Here’s a dirty little secret that’s true of pretty much any commercial gym, anywhere in the world.
They want you to sign up and pay up, but they don’t actually want you to show up.
That’s why the monthly rate is pegged just low enough that most people won’t cancel their membership, even if they never set foot in the place.
Amazingly, some figures indicate that only around 20 % of gym members show up on a regular basis!
And that’s the number of folks that the gym’s floorspace, equipment, staff number, and everything else is based around.
For a gym big enough for 1,000 active members to be commercially viable, they have to sell 5,000 memberships.
It’s a ruthless business.
But even if you’re one of the 20 % that actually shows up, the gym’s business model may still end up stymying your progress.
Why? Because ultimately, the gym wants you to have the workout experience that’s in their best interests, which isn’t necessarily your best interests.
Their plan is for you to hit the machines for 20 minutes, do 40 minutes of cardio, then get the hell out of there.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that – it sure as eggs beats sitting on the couch, drinking beer and watching TV.
But I’m guessing that you want a much bigger results bang for your work-out buck, right?
And that’s why you need to ask these questions before joining a gym.
1. What’s your purpose in going to the gym?
Like anything else (shopping for groceries, flying a 747) you need to be clear about your goal or desired outcome before you even start out.
Do you want to get stronger?
Now for most of us, that’s an unequivocal “yes“, but many gyms may not actually have the equipment that safe and productive training requires.
Really, it’s true!
i) Do they have a power rack?
If the gym doesn’t have a power rack, you’ll need to head somewhere else to train.
ii) Is deadlifting allowed?
Unfortunately, some gyms won’t allow you to deadlift – probably because of the noise and potential damage to equipment.
So if the gym does allow deadlifting, show your appreciation by being kind to the equipment and not dropping the weights.
iii) Do they have only flat-sided plates?
Maybe some gyms use non-circular plates (usually 12-sided ones) to discourage folks from deadlifting.
These things make as much sense as square wheels on your car, and using them for deadlifts will have you cursing between repetitions as the bar tries to walk across the floor.
These things absolutely suck, so avoid them at all cost – circular is the only way to go.
iv) Will they let you use chalk?
Chalk is essential for keeping your hands dry and maintaining a secure grip on the bar.
If the gym does allow chalk, show your appreciation by keeping things tidy and clearing up any mess.
Don’t leave the floor looking like Pablo Escobar’s been partying hard in there.
Not interested in a dedicated strength-building program?
This is what commercial gyms were designed for – getting your body moving and burning some calories.
Now for a lot of folks, that might just check all the boxes.
Maybe they also have some classes that you could get into (like t’ai chi or yoga) that add a social element to working out.
The key thing is that you enjoy doing it
If you enjoy what you’re doing (it could be the great results, the camaraderie, or there’s an awesome instructor), showing up takes pretty much zero effort and you’re more likely to stick with it.
Just keep in mind that you don’t need to join a gym just to burn calories and get out of breath – you can do that pretty much anywhere!
- Chase your kids around the park or backyard
- Go for a bike ride
- Take a walk
But let’s say you want to ease into resistance training with a solid exercise program using free weights, such as dumbells.
Now it’s important that the gym has a wide enough selection of weights so that you can:
1) Get started with a weight that’s manageable, and also
2) Steadily increase the weights you’re using over successive workouts
Think of it this way – if the gym had only 5-lb, 50-lb, and 150-lb dumbells, that would be a problem, right?
So make sure the gym has a whole range of dumbells available in no more than 5-lb increments.
Better yet, 2½-lb increments.
2. How available is the equipment you want to use at the times you can work out?
Now most commercial gyms have plenty of cardio equipment, exercise machines, and dumbells – so there should always be something available.
But if you’re doing a strength-training program and the gym has only a handful of power racks/squat racks/benches, it could get pretty crowded if you’re intending to work out at peak times.
The best advice is to drop in to the gym before you sign up, and take a look during a time that you’d be expecting to train at.
If it’s so crowded that you couldn’t imagine training there and then, it’s probably not the place for you.
Alternatively, see if you can change your training schedule so that it’s outside peak times – the gym should be able to tell you when those are.
Hanging around in a gym, waiting for equipment to become available is nobody’s idea of a good time.
3. How convenient is it?
Adherence is everything – whether we’re talking about diet, exercise, training, or kanji.
It doesn’t matter how inexpensive or well equipped the gym is, or how friendly the staff are if it’s a real mission to get yourself there.
What hours is it open?
What’s the traffic like around those times?
Are there showers so that you could work out, change into your work clothes, then head to the office?
And always keep in mind that what seems convenient at 6am in mid-summer could feel totally different in mid-winter.
4. What’s the monthly cost?
Keep in mind that 80 % of gym members don’t even bother showing up – so there’s more to this than just the membership fee.
Now, gym membership will typically run to something like $20-40/month.
In addition to that you’ve got to pay the running costs for your car – gas, maintenance and tires adds up to something like 25 cents/mile.
So, if your gym is 3 miles away (a round trip of 6 miles), and you work out 8 times per month, that alone will cost you over $10/month.
On top of that, there’s the most valuable resource you have – your time.
If it takes you 90 minutes in total to get in a 30-minute workout, that’s not a good return on investment.
Put a value on your time – how much is an hour that you could be spending with your kids/reading/studying/creating a global empire/meditating/relaxing really worth to you?
Is it $5? $50? $500?
This could help to put things into perspective and you may even decide that it’s better to turn your spare room, basement or garage into a home gym.
There’s zero travel time, it’s available 24/7, and it will pay for itself within a few years.
Plus you can always sell the stuff if you decide to up-sticks and move to the other side of the world.
5. Are you frequently on the road?
Consistency is the key to success, and frequent business trips can really bring training progress to a grinding halt.
Sure, you can exercise pretty much anywhere if you have a TRX, but being a member of a big chain like Anytime Fitness could work out much better.
Not only do you get membership of your local gym, you get to use all the other ones, too!
That means over 2000 Anytime Fitness gyms in the U.S., and over 3000 worldwide.
Hitting the gym while you’re on the road will help you deal with work-related stress better, and also means that your time back home can be spent doing more important stuff with your family.
That’s a huge win for everyone!
The Bottom Line
There’s more to choosing a gym than the monthly membership fee.
- It needs to have the facilities/equipment that you require, not what the salesperson says you require
- These have to be available at the times you’re intending to work out
- Getting to the gym should be as quick and easy as possible, even on the worst of days
- It’s got to work from all angles financially – always put a dollar value on your time
Finally, even if you’ve never worked out in a commercial gym before, don’t assume that everyone there is more clued up than you are.
Readers of Super Fit Dads have a better understanding of what works (and what doesn’t) than 99 % of the personal trainers out there.
So you have precisely no reason to feel out of place or intimidated.
Now let’s start putting it into action!
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