Looking for the best gym in your area? It can be a daunting task to search for a gym that meets your specific needs, whether you’re really into weight training or you need a space where total beginners feel set up for success. But the process doesn’t have to be headache-inducing — below, find expert-approved tips for finding the best gym for you.
Evaluate Your Need
Do you really need to join a gym? Ask yourself this question before you even start shopping around, suggests John Mulry, former gym owner. A gym membership certainly has its benefits, but if you love exercising outdoors, your office or apartment building has a fitness center, or you’re just as happy working out at home (say, with fitness YouTube channels), joining a gym — even the best gym in your city — might be a waste of money.
Still ready to sign up? Great! The next question to ask yourself: What are my reasons for joining? For instance, if you love indoor cycling classes and want to get back in the saddle, you can immediately eliminate any clubs that don’t have a cycling studio. It’s a simple concept, but it’s important to consider early in your search for the best fitness club — it’s amazing how convincing luxurious locker rooms and state-of-the-art treadmills can be.
List Your “Must-Haves”
Write out a list of your absolute “must-haves” for your ideal gym, which are different from the “nice-to-haves,” recommends Tanner Martty, a personal trainer and owner of 34° North in Santa Monica, California. If you’re seriously into strength training, a spacious and well-maintained free-weight area might be high on your list. And you’d be surprised how many gyms don’t have a space where you can do your own bodyweight workouts or foam rolling.
Also, will you be showering and getting ready for work at the gym? Don’t forget to take your pre- and post-workout routine into consideration when making your list.
Browse Social Media
Don’t be swayed by savvy marketing or slogans, but instead do some research online, says Mike Ganim, co-owner of Harbor Fitness in Brooklyn. If the gym you’re considering has a Facebook or Instagram presence, check their feed for posts by current members to get a sense of the day-to-day action. In addition to social media, it doesn’t hurt to check for reviews of your potential new gym on sites such as Yelp and Google to get a feel for what current and former members like (or don’t like) about the classes, customer service, and cleanliness.
Sign Up for a Trial
Sites such as Groupon and Living Social are always offering package deals on fitness classes, with everything from boot camps to CrossFit to kettlebells to Zumba, points out Cynthia Phillips, an ISSA-certified personal trainer. Taking advantage of the special deals and introductory offers is a great (and less costly) way to test out various locations and options before committing to a long-term contract.
Location, Location, Location
To eliminate any added stress of travel to your workout, choose a location based on your lifestyle, says Laura Williams, an ASCM-certified exercise physiologist. Do you plan to hit the gym during your lunch break or after work? The best gym for you will probably be one close to your office. If you’d rather work out in the mornings or on weekends, a gym close to home might suit you better.
There’s no magic mile radius to aim for, but rather a magic commuting time, says Williams. A five- to eight-minute walk or drive is ideal, keeping in mind that factors such as traffic lights, roadway congestion, or even the time of day you’ll be traveling can influence your overall commute. Google “best gym near me” to make sure you aren’t missing out on any options.
Dig Into the Details
When you walk into a gym, pay attention to all the details. Is the lighting too bright? Too dim? Music too loud? Classes too crowded? Are there too many bros for your taste? Things that may not seem important during your initial tour can become major gripes later on.
And another thing: The best gyms prioritize cleanliness, so look for signs of regular maintenance. “Two telltale signs of gym cleanliness are the bathrooms and the corners,” says Joe Vennare, certified fitness professional and co-founder of Fitt Insider. “If the bathroom is dingy and there is dirt or dust bunnies in the corners, upkeep is an issue,” he points out.
Also, check to see if the facility provides a way to disinfect equipment after use, recommends Vennare. “Look for gym wipes or a spray bottle and towels, and see if anyone actually uses them,” he says.
Seal the Deal
Once you’ve found the best gym membership option for you (and tested out a trial run — or walk, or ride — there), you may be ready to commit. But before you sign on the dotted line, it pays to double-check a few key things, says Jenn Walters, certified personal trainer and co-founder of Fit Bottomed Girls. For example:
- Ask if your location offers a discounted membership if you only come during “off-peak” hours or only take group exercise classes (if that’s what you plan to do).
- Make sure you know exactly what “extras” are provided at this gym. Do they offer towels? Shampoo and conditioner in the showers? Hairdryers in the locker room?
- Are all group exercise classes included or is there an additional cost? Some health clubs that offer Pilates or other training styles requiring special equipment charge extra for those classes.
Don’t be afraid to play hard to get, suggests Walters. “Many times, clubs will call you back in a few days or weeks to offer you an even better deal than when you came in for the tour,” she says. And if you don’t like the initiation fee or aren’t ready to sign a year-long agreement with your gym, you may be able to negotiate a little. “While not all clubs will budge, many will work with you, so don’t be afraid to suggest a different price or a different membership than what’s stated!” adds Walters.
Finally, when it comes to price points, the time of year you join matters too. “The best deals of the year on membership and fitness services like personal training are in January and September, so if you can wait, try to sign up then!” recommends Walters.