Thinking of Joining a Gym? Tips to Get Started

By: Gabriela Murza, MS, MCHES®,
Professional Practice Extension Assistant Professor of Health and Wellness/HEART Initiative

people on treadmills

If you are thinking of joining a gym, it can be a bit overwhelming trying to figure out what fits your needs in the best way. The great news is, you are not alone and it is possible! It just takes a bit of planning and research. One reason for taking your time in finding a gym is to help find a facility that motivates you and reduces barriers to going. In fact, barriers were found to be one predictor in whether someone maintained a gym membership long-term, as well as self-efficacy, perceived behavioral control, and social support (Jekauc et al., 2015). While it may not seem like a gym can affect these, the extent to which a facility is staffed, professional, supportive, and well-maintained can impact someone’s desire to join and continue going. 

Let’s dive into some tips for how to find the best gym for your needs:

  • Take it for a test run. Not just for cars! Many gyms offer free passes to allow you to try the facility first. Take advantage of these (ALL of these)! When you are there, take a tour first but also be on the lookout for these things throughout the trial period (American College of Sports Medicine, 2019):
    • The quality of the equipment. Are machines out of order, in poor condition, or kept up well? Is there a good variety of equipment?

    • How busy is it? Go to the gym at a time that you would consider going regularly, and see how busy it is during that time. If you plan on taking classes, attend one but also see how packed they are in general. Consider adjusting your schedule, or keep it in mind (and be prepared) if you choose to join that particular facility.

    • Safety first. Do they have AED’s and First Aid easily available? Does the layout offer room to walk and move around safely without having to walk among gym-goers? Is there enough lighting in all of the areas?
    • Variety of offerings. Do you mainly like to lift weights, take classes, or do something different (like swimming, playing sports, or using a sauna)? Consider what you like to do (and if you will REALLY use those offerings) to help narrow down your list of facilities. A gym may offer a bunch of cool things (smoothie bar, sauna, indoor pool), but if you won’t use them, then it’s not worth paying for them. Look for a facility that meets your needs and interests.
  • Consider location and locker amenities. Is the gym on your way to work or close to home? Does it have locker rooms with spacious showers (if you are the type to work out in the mornings on your way to work)? Some facility showers have free shampoo, conditioner, and body wash for patrons to use, which means that’s 1 (or 3) less things you need to bring with you! Having a gym that’s close and convenient can also be a factor in whether or not you keep going.
  • Check out their membership offers. Do they have membership plans printed and readily available? What fees are included? Do they have special offers? Some facilities have a multitude of extra fees, and then waive them during special offers (which means some of them can be waived other times, too). Don’t be afraid to negotiate (they are sales people, after all)!  See if a facility will get rid of the fees, change the contract terms, or lower the monthly payments (American College of Sports Medicine, 2019; American Council on Exercise, 2009). 
  • A word about personal trainers. Some gyms offer free personal training sessions with a membership; take advantage of these, but make sure they are certified by a credible organization. It’s a great time to ask questions, learn how to use the equipment, and determine if there are areas you can improve upon. Ask if they specialize in working with a certain population or in forms of fitness, and trust your gut in determining if that trainer is “right” for you to continue with (American Council on Exercise, 2009).

Joining a gym can be a major step in your fitness journey. Just like anything else, you want to make sure you try out a few to see which fits your needs the best. With a little research, you can find one that’s right for you, motivating, safe, and fun.