New gym, new you

Make your decision to get fit a reality

As with many people, getting in shape tops your list of things to do. But even the best of intentions to exercise can go bust. So, before you run out and join a new gym, read our 10 expert tips on finding the right fitness facility for you:

Soak up the atmosphere
Take a tour of the facilities. Ask for member testimonials – they should be on display for your review. And request a few guest passes to try out the gym and see if you feel comfortable with the atmosphere – if muscle-bound men populate the weight room, you may be hard-pressed to get your hands on a five-pound weight. University gyms and family-oriented facilities such as the YMCA tend to have members of a variety of ages and sizes.

Find out the fees
January is a perfect time to join a new gym because they often offer membership specials, says Bonnie Steadman, Toronto regional manager for the Ontario Fitness Council. While the cost of joining varies considerably from gym to gym, there’s usually an initial fee and monthly payments. “Beware of gyms that won’t tell you the fees upfront,” Steadman says. “Some clubs will refer you to a sales manager who has the discretion to charge different fees to different customers. That’s not fair.” If the gym automatically withdraws payment from your bank account, review the contract carefully to find out if you need to provide written cancellation and a certain period of notice to opt out. Otherwise, even if you cancel, they may continue to withdraw payments. If you’re on a budget, consider a facility such as the YMCA, which offers membership subsidies to low-income clients.

Ask about the instructors
You have every right to ask the qualifications of the instructors and personal trainers, says Renata Anderson, a personal trainer in Bowmanville, Ont., because many clubs hire staff who are not (or only minimally) certified. “All fitness instructors should have a recognized fitness leader certificate and know CPR and first aid. Personal trainers should hold a degree or diploma in a health-related field, fitness leader certification, first aid and CPR training and liability insurance,” says Steadman. Their certifications may help you stay committed to your new routine. “Because they’re continuously upgrading their education, certified instructors are more likely to give you sound advice. So you’ll achieve good results from your workouts and you’ll be less likely to get injured – one of the reasons people drop out of gyms.”

Inspect the change rooms
Keep an eye out for red flags such as mould on the tiles, overflowing garbage cans and a mile-long lineup to get into the showers. And if you’re a commuter, make sure permanent lockers are available so you don’t have to lug around your gym bag. Many gyms have saunas, steam rooms and pools, which will give you a spa experience to look forward to post-exercise.

Eyeball the equipment
If there aren’t many machines, you may spend the bulk of your time at the gym in lineups. Also, test out the equipment to make sure it’s in good shape, says Anderson. It’s not a good sign if several machines sport out-of-order signs. (Check a few days later to see if they’ve been repaired.) And if you’re planning to take high-impact fitness classes look for a gym with a wooden spring floor, ideal for absorbing shock and minimizing joint impact.

Hire a trainer
If you’re new to working out in a gym, a lot of the intimidation you might feel comes from not knowing what you’re doing, says Steadman. “If you can afford it, buy a package of personal training sessions, which range from $35 to over $80 per session and will help you maximize your workouts. If a trainer is not in your budget, find out if your membership will include an orientation on how to use the equipment safely, for best results.”

Size up the location
Make sure the gym is conveniently located so you’ll actually work out. If you plan on exercising after work, for example, is it located near your office or your home? Is it open during hours that suit your schedule – early in the morning or late at night? A San Diego State University study found that people who exercised three or more times a week were more likely to have facilities located within one kilometre of their homes than those who did not.

Review the membership agreement
It should have a cancellation policy that allows you to back out within a reasonable amount of time, such as 30 days, says Anderson. Before you commit to a year-long membership, ask yourself where you’re going to be in a year and whether you’re sure that exercising in a gym is for you, says Steadman. “Even if it costs more to get a three-month membership, it might be more realistic. Don’t lock-in to a year unless you’re sure you’re ready.”

Mix it up
Don’t simply slog it out on the treadmill day after day. Try a range of activities, including fitness classes. “Group fitness is one of the best motivators because it’s fun, you see people like yourself in the class, you can compare results and make new friends,” says Anderson.

Be patient
You didn’t get out of shape overnight and it will take you at least as long to get fit. “Don’t get discouraged. Be patient and don’t focus on weight,” Anderson says. “For the first three or four months, just plan to get into the gym three or four times a week. And hire a personal trainer to develop a program that’s progressive and will keep you motivated.” Besides getting your body into shape, exercising for at least 30 minutes most days will boost your heart health and help you live longer.

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