Not All Gyms are Created Equal
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Not All Gyms are Created Equal

The kids are in school, leaves are beginning to turn, and now we are sorting out our clothes for cooler weather.  Whoa! The pants are not fastening and the shirts are a bit tight.  Time to join a gym.  There are so many choices out there with lots of offers dumped into mailboxes daily.  Which one?  Maybe being armed with some info might help make choosing a bit easier.

First, keep in mind that although the gym/health club is providing a service to you, they are in the business to make money. Someone somewhere decided that they liked health and fitness enough to open a gym and wanted to make money doing what they love to do.  After a couple of years, the owner of the gym realized the hard cold fact that financial numbers don't lie-- no business, no money.  Rather than ending up homeless and penniless, they learn real business strategy. So, when you go to a gym to get a membership, know up front that they will try to sell you on a lot of extras to get more bucks in the register.  Write down a list of what you want and need in a gym.  Don't be afraid to visit 3-4, at least. Have a firm monthly membership figure in mind and stick to it.  Don't sign anything right away.  If you lose a special price by going home to ponder the decision, you don't want that gym.  They will take advantage of you as much as possible. Some gyms thrive on new memberships and don't worry about keeping their members happy.  Others bend over backwards to keep their members happy, thus thriving on member retention. 
Here are some things you will want to ask about when you are there:
  1. What does the basic membership cover?  
  2. Are there restricted hours for the membership you want?
  3. How much is the deluxe membership and what does it cover?  This may or may not be the better deal. 
  4. Do they have child care and does it cost extra?
  5. Are there activities for the whole family?
  6. Do classes cost extra?  Can you try before you buy?
  7. Do they have the equipment and activities you love? i.e. a pool to swim laps with convenient times, a racquetball court with reservation times that work for you, spinning class?
  8. Do they have locker rentals if you need to leave things there rather than drag them back each time?
  9. What are the rules?
  10. What are the hours of operation?
  11. How do they handle complaints, etc?
  12. Is the facility CLEAN?

Second, contracts may save money at first glance, but will it fit your needs?  Contracts secure money for the gym's operation.  If you don't use your membership, you still are paying them.  What if you have an illness or other catastrophe, will they allow you to suspend your membership for a set time until you can come back?  If you take 3 months off out of a year or travel frequently, month-to-month memberships might be better for you.  You will  pay a bit more each month or have a higher joining fee, but you won't be paying for time you don't use.

Third, the $10 and $20 memberships are basement bargains, literally. Most of those offers are for bare bones memberships and restricted hours. For example, the $10 membership at Gym X may only be good for 8-10 pm weeknights and weekends 12-6 pm and only allow you to use certain areas of the gym.  If that works for you, great!  But it's no bargain if you can't come those times or want to take advantage of other offerings.  Read the fine print!

Fourth, understanding the types of gyms can make a difference in what you really want:
  • - These gyms are open 24 hours and members are given access through a code or a key, usually.  The desk is staffed mostly from 11-7 during the day.  Security cameras are there for surveillance. Some of them offer personal training and classes.  If you have a problem that needs attention when there are no employees available, then you have a problem.  The upside, is the convenience and the low price.  The downside is the lack of available staff. Such gyms are 24 Hour Fitness, Anytime Fitness and Snap Fitness as examples.
  • -- These gyms have a lot to offer their members and the prices can reflect that.  Most of them have a ton of cardio and weight machines, some have a great free weight area, along with tons of classes, a pool, whirlpool, sauna, massage, etc.  Most have childcare.  They thrive on both new memberships and member retention.  Some of them have special packages while others have ala carte memberships.  They will try to sell you personal training, offering a special rate for an intro package.  I recommend taking advantage of the intro pack if you are new to the gym.  Otherwise, skip it. You can always hire a trainer when you need one and after you know who's who and what their specialties are.  Upside, they will likely have what you are looking for. Downside, they can add up quite a bit to your bill if you aren't careful. Such clubs include LA Fitness and Lifetime Fitness.
  • -- These groups cater to certain exercise groups.  For example, Planet Fitness caters to new exercisers and those who are disgusted with the rudeness of the tech junkies.  World Gym caters more to the free weight weight lifters, body builders, etc.  They usually do have machines, but that is not their primary cash cow.  Various Crossfit gyms cater to the athlete within and lean toward very intense workouts that don't fit conventional thinking. It is only as good as what fits your needs and wallet.
  • -- Usually owned by one or two individuals who may or may not have other locations nearby.  These clubs have quite a bit to offer and the prices vary.  If you need something, it is worth asking because they want to keep your business.  These clubs thrive on member retention. The upside is that "the buck stops here" since the owner is available quite often to hear requests/complaints.  The downside is that they have to compete with the $10 & $20 clubs down the street, so money doesn't flow freely.  They have to pick and choose what is m
  • -- Curves, Ladies Workout Express, and Contours Express,  among others,  are designed specifically for women.  Many of these gyms work on a circuit system and use pneumatic (air resistance) equipment. They give their members a workout program to give them the ability to get started and periodic follow up appointments.  Some offer nutrition counseling.   Many of the workouts are 30-60 minutes for busy women.  One of the things I have noticed about some of these is the 2 years and out cycle.  Unless you can reach your goal and maintain it, you will likely get frustrated after a while, or bored, and look for something else somewhere else. Not all women-only gyms are like that, though. There are other chains that have more offerings available, so look them up online.  Some offer childcare, while others offer classes.  The upside is that you aren't either being gawked at by some rude guy or having to deal with some of the nuisances that come with co-ed gyms.  The downside is that  some of them are limited in what they offer. 
  • -- are owned by the city or municipality.  They usually have offerings for the entire family.  If you live in the city and pay taxes to that city, then your membership will be less expensive.  Families can go together to do things at the same time.  Each one will have it's own emphasis based on the residents' preferences.  They are interested in what you need and want, so ask.  The upside is that they are family friendly.  The downside is that there will be kids running around quite often unattended by an adult.
  • -- similar to the community center's offerings.  These groups are non-profit fitness centers who also have character development built into their programs.  The YMCA, now known as the Y, and the Jewish Center tend to observe religious holidays and practices, although the YMCA is not the Christian organization as it once was.  The YWCA focuses on building up women and children.  There are offerings for the entire family along with before and after school programs, homework helpers, and enrichment classes.  They have money from United Way and other agencies that fund scholarships for those whose income falls below a certain level or have special circumstances that would make joining cost-prohibitive.  They also seek grant money to fund programs, but usually they are for the elderly, children and special needs groups.  The upside is that they cater to families, the elderly and special needs very well.  The downside is that funds can be limited in some areas, but flowing freely for specialty groups due to grants.  
  • -- Some schools and colleges offer memberships within the local community.  Offerings vary.  Call and ask. There also may not be childcare available.  The upside, you may get instructors and trainers with leading edge health and fitness info and equipment.  Downside, some have restricted hours and the atmosphere can be challenging when classes let out.

With a myriad of gym choices there are membership choices to fit your needs and budget.  Don't be afraid to ask questions and shop around.  Look up places online as well. Make your list before you go, take the time to discuss with your spouse and/or other family members about what you've found, and stick to your budget.  Joining a gym is an important decision!
May God bless you!

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