Gym memberships too often turn out bad. Too many people make the decision to join a gym, health club or fitness center without giving the decision its proper consideration.
Those looking to “get in shape” or “change their physique” may decide on a gym because it is just around the corner, because so-and-so joined and likes it, or because the gym is offering an “incredible” limited-time only offer.
While these things can certainly be factors in a sound decision, alone they are inadequate.
Gyms can be very different. They cater to different clientele, provide different gym equipment, have different hours and so on.
The first step in choosing the best gym membership for your personal situation is deciding what it is you need from the gym in order to accomplish your fitness goals.
Let’s assume, for example, your gym goal is to gain mass…
In order to build muscle and do so fast you need a place to complete short and intense workouts with quality free weight equipment. Some gyms discourage free-weight squatting… Seriously!
They don’t have squat racks (typically replacing them with Smith machines), not exactly what you want if your goal is to gain muscle.
Instead, you need a gym that will encourage you to do these bodybuilding workouts by providing a clean and uncluttered atmosphere. Assistance should be readily at hand should you need it. The gym should not be so far away that the distance provides an excuse for skipping a workout. The price should be reasonable.
You are not looking for the newest nautilus-type equipment, spin classes or aerobic classes, or to meet hot girls (I hope these things to be true).
With these things in mind, let’s look at…
The First Seven Questions That Must Be Answered
- Hours – When do you plan to workout? Is the prospective gym open then and how busy is it at that time?
- Equipment – Does the prospective gym have the free weight equipment (see the Bodybuilding Equipment Page) that will allow you to do the exercises you need to do? Is the equipment kept up, in adequate supply and organized in a way that works with your goals?
- Staff Attitude -Unhappy staff is unhelpful staff. Do the staff members enjoy their work? Do they seem to be more qualified or concerned with a certain type of clientele at the expense of others (the weight-loss people rather than the mass gain)?
- Fellow Members – Are there enough like-minded members who are also serious about their goals to gain mass? Or is the general member just trying to get a date for Saturday night? Are the members courteous and respectful of others, toweling off their sweat when finishing with a piece of equipment? Or do they find it acceptable to start conversations with people trying to push out that last rep?
- Cleanliness – Is the facility clean and conducive to a positive experience? Do you plan to shower at the gym and, if so, are the showers someplace where you can achieve that “clean” feeling?
- Location – Is the gym accessible within your schedule?
- Price – Last but not least is price. How much is the gym membership plan going to get out of you and how is it going to do it?
There are other questions that you may have but these will get you a good start.
Your first job will be to decide what gyms will meet your location requirements. Generally, its best to look for gyms that are within a fifteen minute drive but being a bit further shouldn’t be a disqualifying factor – better to summon up a little extra motivation for the drive and then get your work done quickly rather than to walk around the corner only to find a 30 minute line for a squat rack.
Next, move on to some phone work, calling the clubs that are within a reasonable distance. You can get some answers this way –
- Are they helpful?
- Do they have the right equipment?
- Are the gym memberships in your price range?
This will narrow the field a little and your next step will likely be setting up a sales presentation with those gyms that maintain your interest.
The thing you need to know above all, is that not all of your answers can come from phone work, a sales presentation and a guided tour….
You Must Have a Trial Membership
Good gyms will offer trial gym memberships of a week or more. If the gym you are looking at refuses a request for a free trial, thank them for their time and hurry for the door. What are they hiding?
Some gyms will also allow you to pay month-by-month for a couple of months before signing a longer term contract. This is a gym that is confident in its product and this is a very good sign.
Use your trial gym membership to answer the remaining questions you have and to confirm what you were told in your sales presentation.
- Do your workouts. Make sure can get a quick and effective bodybuilding workout and aren’t spending too much time waiting for equipment. Are there spotters available? Is the staff attentive?
- Spend some time just observing. Is cleanliness a habit with the staff? Watch the staff, watch the members. Ask questions of both. Find some members who have been around a while and if you can’t do that, be very suspicious.
- Visit the gym on a Monday evening as this is typically a gym’s busiest time. This will show you how bad it can get.
Once a gym has answered your questions in a satisfactory manner, it is time to look at…
Negotiating Your Best Price
Most gyms will be looking to get at your money in two ways. First with an up front membership fee and second with monthly dues for the length of the contract.
When first starting at a gym, you will be wise to go with the shortest contract you can get. Make them earn a renewal and if you become a staunch supporter, that is the time to dive into a longer term contract and take advantage of any membership fee savings they offer with the commitment.
Always, though, stay away from the lifetime deals. Who knows where your life will lead you, or what changes the gym’s future owners might make? Try and keep your commitment under three years and only that high if they offer you a really great price.
Five More Questions to Ask Before You Sign the Dotted Line
What is the ratio of inactive members to active members (active being at least a visit a week)? All gyms will have a great number of inactive members. Gym work is hard work and motivation is hard to keep.
A ratio of 2:1 (2 inactive members to every one that is active) or better is a great sign. This is a gym that is likely not stopping their service right after the contract is signed and is keeping people happy and faithfully returning.
On the other hand, a gym whose ratio is more along the lines of 10:1 is probably more adept at selling gym memberships than helping people achieve their fitness goals.
- What is the self-imposed ceiling of active members? Take this number and compare it to the current active number they gave you. Now, remember back to what you observed during your trial gym membership. Is this a gym that can handle 50% more people and still be able to take care of you?
What qualification are the staff members required to have? Qualification methods for fitness staff members are many and murky. But, at the very least you should be looking for some sort of qualifying criteria to certify the people you’ll be asking for help are at least reasonably knowledgeable.
The International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association certification is a nice thing to hear the gym cite but doesn’t alone make for a great gym. You can probably learn more about the staff abilities from watching and chatting with them during your trial membership.
Find out how long they’ve worked in the field and gauge their enthusiasm. Experience and a zest for the job can mean more than some multiple choice question test they once filled out to get a piece of paper saying they were fitness experts.
- What about freezes, refunds and transfers? What if you get sick or injured? Will they “freeze” your gym membership for a couple of months while you recuperate? Great gyms will. If you are unhappy after joining, will they offer you some sort of refund? Can you transfer gym memberships to others should you decide to move your pursuits elsewhere? If you have a job transfer, will they pro-rate a membership fee refund for you?
- Do any “passport programs” come with your gym membership? Passport programs are partnership programs with gyms in other cities where if you are traveling you can use those gyms with your hometown gym membership.
If everything is looking good, if you’re liking what you hear….
It’s Time to Make a Deal
Try bargaining. If your schedule only allows you to work out between two and four in the morning, you may be able to convince them that a significant price reduction is called for because they would legitimately be able to slip you under the screens of their ceiling.
Don’t be scared to ask for a better deal than the one they initially lay before you. Chances are good there is another one behind the curtain. Try telling them you really, really like the gym but you’re not real sure you want to part with that much money. Then walk towards the door and see if they don’t throw something better your way.
Maybe there is a just-ended promotion price they are willing to extend for you or an upcoming promotion price they’d be willing to get you now as opposed to letting a prime prospect just waddle out the door.
Whatever you get them to say, get them to write and initial on your contract. Trust no one. Most likely, there is a commission going out as soon as your check is cashed and commissions can make salespeople slide down the ethical scale. Don’t expect to walk into the office a month later and get the full refund you were promised if the new benches weren’t in and set-up like you were told when such a thing isn’t mentioned on the paper you so gleefully signed.
Gym membership sales aren’t quite on the reputation level of used car sales, but they are visible in the rear view mirror.
Once all is settled, your name signed and your pocketbook lightened, it is time to get to work. Ultimately, it isn’t any gym membership that will make or break you in your attempt to improve your physical self. Take heed of the vast numbers of inactive members you were quoted. These were all people similarly enthused when they were at the point you are. Then… something happened to them. Don’t let it happen to you…
Stay the Course and You Will Reap The Rewards.
Don’t want to train with others?
If you have a busy schedule or just like to have a little privacy, a home gym may be a better option for you than gym memberships. Check out Building a Home Gym For Mass Gain.
There are advantages to mass building at a commercial gym – equipment variety and safety – but with an intelligently designed home gym you can get all you need to successfully put on significant muscle weight.
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