Editor’s note: This article originally ran Jan. 5, 2022 and was updated Dec. 20, 2022.
If your New Year’s resolutions include getting into better shape or exercising more, one of the first steps toward meeting your goal may be finding a gym or fitness center. A gym can be a big investment, so you want to make sure you choose the right one for you.
We spoke with UNC Wellness Center health educator Susan Chesser, MPH, and fitness floor trainer Colleen Foster about what to look for when choosing a facility that best meets your fitness needs. They shared these five tips.
1. Find a gym close to you.
Convenience is important when setting up a new routine. You want to make it as easy as possible to get to the gym, especially on days it might be cold or dark and your motivation lags.
“If the gym is too far, it decreases your chances of going. Try to find a gym close to your home or workplace,” Foster says.
2. Select a gym that follows infection prevention measures.
We are in the midst of a winter with lots of viruses going around: COVID-19, the flu, RSV and others. The best way to avoid serious illness is to receive COVID-19 and flu vaccines. You also may choose to wear a mask in indoor spaces, particularly if they’re crowded or infection rates are especially high in your area.
Gyms should have clear policies about what they are doing to keep you safe and to minimize the risk of spreading viruses. That might mean limiting the number of people in a class to promote physical distancing or extra disinfecting measures. If you are using shared equipment, make sure sanitizing wipes are available to wipe it down. Gym equipment should be wiped down after every use.
Consider avoiding partner workouts that require you to be too close to someone else, especially if you or your partner are not fully vaccinated. And do your part by staying home when you’re sick, even if you haven’t tested positive for a virus.
3. Make sure the gym uses certified instructors.
Whether you’re joining a gym for the first time or are a seasoned fitness enthusiast, it’s easy to get injured while working out if you perform the exercises incorrectly or don’t stretch properly. The fitness instructors and staff at gyms can help you avoid this. Try to find a gym that requires its fitness staff to be certified.
Certification should come from an accredited organization, which in fitness means a certifying body accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. Just as medical professionals and financial advisers have certifications that show they have the training and expertise to do their jobs, the same holds true for those in the fitness industry. Being certified shows they have the skills and knowledge to help gym members achieve their fitness goals safely. It is a sign that the fitness staff has competence in their field and specialty.
“This means level of expertise in this area,” Chesser says. “All of us have to be certified at UNC Wellness, so if you have any kind of vulnerability in terms of your health and wellness, we’re a great place to be. Beyond that, if you have a chronic health condition, we’re the place to go, just because our staff is a little bit better educated.”
Foster works with all new members to teach them how to use the gym equipment.
“I work with people four or five times, just to make sure they understand how to use the equipment safely and to give them an effective beginner workout,” Foster says.
4. Check out the culture.
One of the biggest factors for success in meeting your fitness goals is to have a feeling of community.
“Whether you’re doing real vigorous exercise or not, if there is a perceived connectedness and social support, members do better overall in their health and wellness,” Chesser says. “Gyms can be a place where you feel like you belong and you see friends on a regular basis that keep you accountable.”
For example, do you see members who are about your age or who have similar interests? While it may be tough while sweating it out or trying to catch your breath, do the members seem to be having fun? (A good sign is if they come back regularly).
5. Read the fine print.
Before signing a contract to join a gym, make sure you read the fine print and ask what happens to your contact if the gym goes out of business. Find out if you can get your money back or transfer your membership to another gym. Make sure anything you agree to is in writing, including how much advance notice is required to cancel your membership.