After graduating college, the moment finally appeared when I no longer had access to a free gym. Now, I’m not going to build up the reputation of my former school’s fitness facility. It was quite small, open limited hours on the weekends, and didn’t have showers or a locker room attached (after visiting MIT for a volleyball competition, I was in awe that non residents could purchase a membership to their gym. Any recent high school grads take note). But living on campus, I wasn’t too picky. All I really needed was a treadmill and some 5 pound weights to get me through my workout. Honestly, who cares if I had to walk five minutes to my dorm room to drop off running shoes or take a quick shower before class? I wasn’t paying anything extra than my annual tuition, so in my mind the standards were reasonable.
Post graduation, the first year of living on your own with newly added responsibilities (rent anyone?) can put you in a frugal frenzy. Why spend an average of $60 a month for a gym membership when you can walk/run outside, practice yoga in your living room or participate in fun outdoor activities? The truth is, however, if your previous workouts were gym located, making the transition is not as easy as it sounds. Everyone is different, but I know that when I get into a routine I like to stick to it. If I pack a gym bag and bring it to work in the morning, I’m more likely to head straight to the gym later, rather than risk getting distracted or deciding to take a nap. It’s all about knowing your body and recognizing what your motivation is. And you can bet your dollar that I won’t be hiking outdoors when Winter rolls around.
The key to choosing a gym membership that works is to make sure to tailor the benefits to your own needs. It’s great to pair up with a friend but if you and your running buddy constantly live on different schedules, what’s the point? Paying for something you will never use is only a waste of money. Believe me I see it all the time. People sign up in January for a gym membership to honor their New Year’s Resolution, then suddenly it’s April and they realize they’ve only gone twice or not at all. Don’t stress. Just keep these tips in mind and you’ll find a happy compromise between your fitness routine and your bank account.
Location: I live outside of Boston and there generally aren’t any gyms T accessible that I could afford. If you have a car, location usually isn’t that big of an issue since most people can find a gym 5 or 10 minutes from their home. But if you’re in my situation, learn by how I came up with a compromise. It takes me about 30 minutes to get to work in the morning. If I head to the gym directly after work I can use a gym close by my job instead. It takes an extra 15 minutes to get to the gym which means I have to make time for 45 minutes of travel post workout. With no transfers or extra walking once I’m off the T, this sounds like a good deal. Plus I bring a book for the ride home and squeeze in some extra reading. It may not be ideal, but it’s a compromise.
Membership demographic: Some women prefer to go to an all women’s facility (like Healthworks in Boston), I’m not one of them. To me, I rather choose a gym occupied by a younger demographic. When I was interning in NYC last summer, my student housing came with a gym membership included to the facility next door. Location-wise it was great. I could get in my morning workouts at 6am and head back to my room to shower. However, the gym was usually empty and the demographic was a lot older. If you’re around peers in your own age bracket, you can feel pressure to work harder. Sometimes with working out, this can be a good thing. Plus, it’s always fun to see familiar faces and meet new people your interested in. Who knows maybe they’ll end up being your new fitness buddy, if you didn’t already have one.
Extra Services: Does your membership offer any benefits? Sometimes it’s worth upgrading. I chose to sign up for the Black Card Membership at Planet Fitness because it included free unlimited tanning and access to any of the MA locations. Plus I get 10 monthly passes to any PF in the country, which is perfect when I go to Portland on the weekends during summer. Not to mention unlimited guest passes. Options are your friend.
Hours: This is probably more important than location. If your gym closes at 7pm on weekdays and you work until 6pm Monday through Friday, it doesn’t matter how close the facility is, you’re not going to go. Make sure you check the hours as each location varies. The extra 10 minute drive might be worth it if that location stays open a few hours later.
Personal Trainers: My gym offers free sessions from any of the personal trainers. However, I usually plan my own workouts and these services have never appealed to me. If you’re a fitness newbie and having a professional guide you sounds interesting, you should look at the qualifications of the trainers. Find out when and where they were certified and the days that they work.
Group Fitness Classes: Be realistic. When I was living in NYC, the first thing I did was get a copy of the group fitness class schedule and circle the ones I was interested in. Unfortunately, it turned out that my internship schedule was so hectic I was working during all the class times. This time I knew better. Instead I opted for a gym with a cheaper membership that didn’t offer group classes.
Cleanliness & Quality of Equipment: If these two options make or break your membership, I wouldn’t suggest joining Planet Fitness. The gym isn’t unsanitary but I’ve definitely been to facilities that operate in a cleaner, more relaxed atmosphere. If you plan on showering after your workout, take note that PF doesn’t supply towels, so plan on packing your own. Same goes for personal TV’s on treadmills and lounge space. Considering I like to get my daily run in then head back home, this isn’t a deal breaker but if you like to take breaks or wait between classes, you might prefer higher quality couches or wifi located in a separate area from the machines.
Cost/Cancellation Policy: Before you sign any agreement, read over the cancellation policy. This especially applies to students who want to join a gym during the semester but go home during summer. See if you are able to put your membership on hold and if there is a fee for cancelling your membership early. Annual fees and pre-rates are also often overlooked. Make sure you understand everything upfront and that it’s in writing.
Cost is primarily the main concern so weigh the above pros and cons based on your needs. If the cost is doable and your standards are met, chances are you’ll find your happy compromise.