How to Pick The Right Gym. The 13 Questions You to Need To Ask

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Helen Foster
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Picking the right gym is not just a matter of turning up at the one that’s closest to your house and getting on a treadmill. Yes, that can be how you find a gym, but finding the right gym is a very different matter. If you want to end the cycle of joining for a few weeks, then never going again and change that into a relationship with a gym where you go regularly, get results and even start to enjoy it, you need to not just find a gym, but to pick the right gym.

That means one that suits you exercise needs, your personality and a few other things that mean you’re likely to go regularly and get the results you want rather than just wasting your money.  And you don’t just find that without doing a little bit of research – into the gym – and into yourself. 

inside of a gym showing cross trainers and bikes

How I Learned to Pick the Right Gym

Over the years I’ve been a member of a lot of gyms. Huge mega gyms with three floors, tiny one-room establishments where everyone knows people by name. Budget gyms, eye-wateringly expensive ones with fluffy towels and chilled water on entry. I even joined an appointment-only gym once.

That sounds super swanky, doesn’t it. Like one of those gyms where everything is as white as snow and the trainers have names like Zeus or Nemesis; where the towels are fluffier than clouds and unicorn tears come out of the showers.

It wasn’t like that at all – it was on an industrial estate in the middle of Essex and my trainer was called Gary – but, of all the gyms I’ve joined, it’s the one I went to most often.

Right now in Sydney, my gym is a budget gym. It’s not huge, but the staff are super-friendly and, the layout works for me. Layout? You might be thinking – what’s the layout got to do with it? Actually, a lot.

You see while visiting all those gyms, some more successfully than others, I’ve learned there are a few obvious boxes you need to tick when you join a gym to make sure it’s the right fit for you – and a few less obvious ones that you might only learn over time. And here the questions that help you do that…

Q1: How Far Will You Travel?

I have learned that I need a gym within a 10-minute walk from my house. Any more than that and I just won’t go. why? Because it makes the difference between taking an hour to do a 40-minute workout – or more than an hour. And I usually don’ don’t want to spend more than that. 

I’m not alone here. Researchers at one New York marketing firm found that people driving less than 3.7 miles to their gym went five times more than those driving five miles or more. 

So, ask yourself – how far are you willing to travel? And, with that in mind, do you need your gym near work, near the station to or from work or near home?

Also, look at the logistics of that journey. Are the transport links good? Does it have parking if you need it? What’s the journey like if it’s raining or dark? Will you do it?

The easier it is for you to get to your gym, the more likely it is that you’ll go. 

Q2: Is it Open When You Most Want to Workout?

A lot of people join a gym near work – and then find that they have the most time to work out on Saturday and Sunday – and then have to schlep back toward the office to do it.

Or vice versa – you join one near home and then find it’s just a bit too tempting to turn left at the station and head straight to the sofa than turn right to the treadmill!

Really think about where and when you’re going to exercise – realistically, not in the land of unicorns where you get up at 4am to hit spinning class – and pick a gym that suits that. 

But, remember the key to successful exercise is making time to do it not finding time to do it.

Making over your morning routine might help you find more time to workout – but, there’s a few mistakes not to make when you try this – find out what they are in our guide to creating a brilliant morning routine.

Q3: Are You a People Pleaser?

It might sound like a strange question when choosing a gym, but it matters.

When I joined my appointment only gym, I really wasn’t struck by the concept – I don’t have a life that works well with routine and my plans to go and workout would always get messed up.

However I realised that the keyword in that was ‘MY’ plans – you see, while I will happily cancel something I’ve arranged with myself, there has to be a VERY good reason for me to cancel something involving anyone else. Ting….lightbulb…..! If I book the appointment with the trainer, I won’t cancel. I went to that gym more regularly than any other I have ever joined.

Sadly, most gyms don’t have booking systems – but, if the above sounds like you, you’d probably suit one if there is one near you.

If there isn’t, other ways you can create the same effect would be to choose a cheaper gym with trainers (make sure they’re properly qualified) over a pricier one – and spend the difference on a weekly appointment with a trainer. Or get pick a gym where a friend goes and arrange to meet them. 

I find even getting to know the staff helps – I chose my current gym because I met the staff before it opened and they were really, really friendly.

Now, when I’m feeling unmotivated, I tell them when I’m coming in next – the guilt then makes me go! 

Q4: Do You See Yourself Belonging Here?

Do the people in your gym look like you? Or at least how you want to look?

If you’re a bit underconfident about going to the gym, joining one where everyone is kitted out in expensive sports kit, or looks like a model or the Incredible Hulk, might not be motivating. 

On the other hand, you might be the type of person who finds it inspiring to be around people who look like your end goal. In which case, join the gym full of beautiful people tomorrow!

The key point is that you know your confidence level and what motivates you and ensure that the other people in the gym reflect that. You should walk into your gym feeling like you belong there in some way and want to keep showing up.

What this doesn’t mean is worrying about being the biggest or slowest one in there – everyone has to start somewhere. A good gym will make you realise that and feel supported at your starting point. They’ll make you feel like where you are now doesn’t matter, as you will get fitter, faster, stronger and, yes, thinner if that’s what you want to happen.

If you need a bit of an extra pep talk here, also see this post on why there’s no such thing as lifting a too light weight

Q5: Are The Staff Around?

As I said above, I get on better in a smaller gym where I can chat to the staff and get to know them a bit than I do in a huge club where every day is a new staff member.

When there’s a small team it feels like there’s someone looking out for me – and the fact that they might notice if I’m not going keeps my visits relatively consistent.

That might not be important to you, but having staff on the gym floor should be. 

When you’re first at a new gym, you’ll get an induction teaching you how to use the machines and whatnot, but you might not remember everything, or, maybe there’s a machine you see someone else using that you don’t know how to work.

It’s going to be a lot easier to learn how that works if there are plenty of staff around to ask – and they feel approachable.

Q6: How Many of Your Fave Machine Does it Have?

If this is your first gym, you might not know yet what exercises or classes you like in which case, just pick one with a good variety of equipment.

If, however,  you know your workout is not complete without a treadmill session, or kettlebells are the only weights you’ll lift, make sure they have enough of them or it could end up a recipe for frustration if ‘your fave’ is busy every time you go.

indoor swimming pool

Q7: Will You Really Use That? 

I’m a sucker for gyms with steam rooms, saunas and pools –  I have this vision of taking myself off for spa days where I flit from steam room to jacuzzi in a fluffy towel.

Never happens.

I either don’t have time or end up going at the weekend when the pool is full of families – which is not conducive to a spa-like atmosphere.

So I end up paying a good chunk of cash a month extra for things I don’t use.

Ask yourself if you really need all the bells and whistles in a gym or could you get away with paying less at somewhere more basic?

Q8: What’s Currently Stopping You From Exercising?

I read a really interesting piece on the psychology of personal training once – it was looking at how trainers could get clients to sign up with them – but the questions also work really well at helping you look at what you want from your workout – and where and how you choose to do it. 

One of the questions was ‘what’s currently stopping you from reaching your goal’ – the trainer was then supposed to talk about how their services could solve your problems – but you can use this point to ask yourself the same thing about the gym.

What is currently stopping you from exercising, or reaching your health or fitness goals – and is joining this gym, or any gym, going to tackle that? If not, then don’t waste your money – try and find a solution that answers that question or you’ll just end up not going. 

Once you’ve answered this question, and found a gym that suits it, you might want to come back and read our post on how to change a habit and make working out part of your routine.

Q9: Have You Visited at Your Workout Time?

As per my point above, if you want to use the sauna at 3pm on a Saturday, ask the club for a tour at that time to see if it’s relaxing – or a playground.

Ditto, if you want to work out at the gyms busiest times – normally before or after work and, in big city gyms, between 12-2 – go and visit then so you can see if the equipment you want to use is free.

If it’s not, ask about things like booking systems or if they have a maximum time limit at certain times – there’s nothing more frustrating than turning up for a session and finding someone hogging the cross trainer you want to use for an hour!

Q10: Do You Actually Want to Workout Here?

Environment matters. Is the equipment clean, is it tidy? Are the other patrons respectful or are there meatheads throwing weights around? Does it smell nice – or like old socks? Is it nice and bright if you like that (or do you prefer not to be distracted by the outside world). Is the music too loud? 

If you don’t want to spend time at the gym you’ll either cut your sessions short or not go at all.

Q11: Are You a Quitter?

I’ve got to this point before I make a confession – I don’t really like the gym! I’d much rather run outside, but a mix of injuries and knowing that I need to do different workouts instead of just running mile after mile after mile means I always have a gym membership on the go.

However, it doesn’t take much for me to do half my workout, get bored and leave before doing the other half – and I have learned that gym design plays a huge role in helping or hindering my motivation.

If I have to go to a different floor to swap between weights and cardio, I’m more likely to head to the changing room instead.

I’ve also discovered I’m more likely to do a full circuit of weights if they are all in the same part of the room than if I have to wander about the place.

If this sounds like you, try and find a gym that has a flow you can work with – and it was another reason why I swapped to my new gym in Sydney. Their weights machines are all located in a little U-shaped section of the gym – if I want to leave before doing the seated row I actually have to walk past it – and that seems stupid. 

If I’m doing cardio, I won’t go upstairs to do my weights – but, I will go into the little room next to the treadmill and throw a kettlebell for 20 minutes – and that’s pretty much the same thing.

Q12: Are You Locked in?

No not to the gym – although, maybe that’s something I need them to start doing with me – to the contract you’re signing. 

It’s not as bad as it used to be but gyms used to love locking you into contracts that they would then make it almost impossible to cancel – you’d have to phone a lady called Sharon at exactly 7.02am on the 3rd Thursday in the month before you wanted to leave or, ‘computer said no!’ and you had to pay for another month!

Double-check you know what you’re paying per month or fortnight, what the joining fee is, what happens if you have a keyfob and lose it – and when and how you can cancel. 

Q13: What’s in the Changing Room?

I don’t get changed at the gym – because it’s so near my house I walk there in my kit, do my stuff and come home to get showered. 

I can’t even tell you what the changing room at my gym looks like – but, if you’re going to go before or after work – you should have a good look round it because if you have to carry a bag full of towels, shampoo, conditioner, hairbrush, hairdryer, makeup (or whatever else you need) with you – a) it’s heavy and annoying and b) forgetting something could see you skipping your sessions. 

If you’re super motivated to workout, an organised person or a super low maintenance one, this is not going to worry you – if you’re not, then make sure you see what’s in the changing room before you sign on the dotted line. 

So, there you have it – the 13 questions I think you should ask before you join a gym – did some of them surprise you? Did I miss anything? What helped you choose your new gym – let me know in the comments. 


Who is The Wellness Nerd?

My name is Helen Foster, and I’m a health journalist and wellness author. Publications I’ve written for include Women’s Health, Reader’s Digest, Body and Soul, Good Health at the Daily Mail, and more. I have also written 16 books on health and nutrition.

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