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Joining a Gym

By David Pekema
Quick Tips
  1. Find a deal – Gym fees can range from $30 to over $200 per month, so look for something that fits into your budget. Always try to bargain down the price, and be wary of large initiation fees and long contracts.
  2. Convenience – If you need to drive all the way across town to get to the gym, chances are you won't bother. Some (often pricier) membership programs allow members to use multiple locations, a definite plus if you want to work out near both the home and office.
  3. Amenities – Many gyms have showers, steam rooms, and pools. Some even offer a couple of free private training sessions. Find a gym with amenities that actually fit in with your workout preferences.
  4. Part-time gym rat – In some parts of the country, gyms with no long-term contracts allow you the option of only being a member during the cold and wet months. Also, some gyms allow members to suspend their account for months at a time.
  5. Fun and variety – Once you've chosen a workout method, you need to be sure to keep it fresh and exciting. Check out these Work Out Routines for a plethora of workout and exercise options to help keep our routine fun and interesting.

While attending Berkeley, my nickname was the Human Metamucil Pill for my abnormal discipline and regularity. Every morning at eight-thirty, I could be found in the gym sweating, pumping, and gyrating away. It brought a level of calm—not to mention health—to my life, and I couldn’t have been happier

. But then graduation came, and like a child ripped from the womb I was left cold, scared, and without a free university gym at my disposal.

Barely a week after moving out of my dorm room, I found myself signing a one-year contract for access to the shabbiest 24 Hour Fitness I’ve ever seen. Fortunately, Smithsonian Hour Fitness made up for its lack of air conditioning and new equipment with an astonishing number of nude septuagenarians doing locker room calisthenics. I reneged before the ten-day trial period was up, and haven’t looked back since. While heading home that day through a community park, under the beautiful coastal sun, something struck me—there was no reason for me to belong to a gym. Everything I needed to stay in shape was right in front of me: the city provided pull-up, dip, and push-up bars for strength training; running and biking trails for cardio; and an adult women’s soccer practice for entertainment.

My decision was looking brilliant—right until the rain came, and then inexplicably refused to go away. My workouts started growing shorter—and more frigid—so I started shopping around again. Sound familiar? Check out the tips below.

The Gym

The benefits of pumping iron in a gym are numerous: air conditioning, variety, ice-cold drinking fountains, state of the art equipment, and sexy co-eds strutting around in spandex. Frequenting a gym at the same time every day leads to a sense of community. For many, the gym becomes what Ray Oldenburg would call a third place—somewhere to be social other than the home or office. But whether it’s high fees (up to a couple hundred dollars for the types of places that don’t even let me through the front door), overcrowding, or seeing the wrong person in spandex, sometimes all the gym’s "hidden costs" are more than we bargained for.

Finding a Good Deal

Gym memberships can range anywhere from $100 a year to over $200 a month, with initiation fees from $0 to $600+. We can't tell you how much is reasonable to spend on a gym, but here are some essential factors to consider:

  • Location. Would you rather have a gym near work or near your apartment? What if you want to work out on a weekend? If the gym has multiple locations, does it cost extra to have access to more than one (usually it does).
  • Workout Frequency. Go twice a month and $150 is crazy money to be spending on a locker and a treadmill. But if you're on a bona fide "get right by life" kick and can commit to 5 days a week, the cost per visit makes a lot more sense. Be realistic with your workout frequency, but also realize that for some people, a nice gym with great equipment and nice perks is just the motivation they need to utilize it more often.
  • Classes. If you like group yoga sessions and Jazzercise classes, makes sure your gym offers them as part of the package. You don't want to have to go elsewhere (and pay more membership fees) for your various workouts.
  • Special Needs. Love to swim? Can live without a weekly game of squash or pick-up hoops? Make sure your gym caters to your specific exercise preferences.

When shopping around for that perfect gym membership, it’s important to remember that gym managers are like used car salesmen—they’ll do anything to keep us from walking off the lot. It’s not too difficult to get them to drop the initiation fees, or slightly lower your monthly dues—you don't have to be super slick, but have a few lines ready to deploy along the lines of "I'm not looking to spend quite that much right now," "Gym X told me they would drop the monthly fee to $30," or "You must be 'avin a laugh charging those prices!"

Beyond good old-fashioned haggling, there are other ways to shave the dollars of membership fees. Bally Total Fitness gives a $50 discount to college grads less than six months out. Many companies offer in-house gyms or gym discounts to their employees, and some health care providers offer club rebates. Discounted contracts can even be found on eBay. January is an especially good month to go gym shopping, with gyms offering heavy discounts to new resolution holders. Indeed, special initiation packages crop up all the time ("Super Summer Special," "Thanksgiving Blowout Sale"), so if you find a gym you really want to join, it might be worth showing a little patience until the next one crops up.

Visit The Gym Has Its Benefits for more benefits of joining a gym and the Gym Locator for help finding one.

Cutting Ties

The problem with most gym memberships is that they lock you in for 1-2 years, which can become awkward when you want to jump ship. Life is unpredictable for recent grads, and when that banking job becomes an unpaid internship in publishing, that fancy gym might no longer fit in your budget. Generally the only way to break the contract is if you can prove that you're moving X number of miles away from any of your gym's locations. But what if you're not? Here's a little trick for those with flexible morals: Have your next paycheck or bank statement sent to your parents house, and then use that as proof of your change of address. If they ask for a letter from your employer, say you've already left the job and don't have the ability to get one any longer. Alternatively, you can give them a sob story about not being able to pay anymore and see what happens.

The Great Outdoors

Exercising outdoors isn’t for everybody. Some of us are shy; some don’t live or work near any nice parks; and some of us live in North Dakota, where exercising outdoors during certain parts of the year would do more harm than good. (Visit Cold Weather Exercise for tough guy/girl tips). Fortunately for us narcissistic exhibitionist types living in more temperate climes, the outdoors can be the best and cheapest option around. Push-ups and pull-ups may not have the same panache as lat pull-downs or supinated dumbbell curls, but they are very effective. Both exercises stabilize every one of the major muscle groups, and when supplemented with lunges, squats, and dips can contribute to an excellent full-body workout.

Even nicer than outdoor strength training is outdoor cardio. Why sit on a stationary bike watching the Discovery Channel when you could be outside seeing real nature? Running and biking provide the opportunity to get a workout, take in the scenery, and get a tan all at once. Best of all, with the $50-plus you save every month, you can buy skintight outfits to show off our stellar physiques.

Check these articles out for Summer Strength Training, and Outdoor Exercise Routines. As another option, try Outdoor Fitness Classes.

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