(MayoClinic.com) You've decided to join a fitness center. But the choices are vast — from expensive all-purpose gyms and specialized clubs geared toward specific activities to bare-bones facilities. How do you choose? Fortunately, you can tell a lot about a health club before you put on your workout clothes or step onto a piece of exercise equipment.
Before you select a fitness center, determine your fitness goals.
"No single fitness facility is ideal for everyone," says Edward Laskowski, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist and co-director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center, in Rochester, Minn. "Consider what you need to work on — whether it's aerobic fitness, strength training or improving your tennis game — and look for a facility that will allow you to pursue that goal."
If you want to focus on weight training, for example, you may not care whether a swimming pool is available. If you prefer to exercise solo on various types of equipment, a wide assortment of exercise classes won't be as important to you.
Not sure of your fitness goals? Your best bet might be an all-purpose facility that allows you to experiment with various classes and types of equipment.Visit your top picks
Consider the specific fitness clubs that might meet your needs and pay a visit to each one. Most facilities have regular drop-in hours. You can meet with a staff member, learn what equipment and services are available, and take a tour.
Remember, this is your opportunity to find out if a particular facility is a good match for you. Take advantage of it by finding out as much information as you can. You might even want to jot down your questions ahead of time.
The more information you have about each fitness center, the better decision you'll be able to make.Try before you buy
Trying out a fitness center before joining is the best way to see if it truly meets your expectations. Although some fitness centers offer free trial memberships, most facilities charge a nominal fee to try out the club.
Visit the fitness center at the same time of day or night that you plan to exercise. Machines that might be accessible at 10 a.m. may be unavailable during the busier, early evening hours.Get the most for your money
Don't assume that a state-of-the-art mega-gym with a high membership fee is necessarily better for you than a smaller, more moderately priced facility.
"It's important to know what's offered by each fitness center you're considering," Dr. Laskowski says. "Just because you're paying more doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get more in terms of meeting your fitness needs."
If membership to the fitness center requires a signed contract, review the details carefully. Make sure you understand your obligation to the facility, including the length of your agreement, billing procedures and cancellation policies.It's up to you to follow through
Remember, it's not enough to join a fitness center. You must put in the work to reap the health benefits.
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