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What to Know Before Choosing a Fitness Center

Kalicia Bateman
Kalicia Bateman | Contributor

Over 38,000 fitness centers were recognized in the United States in 2017, so much like churches in the southern states, they are everywhere. The key to your success is finding a facility that will help you meet your fitness goals. When trying to improve your lifestyle by purchasing a membership at a fitness center, consider these key points.

Location and time

Going to the gym to workout takes effort. Getting up early, slipping out during your lunch break, or stopping on your way home from work all require you to go out of your way to get there. A common rule of thumb when looking for a facility to attend is whether the location is convenient. Two factors that will help you gauge convenience are where you will be coming from and what time you plan to go.

Your proximity to the gym may sway your final decision. It is likely that you will go to the gym more often if it is located nearby. You should look for a facility that is within a four-mile radius or as close to that as possible. The further out of your way, the less likely you are to make the effort to go. If you cannot find a fitness center near your home, try finding one near your work. The gym’s location may influence the time that you schedule to workout.

After you have found a gym, decide what time you plan to work out consistently. If it is near your work, it could be beneficial for you to go either right before or after work. If it is near your home, you will have more flexibility in your choice of exercise times. It will also be beneficial to find out what hours the gym is the busiest. This will help you select a time when you can access the equipment you would like to use and help you avoid the crowds.


If you are going to pay for a membership, make sure that it is the right one for you. Many membership options are available at each health and fitness center. Taking the time to consider all of the options to best satisfy your needs will be worth it. The following are some basic membership options:

  • Free trial — Most facilities provide an option for a free trial. Some offer one-day trials and others offer up to seven-day trials. Take advantage of these in order to get a feel for the facility and make sure that it is something that you are really interested in.
  • Student — A number of gyms provide discounted memberships to students. Though a specific fitness center chain may offer these passes, they occasionally are limited to specific locations.
  • Amenity-based — Many fitness centers have a number of different membership options to best serve their members. The most basic typically includes gym use including cardio and strength training equipment. Higher priced memberships will include classes with faculty, sport court access, pool access, etc. Make sure that you are not paying for something that you are not going to use.

When buying a membership you should also look for any hidden costs. There are gyms that have registration fees ranging from $10-$100. Another thing to look out for are annual fees. A common annual fee is $50.


When looking for a facility, take a tour with a member of the staff or one of the instructors to see what the fitness center offers. Here are some things that you should look for and ask about:

  • Equipment — Most facilities have free weights, cardio equipment, treadmills, elliptical machines, muscular endurance, and strength training machines just to name a few. Take a look at the fitness equipment to see if it is kept clean and in good condition. Paying for a membership allows you to have a high standard.
  • Training programs — Ask a staff member about the available training programs. Depending on the type of training you are interested in, find out if they do personal training, group fitness training, and/or intensive training sessions. Classes are typically planned to benefit the health and fitness of individuals of all skill levels. You should ask if classes and instruction by personal trainers are included in the price of the membership or if they require an additional fee.
  • Sporting facilities — Ask yourself if you like using equipment and weights or if you are more interested in mixing in other activities such as sports. Some fitness centers provide spaces for boxing rings, a basketball court, racquetball courts, volleyball courts, and other active sports that provide variety. If these are important features to you, make sure that they are included in the fitness center package you select.
  • Variety — There is something to be said about mixing things up. If you do not already have a consistent workout plan it can be very hard to stay motivated if you continue to do the same thing every day. Look for a gym that provides a variety of exercise opportunities to help you be successful. These may include but are not limited to Zumba, martial arts, swimming, yoga, and cycling.


Have you ever walked into a space and felt claustrophobic? Does clutter keep you from feeling comfortable? This is the last thing that you want when you go to the gym. Here is a short list of some of the small details that often times are overlooked:

  • Lighting — Is the space well-lit? Is it over-lit?
  • Music — Is the music too loud? Do they play music that you don’t like?
  • Air circulation — Is it stuffy and warm? Or does the space seem to have good airflow?
  • Bathrooms — Are they clean? Do they smell fresh?
  • Use of space — Are there piles of equipment or random objects pushed into the corners?
  • Emergency plan — Does the fitness center have a good emergency plan and have qualified staff to assist in emergencies?
  • People — Do the people look happy?


If you have children, it can be hard to get to the gym as often as you would like. A number of facilities provide childcare services for children typically between the ages of six weeks and twelve years of age. Not all locations provide these services, so asking is always helpful. The costs differ between different health and fitness centers but usually range between $10-$15 per month unless they are already included in your purchased membership.

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Fitness Centers Frequently Asked Questions

Is there a maintenance fee?

Most gyms do have a maintenance fee, typically called an annual fee. These fees are commonly about $50. Often, the marketing of each membership does not fully disclose the annual fee until you have already filled out most of the paperwork. Ask about this in advance so that you know what you are getting into.

How can I make the gym fit into my schedule?

You are your own worst enemy. If you have the desire to go to a fitness center and live a more healthy lifestyle, you will need to invest your time. Try going before work, during your lunch break, right after work, or at the same time each evening. If you purchase a membership or make appointments to meet with a personal trainer, you may have more incentive to follow through as you are spending hard-earned money and have someone waiting on you.

When is the best time to go workout at the gym?

As a general rule, the peak times for crowds at the gym are between 8:00-11:00 a.m. and 4:00-7:00 p.m. If you would like to avoid crowds and ensure your preferred equipment is available, go before or after these times.

What gyms provide childcare?

As a parent seeking to live a healthy lifestyle, maintain your weight, and reach your fitness goals, it may be important to you to find a local gym that has some type of day-care service. Many gyms offer these services, but not all of their locations do. When in the market for a fitness center, make sure to ask if they provide any of these services.

What are the hidden fees at gyms?

Purchasing a membership to a local gym can be expensive if you don’t know what you are doing. Though a gym may advertise that their monthly fee is $10, they neglect to tell you in that initial interaction that their annual fee is $50 and their registration fee is $40. If you want to use their sport courts, pool, or other amenities, it is likely that your $10 per month will turn into $30 per month.  Avoiding these extra fees is as simple as doing your research.

What gym should I get a membership to?

First, you should research what gyms are located near you. Because there are such a large number of gyms and fitness centers, it may seem overwhelming. Don’t let it be. Once you have found the fitness centers near you, go and check them out. Make sure that it is a place that you will feel comfortable visiting multiple times during the week. Take a look at their equipment and make sure that they have the cardio, free weights, and strength training equipment you are looking for. Compare costs with the other gyms and find the one that best suits you. There is no need to be surprised by any hidden fees, so ask about registration and annual fees.

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