Shopping for a Gym. What do I look for?
January 21, 2014 6:17 PM   Subscribe

After a year of half-assed solo weight lifting. I've decided to take the green's advice and tie my fitness to a specific activity. I'm thinking of joining a rock climbing/crossfit gym in my area. I've never been a member of a gym before (except during college), and I don't really know what to look out for and pay attention to while checking it out during the free trial.

So here's the full situation
-I'm in ok shape, but I really want to focus on my fitness, lose the pudge, and gain some muscle. I've been doing some weights in the morning on my own, but I struggle with motivation. I can tell I'm half-assing it.
-This gym has full climbing/bouldering facilities, and pro membership (60-75 dollars a month) comes with unlimited access and yoga, tai chi, and kungfu classes at no additional cost.
-It also has an attached crossfit-esque gym called "primal fitness". You get unlimited classes there for an additional 60 dollars a month.

I've been climbing a few times, and it's one of the very few physical activities I unequivocally enjoyed. I think that the group environment will be very good for me. Now, the cons

-$120 per month is a significant investment. I can afford it, but it's enough to give me pause.
-I have gym anxiety. I've posted about it before. I'm ok with some pressure and toughness (that's why I'm joining a gym), but I am absolutely not ok with "tear you down to build you up". It seriously gives me panic attacks.

So what should I ask them? What should I be looking for? What's important here? I'm a fitness newbie
posted by nickhb to Health & Fitness (9 answers total)
Speaking as someone who spends almost $300 a month between a membership at a gym and a specialty fitness studio that I visit every freaking day, I can tell you this: the best gym is the one that you go to regularly and love. It sounds like for you, a good gym experience is one where you can do activities you really enjoy (like rock climbing) and one where people aren't going to give you bro beefcakey attitude. THAT is what you should look for during your free trial. Can you do the exercises you love? Are the people cool? Do you look forward to your next visit? If so, it's worth it.

(I mean, of course you should also consider things like whether the gym is conveniently located and offers whatever you will need in order to fit it into your schedule - maybe that means it has a clean shower facility and towel service, or maybe it just means that it's close to your home)
posted by joan_holloway at 6:33 PM on January 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Visit and see what the people inside are like. If I see a lot of older and out of shape people, or women near the weights, I am in. (I am a woman.) If the weights section is all buff dudes in their 20s who seem to be trying to out-douche each other, I'll pass. Some gyms just feel more welcoming than others. Also see what the staff are like.

I honestly never have used things like tanning beds, massage beds and even the locker room, really. If any of those amenities and perks matter to you, then check them out.

I'd go during when you think you will go, and/or during a peak time (like right after work) and see if there are enough machines for everyone. The last thing you want is to be paying for a gym but when you go, the machines you want are always taken. Make sure the equipment looks functional and reasonably new. I joined a gym where some of the ellipticals were held together by tape because it was the only gym in town -- I wasn't a fan of it. And make sure they have the kinds of machines you need. I went to a gym I really liked by the style of elliptical they had just didn't work for me so I decided on another gym. See if they have the weight machines you want or a good free weights area, if that's what you'll use.
posted by AppleTurnover at 7:19 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

For motivation, it may help for you to see what sort of community the gym itself has. I'm currently paying quite a bit for my membership (around $300US, though I am in Hong Kong at the moment, where all CrossFit gyms are new and similarly priced), but I wouldn't give it up to swap to another gym.

The gym's changed from somewhere I sweat and be miserable in into something more social. I like my gym friends, the gym regularly organizes dinners/lunches/brunches, and everyone is nice and supportive during workouts. I've been able to make huge strides (finally learned form for Olympic lifts, lifting heavier than ever) in my fitness because of this. It's also gotten me into the habit of getting up at 6 in the morning every day to make a 7am workout.

At a good gym, the coaches and other members will never make fun of your form out of meanness. They'll let you scale your exercises until it's doable for you and then help you learn how to do things at heavier weights/do things longer/otherwise improve. The general feel of my gym is that as long as you push yourself to what your own limits are. Yes, there is a ridiculous amount of people at my gym who are packing 8 packs and are under 10% body fat, but they never laughed at flabby little 21-year old me who just started last year. Instead, they taught me little tips and tricks to improve my form and change my mindset.

It's hard to gauge these things without just going for a month or so. If this gym is something that intrigues you, just try it out for a month. If you like it, great! If not, find another gym.
posted by astapasta24 at 8:02 PM on January 21, 2014

Ask them about their typical teaching/coaching style. Better yet, ask if you can watch a class, or get a day pass to try things out. I haven't tried crossfit myself but there's a particular, much-discussed culture attached to that.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:09 PM on January 21, 2014

Here's what I'd look for. Note I don't do crossfit and my current gym has a rock wall but I haven't gotten into it so I can't answer those questions specifically, but I've joined a lot of gyms.

Is there enough free equipment during the times you'd be going that you could jump right on or go with a short wait? Because I know for me, having to wait 20 minutes to even get started means I'm way less likely to go.

Is the equipment well-maintained? Look for fraying cables and harnesses. Weights can be rusty and stuff, that's alright, but moving parts should be cleaned and look well maintained on any equipment. You don't have to be a mechanic to know a fraying cable holding 100 pounds of iron is a bad idea, you know?

If you want to do the classes, who is teaching them and what are their credentials? Some gyms have lots of classes with really good teachers with good credentials. Some gyms hire anyone that can do Downward Dog as a yoga instructor and a fat guy in a gi that calls himself a kung fu master just to fill up the class board.

How do their hours sync up with when you want to go?

Ultimately, what you want to look for is this: Is this a place I WANT to go or would look forward to going to? I shell out close to $100 a month to go to the high-end gym in my town because the equipment is nice, it's clean, everything is maintained, there's a lot of stuff to do and a lot of different facilities and classes, and you don't get the weirdos you get in cheaper places. It's like going to a cool resort for 2-3 hours a day. On weekends I could live there and never get bored if I wanted. Now that's the exception, obviously, but if it's unpleasant--for whatever your definition of unpleasant is--you're not gonna go.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:20 PM on January 21, 2014

Rock gym specifics:
- Touch a few holds about shoulder level. They should feel grippy kind of like sandpaper, not slick or greasy.
- If you don't own your own climbing shoes and harness yet, ask to see what their member loaners are like. Shoes should smell fresh and harnesses should be comfortable and easy to adjust. You'll probably want to buy both if you like climbing, or at least one pair of shoes, but good shoes are $100 or more per pair so it's nice to have the loaner option until then.
- Is there a friendly culture around the rock wall? Climbers are generally really personable but there are some douchebags. Arrogant climbers can be a danger to themselves and you.
- Is there a section of the gym or a place nearby where it's OK to eat? Between regular gym workout and climbing workout you may find yourself out of gas faster than you'd expect.

Related but not directly on topic, you'll build strength and muscle much faster than your ligaments and tendons will, so stretch, and back off if you feel any sharp pain especially in your hand, shoulder, or elbows. Climbing is mostly balance and coordination more than brute upper body strength.
posted by a halcyon day at 9:52 PM on January 21, 2014

> $120 per month is a significant investment. I can afford it, but it's enough to give me pause

That's a pretty good price, I believe. CrossFit classes are expensive.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:33 AM on January 22, 2014

Re: CrossFit. Above all else, make sure the coaches emphasize form and good posture. Read other Internet posts about CrossFit, and the "CrossFit is bad for you and causes injuries! (that's putting it nicely)" circlejerk is prevalent. I can definitely understand why: You're typically doing quite a few Olympic Lifts in a workout, which if done incorrectly, can easily cause injury.
One of the benefits of CrossFit should be for the coaches to, you know, coach and make sure people are being safe. I really enjoy my CrossFit gyms, and a main driving force is the coaches know some of my weaknesses and keep an eye out for them to make sure I don't hurt myself. I'm also skinny and have relatively very little upper-body strength. But, but nobody care and is always encouraging.
posted by jmd82 at 10:44 AM on January 22, 2014

That pricing is right on for what is offered. Crossfit classes alone cost 120 a month so in someways you are getting the gym as a perk.

It probably has the added benefit of a smaller population due to the higher price. A 24 hour snap crunch fitness can be between 20 and 50 per month.

If you dont do crossfit you will P robably want to get a trainer for a little while to get you motivated and help you step it up.
posted by jander03 at 6:55 PM on January 22, 2014

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