing you with the type of assistance you were looking for, can you get out of the contract with no significant penalties?” asks Mantell. If you address it up front, you’re more likely to be satisfied in the long run and stick with your fitness routine.

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