Finding a Gym That's Right for You

Here are 10 questions to ask before joining a fitness center.

By Barbara Russi Sarnatoro
WebMD Medical News

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

It seems there's a fitness center on just about every corner now, be it a YMCA, a Pilates studio, or a quickie workout franchise.

But before you spend your hard-earned money on a membership, how can you figure out which one is right for you? How can you make sure it will provide what you need, and that you'll enjoy it enough to keep going back?

Finding an exercise facility that fits your needs doesn't have to be time-consuming or intimidating, experts say. All it really takes is knowing what you're looking for and asking the right questions.

What questions should you be asking? Three fitness experts gave WebMD 10 things to consider before joining a fitness facility.

1. What Do You Want from Your Workout?

This is the starting point. Decide what you want from exercise, and what type of exercise you want to do. Do you love to swim? Or is yoga your true calling? Will you be happy running or walking on a treadmill? Or do you need the latest cardiovascular machines to help keep you motivated? Do you want to improve cardiovascular endurance, build strength, enhance flexibility -- or just make it through a workout without getting bored?

If you choose an activity you like, says certified personal trainer and fitness nutritionist Lynn VanDyke, you're more likely to stay with it.

If variety is your thing, you need a gym with plenty of machines and lots of classes. If you just need to get in and out and sweat for 40 minutes, don't pay for all the extra classes and amenities you won't be using, advises VanDyke, who trains in Chester County, Pa.

If Pilates or yoga is what moves you, you might want to join a studio rather than taking classes at a health club, says Pilates instructor Tracey Mallett.

''A studio is generally a better setting to do that kind of exercise,'' says Mallett, who owns ATP Specific Training, a Pilates and physical therapy studio in South Pasadena and also teaches at a local YMCA.

That's because a studio is quieter and smaller, and instructors tend to be specialists who can offer more personal attention to clients, she says.

2. How Convenient Is the Facility?

Location is a major consideration, says Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, chief exercise officer for the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

''Think about the proximity of the facility to where you live or work,'' he says. ''The No. 1 reason people don't stick with (exercise) is lack of time. If it's not close to either where you live or work, it's more of a challenge to get there regularly.''

Decide when you're going to work out most of the time, he says. If it's in the morning or on weekends, a facility close to home may be best. If you want to fit your workout in during lunch or after work, choose a gym close to work.

''Any place more than 3 to 5 miles away from home or work, and you're more likely to make excuses not to go,'' says VanDyke, who used to manage a fitness facility.

Mallett, a mom of two preschoolers, enjoys a rare luxury living in Los Angeles. Her studio is four-tenths of a mile from her home. The YMCA where she teaches is around the corner.

''Less than four miles away is probably the best gym in town, but I choose to go to the little Y on the corner by my building,'' she says. ''If it's not close by, I'm not going to go. I don't have the time with two small kids.''

If someone in the fitness industry doesn't want to go 4 miles to work out, imagine how onerous this could get for the recreational exerciser!

3. What Kind of Credentials Does the Staff Have?

People often forget how important it is to have qualified staff there to guide them on proper alignment on a machine, or proper form in a class, say our experts.

''Interview members of the staff and a few of the trainers,'' says VanDyke. ''Ask [trainers] how they're certified, and do research on it yourself if you're not familiar with the credentials they tout.''

Though many clubs pride themselves on the quality and education of their staff, there are others who are less conscientious about certification, Bryant says.

You cannot afford to be that way, the experts say. You don't want to get injured doing something you shouldn't be doing, or are doing incorrectly.

4. What Are the Facility's Emergency Procedures?