Well, you’ve finally decided to get in shape. After driving by your local gym countless times without actually venturing inside, the time has come to put down your money, face your fears and get that body fit.

However, if you’re like most people new to the gym experience, it is highly likely you have no idea what should happen once you get inside that gym.

Most of you may need some type of instruction on how the equipment in the gym works and how to put together a training program. However, even before you are ready for the working out portion of your new gym life, you need to know the basic workings of the gym world. What follows will give you solid guidelines for how to find the right gym for you, what is involved in joining the gym, and how to make your time at the gym go smoothly.

Part I. Finding a Gym

Before you can begin your quest for fitness, you’re going to have to find a suitable place to work out. These days there are all types of clubs available to fulfill your workout needs. Some examples of these types follow:
Commercial gyms/health clubs: These are the typical gyms we all have driven by and maybe even joined in the past. They can run the range from your basic weightlifting gym, which may simply contain free weights and Nautilus-type machines; to your full-service health clubs, which in addition to weights and machines, may also have swimming pools and aerobics classes and baby-sitting, etc. Any of these facilities can be a great place to get started. Most will give you at least a free workout, if not a free week or two to see if the facility is right for you.

Private training studios: In recent years these have really grown in popularity. Typically these facilities are miniature versions of the commercial health clubs. Almost all will allow you in only with a trainer, be it one-on-one, or with a small group. A few will allow you to work out on your own, but this is rare for the private facility.

Pilates/Spinning/Yoga studios: Again, these have grown a great deal in recent years. You may find these same services as part of a large commercial club, but the majority of these services are performed at studios that cater to those specific endeavors.

Part II. Joining the Club

Whichever facility you decide to join is going to cost you money. You need to be educated on what you get for your money. Most commercial clubs will charge an initiation fee and then either monthly dues or a pre-paid fee for a certain term like six months or one year. I personally dislike the concept of an initiation fee. These fees are simply added profit for the gym. A typical experience with initiation fees goes something like this:

You’ve dropped by your local gym and inquire about obtaining a free pass to work out and see if the facility is right for you. The salesperson tells you that’s fine, however, they are running a special for today and today only! They are offering half-off the initiation fee or perhaps even an initiation fee waiver, but only if you join right this second! If you wait until tomorrow you’ll have to pay the full initiation fee.

This is what’s called the hard sell. It is quite common throughout many of the big fitness chains. Don’t be bullied into joining a gym you aren’t sure about. If they won’t let you have a free pass, or worse yet, pressure you into signing-up before you’ve even used your free pass, this may not be the place for you. Gyms like this typically want your money today and hope they won’t see you again until its time to renew. They may also try to sell you on a monthly payment plan tied to your checking or savings account via an automatic monthly deduction. These programs typically run for one, two or even three years. They hope to lock you in for a long-term commitment, and then hope you don’t show up so they won’t have an overcrowded gym to sell. They also hope once you stop showing up you don’t really notice the small monthly fee they continue charge ad nauseam. These contracts also charge early termination fees, and can typically be a royal pain to cancel. I would simply pay for a pre-paid duration and try to get most or all of any initiation fees waived.

Most private training and specialty studios simply have you pay for a specified number of training sessions or classes. Some may also charge a facility fee. Typically you will get a discount for buying in bulk, or for training in a small group (as opposed to one-on-one), or even for coming during the slower parts of the day. It’s usually best to shop around and try out various facilities for a small number of sessions if it is at all logistically possible.

While private training studios can be a great place to learn how to work out properly and to jump-start your quest to get in shape, you should definitely inquire about the education and experience of any trainer they may wish to set you up with. Ask to see proof of fitness-relate degrees or fitness certifications. Are the trainers CPR and first aid certified? How long has the trainer been working? In a future article, I will go in depth into how to choose a personal trainer, until then, use your gut instinct. And remember, just because someone is in shape, it does not mean they know how to get you in shape in a safe and efficient manner.

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