Not all gyms are created equal. Some employ less-than-qualified trainers, or fail to employ a cleaning staff at all. Others get so packed you can wait all night for the squat rack.
So before you commit to a facility, do your research. Here’s what four top trainers look for in a gym.
Do the Instructors Know What They’re Doing?
If you plan to take fitness classes, you know it’s important to check the class schedule before you sign on the dotted line.But it’s also important to try a class or two to see if the instructors are knowledgeable and professional, says Mike Boyle, owner of Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning in Woburn, Massachusetts.
“Even if they have tons of classes, if the instructors are bad, it’s not worth going because you could get hurt,” he says.
Is There Enough Space?
If you’re more of a get in, use the equipment, and get out type of guy, then it’s important to check out the way the facility is laid out, says John Romaniello, owner of RomanFitnessSystems.com.
He says that you should make sure that the gym has the right equipment, lots of machines that work, and—most importantly—space for the types of workouts you like to do. If there’s no room for you to do a kettlebell swing, or the machines are packed with people, it really doesn’t matter if they’re new or not.
Can You Pick Up a Protein Shake Afterwards—and Would You?
Are you someone who likes to spend all day at the gym by working out, sitting in the sauna, showering, and getting a shake from the juice bar?
Then you obviously want to see what extras a gym offers. For example, do they offer complimentary shampoo, deoderant, and body wash in the bathrooms? What about a snack or juice bar?
But if you’re not that kind of person, it’s silly to pay for a gym that has them if you won’t actually use them, says Ashley Borden, a celebrity personal trainer and author of Your Perfect Fit. You might want to look for a more basic spot that’ll save you cash.
What Do the Gym’s Current Members Love About the Facility?
To get a better feel for what this gym excels at, ask someone in the locker room or after a class what they like about the gym.
If it’s the same things you’re looking for in a facility, then you might have found your match. Whatever attracts you to a gym, the one you commit to should have the best version of that, says Boyle.
Is It Packed When You Usually Work Out?
Even if the gym you find has an amazing class schedule or brand spanking new equipment, it really doesn’t matter if you can’t get into the class or find enough space to do a measly biceps curl, points out Romaniello.
Pop into the gym around the time that you normally like to work out, he says.
Look around to see how full classes are and how occupied the equipment and weight rooms are. If they’re loaded with people, you have to either be willing to switch up your gym time or keep looking.
Does It Feel Like You Should Wash Your Hands After Each Rep?
Even if you are the most basic of gym-goers, it’s still vital that the place you’re working out in is clean, says Men’s Health Fitness DirectorBJ Gaddour.
Since you’re touching every piece of equipment that you use, this is one check mark you cannot risk leaving blank, he says.
Make sure there are hand sanitizers, equipment cleaners, or germ killing sheets available for people to wipe down their equipment with, he says.
Does It Pass This Financial Test?
Let’s face it: Whether you sign up for a gym with amazing amenities or one that meets your minimum requirements, if you’re not going to use it, then it’s a waste of money no matter how much (or little) you spend, says Borden.
Here’s a quick way to see if signing up for a membership is worth your money, adapted from Michele Promaulayko in Look Better Naked: Find out what the gym charges per month, then think about how many times per month you’ll visit.
Divide that number of visits by two (your gym visit aspirations might be higher than what you’ll actually do). Now, divide how much you would pay per month by that number of visits.
If that number—the cost per gym visit—is larger than what the gym charges for a pay-as-you-go rate, then maybe you shouldn’t commit quite yet. Hey, the gym of your dreams could still be out there. There’s no need to get tied down.