I’ve been on a bit of a fitness journey over the last few months.
After the physiotherapist told me to stop jogging last year, I came to the conclusion it wasn’t doing me any good anyway. For every couple of minutes of jogging, there would be an equal number spent walking, gasping for air and taking photos in the woods.
My aerobic fitness didn’t improve even after six months. Nor did I see any other positive physical changes. So I think the physio probably did me a favour by making me review my options.
I am so impatient when it comes to exercise. I’ve tried many different sports and activities, including yoga, HIIT (by accident and never to be repeated), swimming and cycling. Typically, I’ll decide on one activity, repeat it a couple of times a week for a month or so, get frustrated by the lack of weight loss or muscle strength and then quit.
It’s like having a couple of piano lessons and expecting to become a concert pianist.
I have no patience and no staying power.
I didn’t feel I could join a gym again without getting fit first! I just couldn’t imagine huffing and puffing my way through the induction session.
I needed discipline and accountability. I needed a personal trainer.
I put the call out on Facebook asking for recommendations: my only criteria being they had to come to me at home (no excuse and no escape); be able to tailor a programme around my arthritic knees; and not make me cry.
Lisa Kent answered my call. We met a few years ago at a local networking event. She gave me a call to talk through my goals and concerns and didn’t seem to mind that I didn’t want to exercise between sessions, or take any nutritional advice. We agreed to a trial session. I thought she might make me cry.
I’m now approaching my last of 10 sessions with Lisa and it’s been a revelation. We’ve mostly exercised in the garden, in the sunshine. I’ve used weights and learned to box.
We’ve talked constantly – about business, networking and politics – and laughed a lot. Lisa has pushed me, but not to the point of hysteria. I can now exercise for an hour without gasping for breath. I can do star jumps while discussing the latest Trumptastrophy.
I am now ready to join a gym.
But where do I start!? There are so many choices locally, ranging from the local authority-run leisure centre, to David Lloyd with its tennis courts and choice of swimming pools.
I’ve done my due diligence and visited them all. These are all the things I took into consideration when joining a gym, along with a comprehensive list of questions you can ask while visiting your local leisure or fitness centre.
This is the most obvious and crucial consideration when joining a gym. I didn’t even bother looking at any facilities outside of two mile radius. Apparently, if you have to travel more than four miles to a gym, you’re five times less likely to go than if you live or work nearby.
- Also consider, if you have to drive there, is there sufficient (and free) car parking?
- Does the centre have all the machines you want to use?
- Does all the equipment work?
- Does it look clean?
- Is there a swimming pool?
- If so, how do they clean it (I hate the effect chlorine has on my eyes)?
What type of equipment will entice you to return again and again? Ask for a tour of the gym to make a judgement.
Ask to see the toilets, showers and changing rooms.
- Are they clean?
- Is there a ‘wet’ and dry section if the gym has a pool?
- Do the showers have free shower gel or shampoo?
- Do they provide towels?
- Do you need change for the lockers, or do you take your own padlock?
- Are there hairdryers?
- Do you have to pay for anything that isn’t included in your membership package?
Vibe and clientelle
This was a key deciding factor for me. I visited one gym which felt like a Wetherspoons (it looked like the members were only there to eat and socialise, but the decor was like a crap pub!), and another where everyone was so buff and toned, I would have been too intimidated to take off my coat.
I’m not joining a gym to make new friends, but I wanted to know I would be amongst my own age group. Notice who is using the facilities.
How crowded is it?
If you are offered a free trial, try to visit during different days and at different times. You might only be able to go twice a week, but if it’s too crowded to get onto the machines you want to use, what’s the point?
- Ask the gym staff about their busiest periods.
Off peak vs full membership
You may be able to take advantage of a cheaper membership deal if you visit the gym during off-peak hours. But check out their definition of off-peak. At one gym I visited, it was 11am to 4pm Monday to Friday with a few hours during weekend afternoons. Another was open to off-peak customers from 8am to 5pm on weekdays but not at all at the weekends.
- Get a breakdown of each membership option.
- Find out how much it costs to visit out of your allocated hours on an ad hoc basis. It might just be better value to pay for full membership.
Price and notice period
- What are the various packages on offer? Make sure you read the small print.
- What is the notice period?
- Do you have to commit to a year’s membership or pay a penalty to leave?
- Do they have any deals on?
- Is there a joining or admin fee?
- What if you go away for a long holiday? Can they suspend your membership or will you have to pay even if you’re not in the country?
I found the larger gym groups to be very inflexible when it came to membership packages and the independent gyms were much more willing to make a deal.
I resent having to give three months’ notice on anything other than a job!
I visited an amazing sports centre which offered tennis, badminton etc. But on the basic membership those facilities were not included, and they couldn’t even be paid for on an adhoc basis. It was all or practically nothing.
- Does the gym have a nice cafe where you can dose up on sugar and caffeine after your workout!?
- Is there free wifi?
- Do they make a decent coffee (try it!)?
- Is there a spa, sauna, steam room or even a massage therapist on hand?
- Can you chill out there, or do you prefer somewhere functional where you will work out and get out?
Help/training to get started
Any decent gym should offer you an induction session on their exercise machines with a trained and qualified instructor.
- Is there someone on hand after that induction session to help if you can’t remember how to use the equipment, or if you want to take your regime to the next level?
- Do they have beginners’ classes as well as sessions for more experienced fitness gurus?
If pilates is your thing but they only have one session a week which is always full, you’re wasting your money.
- Check that the classes they offer run at times to suit you. Does the timetable change during the year?
- How will you book those classes? Do you have to call the gym, or do they have online booking or an app?
- How far in advance do you need to book, and what happens if you have to cancel?
One gym I visited had a cancellations policy, where they would suspend you from classes for a week if you don’t show up three times.
Do you want to exercise with your partner or kids, or is going to the gym all about ‘me time’? More importantly, do you want to exercise with other peoples’ kids or would you rather be in an adult only environment?
- Does it make financial sense to pay for more than one adult?
- How often will your kids use the facilities?
- At what age and at what times are the kids allowed to use the equipment?
Family membership at one gym sounded great, until I checked out the age restrictions. Only one of my kids was old enough to use the facilities, and only at certain times.
Have a look around a few different gyms, arrange to have a tour so you can ask all these questions. If you like what you see, ask for a day pass or trial. I paid for a two week trial for £14 in one centre, and negotiated a free swim at another.
Don’t be bullied into joining the same day, get recommendations from your friends or local Facebook groups and sleep on it.
I’ve joined The Laboratory. It’s relaxed, has a great spa, treatments if I need them, a lovely pool cleansed with the latest UV light technology rather than chemicals – and a charming manager.
I’m excited about becoming a member. Time will tell if I can exercise patience.
Much love, Vx
[Disclosure: nothing to disclose. No freebies here]