Finding a new gym in modern times can definitely be overwhelming, but it is an important decision to make for long-term health & happiness.
You do spend a lot of time there (hopefully), including the training, the traveling to get there, the interaction with staff before & after, and also from the social activities with like minded people you meet there.
Too often people end up at the wrong place, not fulfilling their needs, paying for something they don’t use and feeling like they’ve made a huge mistake. Your gym is an important part of your life so find one that fits exactly what you want.
There are many different options out there & you don’t necessarily NEED a gym to strength train or get in shape. You can do body weight exercises outside, attend community boot camps or make your own garage/home gym.
However, for those of us who want to focus on barbell training, obstacle specific, boxing and other forms of functional training and don’t have the space (or resources) to build our own gym, a gym membership ends up being the best option.
The point of this article is to find the right gym for you and also at a good price.
Figure out exactly what you want
Picking a gym isn’t as easy as running to the closest gym and signing up. There are a lot of things you need to take into consideration:
The first thing you should do is make a list of what you’re looking for. I would be sure to make the distinction on your list between: “important” and “nice to have.”
Let’s cover some of the basic things to look for:
- Equipment – It’s silly to be at a gym with machines if your goals are to get the conditioning for outdoor activities which require full body movements. Also if you are looking for strength training but don’t have experience, perhaps a gym with kettlebells, with guidance would be good & then you can progress to barbells. Are you looking just to slog it out on cardio equipment or are you looking for High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) style such as sleds, box jumps, tyres etc.
A basic functional gym or commercial gym should at least have these:
- Power Racks (or at least squat racks)
- Lifting Platforms
- Dumbbells up to 50kgs
- Pull-up Bars/Dip Stations
- Flat Bench
- Cardio Options
- Bumper Plates & Barbells
- A variety of kettlebell weights
- Classes – A lot of gym’s these days run a class format alongside their memberships &/or personal training or one type as their product which can be anything from yoga, some sort of dance fitness, to kickboxing. We’ve found that classes are extremely helpful, especially for people who are just starting out for motivation, the commitment to get there at a certain time and stay for the duration. If classes are something you’ll be interested in, check out which classes are available and be sure to factor this into your price considerations later.
- Amenities – Some gyms offer awesome amenities which you can’t get by working out at home. Have kids? Some offer a crèche so you can get a distraction free workout. Need to relax after a hard workout? Saunas, steam rooms & swimming pools will give you that. Female and nervous about working out around guys? Some offer women’s only areas or classes. Short on time? Some gyms have express classes or workouts under an hour.
- Distance and feel – A huge part of going to the gym is getting away; whether to end your day at the office or to have a focused & fun environment before going home to relax. I go crazy if I don’t go to the gym because it’s my “me time” away from everything else that’s going on. Is this gym’s distance from your work/home about right? Is this a place you can feel comfortable working out?
- Training/Coaching – Are you knowledgeable enough to be left by yourself and get the exact results you want? A lot of gyms have specialists to assist, teach techniques & correct form. Another option if you would prefer one on one attention is Personal Training, expect to pay a bit more for this service. Be sure to not only find a trainer with the correct skill set but also a person with similar values to yourself, who applies the same professionalism to his/her work as you do to yours & is there to motivate and keep you progressing. Most gym’s should at the minimum give you a program to follow free of charge for taking out a membership with them.
- Rules – It may be a “nice to have” to be able to bring your kids with you to the gym. For some people a gym without kids entirely might be more appealing. Does the gym let you train shirtless, lack cleanliness or not properly supervise training or does it command respect and excellence in these areas? Some gyms might not allow you to wear barefoot shoes and use kettlebells – two things that a lot of you may like. So even if the facility has everything you want and it’s the right price – you would not be very happy there.
Also remember when making this list that a gym is a long term commitment – so look ahead.
- If you’re focusing on kettlebell training, make sure the kettlebells go high enough – as a lady, when you start out 8kgs may be heavy, however when you are regularly using them 24kgs is not unrealistic.
- If you think there’s any chance you’ll want to eventually try out the Olympic lifts, look for bumper plates and a gym that lets you drop the weight.
- If you think in the future you want to try boxing or get involved in obstacle course challenges and plan to shell out separately for a class later, consider that now!
Gym memberships range anywhere from R200 a month to over R2000 a month.
When looking at cost, remember that you get what you pay for. However, that doesn’t mean you need to go for the highest cost gym.
Don’t forget about the little things that could be the things that you end up using every day. For example, if you’re going to the gym on your lunch hour, a gym with clean showers can be invaluable.
What exactly will you have to pay for, in addition to your daily gym routine?
- Often you have to pay more depending how many classes you do or some gyms give you access to all their classes. Are you likely to want to do more classes which would increase your fees?
- What is the parking arrangement, a gym with free parking will save you a lot each month instead of forking out close to an additional membership.
- Do you need to splash out cash monthly to keep up with the latest clothing trends in your gym, is that a necessary expense?
- Are you going to lack motivation in a self use gym and going to need to pay a lot extra for a Personal Trainer. Would it be wiser & more cost effective to join a class format gym, where you get motivation & results for a fraction of the price?
Location and Hours
Consider options close to both home and work. While a gym membership close to work could be convenient, if you work an hour away from home, you definitely won’t be working out on the weekends.
If you can’t always make the peak class times or just want to do your own thing, does the gym allow this or do you have to forfeit your workout?
Remember – it’s better to pay a little extra to pick a gym that you’ll actually use instead of paying a smaller price on an unused gym membership.
The prime location for a gym is on your way to and home from work. That way, not only are you forced to drive by it twice a day, but you’re not spending any extra money on petrol to get there.
Types of Gyms
Be sure to consider the many types of gyms, picking one that actually suits your needs.
Globo Gyms – Often big name franchises, these are typically where you’re going to find your R200 a month deals. For many, the only “perk” is tanning (which we don’t really consider a “perk”). While often super inexpensive and usually offer good guest pass policies, globo gyms often offer less amenities, certain training is often banned, and they can suffer from a limited free weight section and inexperienced staff.
Health Clubs – These are often similar to globo gyms, but are franchises offering a higher level of service. You’ll find there are more amenities offered, such as saunas, computers to use, a crèche and TVs on some of the cardio machines. However, these gyms can be upwards of R800 a month, occasionally disallow types of training, and may have a limited free weights section. However, if you’re looking for a pool or tennis courts, these may be your only option.
Note: Franchises (both small globo gyms and bigger health clubs) can be great if you travel a lot, as you can usually get a premium membership that gives you access to all of their locations.
Locally Owned Gyms – These run in the R500/month range, and often offer much better equipment and a better free weight selection. However, their amenities are not as nice as a health club and don’t have classes. But since the staff is usually the owner or someone close to the owner, they are usually much more helpful and knowledgeable than the staff at the franchise gyms.
Weightlifting Club/Barbell Club/CrossFits – These are typically one room gyms with pull-up bars, barbells, dumbbells, and bumper plates. The membership usually includes coaching and classes, however, they’re usually more expensive (due to a coach being included) and only open a few very specific hours during the day. In these gyms, you’re also usually expected to follow the club’s programming and not your own.
Studio/Class gyms – they usually specialise in one type of class, i.e. Yoga, boxing, cardio and often convert into one on one training or a mini gym outside peak times. Their focus is mainly on the skill and while the workouts are good, the variety is low and often they cut costs on changing room facilities. The good thing about these studios are that they usually have a cafe on site and also provide a standard product.
Test drive the gym
So now you’ve figured out what type of gym you want to join, made your list of everything you need, and found gyms in the right location.
Before you sign up for a gym, ask for a guest pass. Some gyms give out a free week pass, some you might have to pay for a one month contract. Even if you have to pay for it, it’s totally worth it.
Make sure you go at the time of day that you’re planning on going regularly. There’s nothing worse than finding a perfect gym, signing a big contract, and then discovering that the gym is so swamped with people after your work day that you can’t even get to the equipment you’d like to use.
During your guest visits there are lots of things to look for:
Is the equipment in good working order?
Is there enough equipment for everyone or are you fighting for a bench?
What’s the general vibe of the gym? Does it seem clean?
If you’re going before work, are there enough showers available? Did you have to wait to use one?
It’s also never a bad idea to talk to the other members and ask them what they like and dislike about the gym. You can also read reviews online on sites like Facebook or Google, but remember that people are more likely to complain than compliment, so take all online reviews with a pinch of salt.
One of the big reasons many people don’t want to sign up for a gym is because they don’t want to sign up for a contract!
However, if you read everything and know exactly what you’re signing, a contract isn’t all that bad.
Specific Items to look for in a contract:
- Is there a cancellation fee?
- Can you freeze your contract if you are away for a month ?
- Does the membership renew automatically?
Always get everything the sales person promises you in writing (and remember that most of the time they are working on commission). I’d also suggest that you get a copy of the contract and take it home with you to read before you sign it. If they won’t let you do that, that’s a bad sign.
Remember, if the sales person is overly pushy, or you don’t feel comfortable for any reason, walk out.
Take a look on the website before you go in to see if they’re offering any deals.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate, they’re often given a range of prices that they can sell a membership at, with a higher commission rate at the most expensive one. The worst thing they can do is say no.
Some gyms will offer a better rate if you take out a longer contact or pay upfront, so consider it if that’s an option financially.
Gyms have a huge variety of equipment, so it may beat trying to workout at home if you want to try some new things.
If you train with dumbbells, you don’t need to keep buying larger dumbbells as you get stronger, and you’ll never run out of weight plates if you focus on barbell training. You might even find comfort in a ladies only class or try out something cool like an obstacle course class after witnessing it or seeing peeps do things which you too would like to attempt.
Plus, working out around other people can be motivating to push yourself harder.
There are cons to joining a gym as well. These include the cost, having to work out around people you don’t know, waiting for equipment if you go during busy hours, and driving there.
Remember, you don’t need to join a gym to strength train or get healthy. You can always stick to body-weight routines, buy a basic barbell or dumbbell set, or focus on other equipment such as suspension training (TRX) or kettlebells.
Something which a lot of fit & healthy people are looking for these days is the sense of community, so they want to meet and train alongside new people and feel part of something greater. So choose gyms where people’s morals and values align with your own if you are looking to build meaningful relationships.
I know personally, the gym is my sanctuary, where I push myself to be better and switch off from everything else in the world. It’s my time to relax and focus on myself, so I wouldn’t trade having the option of a gym for anything. Obviously I have found my happy place, in fact I’ve built it, but make sure you too are completely in love with the place where you workout. I hope you have found this article helpful and find the gym which is exactly right for you.
Happy gymming 🙂