As much as you don't want to join a gym that doesn't have what you require, there's no point in joining somewhere with facilities that you’ll never use, since all you’ll be doing is subsidising someone else.
How much does it cost?
Most gyms offer the option of either a single lump sum payment, or monthly subscriptions. In general, you can expect to pay between £20 and £60 per month, depending on location and facilities. But beware the hidden extras. Most gyms will charge an initial signing on fee, and this could easily be as high as £200. Find out what this entitles you to – you should be receiving a full induction into the gym, including an assessment of your own personal health and fitness, a personalised exercise programme, and instruction on the equipment. Enquire about what membership options there are. The most common are Peak and Off-peak, as well as Family and Student memberships. Before settling for the cheapest option, make sure that you can still access the gym at the times that suit your leisure needs and lifestyle.
Are there any extra charges?
If the gym has a pool, sauna or other facility you might like to use, ask whether it’s included in the membership fee. If not, work out how much extra this could cost you a year – you may be surprised. Other gyms charge for lockers, while some supply free towels and shampoo, or produce members' newsletters. Make sure you know what you do – and do not – get as part of your membership package.
Are the staff properly qualified?
The answer from any gym will almost certainly be “yes", but this shouldn't stop you from delving a bit deeper into the professional expertise of the staff in whose hands you will be placing your body. The Health and Fitness industry is not regulated, and anyone can open a gym with few, if any, appropriate qualifications. You only have one body, and you would never dream of taking it to a doctor or dentist who wasn't qualified. Ask the staff how long it took them to achieve their qualifications, and how they were achieved. Sadly, frequently in the case of some ‘rogue gyms’, the staff have only minimal qualifications obtained after completing very brief courses (some lasting just a couple of days). At the top of the scale, the most appropriately qualified staff will have completed degrees in sport and exercise science, or a related discipline.
What are the opening hours?
There's no point joining a gym that isn't open when you need it. Ideally, a gym should be open until at least 8pm in the evening, and open early in the morning two or three times a week. Weekend and Bank Holiday access is also important, since Saturday and Sunday mornings are popular times for people to ‘work out’.
Does the gym run sessions just for certain members of the population?
A lot of gyms will allocate certain times for specific population groups. These are most frequently ‘ladies only’ or age-group sessions (e.g. over 50s). If you fit into these categories, and prefer to work out in a more ‘private’ environment than that found during the normal ‘open’ sessions, this can be a great advantage. On the other hand, if you don't fall into one of these categories, check to ensure that their sessions don't clash with the only times of the week when you can use the gym.
How busy does it get?
The best answer to this question is to go and see for yourself. Visit your prospective gym at a couple of different times, at least one of which should be the early evening. Make sure people aren't having to queue to get access to equipment, and if you get chance, chat with some of the existing members about how they find the gym.
What's the 'environment' like?
Part of the reason for joining a gym is to avoid having to exercise in the cold, dark, wet or wind. So it makes sense to ensure that your new gym offers an environment where you feel comfortable. Does it have air conditioning? You don't want to be freezing cold in the winter and working out in hot, steamy heat chamber in summer. Also, do you feel happy with the general atmosphere in the gym? Do they have music or a TV to keep you entertained? Do the other gym users look to be the sort who you would feel comfortable exercising alongside?
Do I get a personal training programme?
This is a great advantage for people who are unused to regular exercise and if the programme is produced by properly qualified staff, it should help to ensure that you’re exercising at the right frequency and intensity. Check to see how often your programme gets updated – what was right for you on joining may well be far too easy after two or three months.
What are the changing facilities like?
Again, the best answer is to see for yourself. As a minimum requirement, they should be warm and have individual showers, as well as secure lockers for your clothes and valuables.
It’s highly unlikely that you’ll find the perfect answers to all of these questions at every gym. However, by visiting a gym with an idea of the key questions that you want to ask, you’re much more likely to make the decision that suits you, and as a consequence, more likely to continue with a long-term programme of regular exercise.
The ten questions that we’ve highlighted are listed below. Print the section out, and take it with you when you next visit a gym you are considering joining:
Sports, Health and Fitness
Good Gym Check