Tips for choosing right fitness club

Price and location are important factors, but also consider your specific needs such as a track, pool and the size of classes

Deciding on what type of fitness club to join has become more complex in recent years. Not only are there plenty of traditional full-service clubs that offer the essential fitness machines and classes, small specialty clubs and studios have been sprouting up in record numbers, making the decision about where to invest your fitness dollar more difficult.

But it’s not just what a gym has to offer that makes the choice so tough. Price and location also factor into the decision.

To help you wade through all your options, here is a primer on how to find a fitness club that matches your interests and pocketbook.


If your annual fitness club membership fee is $600 and you workout twice a week for 50 weeks, you’re paying $6 a workout. That may sound reasonable, but if you’re one of the many who, despite best intentions, workout less than 100 times a year, it’s worthwhile to estimate your annual attendance and calculate your cost per visit.

Once you’ve done the math, make a list of the services you use on a regular basis. Armed with your list and cost per visit, you now have a realistic view of what you’re paying for. This is especially telling if you’re a member of a full-service club that includes a whole host of services you pay for but never use.

If your workout routine includes the use of several strength and cardio machines, a variety of different fitness classes, the juice bar and babysitting services, you’re probably getting a good return on your dollar. But if you use the same few machines, limit yourself to the same type of classes, ignore the juice bar and the showers, it may be worthwhile to explore smaller specialty clubs that offer what you need without all the frills you don’t.

In addition to more reasonable pricing, smaller specialized studios often have flexible membership plans, including monthly, three or six month contracts or the opportunity to purchase books of individual passes that can be redeemed per visit.


Even the best deal is compromised if you never make it to the gym, which is why location is so important. Travel time is a huge barrier to motivation, so make sure you choose a gym that is quick and easy to get to.

The next decision is whether you choose a gym that is convenient to work or home. Keep in mind that downtown gyms are generally more expensive than suburban gyms. Also worth considering is your preferred time of day to exercise. If you’re a noon-hour exerciser, a gym close to work is best. If you prefer working out after dinner or early in the morning, a gym close to home may be your best option.

Services and culture

There are five distinct types of fitness clubs: full-service clubs, university gyms, specialty gyms and studios,YMCAs and municipal gyms, each of which offers a different price and service point.

If variety of programs and services are important, then full-service clubs are your best option. But if you want small classes and a more personal touch, consider a small specialty gym.

If you have very specific needs like a track, Olympic-size pool or a full-sized gymnasium, consider a university gym or in some cases your local Y. These tend to have a broader range of facilities.

If price is the deciding factor, consider looking into what your municipal gym or recreation centre has to offer.

Once you have chosen a club that suits your needs, the next task is finding out whether those services are available during your preferred workout times. If you love spin classes, but there are only a couple offered after work and they’re always full, then you’re not going to be happy.

Also keep in mind that every gym has a particular clientele that drives its schedule. Downtown clubs generally have more noon-hour options than suburban clubs, which weight their schedule more toward evenings and weekends. University fitness centres are generally quiet in the mornings but hopping in the late afternoon and evening. Municipal gyms generally have a limited schedule, which may not jibe with yours.

Also worthy of note is that each club has a certain culture that is determined by the age, behaviour, customs and traditions of its members.

Make sure you feel comfortable within the gym and won’t look or feel like a square peg, which can happen if you’re a senior working out at a university gym or a man in a gym that attracts a large population of women.

Staff and facilities

Clubs that invest in finding, training and keeping the best instructors and trainers are worth the extra money. But if you head to the gym for solo workouts on the cardio or strength machines, you probably don’t care about the expertise of the staff. What you do care about is the attention staff pays to the care and maintenance of the fitness equipment.

Which takes us to the general upkeep of the facility and locker rooms. Busy clubs demand constant upkeep, especially in the locker rooms, which take a toll under heavy use. Always visit a club during their peak times so you can evaluate how the facilities and staff respond to a full house.

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