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Should I join a gym?

While choosing a gym isn’t one of life’s big decisions, it’s treated as an afterthought by most endurance athletes, which leads to wasted time and money (with no results to show for it). So it’s important to put some thought into it.

Make sure you find the gym – and gym membership – that’s right for you.

When seeking out the best gym membership, ask yourself these four questions:

  1. What are my goals and priorities?
  2. Does this gym have what I’m looking for?
  3. Will this actually fit into my schedule?
  4. What’s the price?

(Click to jump to a specific question, or just scroll down to start from the beginning.)

1. What are my goals and priorities?

The first thing you have to do is figure out why you’re joining a gym. What kinds of workouts are you going to do? What do you want to accomplish?

Building aerobic endurance.

If you’re looking for a good cardio workout, make sure the gym has treadmills, ellipticals, bikes, and a swimming pool. This way you can get in a good session, no matter the weather outside.

If the gym has an arc trainer, even better.

Strength training.

Want to build bigger, stronger muscles? Then you’ll want a gym with a good variety of barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and power racks where you can heave big hunks of iron around.

Mat work.

Need somewhere to stretch out, use a foam roller, and do some ab work? Make sure the gym has adequate mats, stability balls, etc.

Group classes.

Want to hop in a Spinning class? Do some yoga? Check the gym’s class schedule to see if they offer what you want, at a time that works for you.


A group ride is an opportunity to train and socialize at the same time, why shouldn’t you be able to do the same in a gym? Make sure the gym offers a good space where you can meet other like-minded individuals and chat about sports and exercise.


You might be new to lifting, or totally imbalanced since you dedicated yourself to a single sport, and could use some guidance. Since you know how important proper form is when swimming, biking, and running, you’ll want to carry that over to anything you do in the gym.

Other needs.

Plan to hit the gym on the way to work? Make sure they have good shower facilities.

Have to take your kids along? Some gyms offer child care.

Sit down and think about it, and make a list.

2. Does this gym have what I’m looking for?

Now take that list with you when checking out any gyms!

I can’t review every single gym out there, but I’ll review five common types you’re likely to come across and what they usually offer.

Commercial chains

“Globo gyms” some people call them. We’re talking gyms like LA Fitness, Anytime Fitness, Planet Fitness, etc. Expect crowds of people on treadmills and fancy, complicated machines that might not actually be useful. They cater to casual exercisers – don’t forget the Planet Fitness squat rack removal fiasco. On the plus side, you can get a $10/month deal (or even a $99/year special).

Sports Clubs

The sports club type gyms offer a wide variety of workout equipment, group classes, and excellent facilities. It’s like being in a luxury resort or spa with the towel service and fancy locker rooms. It’s not going to be cheap though – I remember Boston Sports Club was $75/month (and that was years ago).

Powerlifting gyms

Powerlifting gyms and barbell clubs are focused solely on lifting. Expect a bare-bones gym with just the essentials for powerlifting – squat racks, deadlift platforms, and lots of iron. They probably allow chalk. There’s probably no air conditioning. These are easy to spot, if you can spot them, that is. They are usually housed in an old warehouse with a big garage door, maybe with some faded paint out front with the name. You’re certainly not going to see a flashing neon sign that says “GYM” on the front of one of these!

CrossFit gyms

Whether it’s a true CrossFit affiliate gym, or just one of the sports performance style gyms, these are interesting. You’ll find lots of open space, free weights, and other equipment like pull up bars, gymnastic rings, sand bags, sleds, and ropes. These are often fairly expensive.

University gyms

It sure was nice being in college. There was an indoor track, indoor pool, machines, free weights, bikes, treadmills, squash courts, and more. All for free. If you happen to live near your alma mater, an inexpensive alumni membership could make this a viable option.

3. Will this actually fit into my schedule?

There’s more to a gym than what’s inside.


This is a big deciding factor on if you’ll go at all! There are three good options:

  • Close to home
  • Close to work
  • Along your commute

If it’s close to home, you can go just about whenever you want. If it’s close to work, that gives you the option to exercise on your lunch break. If it’s along your commute, you’ll pass it every work day (weekends you’ll probably be out for an adventure anyway).

Also, is it in a safe location where you feel comfortable going at night?


For starters, their hours. There are some gyms that are open 24/7, which is great, but that’s not always the case.


You also have to consider parking options. Is there a free parking lot? Available street parking?

Getting there

Similarly, do you have to drive? What about public transportation? Is it within walking distance?


Know when the crowds show up. Peak hours are generally 6-8:30am, 12-1pm, and 5-7pm at any gym, although it varies by location. (When I lived in Boston, all the gyms were super busy at 6am and 6pm, but I’ve lived in places where the mornings were nearly empty.)

If you can only go when it’s crowded, and it’s so packed that you can’t get a lane in the pool, or a treadmill, or whatever it is you want, the gym won’t work for you.

Also consider the type of crowd. Certain gyms will attract certain age and gender demographics, and of course, the stereotypical “meat heads”, the women who talk on their phones while on the treadmill, etc.

Other locations

If you travel frequently, it might be best to find a gym with multiple locations around the country.

4. What’s the price?

I put this last because it’s better to pay more for a gym you actually use, than to pay a moderate price and not actually attend because it’s out of the way, you don’t enjoy it, etc..

Figure out the total price

Along with the gym membership costs, remember any extra travel expenses, parking costs, etc.

Membership costs and contracts

There is usually an initiation fee and then a regular monthly membership fee.

WARNING! Read the contract before you sign it, no matter what the sales person says!!

These can be nearly as bad as cell phone carrier contracts. Do you have to lock yourself in to a lengthy contract? Is there an early termination fee? Is it going to auto-renew? Can you put it on hold if you get injured?

Any available discounts?

If it’s a big chain, you could negotiate like you’re buying a car. Or at least ask if there are any discounts or promotions going on.

I mean, paying an activation fee? Why, to log your name and info into a spreadsheet? Cashiers at the grocery store do that all the time, and not once have I been charged an activation fee to give them money!


Almost always, you can find the best gym membership deals on Groupon!


Comparison of Most Popular Gym Memberships

Let’s compare some of the most common gyms and see which fits your budget:

  • 24 Hour Fitness. Typically about $30 per month.
  • Anytime Fitness. Typically about $30 per month.
  • LA Fitness. Pay $25-30 per month after a $99 initiation fee.
  • Planet Fitness. I have seen sales as low as “25¢ down, $10 a month?” here.
  • Snap Fitness. Pay $35 per month after a $99 origination fee.

I really don’t think there’s any gym as cheap as Planet Fitness and their $10 monthly membership. Most of the big chains – and many local gyms – cost approximately $30 per month. You just have to watch out for other fees, so read the fine print.


Bonus tip – Test drive the gym

The gym should offer a free week membership or at least a day pass. So, use it!

The important thing is to go there when you would normally be going as a member!!! That’s the only way you’ll know if it’s going to work. See if the staff is helpful and courteous, and talk to the members (which is better than just reading a single online review and deciding).

At this point you should be ready to make an informed decision!


P.S. If this made you rethink the idea of joining a gym, why not invest in a home gym? It’s a one-time fee, there’s no commute, and you don’t have to workout in public! Here is an article about how to set up your very own home gym.

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This article was originally published on August 13, 2014. It was updated and republished on November 14, 2018.

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1 Comment
  1. Thanks for the gym membership comparison!

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