Choosing a Gym

Here's an obvious bit of advice that, oddly enough, takes many people by surprise: The more specific your fitness goals, the easier it will be for you to pick a gym that suits your needs. In other words, are you just there to pump iron or are you interested in taking aerobics classes, yoga, swimming, boxing, or playing basketball? Is taking a sauna a big plus or a big ho-hum? Remember, if your gym has these amenities and you choose not to use them, then you're likely subsidizing someone else's use of them.

As long as we're on the obvious front: Check to make sure the gym you join has hours that work for you. We know one gym in Brooklyn that sits over a synagogue and hence must close on the Sabbath as well as whenever there's a Jewish holiday. "Closed for the Ninth of Av? Never heard of that one!"

"Gosh," you may be saying, "I just want to find a gym and get in shape, not select a four-year college." Don't worry. In the pages that follow, we'll help you figure out what you should look for in an institution of higher fitness, factoring in everything from your legal rights to your creature comforts.

Neatness – or at Least Cleanliness – Counts!
Surveying a gym is a bit like looking for a home, only different. Instead of looking for closet space and listening for street noise, you'll want to focus on the general cleanliness of the gym area and locker rooms as well as the quality of the equipment. When you enter a new gym for inspection, don your white gloves and prepare to judge!

Look for the following in the gym area:

  • Take a good look at the general condition of the equipment. For example, are the cables that you'll find on many pieces of gym equipment in good repair or are they frayed?
  • Check out the equipment's manufacturer. If it's Bodymaster, Cybex, Maxicam, or Nautilus, that's a good sign. Stu's, Herb's, or Skip's should send up a warning signal. Other reputable companies to look for are Hammer, Icarian, TK Star, and Paramount.

  • Is the upholstery covering the equipment worn and/or torn? If the equipment looks like the inside of a honky-tonk, you may consider your alternatives.

  • Check out the dumbbells – the handheld weights you'll soon become familiar with. Are they the plated variety, which hold up well, or the hexagonal type that tend to bend and rust?
Now get yourself into the locker room and evaluate the following:
  • Is the locker room clean?

  • Are the lockers large enough to accommodate your gear? We've been to gyms where fitting your clothes into a skinny locker is like squeezing a thick English muffin into a narrow-slotted toaster. In winter, when you'll be toting even more clothes, this toaster phenomenon gets worse. So buyer beware.

  • Are there lockers for rent? Renting a locker allows you to leave stuff at the gym like a weight belt, shampoo, deodorant, or hair dryer – a lifesaver if you'll be heading for the office or the movies after your workout.
  • Are the stalls in the bathroom clean? Or is the place like the restroom at a rest stop on the interstate? Is there toilet paper in the stall?

  • Ditto for the shower stalls. A nice, hot, relaxing shower after a workout is supremely satisfying, unless the space is a moldy mess reserved for jungle explorers and cattle rustlers. Also, it's not a bad idea to check the water pressure. A dribbling showerhead just doesn't get it done.

  • How about the upkeep of the steam room, sauna, and whirlpool? Again, these are excellent features – provided they're fit for human enjoyment.
Do You Have X, Y, and Z?
Gyms are a bit like restaurants: The basic product is the same, but the pomp and circumstance surrounding the workout/meal varies widely. To some, the only factors that concern them when selecting a gym are 1) do they have enough equipment? and 2) is the price right? Everything else is window dressing.

Consider a musclehead gym we know in Brooklyn called The Fifth Avenue Gym that's so austere and grungy it's almost cool. Inside, large, animated men with biceps the size of cantaloupes hoist prodigious amounts of freeweights like NFL linemen tossing back spare ribs. The grunting and groaning is so intense you'd almost think you were listening to natural childbirth. Shampoo and conditioner in the shower stalls? Get real! Patrons are lucky there's water in the water fountain. Nevertheless, the gym has nine million pounds of freeweights and the annual membership is about the cost of dinner for nine at McDonald's. For some, that's just what the doctor ordered.

On the other hand, if you prefer a prettier setting, or if the sight of a spider in the bathroom sends you scurrying for a vaccination, you may want to consider a classier establishment.

Let's look at the amenities you may want to consider, realizing ahead of time that the more you get, the more you'll pay!


Excerpted from he Complete Idiot's Guide to Weight Training © 2003 by Deidre Johnson-Cane and Jonathan Cane. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide website or call 1-800-253-6476.


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