Three Ways to Find a Gym and Make It Work For You

A while back I was asked to respond to a press release out of Richmond, California, detailing the experience of a Bay area woman asked to cover up while working out at a local Planet Fitness due to potential “gym intimidation”. Surprisingly enough, this request was actually in direct adherence to this chain’s highly publicized “no judgment” policy, which doesn’t allow members to wear certain clothes or even perform certain exercises.

Given that this woman just happened to be an African-American, most media outlets had cited discrimination as the most likely culprit for the incident.

In my opinion, branding this as discrimination was a hasty oversimplification of a cultural issue that exists in every gym. As one who has worn many hats in small and larger commercialized gyms alike (overweight member, highly fit member, group fitness instructor, personal trainer, and manager), my perspective on gym culture is quite unique.

Many commercialized gyms have a large presence of highly fit, athletic, and able-bodied men and women which, in and of itself, can intimate others who are less fit. So much in fact that novice exercisers oftentimes feel the need to stay outside of big chain gyms until they make some sort of physical transformation. Once this happens, some people tend to become a bit more vain, building up the confidence to frequent the ‘big’ gym.

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Now, it would be irrational to suggest that one learns all about the ins and outs of gym culture prior to purchasing a membership. However, it’s certainly not unreasonable to recommend that certain steps be taken when joining a gym in order to ensure a happy and healthy experience, as opposed to one that is like girlfriend’s in Richmond. With that said, here is my recommended three-step process for choosing a gym and making it work for you.

1. Try Before You Buy

Before you even think about joining a gym, it’s absolutely critical that you try it out first. Most gyms will give you up to a week to try out their spot during which time you can get a real feel for the goings on of the place. If you find yourself embarrassed, intimidated, or even annoyed after trying out a gym, chances are these feelings aren’t going to change so it’s best to move on to the next gym.

This is a step that was likely not taken in the Planet Fitness situation. With just a little research on the web you’ll quickly learn that this chain does not take lightly to any inkling of gym intimidation or even vanity.

If you’re new to working out, I’d advise that you start by checking out the fitness center at your local YMCA or park district, as these facilities tend to be reasonably priced and housed with a team of highly caring and encouraging staff trained to work with individuals of all age groups and fitness levels. If you enjoy working out with a group for motivation and support, try some classes at a nearby fitness studio.

After doing so you may find that you don’t even want a gym membership.

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2. Get Your New Member Orientation

Regardless of which gym you choose, be sure to get your new member orientation. As a paying member of any gym, you are entitled to a “no obligation” orientation free of charge. During this time, you will more than likely be offered some sort of personal training package but it’s important to understand that you DO NOT have to purchase one in order to take advantage of this service.

Again, it’s important that you understand this as most if not all of the big chain gyms are largely profit based established with the sole purpose of selling you a bunch of ‘value-add’ services that you don’t need.

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During your new member orientation, ask a lot of questions to ensure that you get exactly what you need. Both novice and experienced exercisers alike struggle with certain basics like proper exercise selection and execution, even though they believe they’re doing things right. Working out is not rocket science so long as you put in some effort to learn the fundamentals.

3. Be Steadfast and Stay Focused

This is by far the most important step to enhancing your total gym experience and it starts with setting realistic goals for your workout routine. When establishing your initial goals, I recommend focusing on the reason(s) you’re exercising in the first place. Identify your expected benefits and create a ‘big picture’ for yourself. Doing this will help you stay on course throughout your journey and keep you motivated as you experience setbacks along the way.

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Defining and setting your goals will stop you from being intimated by the so-called “lunks” and “meatheads” in the gym. Knowing your goals will inhibit you from spending valuable time watching and emulating those who appear to be more experienced. Staying focused on your goals will ensure that you mentally and physically transform into the person you wish to become making your regular visits to the gym completely worthwhile.

At the end of the day, your gym experience is all about what you make it.

If you’re easily swayed by meaningless gym culture, chances are your mind is not in the right place. A former client of mine said it best when she said: “I don’t look at anyone when I’m in the gym because I know that we’re all at different phases of our journey…I just do me”. Following these three steps will ensure that you experience long-term success in achieving your health and fitness goals, regardless of which gym you choose.

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Disclaimer: The information provided is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a physician for advice.

Before starting an exercise training program you should first make sure that exercise is safe for you. If you are under the age of 55 years and generally in good health, it is probably safe for you to exercise. However, if you are over 55 years of age and/or have any health problems, be sure to consult with your physician before starting an exercise training program.