Bad health club memberships are like absentee landlords who own the lot but never come visit. In contrast, good health club memberships are those you buy, stay with, and visit often. They are very sticky.
And the way to choose a good gym comes down to these four elements: location, people, machines, and value. A little planning up front can save you, big time.
Why location of a health club is so important
That’s the big real estate slogan right? Location, location, location. I’ve had probably a dozen health club memberships during my working career, and the ones I used most, week in and week out, were the close ones: those I could pop into on my lunch hour, hit on the way home after work, or in some lucky instances, walk to.
Money is always a big consideration. Will a health club membership be a good investment for you, in the long run? Not if you don’t use it. No matter how amazing the club, if you don’t visit, you don’t get the benefits. In order to do you any good, you gotta show up.
So start your quest by downloading a map and draw a circle of feasible travel distances. If you only have an hour or so a day to spend on exercise, you don’t want to double that time when you add on commuting distances. You just won’t do it. Trust me.
Next, devote an afternoon to visiting possible choices that might be fit the location criteria above. Announce to the sales help up front that you are just looking and that they’ve got 20 minutes to give you a quick overview. Ignore the sign-up-today pressure tactics, take their literature, including a copy of their special classes schedule, find out when their next special promotion is happening, thank them politely, and split.
Then, come back on your own nickel to do the real evaluation. Pick the time of day when you would normally be there and see exactly how crowded it really is. If you can’t find a place in the parking lot, or if the machines you would probably use are knee deep in bodies, cross that one off your list and go on to the next.
How people will keep you coming back to a health club
And that brings up the next important consideration, people. I’m not talking about the hunk on the next machine over, or the Swedish beauty lifting weights. I’m talking about the hired help.
- How cheerful are they?
- Do they like to be there? Do they have a Cheers-type receptionist who smiles and greets the regulars by name as they walk in the door?
- Are the locker rooms clean and spiffy because the maintenance folks care about their job?
- Are the trainers busy with clients? Or if they don’t have clients, are they walking the floor giving suggestions as they go? The good ones will do that. Listen in on the conversations they are having with folks they are talking to. It’s a good way to find out who the really quality trainers are—the ones you might want to hire.
Check out the special classes.
- Are they well attended?
- Do the instructors seem to know what they are doing?
- Do the folks attending the class talk to each other? That may be important to you, or not. But decide.
If you don’t like the machines, you won’t return to the gym
Big is not always better. Some of the gyms I’ve attended were like 747 aircraft hangers! Huge! Hundreds of machines! I felt like a very small cog in a very large factory. I didn’t like it—but maybe you would. You just gotta try it.
- What’s going to help you come back?
- Cruise around and check the functionality of the equipment: are the pads splitting and taped?
- Consider down time. How many machines have that dread sign around their neck, “Sorry–Waiting for parts” ?
Do you want a pool?
- Like to swim laps? Then come when other folks are doing it and see if there is room for one more.
- Are safety features in place, like mats in the wet areas so you don’t slip?
- Is there adequate lighting so you don’t feel like you are swimming in a cave?
- What about the smell? It doesn’t have to be chlorine anymore—a lot of the newer clubs have gone to a salt water pool—absolutely glorious!
By extension I am also considering environment here. I think two of the best gyms I ever worked out in, and kept coming back to, had great views. One had ceiling-to-floor windows looking out on an evergreen forest—in the winter you could watch the snow sifting down between the trees. Just great! The other looked out on a resort golf course—always green, always beautiful. Couldn’t beat that. Got in some good workouts there.
What about the weight room? Yes, I know all you are going to do are the circuit machines, but you might be surprised. Free weights are where it is at for a lot of exercises, and that means visiting the pumping iron space. Is it friendly to both sexes, or is this a strictly male testosterone hangout? OK, if you are an Arnold clone, but if you just want to get healthy, think about it. What is your intuition telling you?
Finally, two idiosyncratic criteria for me: Paint on the walls and music. The paint has got to be intact and not peeling. Some good colors would be nice, other than institutional gray or military khaki.
And what is the choice in music? There is always some variation, depending on the staff, but you are making this visit when you normally would be visiting, right? Can you live with their choice of songs, or would you need to invest in a good iPod?
How health club membership can have value for you
It’s decision time. Rank your choices by affordability. Then close your eyes as you slowly bring up a mental image of each club and let your gut talk to you:
- Did you like being there?
- What about the people?
- The environment?
- The overall gut feel of the place?
Did it feel, well, sticky? Would you come back a second time? A third? What about a month from now? Mentally jump ahead to the critical time before your next work evaluation. Could you spend an hour here to de-stress after that tough job interview?
If your answer is yes, then you’ve found your new home away from home. The rest, as they say, is history.
How to negotiate for the best price on gym memberships
Go in and ask for the manager. Don’t be afraid to bargain. Try these strategies:
- Say you really like the feel of the place, and you work for XYZ company (if you do) and say that your co-workers would like this gym, too. What is their referral policy?
- Tell him or her that their competitors up the street are offering the same type of membership for X less. (And be honest, because he or she will know exactly what their competitor is up to!)
- Or suggest that you are ready to join a club, today, and although you know their next promotion is not for a month or so, would it be possible to predate it to now?
- Money talks: if you can pay for a year up front, do so. In the long run it is less hassle for you and better stats for them at the end of the month.
Nothing in this lifetime is guaranteed, but if you are willing to spend a little time on the project, your body will thank you for a sticky gym membership!