How to choose a gym
Do I need to join a gym?
No. Gyms can certainly help you get fit - click here to see where circuit training comes in a chart of the five healthiest forms of exercise - but you don't need one if they're not your scene. There are many things you can do to get the weekly recommended dose of aerobic exercise you need to keep fit and this site includes many of them. But if you're interested in more, especially in building strength, a gym can help. It's also a good way to meet people with similar exercise interests.
To choose the right gym, you need to exercise your mind first. Visit the gym at peak time (6-8.30pm) and ask yourself:
- Is it overcrowded?
- Is there enough equipment? Does it look clean and well-maintained?
- Are machines and free weights in separate areas? (It's best to begin on machines because dropping a dumbell can be dangerous - especially if you drop it on that big bloke with the fifty inch chest.)
- Are there enough instructors around? Are they qualified? Do they have NVQs in exercise and fitness, for example. Are instructors registered with any professional body. Check that professional body out - visit their website.
- Is there somewhere to warm-up and warm-down? What are the changing rooms and showers like?
- don't be over impressed by fancy video screens. Air-conditioning, lighting and drinking water facilities are more important. If you do want to watch telly while exercising, check out what's on. Some people prefer to listen to tapes or minidiscs or, on some machine, even read..
- check if the programme of classes suits you.
- check fees - these can be harder to work out than a phone-bill so you ask if there a joining charge, any additional costs for classes or other facilities and how you cancel or suspend membership.
- try it out - before joining get a daily or weekly pass and see what the place is really like.
Good gyms will give new members a questionnaire to help assess their fitness. If you haven't exercised for a while, ask for a fuller assessment by an instructor. Before letting you on the equipment, the gym should explain how it all works and suggest the best programme for you to begin with. Or check-out our progammes here.
It costs about £100 to join a private gym plus £40-£90 a month depending on what times and facilities you opt for. But private doesn't mean good. Many local authority gyms are excellent. The Pulse, run by the local council in Peckham, south London, was recently voted the best value in the country.
Nothing too expensive: a water bottle, two towels (large for the shower and small for wiping sweat off the equipment), toiletries, something to keep sweat out of your eyes (sweatband, bandana etc), a healthy postgym snack to deter you from going to the sweetshop plus your preferred gym kit. You can read on some of the cardiomachines like the exercise bike or use a personal stereo. Weightlifting gloves are also useful for, er, weightlifting.
Nothing before you go. Any good gym will show you how to use the equipment. If they don't, consider another gym.
Once you know how it works, start gently and build up. Don't hog the machine if someone's waiting. You can, as the Americans say, 'work-in' (ie. alternate sets or 'reps' of exercise with them). Towel down the machine and/or put equipment away after using it.
For beginners, machines are easier to master than free weights (dumbells) which can easily be dropped.
If you check out the five healthiest forms of exercise numbers 3, 4 and 5 are very cheap. The cheapest all round work-out is probably skipping. (It's even cheaper if you borrow your little sister's skipping rope.) Rowing is also excellent but you need to make sure you've the correct technique otherwise you can damage your back.
You can also make simple changes to your everyday life which will make you fitter - walk or cycle instead of driving, get off the bus or train a stop early, use stairs rather than lifts etc. For more on exercise, click here.
Page created on May 9th, 2003
Page updated on January 18th, 2010