So you've decided to join a gym. The question is what do you do now?
There are so many to choose from, and they can look rather intimidating from the outside – full of guys in muscle vests and classes of babes executing complex step routines.
It's easier than you think to find one that suits your needs, that won’t have you stressing out before you set foot inside, and is comfortable enough to encourage you to attend every day.
But as one person's dream workout venue can be another's waste of money, experts have some tips on how to find just the right facility to add inspiration to your perspiration.
Location, location, location
"Most important is, is it convenient to home or work? Far and away that's the number one reason people use or don't use a gym," said Shawn Talbott, spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine. "If it's not very convenient, don't think you're going to go out of your way," he said flatly.
He says be sure to visit a prospect during the same time you expect to use it. "If you check out a gym on Saturday afternoon it could be fine, but on Monday morning you might not be able to get on a treadmill," he explained."
Different gyms for different needs
And don't underestimate the importance of ambiance: just how comfortable will you be sweating in the space? A club filled with gorgeous 20-year olds might not be the best place for an overweight or older woman.
"If you're concerned about your body, you don't want to join one of those meat market gyms. You might want to go to a more family-oriented facility."
Carol Espel, spokeswoman for the Equinox chain of luxury health clubs, agrees: "Gyms can be intimidating in the wrong setting. Find a place that you see yourself going to easily after work and on weekends."
What to look for in a gym
Here are some important questions to ask when choosing a gym:
Is it convenient to your work or your home? If not, you'll find too many excuses to avoid going.
Is it open during the hours you want to exercise? Most of them are open from dawn until the evening, but check to ensure they fit in with your schedule.
Is it clean? Some aren't. Look at the equipment (if yesterday's sweat spots are evident, that's a bad sign), locker rooms (especially the showers) and floors.
Is the equipment in a good condition? Do a few minutes on a treadmill, a bicycle, a rowing machine, an elliptical trainer - or listen for the squeaks and clacking when they’re being used by other people. The state of the gym's equipment will give you a good indication of how well maintained it is.
Also check the weights room for maintenance, quality equipment, and variety of weights.
Are there classes on offer? The days of aerobics are over. These days you could expect anything from Pilates to kata boxing, so check what's on offer, and at what times.
Are the staff friendly and helpful? Supportive and affable gym employees make your experience more enjoyable, and help you reach your fitness goals.
Does it have a good reputation? Ask other members about their experiences at the facility.
What type of gym suits you?
There are single-sex gyms, small private gyms, and groups with facilities throughout South Africa.
The selling point of small private gyms, is that you usually gain access to them exclusively through sessions with a personal trainer. This guarantees excellent equipment, no crowds, and highly personalised treatment. If you reckon a regular appointment with a trainer is likely to be your best motivation to get to gym, this may be an option – the cost of the personal trainer is offset by the fact that you don't pay gym subscriptions.
Ask around, check community newspapers and keep an eye open in centres to find these.
However, if you prefer the social element and the anonymity of a major chain gym, then there are also plenty of choices available. The benefit of joining a national chain, is that if you travel, you can organise national membership which gives you access to the chain, wherever you are.
Check the fine print
As always, read the fine print before signing on the dotted line. Does that deep discount come with a two-year commitment? Is there also an initiation fee?
Find out exactly what the membership includes. Do you have to pay extra for towels, childcare?
Talbott says the right gym can make all the difference. "You can stay fit outside the gym but it's harder. The gym is a good crutch. It's part of your routine, a place where you can go to every day."
As Woody Allen once said, "Eighty percent of success is showing up."
Click below for details for the major chains.
Sources: HealthDay News, Reuters Health, Health24.com
(Amy Henderson, Health24.com, updated January 2009)