If you are contemplating joining a gym or health club, you probably have many choices. Here are a few of the secrets you should consider when narrowing down your list and finding the one most beneficial to you. In one sense, I hate to cover these points because they do not apply to all gyms and health clubs – but I have experienced enough of these over the years to know that they are a major concern for the novice getting ready to join.
- Overcrowding As with almost all US businesses, gyms and health clubs operate with the sole purpose of making a profit. Unfortunately, many businesses take this to excess so that it conflicts with the health/fitness and safety of its members. One sad statistic that most gyms and health clubs operate from is that only 10-20% of it’s membership uses the facilities on a regular basis (3-5 times per week). Thus memberships and profitability are based on totally unreasonable membership enrollments of 1000-5000. Can you imagine if/when large numbers show up at the same time? The risk is total chaos – not to mention the lack of adequate instruction, etc. So ask how many members the gym has and whether they work on the 10-20% rule.
- Inadequately Trained Staff Another issue arising from the focus on profitability is that many owners hire sales oriented staff that look good, and can talk anyone into a membership, but when it comes to a true working knowledge of fitness and health safety, they fall alarmingly short. Be sure to confirm that the instructor that works with you has a minimum of a national certification from a respected association such as the ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) or the NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association). Ideally they would have a 4-year B.Sc. in Physical Education from a good college or university.
- Appearance Versus Ability Beware of placing your health and fitness routine/instruction in the hands of the best looking champion bodybuilder/athlete. Most of us automatically assume that, if someone excels in his sport or looks like a champion bodybuilder, he can help us to achieve that kind of shape also. In many cases this is not true. Some of the most dedicated and knowledgeable experts that I met looked nothing like athletes. One in particular was one of the most dedicated exercise physiologists I ever met. She worked in research at a medical center and spent most of her time studying the impact of exercise on diabetes. She ran marathons and weighed all of 90 lbs. In fact she was probably anorexic. If you met her at a gym or health club you would almost certainly choose the other instructor (you know, Bruno the Greek god, who just won Mr. Olympia). But in reality the 90lb marathon runner/researcher has probably forgotten more than Bruno will ever know or understand about how to set up programs for the average person. The main ingredient that sets an elite athlete or bodybuilder apart from the average human is genetics. They were born with a superior set of genes for their given sport or competition. So although all competitors have to work hard, if you have the genes to begin with, you progress and achieve at a much higher level. Does that mean an elite athlete won’t be a good instructor to the average member? Not at all, but the instructor will have to step outside of what and how they trained themselves and individualize a routine that works for you. Nothing is more disappointing to me than seeing an out of shape middle aged man or woman trying to keep up with a routine designed for them by an elite athlete or competitive bodybuilder that is probably more harmful than beneficial – not to mention that it greatly increases their chance of injury or cardiovascular accident.
- Hygiene Most gyms and health clubs are conscientious about maintaining and sanitizing their equipment. But, to be safe, when you take a tour of the facilities before you join observe any pieces of equipment that look old, broken, or really dirty. Ask how often the equipment is sanitized and maintained. Watch how the members treat the equipment. Do they carry sweat towels to wipe up after they get done on a piece of equipment? Are there signs reminding members to put their weights back after use, and toweling off sweat when they are finished with a piece of equipment? A good gym or health club will not tolerate sloppy members that don’t do their part to keep the equipment clean and in its place. Ideally there should be bottles with sanitizing solution at various stations so that members can wipe a machine off before they use it as well as after. Staff should be seen wiping down and sanitizing equipment at least once a day. Likewise, check whether the restrooms and showers are clean.
- Long Term Contracts If a gym or health club pushes you toward a contract of more than 1 year there is a very good chance that they are cutting corners in many aspects that will affect the quality of your experience and instruction. When a gym or health club sells you a 2-3 year membership, they put it on a finance contract. And guess what they do with that contract? They sell it! If it totals up to $1500 for 3 years they will probably sell it at 80 cents on the dollar. This means they get their money up front. And rather than put this money in a savings account and pull out your monthly fee each month and apply it to their operating expenses, they put the whole amount in the operating expenses. Now guess what the incentive is once they have your money up front? They go on to the next unsuspecting prospect and work on selling them a 3-year membership. The focus moves from getting you in shape to making the most money that they can in the shortest period of time. So, logic would tell you to sign up for a minimum term (1-3 months), to see how you progress. Anything more than a year membership and in most cases you are asking for trouble. Many things can happen in 3 years e.g. you can relocate, the gym or health club can go out of business, etc, etc.
I hope that, equipped with some of these secrets, you can find a gym or health club that meets your health/fitness needs and gives you the positive experience that you seek!
Chris Poff develops personally tailored programs of health/performance enhancement for people at all levels of ability and ambition using a unique approach that combines his three levels of experience. These three levels comprise: academic research (via his B.Sc. from Ohio State University and his Master of Education, School of Health Physical Education and Nutrition); the practical experience of training himself to compete in sports; and the training of thousands of other individuals from beginners through to professional executives and athletes.