Happy New Year! Although we're only three days into the new year, I hope your year is off to a great start. I have so much planned for the blog this year. I can't wait to get started. First up is this post, which is on a question many of us ask ourselves as we start a new year with new resolutions.
Recently a friend and I debated about whether or not to join a gym this year. When discussing our New Year’s resolutions, we decided that we want to get in shape, enjoy our workouts, and stick to a workout schedule over the long-term. What better place to do all that than at a gym, right? After all, there are plenty of gyms in San Francisco, so variety and convenience are no problem. But upon looking at all the options for exercise out there, I have to ask, “Is joining a gym really worth it?”
If you are also debating whether or not to join a gym in the new year, first off, that’s great that you want to work out! Here are some thoughts and tips to help you decide whether a gym is right for you too. While I focus on gyms in this post, this information also applies to yoga studios, dance studios, barre classes, climbing gyms, and all other methods of working out that require membership or payment per use.
Pros of belonging to a gym:
Health benefits such as weight loss, stress relief, and better quality sleep
A dedicated indoor space to exercise. Perfect for those with a small home or in places prone to bad weather.
Motivation from being surrounded by others who are also working out
Variety of equipment and class options that you may not find elsewhere
Access to professionals such as personal trainers
Cons of belonging to a gym:
Membership and monthly costs can be high
Gyms and their members can be socially unwelcoming
The gym and classes may be crowded, especially in the early mornings or after work
Equipment and classes can become routine and therefore boring
Gyms can be stuffy, smelly, dirty, and lacking shower facilities
Indoor gyms may be unappealing when the weather is nice enough to workout outside
After considering the pros and cons of a gym membership, you might be wondering what else you would like in a gym. Here are some questions and considerations to go over with yourself and gym staff before signing up:
1) How convenient is it to get to the gym? A long commute to the gym or one outside of your normal travels may deter you from going.
2) What are the gym’s hours? Gyms that belong to major franchises may open early and stay open late, but smaller boutique gyms may have shorter hours. I know of CrossFit and bootcamp gyms that are open mainly in the early morning and after work hours. Gyms in financial districts may have limited weekend hours as well.
3) What does the gym offer? Most gyms have the basics like treadmills, elliptical machines, and weights, but some offer more specialized equipment and classes. If you’re lucky, the gym may have a swimming pool and sauna. In terms of amenities, the gym can be bare bones without showers or large towels, or it can offer high-end soap and even massage services.
4) How much do enrollment, membership dues, and monthly dues cost? The numbers can vary greatly depending on the gym. One gym I know is only $10 a month with no commitment, which is perfect if all you need is a no-frills gym. Another gym I researched is over $150 a month because it comes with specialized training classes.
5) What special offers does the gym have? Lots of gyms run special deals around December and January because they know people are eager to sign up. Ask if they have any other promotions such as new or returning member specials, discounts from certain employers, or new mom’s deals. I once got a week trial at a gym when I visited with someone who was signing up and I expressed interest in signing up too.
6) How often will I go to the gym? Try to figure out how frequently you will go to the gym. If the gym is near your work, you might find it reasonable to go three times per week between Monday through Friday, but you know you wouldn’t attend on the weekends. Once you have an estimate, divide the monthly membership cost by your number of potential visits. Is the cost per visit worth it to you?
7) Ask for a trial. Most gyms provide at least one free visit to try out the facility. It can be helpful to visit at an hour when you would normally plan to go and test the equipment you think you’ll be using most. While there, take a tour and look at the gym’s cleanliness, how crowded it is, class offerings, the number of people allowed in each class, staff biographies, and the capacity of the locker room.
8) Search deal sites. Some gyms run promotions on Groupon, Yelp, and other deal websites. I’ve seen gyms offer new membership deals and yoga and cardio barre studios offer deals such as ten classes for the price of five. This is a great way to try a place over several sessions or a few months without having to commit to a long membership.
Once you have all your questions answered and have checked out a few places, you might still be wavering on committing to a gym. That’s okay! The gym isn’t for everyone.
Nine Alternatives to the Gym:
1) Work out at home. Tons of videos exist online to guide you through exercises on your own. Stretching, Pilates, and P90X are some of my favorites.
Related Post: How to Build a Home Gym for Under $100
2) Yoga classes. Yoga classes that are low cost, pay-what-you-can, or free are available at around the city at parks, churches, yoga studios, and athletic wear stores.
3) Exercise groups. Join a running, walking, hiking, or exercise group. I’ve seen several on Meetup and they are often low-cost or free.
4) Walk and run outdoors. This is great for those who love being outside. There’s the added benefit of getting to know your area better by exploring neighborhoods and parks while at it.
5) Community centers. Community centers can be full of resources. Growing up, my neighborhood park and tennis courts, indoor and outdoor basketball courts, ping pong tables, and a baseball field. The community center even offered tennis lessons. A neighborhood church offered partner dancing classes on weeknights.
6) Community pools. In San Francisco, several neighborhoods have pools that are open to the public. They provide low-cost access to lap swim sessions and even swim lessons.
7) Dance & cardio barre studios. Take advantage of deals for new members. ClassPass, a program that offers access to a variety of gyms and studios, currently offers 5 classes for $19 for new members. I recently learned about Zenrez, a company that offers last minute deals to fitness studios. Local dance studios often offer dance days and discount class packages for new members too.
8) Intramural leagues. Have fun and meet new people playing on adult basketball or softball teams.
9) The office gym. If your office has a gym, it might be worth arriving a little early or staying later at work to take advantage of it, even if that means a longer workday overall.
At the end of the day, some good self-reflection is necessary before making a decision. Be honest with yourself about how much you will use and benefit from each possible option. If you know that joining a gym will help you achieve your workout goals and it’s within your budget, I encourage you to go for it!
If you’re like me and can think over a problem for months without making a decision on it, that’s not good because indecision means no exercise. In that case, how about trying to bide your time by signing up for a gym that requires no commitment or has an option for a no-commitment plan? Then you can try the place out for a month or two and convert to a 12-month plan if you like it.
Finally, give yourself a deadline to take action. Most people join a gym around January 1st. If you want to wait, test yourself by giving yourself a few weeks to try to achieve your workout goals through alternative options. If you’re still not where you want to be by, say, February 1, you might decide to commit to a gym then.
Are you a gym member or thinking of joining one? What sways you one way or the other?