Choosing the right gym makes the difference between a workout you enjoy and one you dread. Sometimes it’s just a feeling or “vibe” you get when you walk through the place, says Jessica Matthews, exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise. “You want to be comfortable. Convenience is also a huge consideration. Research shows people are usually willing to travel between five to 15 miles, depending if they live in an urban or rural area.”
Aside from being geographically desirable, what else should you consider before you start a relationship with your next gym? “You must first identify your goals,” says Joshua Votaw, chief instructor at Urban Jungle, Woodside, NY. “Do you want to lose weight, prepare for a competition, increase endurance for a race or something else? Then look for a gym that is able to deliver the results you want in a safe and efficient manner.”
Once you’ve established your plan, here are your options:
If you’re new to exercise and feel intimidated by a co-ed weight room, a “women-only” gym such as Curves may be a fit for you. “For many women, it feels more comfortable being around other women,” says Matthews. “The support at an all-women club may enable new exercisers to gain confidence.”
Short on time? A circuit gym may be the ticket for you. In addition, the circuit-style of these gyms takes the guesswork out of knowing which machine to use and the order in which to use them.
A Barry’s Bootcamp or Burn 60 are examples of gyms based on interval training classes that include a mix or cardio and strength training. “You’re in and out,” says Kathy Kaehler, USANA (a health sciences company) spokesperson and celebrity trainer, Woodland Hills, Calif. “You do your thing and you are on your way. They may be no frills but the workouts are precise and unique.”
If you enjoy trying out the latest and greatest new classes, you may prefer an upscale gym. Cutting edge gyms like Equinox tend to offer innovative programming, new group fitness classes and new equipment, says Matthews. Not to mention fancy amenities like eucalyptus-scented towels, free WiFi, valet parking and even dry cleaning. “But you must be willing to pay a premium price if you’re looking for a one-stop shop,” says Matthews.
Hey if the idea of being pampered is what can get you to the gym, so be it.
If you’re a sporty type who loves racquetball, tennis, swimming or other sport, check out your local gyms that these options. Some larger gyms and local YMCAs typically offer sport facilities. “Some even offer sports leagues,” says Matthews. In some cases you may pay more than for a standard gym but you get best of both worlds.
A no-frills gym
No frills means just that: no water fountains, towels or locks for lockers. Make sure you bring your own of each. Plus, check their hours of operation, says Kaehler. They may not open as early or stay open as late as traditional gyms. “Some are un-manned meaning that getting any help from a staffer many be non-existent.” But, these gyms offer discount rates that are great for any pocketbook. If you know what you’re doing and you just need the equipment to do it on, no-frills gyms are for you.
Kaehler suggests taking good notes or photos on your phone on the proper way to use the equipment so you won’t have a problem if you’re on your own.
Gyms like Downsize Fitness, currently in Illinois and Texas, cater only to the very overweight. You must be 50 pounds overweight or more to join. “This type of gym is comforting for people who have similar goals,” says Matthews. It can be very intimidating for a larger person to join a standard gym.
Overall, make sure the gym you choose has the amenities you want to fit your lifestyle, says Matthews. And always get at least a one-day pass or week trial pass and try it out before making a long-term investment.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.