How to choose a gym

Friday, April 19, 2019

We are quite lucky living in London that there are hundreds of gym and fitness studios to choose from.  It is always a bit tricky though, deciding which one to commit to.  Class Pass gives people with a fear of monogamy a chance to try out lots of different studios and classes, but I think it also limits how often you can visit some studios (please correct me if I am wrong.  I have never tried it).  There are also a few apps out there of a similar nature, and the Move GB membership.  But for me, I don't have time to travel all over London and book a different class each day.

My preference is to streamline my efforts and spend my time efficiently.  Until I was training for the Ultra X Co Jordan Ultra, I didn't have a need to join a gym.  If I was teaching group exercise classes, I would get a free workout.  Plus, most gyms I worked at would allow me to use the facilities for free.

But now I need to focus on my strength training, especially if I want to maintain some fitness while being injured.  Here are a few of the things I considered when I was choosing a gym to join.
  • Location and hours- Julie Creffield, blogger and owner of Fat Girls' Guide to Running, goes to a local Crossfit Gym because it is literally across the road from her flat.  She can also bring her daughter, who will sit and read or color, which makes it a win-win for Creffield.  I knew location would be important to me too as I am always pressed for time.  If the gym wasn't somewhere between work and home, I wasn't going to be able to get there.

  • Price- This will probably be the most important factor for many people.  I know it was for me, but mostly because I have been lucky so far in London and not had this as a regular expense.  Be mindful that you will get what you pay for.  In my experience, large budget chains are not very tidy, have staff that are not engaged, and equipment that needs repair.  On the flip side, boutique studios tend to give you more 1-2-1 attention, have lush toiletries and little perks, such as free towels.  For example, 360 Athletic (near Victoria station in London) offers tailored personal training for their members by incorporating physiotherapy into training plans.  If you train for a specific sport or have strength imbalance, this will help you train more effectively.
  • Amenities- Do you want a pool, a variety of group exercise classes, or access to a personal trainer?  Ask to look at class timetables before you sign on the dotted line in case you were planning on going to yoga class and later find out that the classes are at 6am (which is when you are normally sleeping).  I didn't check the fitness schedule too closely before joining my gym and am not able to attend many classes.

  • Equipment- Does the equipment look new and taken care of?  Or is it laying about and rusty?  Do they have the free weights you want or the right kind of indoor rower?  This aspect will be more important if you are training for something specific, such as a mountainous trail ultra or Trans-Atlantic rowing expedition.
  • Staff- When you ask a member of staff a question, what is the response that you get?  Are they friendly?  Helpful? Dismissive? Do they go the extra mile?  Or is there no staff in the middle of the  night because it is a 24 hour facility? You will need to decide how important the presence of staff and their attitude is to you.  Being American, I like prompt and effective customer service and struggle to find it in the UK.

The one other thing you may want o consider before you join a gym is if any of your friends or co-workers are members too.  The accountability of meeting someone will help ensure you turn up at the gym when you agree on it.  If the gym still seems expensive, ask if they have an introductory deal.  Many gyms and studios (such as 360 Athletic and Fierce Grace Yoga's City Studio) will offer a 30 day trial at a reduced rate.

How did you choose your gym?  Did I miss anything important in my criteria?  Leave a comment below and let me know.

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