Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 27, 2021
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The Good, the Bad and the Unsanitary


I was a late bloomer on the whole work-out scene; I joined my first gym when I was 28. For the longest time, I avoided gyms because I couldn't get over their artificial atmosphere or the idea of going to a place just to get fit. My idea of fitness was participating in competitive sports or tackling the great outdoors and reaping its physical benefits by default.

All of that changed when I hit my late 20s. It wasn't enough to just play a pick-up game of basketball once a week and combine it with some outdoor activities on the weekend. My body wasn't able to do things as easily as it used to, recovering after a workout was no longer an afterthought and excess weight (and what it was doing to my joints) was becoming an issue. So I bit the proverbial bullet and found a good gym. I've been a member ever since.

But signing up to a gym wasn't as easy as I had originally imagined. I had to first decide the type of work-out environment I wanted to be in. Corporate fitness clubs offer state-of-the-art machines, big TV monitors set up everywhere, a variety of the latest fitness classes, a weight room, change rooms that offer all the amenities (a sauna, extra towels, body creams, hair conditioners, dryers, Q-Tips). Some even provide a small gym for basketball, a pool and courts for tennis, racquetball and squash. Obviously the corporate gym is the more expensive option, but worthwhile if you plan to go often.

Community gyms, such as your local Y, have much of the above, but are often over-crowded (particularly if your Y is part-gym, part-hotel, part-community centre) with facilities that should have been retired a decade ago. Some offer attractive discounts to families, thus their clientele usually includes lots of kids. If you don't like seeing children running around your change room, you may want to reconsider the community gym. But before you completely dismiss the local Y, find out if there's a renovated one near you. These recently expanded and renovated Ys have transformed themselves into serious state-of-art facilities, able to compete with some of the best gyms in the country.

Then there are those gyms that just target bodybuilders, a very specific segment of the work-out population. If weight rooms and aerobics classes don't interest you, you may want to consider a university gym, which caters to athletes in training. Most university gyms have a pool for laps, a gym for basketball and a running track as well as all the other facilities. Obviously university gyms aren't exactly an option if you teach or if you're worried you may bump into one of your kids' best friends.

You really won't know which is the best gym until you pay each one a visit. Here are some pointers on what you should be thinking about when researching a potential gym.

1. Travel time: Remember the common refrain: "getting there is the problem, but once I'm there, I'm fine." Choose a gym that isn't a hassle to get to. I prefer to work out right after work, so my gym is closer to work than it is to home. Check that parking won't be an issue. Many gyms provide free parking and some even have an indoor garage, which is great in winter when you can leave your bulky parka in the car.

2. Get with the program: When you visit a gym, a fitness consultant will query you on what it is you want to do. If it's a good facility, they'll provide some free passes so you can try the various machines and fitness options before you commit. If it's a really good facility, they'll assess your overall level of fitness by having you go through a number of tests and then recommend what program best suits your health needs.

3. Visiting hours: If you join, it's because you've finally decided that you're going to make time to work out. You now have to take that time and use it constructively. When should you work out? That, of course, depends entirely on your schedule. If you can only go between 5 and 6pm during the week, make sure the gym you choose can accommodate you. Gyms tend to be busy and at full capacity during lunch hour and right around 5pm. This means that the machines you normally have at your disposal may not even be free. The best way to check is to use your free passes on the days and times you want to go. If you're short of passes, ask for more.


4. Overpopulation: Ask how many members the gym currently has and how many it's recruited in the past year. That way you get an idea if it's likely to have an overcrowding problem.

5. Shutdowns: Ask if the gym is undergoing any work in the next year. Major renovations often take months and may even disrupt your regime for the entire winter. If there's major remodelling in the works, ask how the gym intends to compensate you for lost membership time.

6. The extras: More and more, the trend with gyms is to give members as much access to the facilities as possible. Nonetheless, you should ask whether all facilities, including the pool, aerobics classes, courts and regular health screenings are included in the cost of membership.

7. The gym itself: Try to visit the gym as often as possible before you sign up -- at rush hour (between 5 and 9pm) and at the time you expect to usually work out. This should give you an idea of who and what to expect. Inspect change rooms and shower stalls, which are usually very good indicators of overall cleanliness. Accumulated hair in the drain and mouldy corners and smells are bad, while white-tiled ceramic walls and people actually showering are good. What about the atmosphere in the gym or class studio? Is the air okay? Is the music too annoying and loud?

8. The social politics: Is the club's atmosphere comfortable? Some clubs are nothing more than "meet-markets," where people spend more time around the juice bar and in the locker rooms than on the actual machines; others make you feel like you've busted in on a do-or-die steroids den.

9. Signing the contract: Before you sign a gym contract, read it. Pay particular attention to the fine print. Be suspicious if the sales rep doesn't allow you to bring the contract home to read before you sign. Does the establishment have liability insurance? How long has it been around? Is it a franchise, and if so, can you visit other gyms in the city or across Canada? If you travel a lot, joining a franchise or a gym with worldwide affiliates may be advantageous.

10. Ballpark figure: A membership that includes exceptional services and top-of-the-line equipment can set you back anywhere between $350 and $650 a year. Most offer lower-rate memberships if you plan on going during non-peak hours, while some will freeze your membership if you plan on leaving town for extended periods of time. The key is to know exactly how many times a week you plan to visit, what each facility offers and whether or not you'll use them. Remember, it's your money and your body, don't waste either of them.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.


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