Gym Memberships - Are They Worth It

One of the first considerations that comes along with any new fitness plan is whether or not to join a gym or health club. A gym can have many great benefits, but also can be an unfulfilling, expensive, long-term commitment if you're not careful. Here's an overview of the pros & cons and some general advice on what to look for in a gym.

Pros:

-Variety - Many gyms offer a variety of different exercise options for all types of people. Gyms could include everything from the basic free weights & cardio to extras like swimming, basketball, racquetball, indoor tracks, rock-climbing and instructor-led group classes.

-Bonuses - Some gyms will even offer added bonuses such as massage, tanning and child care.

-Nice Equipment - Gyms usually have very expensive exercise equipment that otherwise would be inaccessible to general public.

Cons:

-Expensive - Usually gyms charge either per visit, per month, per year, or per multiple years. You can expect to pay anywhere from 15$/mo to 100$/mo depending on the gym.

-Contracts - Gyms try to lure new customers with savvy sales techniques and discount pricing on long-term contracts. Many people get locked into these contracts without reading the fine print and are left with a sour taste in their mouth when they find out there's no way out, regardless of whether or not they continue going to the gym.

-Overcrowding - Another problem is that gyms can become overcrowded, especially during peak hours (weekday evenings). There's nothing more frustrating than going to the gym and having to wait in line for every machine.

What should you do?

Due to the sheer variety of exercise options available, I generally think getting a gym membership is good idea. If you only are concerned with cardio and nothing else, maybe you could bypass the cost of a gym and just run or bike outside.

However, for muscle building I think having a gym membership is a no-brainer. There's nothing that can really replicate what free weight training can do for muscle growth. It would cost you thousands of dollars to assemble a free weight gym at home that could even rival the most basic free weight setup at your local gym.

With that said there is a need to be cautious when joining a gym. Follow these steps so you don't get a raw deal on your membership.

1. Decide exactly what you need from a gym. Do you need basketball and swimming? Is childcare important? How about yoga? Questions like these should be answered before you step into a gym. Call all the gyms in your area and ask them for a basic list of the features. Narrow your search down to only gyms that offer everything you need.

2. Try out the gyms you are interested in. Most gyms will offer some sort of temporary trial for no charge. See if the gym has all the equipment and exercise options you'll need. Go during your normal workout time and see how crowded the the place gets.

Some particular gyms don't offer free trials. In these cases, just get a walk-through of the facility and deflect questions from the sales guy who will undoubtedly try to get you to sign up that day. Just tell them that you are looking at different gyms in the area and you'll come back if you actually want to sign up.

3. Determine your level of commitment. The biggest mistake people make is signing long-term contracts to a gym and then giving up on their fitness plan and being locked into paying something they don't ever use.

Some studies have shown that 50% of all new members quit gyms and health clubs within six months. Figure out how committed you are before you talk to anyone at the gym. There are different options for different levels of commitment.