Questions to Ask When Considering Joining a Gym, by Lisa Snow

lisa-snow-2  As a personal trainer, I not only hear people’s success stories, but also the frustrations they have with their gym.  In some cases, the gym’s policies aren’t the best.  But more often, the person just chose a gym that might be great for someone else, but wasn’t right for them.  As summer begins, and people start focusing more on getting in shape, here are some questions to ask to find a gym that’s not just good, but good for you.

 Do they offer classes?  What kinds?

Most people who join a gym—if they don’t go with a friend and don’t sign up for classes—quit after a month or two.  Gyms know that and count on it.  They make money by charging you for a membership you don’t use.  Signing up for at least one class when you first join dramatically improves your chances of actually getting your money’s worth out of your membership.  If you know you love yoga, or are dying to try spin for the first time, make sure your gym offers those classes—and that they’re at a time you can actually attend!

A gym for families with kids or for adults? 

Are there classes your kids can go to while you’re doing your own workout?  Are there activities the whole family can do together?  On the other hand, if you don’t have children, it may be a huge plus for you to go to a gym that’s not family friendly, where you can have peace and quiet in the locker room and avoid rowdy kids in the pool.

 What kinds of programs are available for seniors?

Many gyms offer Silver Sneakers and other specialized classes for seniors.  Some gyms that don’t offer senior classes still have other great things for seniors.  Some gyms have a big discount on a membership that only allows you to come during their off-peak hours—like midmorning when seniors would want to come anyway.  Others have specialized machines like an upper body bicycle called a UBE that are great for seniors who may use a wheelchair or walker.

 Is there a pool?  Who uses it?  When is it available?

Most people do remember to ask if there’s a pool, but don’t ask any follow-up questions.  That’s a big mistake.  If you’re a hardcore lap swimmer determined to get in your cardio before work, you’ll be very frustrated if that’s the time of day the pool is in use by a local school’s swim team.  On the other hand, if you’re a mom with kids who wants family swim time, you’ll be frustrated if this gym only cares about the lap swimmers.

 Will they keep my credit card info on file?

Although most gyms are honest, I’ve heard a few horror stories about customers battling gyms to get them to stop billing their credit card monthly after they’ve stopped going.  Credit card autobill programs aren’t necessarily bad.  But, there are several things you can do to protect yourself.  You don’t need to do all these; any one of these strategies should be enough.

1) Know what you’re signing before you do credit card autobill.  If you sign a 1 year contract and then quit going after 2 months, the gym has a legal right to keep billing you, because YOU already said they could.

2) Use a credit card, but don’t do autobill.  You can pay for the whole year in a single payment.  Or you may be able to pay 1 month at a time (more expensive than having a contract, but it’s worth it if you’re not ready to commit to this particular gym.)

3) Most gyms still accept checks, so you might not have to give your credit card at all.

Whichever strategy you choose, make sure you check out the gym’s reputation online.  Realize that EVERY business has 1 or 2 disgruntled customers, so don’t avoid a gym just because of one bad Yelp review.  But a gym that has a couple dozen angry customers doesn’t deserve your money.

 What is the introductory session like?  What if I want more help after that?

Most gyms offer a free orientation session where one of the trainers shows you how to use the equipment.  Other gyms use the free session for a fitness assessment, so you can see where you are in terms of strength, cardio, flexibility, and so on.  Still other gyms will use the one free hour as a chance to show you what a personal training session would be like.  So ask what the free trial session will consist of.  Usually at the end of the demo session, the trainer discusses the gym’s personal training fees and tries to gauge your interest.  But you’re under no obligation to sign up for training.  Even if you’re not ready to sign up for a training package (or do want to sign up for training, but with a different personal trainer), use this session as an opportunity to learn a few moves you can continue on your own, or get an answer to a question you’ve had for a long time.  If you want a 1-on-1 refresher of how to do specific exercises, many gyms allow you to purchase one or two training sessions at a time.

Does the gym allow you to bring in your own personal trainer?

While nearly all gyms have their own staff of trainers, some gyms also allow members to bring in a trainer from the outside, who they found on their own.  Clients often find independent trainers online, or as referrals from a friend, family member, or doctor.  Small, locally owned gyms are more likely to allow you to bring in your own trainer.  Chain gyms are more likely to block outside trainers and require members to work with one of their staff trainers.

 What equipment do they have and how do I use it?

Lots of people have no clue how to use gym equipment, and every one of them thinks they’re the only one who doesn’t know!!!  Examples: A) someone who’s never joined a gym before, B) someone who used to exercise all the time, but hasn’t been to a gym in years, and C) someone who goes to the gym every day, but only does the treadmill and hasn’t the faintest idea how to use the weight machines.  Put them all together, and that’s a huge group of people!  NEVER be afraid to ask questions of the trainers or other staff members.  Although the trainers aren’t allowed to “train you” without you signing up and paying for personal training sessions, that just means they can’t spend an hour working with you 1-on-1 for free (duh).  But they are absolutely available for 5 minute questions!  Who cares if a staff member showed you how to use the chest press machine last week and you forgot?  Ask again!  (You work a million hours a week and have a lot on your mind.  Trainers get it.)

As you can see, there are no right or wrong answers, only questions.  But the more questions you ask, the more likely you will be to find a gym that actually offers what you want.


Missed last month’s column? Read it now:

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