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Choosing the Best Fitness Facility

Personal trainers, free tea and cable TV in front of the lifecycles may sound like the ideal fitness center, but there's more to consider than perks when you're shopping for a gym.

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You're looking for a place that will provide you with information and support, safety and cleanliness, along with hours that fit your schedule and a price that fits your budget. Read on for tips on how to pick a good gym.

  1. Tours and free passes. Most good gyms will give you a complete tour and even a free trial pass so you can experience the place before making a commitment.  
  2. Plenty of room. Are the numbers of rooms, towels, trainers and machines sufficient for the number of members?  
  3. The right hours. If it's not convenient, you won't go to the gym as often. Look for facilities that are open 24 hours, or most of the day and night.  
  4. Does it smell good? Nothing is worse than that nasty locker room funk, and no decent gym should smell like your high school locker room. There should be good ventilation, surfaces like floors, walls and machines should look clean, and the place should smell fresh without smelling of deodorizers or perfumes.  
  5. Is there plenty to do? The better gyms have a variety of machines, workout space for mat exercises, a number of classes and even a swimming pool. Variety is the spice of life, and your gym should offer varied exercise experiences.  
  6. Are the instructors and trainers certified and well trained? And are they helpful, or do they run when it looks like someone might have a question?  
  7. Does the gym ask for a health form to be completed before you start working out? Does it provide a health assessment with a trainer when you first begin?  
  8. A safety conscious gym should provide instruction on machine use, safety reminders in classes, well maintained weight machines and safety equipment such as stretchers, fire extinguishers, pool safety equipment, smoke alarms and sprinklers. Members of the staff should be CPR and first aid certified.  
  9. Are floors equipped with shock absorbing materials? For aerobics, kick boxing and other sports classes, the best floors should have some give to prevent injury.  
  10. Are there rules? A good gym asks people to wipe down machines with antibacterial spray and a paper towel after using them. A well run gym may have rules about where to put your towels, what you can and can't wear (for hygiene's sake) and how long you can use the machines if someone else is waiting. If a rule that's a minor inconvenience also works for fairness and cleanliness, it's worth it.  
  11. How is security? Your locker combination should be yours alone, and some gyms keep cameras running to prevent assault or theft. Parking lot security is another concern, especially if you're using the gym at night. At the very least, a muscular member of the staff should be available to walk you to your car.  
  12. Is information available? Machines should have instructions posted near them, and many gyms supply their members with brochures and handouts about everything from new fitness trends to dietary advice.  
  13. Is there child care available? Some gyms have certified child care helpers on staff so you can leave the kids in a play group and get your workout.  
  14. Are the payment policies reasonable? Are the commitment times designated in months rather than years? Are the refund policies fair? Can you quit whenever you want? Many gyms make big money off initial sign ups of a year: then when a large percentage of members lose motivation or find other things to do, they lose the balance of their payment because the refund policy says "No refunds".  
  15. Is the gym close to home? Is parking easily available? The more convenient it is, the more likely you will be to use it.
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