By A.C. Shilton for Men's Journal
More people join gyms in January than in any other month. But not all of them will stick around. The International Health, Racquet and Sports Club association (IHRSA) estimates that annual gym attrition rates hover between 20 and 25 percent each year.
So how do you make sure you’re still showing up come August? You find a gym you like, and more importantly, one where you feel comfortable. "From the moment you walk in, it should be about the energy and the experience. Do they greet you? Do the people working out look like they’re having a good time?" asks Jarrod Saracco, a fitness industry consultant with 20 years of experience in the field. "The experience makes or breaks whether a gym keeps you as a member."
Of course, there are more than 32,150 health clubs in the United States, so choosing the right one can take a little doing. Here are 10 must-know tips to make sure you choose the perfect gym the first time.
Find a gym close to home. Most people, despite their best intentions, won't regularly drive more than 15 minutes, says Jim Thomas, a fitness industry consultant. Use Google Maps or another online tool to plot all gyms within a five-mile radius. While you're scoping out your options, check for easy parking, another potential deterrent to hitting the gym.
Visit at your prime workout time.
Saturday afternoon may be the ideal hour to check out a gym, but is it really when you're likely to grind out the miles? "Visit at a time when you're likely to go," says Thomas. More importantly, cruise by the specific equipment you plan on using. If there's a line five deep, try another gym.
Ask for gym reciprocity.
"People don't usually think of this one until they need it," says Thomas. Some major chains offer locations nationwide; many YMCAs offer reciprocity with other YMCAs, for example. Also, ask if a gym partake's in IHRSA's Passport Club. The program gives gym-goers discounted guest rates at participating gyms around the world.
Check for clean machines.
Gyms are germ factories, and keeping things clean takes more than just the nightly cleaning crew swabbing down the floors. A study in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine found rhinovirus (cause of the common cold) on 63 percent of the hand-contact surfaces in the gym tested. A professional crew should come daily, but employees should also be wiping down machines throughout the day. While you're visiting, watch to see whether there's a strict policy of wiping down everything after use (weights especially). If not, pass on the facility -- or come armed with hand sanitizer.
Ask about its emergency plan.
Should you have a cardiac event, you want to be in the gym that's prepared for it. "Most gyms have staff members trained in CPR, but what you really want is a gym with an AED," says Thomas. An automated external defibrillator can vastly improve a patient's chance of surviving a sudden cardiac incident. Make sure the gym as one and has several staff members trained to use it.
Double-check the contract.
In 2008, the Better Business Bureau reported that fitness club complaints had ballooned 90 percent over the previous five years. Contracts were the number one source of complaints. Get all verbal promises in writing, and if you sign up for a contract that automatically charges your card each month, make sure to check your statement to ensure you haven't been charged any extra fees. Also, make sure you read the fine print and ask about what happens to your contact if the club goes out of business. Finally, know that laws vary from state to state, but generally consumers have three to 10 days to change their minds about a contract.
Invest in your membership.
Put money down on specific training that requires scheduled attendance. "I suggest springing for a paid program, like personal training or a small group program, so that there really is accountability," says Saracco. "I tell people to think of it as a protection for your investment. If you can see results, you're going to stick with it."
Check the culture.
Some gyms don't allow grunting in the weight room, or they've removed equipment for being "too intimidating." If you like to get primal during your workouts, that may not be a fit for you. "Try and figure out what the gym's target demographic is," says Saracco. "You want to be that target."
Look beyond the deals.
When you're weighing the costs of potential gyms, it can pay in the long run to sign up for the more expensive option. Bargain gyms often keep members that stop going because the amount of money they pay is so low they don't take the time to cancel their memberships, says Saracco. "They figure, hey, it's only this much money, eventually I'll get back there," he says. But you can guilt yourself into going by spending just a few dollars more -- enough where it feels like it's a real waste if you don't make it at least once a week."
Find a good mix of machines.
When Saracco looks around a gym floor, he takes inventory of whether the machines are all from one company or from multiple vendors. "One company might make a good treadmill, but they probably don't make the best of every type of equipment. When I see only one brand, I see a guy that got a good deal, not a guy who really wants his users to have the best equipment possible." Also, ask when the equipment was purchased and when it's slated for an upgrade.
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