At any given time there are probably hundreds of thousands of people thinking about joining a gym or health club. It may be New Year’s resolution time, summer and swimsuit season is coming time, or even ‘I’ve just got to get in shape’ time. For most people, a gym membership is a good thing.

So you may be wondering: Which gym? For some, this choice can mean the difference between the beginning of a rewarding life-long fitness regime or the fate of another exercise dropout.

The first thing to consider in choosing a gym, as in real estate, is location. Most people won’t travel more than 20 minutes to work out, so if there isn’t anything you find comfortably close, it might be better to work out at home. Even if there isn’t a big health club nearby, you may be able to find a nice facility at a YMCA, your local recreation department, a hospital or health clinic, or even a big hotel that lets local residents join its fitness facility. (If none of these apply to you, don’t give up on exercise. You really can get a good workout at home.)

So let’s assume you have a choice of clubs. The first thing you are thinking about is how much it will cost. It’s a mistake to shop only price. Most health clubs are a bargain if you use them at least twice a week. Sometimes once a week is cheap if compared to taking, say, a yoga class elsewhere. When you join a low-price club, you may find they stint on upkeep or service. If you’re a seasoned exerciser who just needs a place to lift weights, it may not bother you, but you need to be aware of what you are, and are not, getting for your money. On the other side, high-end clubs may have swimming pools, tennis courts, restaurants, steam rooms, and even such amenities as hair dryers and ironing boards. These are expensive to maintain and you will pay more for a membership to such a club. It may be worth it to you, but if all you want to do is run on the treadmill, there’s no need to pay to maintain things you’re not going to use. Another selling point for an expensive club is that the price keeps the membership down so the club doesn’t get crowded, but this may not always be true. Some people prefer the expensive clubs for business or social reasons, but if you’re just looking for a place to work out and don’t care about the extra amenities, a cheaper facility may be fine.

When you’re visiting a club, ask about the qualifications of the trainers and instructors, especially if you are a beginner. You can ask about the certifying agency and what the certification means. See what help will be available to you as part of your membership and for what you will have to pay extra. Find out about an orientation if you’re a beginner. Will someone set up a program for you or just show you how to use the equipment? It may be worth an extra fee to get a qualified person to help you get started. Is there always a staff member available to answer questions and handle emergencies? There should be.

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