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Choosing a Gym

Written by admin, Sunday, May 30th, 2010 in Q&As

How do I pick a gym? Should I join a local joint or a big company one? Any advice?

The first thing you need to always keep in mind when picking a gym is what you’re actually going to use it for — not surprisingly, many presume they will use more of a gym’s facilities than they actually do. Before you even go “shopping” for a gym, make a mental list of what you actually will use it for — cardio, light weight training, heavy weight training, group classes, etc — and stick to your guns.

Most gyms nowadays make money not necessarily based upon day-to-day membership but rather based on selling memberships on a long term basis, meaning that they try to push you to sign for long term contracts on ridiculously expensive plans that promise everything from weight room access to personal massages. The idea, of course, is to get you to sign up for things you cannot possibly use and you will eventually never use (by means of forgetting or simply being lazy) — meaning they make raw profit. The best thing you can do, then, is to determine what you want to use and to only pay for that in the most affordable way possible — and to find a gym that caters to your specific needs.

If you want to do heavy weight training, find a good gym equipped for heavy weight training. At minimum, a good lifting area will have one or more squat racks, one or more bench presses, a few Olympic bars and sets of Olympic plates, a set of dumbbells, a pull-up bar, and maybe some extra accouterments like a leg press machine, a sit-up machine, and the like. You can often identify places that cater to the muscle building crowd, as  they will have equipment like straps, chalk, lifting belts, and other tools laying around for your use — and they’ll usually have a few meatheads either working there or working out there. These places are phenomenal for beginners, as the aforementioned meatheads are usually awesome guys who will help you (and keep you safe) much better than underpaid mega-fitness center staffers ever could.

If you plan to do cardio or light weight training, you’ll probably want to find a place with a bit more variety and friendliness, so look for somewhere with a variety of cardio machines (treadmills, bikes, elliptical machines), some weight lifting equipment (maybe nothing heavy duty, but machines are nice, etc), and the like. If you want group classes, find a place that offers them on a regular basis with a real personal trainer, and look up reviews if you have to. In the context of cardio machines, make sure they are kept clean and neat and in working order as much as possible, and that they are relatively expensive machines — they don’t have to be amazingly new, just sturdy and ready for your use.

Don’t be waylaid by gyms that offer things like the “latest” equipment, ridiculously fancy televisions, in-house protein supplements/nutrition bars, and the like. Usually, these are all scams. The “latest” equipment can be nice (and relatively clean), but it never justifies paying more — exercise has not fundamentally changed so much as to make the latest equipment that much better when it comes to getting fit. Weight lifting machines are good for absolute beginners, but nothing beats free weights. Some gyms offer great televisions and iPod services and the like, but don’t pay extra for them — bring a MP3 player of your own or something to keep you distracted. In-house protein mixes, nutrition bars, and juice bars are almost always overpriced under-performing scams — and, if they offer any form of diet supplements, they can be dangerous (to the extent of being life-threatening). Unless you really need or want one, never pay for a personal trainer — few know what they are doing enough to give you results you can’t get on your own.

Additionally, avoid gyms and fitness centers that are obviously set up for the Jenny Craig crowd — they’re usually for women and not equipped for anything hard at all. Avoid Planet Fitness like the plague, their “lunk alarm” — a literal alarm that goes off if you grunt and/or drop a weight — is an insulting idiotic policy that is prohibitive to all but the most pansy weight lifters. I hate to say it, but basically try to avoid any place that calls itself something like a “judgment-free gym” — while the idea is nice, most of these places are set up to be non-offensive and easy, meaning they sometimes are entirely insufficient for actual exercise. Places like your local YMCA are usually a good start, but always be careful, as YMCA centers can be a mixed bag.

In all reality, if you are male, the best thing you can do (in my mind) is to find a super-cheap small gym that has oldschool weight lifting equipment and maybe one or two cardio machines. Nothing really beats freeweights for building muscle, and nothing really beats an old-fashioned treadmill or bike for cardio. It doesn’t have to be pretty, have fancy equipment, or even have personal trainers on hand — all you need is a place that you can push yourself.


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2 Responses to Choosing a Gym

  1. DEI says:

    I can’t exaggerate enough how unnecessary all this new-fangled equipment is. If you’re serious about getting fit and gaining muscles then free weights are the only option, and by serious I mean anyone who wants to see results, that doesn’t mean you have to be a wannabe bodybuilder or powerlifter.

  2. Eisen says:

    Your readership can be quite fickle.

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