Working out at a gym is guaranteed to get you results – as long as you find the right one. Follow these 13 easy steps for your perfect match
By MH Staff - Posted on 15th October 2013
Working out at a gym is guaranteed to get you results – as long as you find the right one.
Before you make any sort of commitment, visit a few gyms and make comparisons. We all have different priorities: parking, a clean bathroom, a cute receptionist, so only you can decide what will keep you coming back. Most gyms offer free introductory periods, so take advantage of it. Just be prepared for their insistent follow-up calls. And remember to be really critical. Take in everything, from the equipment, the training style, the music, the lighting, attitude of the staff, opening hours – even the members. “If something even mildly irritates you at the start, six months down the track you’ll probably be hating it,” says Doech. When doing your research, tour the club when you think you’ll most likely be using it. If it’s too crowded, you’ll have to wait to use the equipment. Surprisingly, many gyms limit their classes on Sundays, which might be the one day you have more free time, so keep that in mind, too.
The best thing about gyms today “is the mass of choices available to suit every need”, from mega-gyms offering countless services and classes, to specialist gyms connected to particular activities, says trainer Nick Woodall. Boxing gyms, CrossFit boxes, gyms with Olympic pools, outdoor bootcamps and even yoga/pilates centres will typically be better at their speciality than the big guys, because they have to be. The key is finding the one that best suits you – and it often isn’t the first, most obvious, choice. For example, when associate editor Lindsey Schutters decided to shape up: “I wanted a class environment with an instructor to push and challenge me,” he says. “But after doing bootcamp-style bodyweight classes last year, I wanted something with weights that would really kick my ass.” He ended up at a CrossFit box. “It offers the camaraderie of bootcamp, but it’s also a competitive sport – which is great because I don’t like training for the sake of it,” he says.
If you want the relationship to last past the honeymoon period, the atmosphere and the gym’s mindset need to fit in with the type of guy you are. If you like peace and quiet, a gym with MTV-blaring TVs and groups treating the place like a social club simply won’t keep your motor running. Conversely, if you get amped up by music and companionable people around you, a gritty, get-down-to-business weights gym might not cut it, either. Likewise, if your goal isn’t to get mega-ripped, a gym with posters of Arnie circa 1970 around the water cooler ain’t going to be the place for you. You’ve got to feel comfortable.
Like sitting through a box set of Desperate Housewives with your girlfriend, “the first thing I tell clients is that this is going to be hard work”, says Doech. Instead of getting brownie points, your reward will be a body that looks better and develops a faster fat-burning metabolism. If you’ve been out of a gym relationship for a while, or are starting unfit, it can be daunting – and the initial shock to your body for the first few weeks will be hard. But it’s also when you’ll see the most rapid improvements.
The most common mistake is overestimating your commitment to your new relationship. If you say you’ll go four times a week, but only end up going once, you’ve automatically set yourself up for disappointment. “I always tell people to go for their lowest commitment, then anything on top is a bonus,” says Doech. And build in rest periods for yourself, he says. For example, adopting a seven-week cycle, where you reward yourself with a week off at the end, can really work in the long-term.
Getting cut for summer, a flat stomach, or pecs the size of a VW Beetle bonnet – whatever your goal, it’s important to keep your eyes on the prize. That way you’re constantly reminded why you’re soaked in sweat at the Smith Machine, or trying not to have a heart attack in a spinning class filled with women.
You want staff to be friendly and helpful, rather than mute, surly or constantly trying to up-sell you on their services and products. And floundering in a class or training on your own can result in bad habits, so one-on-one attention is the most reliable way of getting the best results. On joining, you should receive fitness testing from qualified staff that assesses your fitness levels, diet, alcohol intake, work schedule and how often you want to work out, in order to tailor an individual programme.
The hottest new machines might look great, but there are better things to spend your valuable time with. Instead, look for free weights and plenty of benches, squat racks and traditional equipment to use them on. Why? “A lot of gyms have gone down the path of machines because they are safer from a liability point of view, but you really don’t get the benefit of free weights,” explains Woodall.
Travel a lot for work? Then a nationwide gym with centres in the cities you regularly visit will keep your routine going, while sparing you motivation-destroying sessions in empty hotel gyms.
Like an F1 race car, a gym is only as good as its pit crew. This means a good set of scales (preferably the old-school ones where you slide a weight along a scale), clean showers with lots of hot water, secure (preferably free) lockers and chilled water coolers close to the equipment. Fancy add-ons – that rock-climbing wall, array of protein powders and bars at the front desk, or the day-spa at the back – may catch your eye initially, but they’re worth zilch if you’re not using them (and most guys don’t).
Before you sign up for a gym membership, know exactly what it takes to get out of it, how many months you have to be a member before you can cancel and how much notice you need to give. Also, consider how often you’ll visit the gym before signing a fixed-term (monthly or yearly) contract. A three-year study of almost 8 000 gym-goers by Stanford and Berkeley universities found that most people were better off buying 10-visit vouchers than those on expensive monthly memberships. The study also found that people on monthly contracts were 18% more likely to stay enrolled beyond one year (paying more for the privilege) than users who committed for a year. The best advice, says Doech, is to sign up for minimum terms. “You can always trade up your membership, but it’s not always as easy to scale it down.”
Those few extra minutes in the car could be just the excuse you need to bail on a workout. So find somewhere that’s either near home, work or directly along the commute in-between. If the gym’s out of your way, you’ll use it less often.
A gym that’s heated in colder months might be welcoming when you first arrive, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into better results. Researchers at Aberdeen University School of Medicine found that muscle performance is significantly influenced by air temperature. Exercise endurance was shortest at 30.5°C (52 minutes), compared with 94 minutes at a chilly 10.5°C.