Fitness centers or gyms offer a variety of classes, services and equipment for you to use. Most cities and towns have fitness centers or gyms so you should not have any problem finding one that is close by. The terms fitness center and gym are often used interchangeably. Despite some differences regarding the scope of amenities they provide and the approach they take to fitness as a lifestyle, there is a great degree of overlap in the types of services they offer.
What To Look For In A Fitness Center
Choosing a fitness center isn’t as easy as going to the closest center and signing up. Before you sign up for membership, you should see if they offer guest passes you can use in order to get a better idea of the types of services and equipment they have.
In order to get the most from your fitness center membership, you should take the following factors into consideration:
- Classes Offered
- Hours of Operation
- Equipment & stretching areas
- Personal Trainers
- Cleanliness & Hygiene
- Safety & Emergency
- Extra Features & Perks
- Fitness Center Rules
- Customer Service
These factors are important in choosing the right fitness center. In order to create an effective fitness plan, you need to know the types of equipment available, if trainers are available to help you, and if you will be comfortable with the conditions in the fitness center.
1. Location & Accessibility
It is important that you choose a fitness center close to your home or workplace. If not, you may not feel like driving across town to get to the fitness center every time you need to work out. You should also check for convenient parking for easy access to the fitness center. These can be potential barriers to maintaining a regular workout schedule.
The cost is always an significant factor in choosing a fitness center. Always read your membership agreement carefully before signing it in order to avoid any surprises in the future, especially if you are receiving a discounted price as a new member. If necessary, ask a staff member to explain all the terms of the agreement such as guest fees, payment terms, membership renewals, etc. For example, if you want to bring a guest, many fitness centers will allow day passes. You should check with the fitness center beforehand to make sure you will not be charged extra on your monthly bill.
- Look out for seasonal discounts – Check for discounted rates at the peak enrollment times such as right after the New Year and when the schools start.
- Avoid extras – Refrain from signing up for extra privileges that you may not use at all or might use only on a few occasions.
- Avoid long term contracts – Don’t sign long-term agreements such as 1-3 year blocks. If you don’t like the gym after a few months, you will end up paying for the full membership term regardless of whether you use the facility or not
Number of members
The more popular a fitness center is, the more members it will have. So you need to know how many members the fitness center has and how busy it gets during peak hours. If a fitness center is always crowded, you may need to wait to use the equipment, sign up for classes, or even rotate appointments with a personal trainer. If the fitness center is overcrowded, it may not be able to meet your needs.
Nowadays more fitness centers are catering to only a specific group of people. Some cater exclusively to women or men, others are co-ed. Certain fitness centers attract younger or older people. When visiting a fitness center, look around to see what type of people have memberships. You should feel comfortable with the atmosphere in the center when working out.
The advantage of specialized fitness center is that they often offer programs that appeal more to the population they are targeting. For example, centers targeting seniors may offer more aquasize classes which are a lot less stressful for the older people.
4. Classes Offered
The variety and number of classes offered by a fitness center is also important. If the fitness center doesn’t offer the type of classes you are looking for, it will not meet your needs. Similarly, as many classes fill up quickly, a fitness center that only offer one or two classes during the day may not fit into your schedule. In that case, you need to find a fitness center that offers both day and evening classes.
5. Hours of Operation
People have different preferences and needs when it comes to when they like to work out. While many fitness center are now open 24-hours a day, some others open early in the morning and stay open until mid-night. Find a center that can accommodate your daily schedule so you can continue your workout without interruption. Also, inquire about their holiday hours to see whether they are closed or have restricted hours on those days, if you intend to use holidays as an opportunity to workout.
6. Equipment & Stretching Areas
Types of equipment available
There is an amazing variety of exercise equipment available today such that a fitness center may not carry them all. So when looking for a fitness center, make sure that the center has the equipment you most often use and they have them in multiple units to accommodate people exercising during peak hours. Modern fitness centers usually have most types of exercise equipment such as dumbbells, barbells, weight machines, treadmills, stair mills, bike machines, rowing machines, ellipticals and so on.
Condition of equipment
You should take note of the overall condition of the exercise equipment in the fitness center. Check for wear and tear, broken safety devices, or unsafe equipment. Especially the equipment at many of the older fitness centers may not be in good condition and, hence, might not be safe to use at all. A fitness center that is well maintained will be able to offer you a safe and good workout.
Many fitness centers surprisingly devote only a small space for stretching and some others don’t have any. Be aware that stretching is an essential part of a workout so it should not be left out. If the stretching space only accommodates a few people, you are not likely to be devoting much time to this aspect of your fitness routine.
7. Personal Trainers
Fitness centers offer many types of personal training packages. Some centers offer plans that are included with your membership whereas with others you have to buy it separately.
If you want to hire a personal trainer, find a fitness center that has at least eight to ten trainers on staff. This way you will be able to get the appointments you need in order to develop a consistent fitness plan. Centers that do not have enough trainers are usually overbooked and will not be able to give you the personal attention you need. Also find out if they have discounts for groups in case you happen to have some friends who train at the same center as well.
9. Cleanliness and Hygiene
Cleanliness is an essential factor in choosing a fitness center. If the fitness center is not maintained and kept clean on a regular basis by a professional crew, you may not feel comfortable working out there. Especially the hand-contact surfaces on the equipment need to be sanitized after each use throughout the day by employees to prevent germs from multiplying and spreading all over the place. Just in case, it is always a good idea to take a sanitizer with you.
10. Safety and Emergency
It’s extremely important that a fitness facility must have proper safety and medical emergency procedures in place.
Needless to say, a fitness center should provide a safe environment for its members to workout. You should consider several factors ranging from the maintenance of the building, equipment and machines to the staff supervising the fitness floor.
If there is an injury or medical emergency, the staff should be competent enough to handle it properly. Ask if the facility has an automated external defibrillator (AED) and they have staff trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). An AED is a medical device that can analyze a person’s heart rhythm and, if necessary, deliver an electric shock to help the heart re-gain its normal rhythm. In case of a sudden cardiac incident, an AED can be a life saver by improving the patient’s chances of surviving while waiting for paramedics to arrive.
11. Extra Features and Perks
Many fitness centers offer additional services to their members for convenience, usually at an additional cost. These services may include day care, massage, sauna, physical therapy, healthy juice and snack bar. Take advantage of these services in order to get the most from your membership. Also, some fitness centers offer discounts on various services such as tanning or fitness clothing at certain businesses. If you are traveling a lot on business or leisure, you may want to consider a chain fitness brand so you will have access to their sister centers at no extra charge. Always inquire about any additional services you may need and their cost before signing up for a membership.
12. Fitness Center Rules
When visiting a fitness center, always ask for the membership rules in order to familiarize yourself with them. Try to observe if other people working out in the facility are following them and if the rules are being enforced. Most fitness centers require that you wipe down the equipment after using it, put all equipment back in its place, and only use certain equipment for a specific length of time. If you feel uncomfortable with any of the rules or you notice they are not being enforced, you should not join the fitness center.
8. Customer Service
Those who work at a fitness center should be friendly, courteous and helpful. You should feel special when walking into your fitness center rather than being treated just like another member. The staff should be qualified to guide you through the fitness program of your choice and be capable of answering your questions so you can make the most of your membership. If your questions are not answered satisfactorily or you don’t feel comfortable with the overall customer service, then you should go somewhere else.
How To Choose A Personal Trainer
Personal trainers can help you in many ways. Not only will they help you target specific muscle groups, they will also motivate you, give you advice on diet and nutrition, and listen to your fitness issues. Choosing the right personal trainer is important because this is the person you will be working with to reach your fitness goals.
Factors to consider
The larger the fitness center, the more trainers there will be on staff to help you create a fitness plan and meet your fitness goals. When deciding on a personal trainer, you should take the following into account:
- Trainer’s credentials (education and certification)
- Trainer’s experience
- Trainer’s specializations
- Trainer’s reputation
- Trainer’s personality
- Trainer’s philosophy
- Trainer’s motivational skills
- Trainer’s method of tracking progress
- Trainer’s cost
- Trainer’s availability
Observe the trainer for a while before approaching him or her to ask if they are available. If you have any questions, ask the trainer to see how he or she answers them. After finding a trainer you feel comfortable with, schedule an appointment to develop a fitness routine.
What to ask the trainer
You need to ask several questions to find the right trainer for yourself. Personal trainers can be expensive so choosing the right one is important for the success of your fitness program. After all, you should only give your money to someone who is qualified to guide you.
Here are some questions to ask your personal trainer before hiring him or her:
- What are your qualifications?
- What are your certifications?
- Are your trained in CPR?
- How long have you been working as a personal trainer?
- How long have you worked at this fitness center?
- Do you have references?
- Why do you enjoy being a personal trainer?
- What is your fitness program like?
Keep in mind that many personal trainers work as independent contractors and are not employees of the fitness facility. You should also find out if the trainer you want to hire has professional liability insurance. To avoid any misunderstanding regarding billing, cancellation and other issues, and to protect your rights, keep everything in writing.
A personal trainer should have a current certification accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) so you have the assurance that you are working with a qualified trainer who has the background and skills to guide you towards your fitness goals. If necessary, ask to see his or her certification to make sure it is still valid. You can also contact the certification agency to verify a trainer’s status.
Best Times To Workout At A Fitness Center
Depending on whether you want to work out in front of others or not, there are specific times to visit the fitness center. The best times are:
- Early in the morning
- Early afternoon
- Late evening
You will find that most traffic will be after the workday is over and on the first half of the weekend. Working out in a crowded center means you will have to wait longer to use the equipment, you may not be able to use certain machines as long as you normally would want to, and you may have to wait to get into the shower as well.
Going to the fitness center during off hours will allow you to focus on your fitness plan much better. If your fitness center is open 24 hours a day, there will be more times to choose from.
Most fitness centers offer a good variety of classes for members during the day, in the evening, and on the weekend. The most common classes offered by fitness centers include:
- Spinning classes
- Strength training
- Weight training
When a new class is forming, you should sign up as soon as possible as these classes are usually smaller in size and fill up quickly. Choose those classes that will challenge you to build your strength and endurance.
If you are interested in a class but are unsure if you can handle it, ask the trainer who is teaching it. He or she will be able to tell you the physical shape you should be in, how long the class will take to complete, and the types of equipment you will be using. You should always try different classes in order to find the ones that are most beneficial for your fitness goals.
Before you join a fitness center, you should try a class to see how they are run, the level of the class, and the personal approach of the trainer.
Fitness Center Safety
When working out, it is important to always use the equipment in a safe manner. It is very easy to strain muscles, drop equipment, or hurt yourself and others if you are not careful.
Simple ways to stay safe when working out include:
- Learn how to use various equipment properly
- Picking up free weights by bending at the knee and not using back muscles
- Only lifting what you can
- Handling equipment easily and not throwing it around
- Gradually increasing weight instead of using two or three different weights in one session
- Asking personal trainers for help when necessary
- Using correct posture when using free weights and machines
- Reporting members who are not using equipment safely
- Always stretch before and after workout
- Take a beginner class if you are unfamiliar with a certain exercise program
- Do not work out everyday
If you injure yourself while working out, you should stop immediately and not work out again until you recover. You may need to visit a doctor if the pain lasts for more than a few days.
Working out after surgery or giving birth is not recommended. You have to wait until your body is ready. There are other fitness activities you may be able to participate in while you recover including walking and light stretching.
Pros and Cons Of Fitness Centers
Fitness centers can help you reach your fitness goals by providing you with equipment, classes, personal trainers and a friendly environment to work out. Nevertheless, you should weigh up the pros and cons of signing up with a fitness center to see if the benefits of your membership are worth your time and money.
- Different types of high-quality exercise machines and equipment available
- Motivates people into following their fitness plan
- Meet others who enjoy working out
- Classes for a variety of activities are available
- Personal trainers are available to guide you
- Various amenities like a spa, sauna, swimming pool
- Membership fees can be high
- Fitness centers can become overcrowded to get a pleasant workout
- You have to wait to use the equipment or other amenities
- Not everyone respects the rules
- Personal trainers are not always available
- Requires a lot of commitment and motivation
- Poor hygiene
- Lack of privacy
- Not suitable for unsocial people
Working Out With A Partner
Instead of hiring a personal trainer, some people decide to join a fitness center with friends or family members and work out together. When two people are motivated, they can encourage each other, make sure they are using the equipment properly, and challenge each other to meet certain goals.
When working out with a partner, you should:
- Help or warn them when necessary
- Provide positive encouragement and motivation
- Create a fitness plan that is similar
- Commit to a workout time that fits both of your schedules
- Join classes both of you are interested in
- Take advantage of joint membership
Working out with another person can be productive when both of you want to make positive changes in your lives. If one of you is not as dedicated as the other, however, the partnership may not work to keep you motivated. If this happens, don’t be discouraged, talk to the person and decide what to do next. Most people find another partner or begin working out alone.
People join fitness centers for different reasons. If you want to try a center, ask for a day pass to see what it is like and if it will meet you expectations. However, if you are not careful with your selection, you may end up joining a fitness club you don’t want to attend and waste your money.