How to Choose A New Gym

What to look for in a new gym

A resourceful young lady restless with her body's fitness collected and clipped together the Mind & Muscle columns presented since January 18th. She gleaned through the contents and extracted the thoughts and strategies that appealed to her. Furthermore, she applied them, at first, in an awkward way and discovered to her surprise an internal ability to connect the chaos I offered and found a working continuity as she practiced. She hung to the words "determination," "persistence" and "patience" until they became more than words but her very own attributes.

"I've changed," she muses, "I'm ready to go to a gym." Good for her. It takes courage to seek out a gym and walk through the front door, expecting a throng of obnoxiously confident and shapely bodies to evaluate your hips and biceps. Your nifty home gym in the garage, basement or bedroom becomes most attractive suddenly, limitations and all. You miss your little blue mat and the tinkle of your dumbbells. Relax. Let's pick out a gym for our daring friend and talk about her choices. Let there be light.

Gyms come in all shapes and sizes: squares, rectangles, L-shaped, U-shaped, upper level and two stories. Go to the cities and they're on penthouse floors; go to the suburbs and they cover acres with ball courts and pools and restaurants and golf facilities. Each gym has its own personality largely based on its ownership and operating team, the neighborhood in which it resides and, subsequently, the folks it attracts. Like a mate, there's a gym for everybody.

Here's an outline of determining factors to mull over how they suit your expectations:

Price: An obvious consideration, but how much it costs to get the most of what you want and need should not be at the top of the list. Hopefully, you'll recognize the imperative nature and true value of your training activity and decide that you'd easily pay more for a gym that inspires.

Location: The nearer to home, work or the center of your activities, the better. The world has become complicated and excuses fly when we're on the wrong side of town. Time is money. Right? Truth is, it's a mistake to put your health and well-being in second place to getting home or even going to the bank. Convenience is golden but don't let it dictate joining a gym you find unlikable just because it's at your off-ramp.

Hours: Here's where 24-Hour gyms shine. Just knowing you can go anytime you want has a great appeal. Where do you fit in? Try your best to set a time when your minutes in the gym are honored, un-rushed and efficaciously applied. Smile. Be happy. Will you really train at 3am?

Phone contact: Let your fingers do the walking for the first curious steps. If you dial a likely gym and they snap, "What do you want?" you might put a little question mark by that one and go on to the next facility on your list. Everyone has a bad day. If you ask price and the answer becomes a secret, put a check by that club and move on. Slick talk is not reserved for carnivals and '80s used-car dealerships. We have to be sharp. Listen for honesty as you engage in conversation, whether professionally conveyed or offered through yet-inexperienced youthfulness. Eventually, you'll want your answers made clear in a visit and a week's worth of complimentary workouts.

Membership volume (crowd): How crowded does your prospective gym get? This is a major consideration and can be determined only by visiting the facility at those hours when you plan to be working out. Hop on a stationary bike for a fifteen-minute cruise and assess your surroundings. What if this was my home training ground? A grand gym down the street with all the attractions and equipment is of no use at all if you can't work out with focus and efficiency because there are too many bodies on the floor. In fact, the anxiety that ensues is a near crisis to the serious trainer. You want to move smoothly from exercise to exercise without mobs, glares or testy attitudes. Muy importante, amigo. Hey, is there parking?

Amenities: Don't pay for a lap pool, giant sauna, lounge and aerobics room if you're not going to use them. More is not necessarily better and it might be necessarily more expensive. Larger gyms tend to be clubby. Is that what you're looking for? Perhaps. Consider your personality to confirm a good fit.

Equipment: The quality and condition of equipment and the choice of "the tools of the trade" are central to the final decision. Well-maintained machinery not fresh out of the crate can be more useful and fun than the recent trick gadgetry turned out daily in this big-bucks industry by tacky, techie entrepreneurs. Enough equipment is enough; too much, poorly laid out can be a setting for a factory and not a functional gym.

Atmosphere: Are you standing in a muscle-building gym or a scene where boy meets girl and they hang out like it was a mall? Do the "babes" stare at the big guys as they spear their Olympic bars across the floor and grunt? Do you think this is cool? No? Go to the next merchant of fitness on your list.

Management attitude: Look for respect, politeness, honest and direct answers, eagerness to show you around and discuss your needs and the gym's attributes. Do you feel like a number, dollar sign or a fellow iron and steel aficionado? It happens not infrequently that a good gym is the victim of the bad rap that comes from the bottom-line sharks and several minutes of open conversation brings the dross to the surface.

Clientele: Who's to your left, who's to your right and are they agreeable? Are they snobs, are they slobs? Do they yell and groan and bang the weights around? I'm bad. Do they tiptoe and wiggle and whimper? You want to feel comfortable wherever you are: accepted, appreciated and encouraged. You want to look forward to your time in the gym where you can focus, learn and grow. A good gym should be a refuge where you can lick your wounds as well as a haven of energy for hard work and physical expression.

Cleanliness and neatness, two outstanding qualities that define the ownership and membership — they are marks of order, responsibility and respect. Perfect is not possible where people by the hundreds work and play but a unified effort to keep the corners clean is admirable, to say nothing of hygienic. Let's put our weights away and pick up after ourselves, encouraged the merry ole muscle maker in a jolly voice. He the Man.

I've run out of space and there's a lot more to say. I'll end it here and pick up on some subtle points next time when I give you a run down on personal trainers and what a body can expect. The good, the bad and the whatever.


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