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5 Tips For Choosing A Gym

Ladies and gentlemen, I have a coach.

“Dear Kate”, the email reads. “You are cordially invited to become my running slave”. Words “running” and “slave” in the same sentence? How could I say no?

Coach Mike will help me to get these luscious buttocks back into their running shape in time for the marathon in October. [Just to clarify for fiancees and partners involved: “Luscious buttocks” – my words, not Coach Mike’s. :)]

What does this mean? 1. Suunto and I will be very close friends. 2. I will start running again. 3. I will get a taste of OCD-fest that is Training Peaks. 4. I will probably stop liking Coach Mike very soon. [Fortunately, he’s quite content with this prospect as long as my performance improves.]

I have also decided to join a gym. Like an actual mortar and bricks (or whatever the hell they are using in construction these days) gym.

Playing around at Bang Fitness – an awesome gym downtown Toronto.

In an all-out attempt to get my fitness back on some sort of track, I also visit a large gym close to my house. It’s a chain – lots of cardio machines, lots of people who seem lost. The usual.

The last gym I belonged to went out of business quite unexpectedly, and one day I simply showed up to a closed door. Since then, it was my condo gym, CrossFit, swimming pool – fitness promiscuity all around.

I get permission to give myself a tour, and walk around with a critical eye. I think it takes about two minutes for someone to ask if I’m working there. Must be my walking gait, or something.

One of the bonus features of this particular gym is an almost normal pool – 22m (as every triathlete reading is currently rolling his/her eyes). When I ask about lane swim hours, I get a quizzical look from staff. Got it. No lanes, and as long as pool is open, it’s a free for all. Awesome. Well, I’m sure if I swim into any children or elderly, they will just bounce quietly off the edges.

Another plus – access to any location of the chain. Given my sporadic driving around the city, this may actually be beneficial.

I am given a schedule of group classes. I give it a cursory glance – spinning, hot yoga, hip-hop (that may be interesting), body sculpt. “Wow”, I smile at the receptionist. “It’s been a really long time since I belonged to a large gym”.

“How long has it been since you’ve last worked out?”, he wonders politely.

I glance down at my watch. “About an hour”. The back of my neck is still wet.

“Oh”, he laughs. “You never stopped training then?”.

I guess not.


1. Every gym has an atmosphere. Make sure you like the atmosphere at the gym you are considering.

  • Garage like look. Loud music. Guys wearing cut up tanks and sipping protein shakes.

  • Family gym. Offers daycare. Free weights section is always empty.

  • Community centre. Retirees. High school kids.

  • Stepford wives. Plastic. Aerobic classes. Botox clinic in the basement.

2. Timing.

  • Is the gym even open when you need it to be open? My old gym did not open until 9am on weekends, and then closed as early as 5pm. It drove me bonkers, as I could never get a workout in before my day started or after my day ended.

  • On the other hand, consider if you truly need to pay extra for a gym that is open 24 hours. It sounds nice. But unless you are working shifts, or suffering from insomnia, it may simply not be relevant. I will never be working out at 3am. Thank goodness. [Never say never, but I have a feeling that if I’m running on a treadmill in the middle of the night, the operating hours of that particular gym would be the least of my problems.]

  • Assess what the gym will look like when you will actually be exercising. A tour of a clean and quiet gym on a Thursday morning is not helpful, if you are planning to work out at 5pm on weekdays. Ask the front desk staff which days and times are the busiest. Usually Monday to Wednesday 4pm to 7pm would be the busiest time at an average gym (as people feel guilty for overindulging on the weekend).

3. Convenience will be the primary factor in whether you will go or not.

  • Make sure your gym is on your way to work, on your way home, on your way to school, on your way to a grocery store. On your way.

  • It does not matter how shiny, cheap, or amazing the gym is. I don’t care if they hand out free running shoes at the entrance, if you have to be stuck in traffic for half an hour or more to get there, you are simply not going to bother.

4. What kind of equipment are YOU looking for?

It seems that the sales staff always rushes to tell me about their brand new cardio equipment, and weight machines. I am more interested in whether they have rowers, Olympic squat racks, and pull-up bars.

  • If you like group classes, check whether the gym offers extensive group fitness schedule at the times that you can attend.

  • If you are training for hills (like I was last year) or a CN tower climb, check if they have a stepmill.

  • If you are lifting heavy, make sure they have enough plates and dumbbells that are heavy enough.

5. Consider others non-fitnessy factors.

A gym is not just about the price of the membership and the amount of equipment. Gym can be different things to different people.

  • Are you an in-and-out exerciser, who walks in, already wearing your workout clothes, and walks out, dripping in sweat, in a hurry to shower at home? In that case, you may want to look for a gym with central location and lots of parking nearby to facilitate fast entry and even faster exit.

  • If you will be going to the gym on your way to work, then you want to make sure that it has decent shower facilities, and lockers.

  • A gym may also be a place to relax, an opportunity to have your own time away from work, family and other obligations. In that case, you may want to look into whether there is a sauna, a Jacuzzi, a steam room – anything else that would facilitate relaxation after a tough workout.

YOUR TURN: Do you have a gym membership? How did you pick your gym? What other advice do you have for picking a gym?

Signing off, Solo


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