Thursday, October 15, 2009

Choosing a New Gym + A Slippery Mat Tip

I mentioned yesterday that we joined a new gym, and I got a request to talk about it. Well, since we went out for dinner with my dad last night, I don't have any food to share (although you are more than willing to continue the wrap vs. bed debate!), I thought I would share our gym search experience and what I think is important in finding a gym.

1. Where do you live?
Okay, this one is obvious. If its too far from home you won't want to drive there. But, when we first moved here, we just went to the gym across the street...a chain which will remain nameless. So keep in mind that closeness doesn't always equal bestness (yes, I made up this word). We were members for about 3 months and only went a handful of times.

2. What do you do at the gym?
Do they have a wide variety of cardio machines that you like to use? Are they set up in a way where you feel comfortable? In our current gym there is a women's only area which is nice for ladies who may be a little self-conscious (I guess self-conscious males just need to get a straw and suck it up), or just want a more relaxed atmosphere.

Is there a variety of equipment in a variety of weights? Don't join a gym that has what you need right now, but not enough for you to grow into. And make sure they have what you want. Do you like free weights or pre-loaded machines? Hammer strength your thing? If there is a specific piece of equipment, make sure its there. For example, my husband and I will under no circumstances join a gym without a squat rack. That's just crazy talk.


If classes are your thing (anyone miss leotards???), make sure the ones you want don't cost extra and make sure they fit with your schedule. Do the classes get extremely crowded? Do you need to be there at a certain time to sign up? Are the instructors and classes current? Lots of gyms are incorporating functional strength and Zumba classes now. Those classes may not be important to you, but the fact that they exist might show that the other classes you DO care about are more current also.

3. No frills vs. Bells and whistles
The "no frills" gyms are becoming more and more popular: Planet Fitness, Retro Fitness, etc. If you are the kind of person who goes to the gym with solely for cardio or lifting and are happy with your iPod to entertain you and like a minimalist atmosphere, this may be the place for you.
Or, you may be the type of person who likes your own TV on each piece of cardio equipment. Maybe having towel service is important to you. Perhaps you'd like child care and a spa in your gym. If it is going to get you to work out, it might just be worth it.
If you're thinking, well I would *like* my own TV (I do), but those places cost so much more, that brings me to point 4.

4. Price
Don't let the prices listed online deter you from a gym that seems ideal but way to expensive. Gyms are ALWAYS having special offers. For example, my husband and I left a gym where we were paying $40 a month. We went to visit a gym, even though I thought it was way too expensive (they told us $59-$120 a month), because it seemed so ideal. Turns out they were having a special where you paid $59 a month...for two people. We also got a month free because we transferred from a competing gym, as well a free massage. How can you say no to a free massage? Also, be sure to ask about student rates or military discounts!

4. Facilities
Do you need a pool? A sauna? Maybe you like to play some 3 on 3 when you get off of work. If so, you probably want a gym with at least a half-court. Are you going to use the locker room? Is there a pro shop or a smoothie bar? How qualified is the personal training staff? Would you like to see a nutritionist? Is there physical therapy on site? What do you need? This is your money, don't let yourself be persuaded by a gym to pay more for a bunch of cool stuff that you won't use.

5. Music
I only add this because of my husband. He hated the music at our old gym so much that he commented about it every single time we were in the gym...and it kind of made him angry. Our first day in the new gym we were lifting to Manchester Orchestra, and he was immediately immensely happier.

6. The "Feel"
Lastly, the most important, and the most objective, how does it feel? Is it a family environment or a meat market? Does the membership representative you talk to sound like he's trying to screw you over? I know it sounds obvious, but someone who sounds like they're trying to sweet talk you probably has something to hide. Look for a gym that sells itself, with a membership representative who seems proud of what they're doing, and doesn't feel the need to justify the price to you. It should feel right.
Check the layout. Our last gym had a wide variety of weight lifting equipment, but it was a horrible layout. Everything was way too cramped, even when it wasn't crowded.
And of course, the advice that is always given, make sure you visit at the time you will be going. Also, make sure you are looking at the area you will be working out in. If you are going to the gym at 7PM, and there is no one on the cardio machines, but the weight room is packed, and you're going there you lift, you might want to think about that.

Our Gym: I am so happy with the gym we ended up with. As I have mentioned before, the things I mainly go to the gym for are weight lifting and yoga. I know yoga studios are great, but they are expensive, even if you don't also have a gym membership. So it is advantageous to me, to be able to go to yoga at a gym. Its just cheaper. Well, this gym has a great weight area. It has two squat racks, plus more cables than I've ever seen. There is a TV on every cardio machine, which I do enjoy (we don't have cable, so I like watching TV when I work out).
But the best part, in my opinion, is the classes. The schedule is huge, and that's because they have three studios, one of which is specifically a yoga and mat pilates studio. The classes are consistent, they don't get overly crowded, and they have a wide variety of levels and types.
This place does have all the bells and whistles, the masseuse, the pro shop, the smoothie bar, child care, all things we will probably never use. But considering that it is actually cheaper than our old gym, it is nice to have them there, plus it has a very family oriented feel. The membership rep was incredibly nice, no nonsense, the place sold itself...and he told us that.
He also gave us a handful of guest passes. That's a good sign. Of course they want you to bring people, they want to get new members, from their currently loved members. I was never a fan of only being allowed so many guests.

One thing I have found is that I tend to like gyms that have a focus. For example, my gym at my parents' house had a focus in gymnastics. This gym is actually a huge tennis facility. No, we'll probably never use it for tennis, but the largess of such buildings leads to more room for other fitness facility, especially upstairs levels, since they require large ceilings. Plus, there are a lot of family-oriented people going there for lessons, bringing kids for lessons etc. If you hate seeing kids in your gym, maybe that's not a good idea (maybe a more minimalist gym is better for you), but they're not in the work out area. It just tends to attract a more responsible crowd and I find that common space ends up being more respected.

One fast yoga tip:

So you can do more than child's pose

Have a slippery yoga mat? This is typical of new mats. Try washing it in your washing machine with a few tsp of vinegar and let it hang dry.
That helps, but the best thing is to use it. Okay, that can be hard when it is slippery; kind of a double edged sword. Try leaving it on the floor of your kitchen to stand on while you cook. It'll help the wear-in process, just by walking all over it!

So there you have it. I love my gym. Anyone have any other tips for choosing a gym? I would love to add any suggestions to the list!


  1. Such a great post, thanks for doing it! I am lucky and I love my gym. It is two blocks from my house, is state of the art and is for women only. I live on the Aramco compound in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and the gym is only open to Aramco employees and their dependents, which means it is FREE, never crowded and has a great atmosphere. We even have free personal trainers! You are so right, having a gym you are happy with with will motivate you to work out consistently and enjoy yourself while you are at it.

  2. What a great post- full of great info!
    Debra @ Vegan Family Style

  3. A-MAZING post!!! You are SO RIGHT about everything!
    The things I need in a gym are classes and child care.
    When I first moved to this city we went to a really crappy gym. It was old, had outdated equipment and only had a few classes. It also did not have child care. When out contract ran out (six long months later) we joined our new gym. I LOVE IT! It has a warm welcoming environment that makes it a pleasure to work out. It has child care and had such great classes it inspired me to get my group class certification. Now I actually teach Step Aerobics there. Yeah, that's right.... I get paid to work out! Great bloggin' work today!

  4. I love my gym! It's a laidback gym in the hip, artsy part of town. I call it the "gay gym" because I'd say 50% of the men who go there are gay. And that makes for a more relaxing environment for women. We don't have a smoothie bar (damn!) or a pool. But we have zumba, pilates, boxing, spinning, and other fun classes.

  5. Thanks for this post! I'm currently using the gym for sports and exercise science students and have gotten an idea of things I do and don't like, and I'm thinking about a gym membership after this program finishes.

    Quick question, about the dead lift woman--what is the deal with her hands? Is there a benefit to doing lifts with one hand facing forward and the other back?

  6. I'm glad that you all love your gyms!! A, sounds like I was in a similar situation to you except I am stubborn, so we quit our contract! We did have almost 9 months left though, gah.

    Theresa, awesome question, very observant!! The reverse grip is often used on a deadlift because it is stronger and easier to hold your grip. You can use an overhand grip too, but I usually use a reverse grip because I do find it easier to grip the bar. Overhand, my hands slide a little. You can also use straps, but I don't really like them. The downside to using the reverse grip is that your body isn't working completely evenly. So, if you are doing the reverse grip, you should switch your hands each set.

  7. Thanks Gina! For future reference, my email is tropicalvegan (at)


  8. I have to agree with the feel of the gym, and venture on to the members that put out that feel. Like, are the people there to work out or pick someone up for friday night? Do they respect that you may have a few more sets left or make you feel awkward for getting in their way?

    I like to be alone and in the MP3-zone when i work out so im a little bias though. I guess it doesnt really matter since im taking a break right now anyway.